Way back in the day, many, many, many moons ago, I watched the Mets on WWOR, Channel 9 in New York. The Mets back then were announced by Tim McCarver, who at the time was worth listening to; Steve Zabriskie, who sorta vanished; and the immortal Ralph Kiner, who had been part of the Mets broadcasting team since Day 1 back in 1962.
In the mid-1980s, when I was first getting into baseball, announcing for 25 years was a big deal, but far from a legendary accomplishment. That Kiner remained in the booth for 30 more years put the man in very rare air. Among current broadcasters, only Vin Scully in Los Angeles and formerly of Brooklyn can claim more tenure.
Sadly, on Thursday, Feb 6th, Ralph Kiner passed on to the Great Ballfield in the Sky.
It is a sad day for Mets fans. While the team had its good years, its bad years, its years of celebration, and its years of embarrassment (both on or off the field), Kiner was always there. There was never a Mets year without Ralph Kiner. A brief Youtube search brings up this clip of equally legendary Howard Cosell introducing the first ever Mets broadcast in Spring Training 1962. Notice Cosell “throws it” to Kiner, along with his long-time partners Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy.
Possibly even before the first spring game, Kiner was amidst the Mets at their former training facility in St Petersburg, Florida. Here he is discussing the upcoming inaugural season with veteran pitcher Roger Craig.
You have to love Craig’s optimism about a team that would lose 120 games. But that’s baseball. And Ralph Kiner definitely was baseball. Hard to imagine 1962 was 51 years ago.
Here is one more video. Following the news of his death, SNY contacted Vin Scully to discuss his memories of Ralph Kiner. Scully talks almost as much about Kiner’s 10 year big league career in the 1950s as he does about Kiner’s broadcasting career. But when he does comment on Kiner’s booth ability, he has nothing but high praise.
Finally, I want to share a few links from two of the Mets sites I frequent.
Over at MetsBlog, Matthew Cerrone writes:
He made me feel like, as a young fan, I was part of a legacy. He talked about hitting, technique, race, life on the road, personalities, aging, success and failure, and everything in between. He shaped a lot of how I look at the game on field. I’m not alone. He had this impact on others, and in that way he’ll live on forever…
Over at Fear and Faith in Flushing (perhaps my favorite baseball blog on the Internet), Greg Prince writes about Kiner and his impact on Mets fans.
Ralph Kiner will not be dropping by the booth in 2014. I want to say he’s unavailable and leave it at that. It’s too tough to believe, even after he lived 91 years, that the Mets go on without him. There’s never been the Mets without Ralph Kiner calling their games or, per his more recent part-time role, interrupting them. The Ralph of whom we were treated to select innings in the SNY era was the dandiest of intermittent presences. He was a baseball sage who could address any element his partners steered his way, and in doing so, he transported his audience to bundle after bundle of games, years and personalities that nobody else was telling us about anymore. It was a gift he kept on giving, and knowing that the gifts wouldn’t always pile up under the baseball tree made them that much more precious when we were lucky enough to receive them.
Although I haven’t lived in New York in quite some time, and will probably never move back, the Mets are like home to me. Like classic rock, the Mets are something I can always go back to, sing along with, and feel comfort in. My history rooting for the Mets goes back further than the Rays, further than the Seminoles, further than the Knicks, and further than my time in the military or my interest in music. As a kid, the Mets were it. My first real interest. They were the team of my Dad, of my Grandparents, and most of my friends. They were my team.
And part of that was because of Ralph Kiner.