Slugger, beloved broadcaster Kiner dies at 91
RALPH KINER, who slugged his way into the Hall of Fame and enjoyed a half-century career as a broadcaster, died yesterday. He was 91.
The Hall said Kiner died at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif., with his family at his side.
Kiner hit 369 home runs during his 10-year career, mostly with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He made his debut in 1946 and his power quickly became the talk of baseball - he won or tied for the National League lead in homers in each of his first seven seasons.
"Kiner's Korner" was already a fixture on the New York Mets' airways when he was inducted into the Hall in 1975. He was elected with just one vote to spare in his 15th and final year on the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot.
The six-time All-Star ranks sixth all-time with a home run every 14.1 at-bats. He averaged more than 100 RBI per season and hit .279 with the Pirates, the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland.
When he retired early because of back problems, Kiner was sixth on the career home-run list. Several years later, he joined the broadcast crew of the Mets for their expansion season in 1962 and earned a permanent place - the home TV booth at Shea Stadium was named in his honor.
"Kiner's Korner" was a delight for players and fans alike, where stars would join Kiner for postgame chats.
Kiner was known for his malaprops and took them in stride, often laughing about his own comments. He once famously said: "If Casey Stengel were alive today, he'd be spinning in his grave."
Kiner had a stroke about a decade ago that slowed his speech, but he remained an occasional part of the Mets' announcing crew. He worked a handful of games last season at Citi Field, his 52th year of calling their games.
Fellow announcers such as Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling always brightened when Kiner was alongside them. Younger fans who were born long after Kiner retired also reveled in his folksy tales.
"As one of baseball's most prolific power hitters for a decade, Ralph struck fear into the hearts of the best pitchers of baseball's Golden Era despite his easygoing nature, disarming humility and movie-star smile," Hall president Jeff Idelson said in a statement.
Kiner was born on Oct. 27, 1922 in New Mexico. He grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles. As a teen, hanging around the Hollywood Stars in the Pacific Coast League, Kiner shook hands with Babe Ruth and talked ball with Ty Cobb. In high school, he hit a home run off Satchel Paige during a barnstorming tour.
When he got older, Kiner got to play with real Hollywood stars. His pals included Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, and he once squired Liz Taylor.
As a rookie, Kiner won the NL home-run title with 23, beating Johnny Mize by one. He really broke loose the next year, hitting 51 home runs with 127 RBI while batting .313.
Stuck on poor teams, Kiner never made it to the postseason. He made his mark in All-Star Games, homering in three straight.
Kiner connected in the 1950 showcase at Chicago's Comiskey Park, but made more noise with another ball he hit in the game. He hit a long drive to the base of the scoreboard in left-centerfield and Ted Williams broke his left elbow making the catch, causing him to miss 2 months.
"Williams always said I ruined his batting stroke, that he could never hit after that," Kiner said. "Yeah, sure. He only hit .388 in '57."
* Reliever Fernando Rodney and the Seattle Mariners have agreed to a 2-year, $14 million contract, sources told ESPN and the Associated Press. Rodney had 37 saves for Tampa Bay last year.
* The Colorado Rockies will retire former first baseman Todd Helton's No. 17 on Aug. 17.