DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Baseball Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner has died at the age of 91. Kiner was a powerful slugger with the Pittsburgh Pirates but is best known to generations of baseball fans as the voice of the New York Mets.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED FOOTAGE)
RALPH KINER: Well, hi everybody. I'm Ralph Kiner and we have as our special guest Tom Sever who, of course, started the ball game for the Mets...
GREENE: Kiner broadcast the Met's very first game in 1962, and stayed with the team all the way up to this past season. NPR's Mike Pesca is on the line to remember Kiner's legacy. Hey, Mike.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hey.
GREENE: So tell me first about Kiner as a player which is before the period that many of us remember him from.
PESCA: Right. So he served in the Navy as a pilot in World War II, broke into the league in 1946. Immediately leads the league in home runs for the next seven straight seasons.
PESCA: Has a couple more good seasons with Pittsburgh, traded to Chicago. Back problems, out of baseball in 10 years. He is one of the few people - Babe Ruth is another - for whom it can be said he led the league in home runs for most of his playing career. And he was elected to the Hall of Fame by actually one vote about 15 years later.
GREENE: By just one vote? I mean, it's amazing that such a slugger with more home runs than almost anyone and you don't always think of him as one of baseball's great sluggers.
PESCA: Well, you don't because you think of him as a great broadcaster. And that is where people got to know him and as a Mets broadcaster, and with this signature post-game show, "Kiner's Korner" he really became beloved.
GREENE: Well, what were his strengths as a broadcaster that you feel made him special?
PESCA: Oh, he was giving and generous and he had a good wit. He was known for misstatements and malaprops: It's Fathers Day out there so we want to say to all the fathers Happy Birthday.
PESCA: And the like. But, you know, also if you watched a lot of Met games, as I did, the mechanics of hitting he was a master at. He'd talk about where the hands should be on the bat and the wrists - because he was so good at it and these were the things he talked about. He was a loquacious and giving guy and he also - you know, if you were a Mets fan you learned a lot about hitting from Ralph Kiner.
It was clear that the other greats who would always join him in the booth had enormous respect for Ralph Kiner.
GREENE: He was talking from experience.
GREENE: You know, I caught a couple of the "Kiner's Korner," the post-game interview show that you're talking about. I mean, especially in this day and age of just, you know, crazy fast paced media there was just something to simple and authentic about it.
PESCA: Well, "Kiner's Korner," it should be noted, both those words were spelled with a K and that tells you a little something.
PESCA: And it was just seen as such a big deal by the players. Back when he started, media was really small. There were only a few stations and this was a studio in the ballpark in New York. So players really wanted to get on that. And, you know, as late as the late '90s there was a Cardinals pitcher, Ricky Horton, who just kept saying his dream was to be on "Kiner's Korner" and he was never invited because you had to be the Player of the Game.
And Horton never really did it.
GREENE: Well, what - I mean, you live in New York. You're a sports fan, as I'm well aware of. I mean, do you remember Kiner as a broadcaster, as a player? I mean, what are the memories you have?
PESCA: Well, you knew that he was a great player and clips exist, but yes, he was - see, broadcasters are of course so important with the Mets, and starting from 1962 - way before my time - until a couple of years ago, he was almost fulltime. And then they would always bring him back. So the important thing about Kiner was sort of the important thing about baseball: it's the game without a clock.
It's the timeless game and it was his link to the past. So Ralph would talk about Hank Greenberg, the great slugger who was brought in to be his mentor with the Pirates. And Greenberg played on Detroit teams with Hall of Famers like Charlie Gehringer. Gehringer was a teammate of Ty Cobb. So in a couple steps you go from a guy talking about well, my mentor's teammate was Ty Cobb. So that was Ralph Kiner and that was baseball.
GREENE: All right. We've been talking to NPR's Mike Pesca about Baseball Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner who died at the age of 91 years old. Mike, thanks so much for talking to us, as always.
PESCA: You're welcome.
GREENE: And you are listening to that conversation here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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