Ralph Kiner, a Hall of Fame player in a career spent mostly with the Pirates who went on to have an equally prominent career as a broadcaster for the Mets, died at 91 of natural causes at his home in California.
Kiner played for the Pirates, Cubs and Indians in a 10-year career and hit more than 40 homers five years in a row, averaging nearly 47 home runs a season in that stretch, and he ended up with 369 home runs. He started his major league career at age 23 in 1946, after serving three years as a Navy pilot during World War II.
Kiner finished in the top 10 in MVP voting five consecutive seasons and hit .297/.398/.548 for his career. Despite his success with the Pirates, he was traded to the Cubs on June 4, 1953, after continual salary disputes with Pittsburgh general manager Branch Rickey.
Rickey, as Kiner often recalled, told the outfielder, “We finished last with you, we can finish last without you.”
Chronic back problems forced Kiner to retire after the 1955 season at age 32. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1975, getting 273 votes from the Baseball Writers Association of America, one more than required, in his final year on the ballot.
As successful as he was on the field—Kiner was one of the most feared righthanded hitters in his era—he became equally beloved for his work on Mets broadcasts and on his TV postgame show, “Kiner’s Korner.”
The Kiner’s Korner moniker first developed during Kiner’s playing career in Pittsburgh at Forbes Field, which had a short left-field porch. Many of Kiner’s homers landed in Kiner’s Korner, as it was dubbed, and he carried that over to his TV show.
A master of the malaprop, Kiner is perhaps best known for this opening for one Father’s Day telecast: “It’s Father’s Day today at Shea, so to all you fathers out there, happy birthday.”
Although the players received a modest stipend to appear as guests on his show, they enjoyed visiting with Kiner.
“The thing about Ralph is he made you feel so comfortable—no pretense, just be yourself,” Hall of Famer Tom Seaver told The New York Times. “It wasn’t a high-end show. But the best thing is he understood; he knew just what you meant.”
Despite his on-air bloopers, or perhaps because of them, he was beloved by the Mets and their fans, broadcasting games through 2013.
“Ralph Kiner was one of the most beloved people in Mets history, an original Met and extraordinary gentleman,” Mets owner and CEO Fred Wilpon said in a statement. “After a Hall of Fame playing career, Ralph became a treasured broadcasting icon for more than half a century. His knowledge of the game, wit, and charm entertained generations of Mets fans. Like his stories, he was one of a kind. We send our deepest condolences to Ralph’s five children and twelve grandchildren. Our sport and society today lost one of the all-time greats.”