Fifth Estater

The Real King of Queens

Baseball Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner celebrates 50 years in the New York Mets’ broadcast booth 9/05/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern

Ralph Kiner

Title:
Broadcaster, New York Mets (SNY and WPIX)

Career Highlights:
Major League Baseball player, 1946-1955;
General manager, San Diego Padres (Pacific Coast League), 1959;
Broadcaster, Chicago White Sox, 1961;
Broadcaster, New York Mets, 1962-present
Inducted into National Baseball Hall of Fame, 1975; New York Mets Hall of Fame, 1984

Personal:
b. Oct. 27, 1922; married to Ann; children Scott, Michael, KC, Tracee and Kimberly

It’s another dreary season for the New York Mets, and the
mood in the Citi Field press canteen—jaded reporters nudging
lukewarm scrambled eggs with their forks—reflects the team’s
fortunes. Adding to the listless vibe, it’s nearing 100 degrees
outside, with a rare noon start for the ballgame.

But when Ralph Kiner, Hall of Fame slugger
and a 50-year member of the Mets’
broadcast team, enters, even the most worldweary
scribe sparks to life. “Ralph!” go the
cries, hands of the well-wishers shooting toward
him. Kiner smiles as he makes his way
through the room.

“I’m excited every time he comes,” says SNY
booth mate Ron Darling. “I can’t wait for him
to get here.”

Kiner, who turns 89 next month, brings insight,
wit and colorful stories from his eight
decades in professional baseball to what is
officially named the Ralph Kiner Broadcast
Booth. While he has a part-time role these
days, working a few innings at home day
games, Kiner remains Mets royalty. “I keep
coming back because I love baseball,” he says.
“I think the majority of people who retire and
don’t do anything atrophy. I’m much better off
being active.”

It’s hard to imagine for the premier home-run
hitter of his era, but Kiner has enjoyed as celebrated
a career in the booth as he had on the
field. Kiner slugged 369 home runs in ten seasons
(1946-55), but back trouble prompted his
retirement at 32. Despite his short career, Kiner
was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of
Fame in 1975. “If I’d played today, I probably
never would’ve quit,” he says with a smile. “I
would’ve been making millions of dollars.”

The adage “home-run hitters drive Cadillacs”
is often attributed to Kiner, and he indeed
has lived a Cadillac life, even taking
Elizabeth Taylor out after the pair was set up
by mutual friend Bing Crosby. They took in a
film premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in
Hollywood, but Taylor was not impressed to
learn that Kiner drove his own car. “She was
very nice,” Kiner demurs.

Current players may not know about Kiner’s
glittery past, but it’s not lost on students of
baseball history. “This is a man who has lived
one of the great lives of the current and last
century,” says Mets play-by-play man Gary
Cohen. “I often say he’s signed more autographs
than anyone in the history of the
world. He’s been famous since he was 17.”

Kiner joined the Mets broadcast crew for the
team’s inaugural season in 1962. The club was
famously awful, losing 120 while winning just
40. But Kiner, even from the booth, provided
a shot of credibility for a fledgling team that
desperately needed star power. He took the
miserable first season—and the many Mets
heartbreaks that followed—in stride. “I’d lost
112 games one year with the Pirates,” he says.
“I was used to it.”

Kiner was also well known for his postgame
show, Kiner’s Korner, which was shot
in a cramped studio inside the former Shea
Stadium. The set was spartan, but players enjoyed
the breezy banter with a baseball legend.
“When you were tapped on the shoulder and
asked, do you wanna do Ralph’s show, you were
never more excited,” says Darling, who played
for the Mets from 1983–1991 and now is an
on-air analyst for the team and for TBS. “You
left the show feeling like a better player than
you were. That’s how Ralph made you feel.”

Kiner’s demeanor may be avuncular, but
he’s not afraid to rip players for their lackluster
play, such as when he was critical of
Mets star David Wright earlier this season for
not being more aggressive in a situation that
called for a big hit. Cohen notes Kiner’s “noholds-
barred analysis.”

Kiner’s speech is slowed by Bell’s Palsy, but
his baseball intelligence remains razor-sharp.
He and Keith Hernandez—another former
elite hitter—engage in lively on-air debates on
the science of slugging, and Kiner has a seemingly
bottomless trove of stories to draw from
based on the action. With Mets knuckleballer
R.A. Dickey pitching against the Milwaukee
Brewers in late August, Kiner brought up a
quote from Brewers radio announcer and former
catcher Bob Uecker about the best way to
catch the dipping and diving pitch: wait for it
to stop rolling and pick it up. He mentioned
a Depression-era Hall of Fame catcher who
caught a rotation that featured four knuckleballers,
adding his own insights about how
best to hit the pitch, before bringing things
back to Dickey.

“Ralph brings a great sense of history to the
broadcast, but keen contemporary insights as
well,” says Curt Gowdy Jr., SNY senior VP of
production. “He follows the game daily; more
than ever, he has wonderful stories to tell.”

While some sports broadcasters ramp up
the volume to compete with the cacophony of
talk radio and cable news, Kiner—who cites
Vin Scully as his primary infl uence—prefers a
more minimalist style. “There’s too much noise,
too many simplifi cations of situations and so
much coverage that at times it gets uninteresting,”
says Kiner. “The game itself is a great
game. You don’t have to add anything to it.”

While the Mets are skidding toward another
irrelevant autumn, Kiner—to many, the true
Mr. Met—gives fans a reason to hold their
heads high. “[Mets majority owner] Fred Wilpon
told me I can have a job as long as I can
talk,” says Kiner. “I can still talk, so I guess I
have a job.”

E-mail
comments to
mmalone@nbmedia.com
and follow him on
Twitter: @StationBiz

Ralph Kiner

Title:
Broadcaster, New York Mets (SNY and WPIX)

Career Highlights:
Major League Baseball player, 1946-1955;
General manager, San Diego Padres (Pacific Coast League), 1959;
Broadcaster, Chicago White Sox, 1961;
Broadcaster, New York Mets, 1962-present
Inducted into National Baseball Hall of Fame, 1975; New York Mets Hall of Fame, 1984

Personal:
b. Oct. 27, 1922; married to Ann; children Scott, Michael, KC, Tracee and Kimberly

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