'Everyone loved him': Ralph Kiner remembered fondly by former broadcast partners
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Ralph Kiner spent more than a half-century analyzing Mets games on TV and radio, making him an iconic figure for not only several generations of fans but for several generations of his fellow announcers.
That included his final group of colleagues, the SNY team that welcomed him for occasional appearances in recent seasons and found him as engaged -- and engaging -- as ever.
"The most important thing about Ralph was that he was one of the nicest human beings I've ever met," said Gary Cohen, SNY's play-by-play man.
Analyst Ron Darling said that as sad as he was about Kiner's death at age 91 Thursday, he was heartened because "over the next day or so, everyone is going to know who Ralph Kiner was, and that's cool."
Cool is the word when it comes to a man who served in World War II, had a Hall of Fame playing career, dated movie stars and became a beloved announcer, all while seemingly making no enemies.
Darling said that while players traditionally rub a teammate on a hitting streak for good luck, "with Ralph, you should be rubbing him for a good life.
"Everyone loved him."
Cohen, as a lifelong Mets fan, grew up with Kiner, who was in the original broadcasting crew with the late Lindsey Nelson and the late Bob Murphy. Darling and Keith Hernandez first encountered him as players.
Hernandez recalled that Kiner was "liked universally" by Mets of the 1980s, when he teamed with Tim McCarver, because of his ability to be analytical but not critical, and because of his credentials as a former star player.
"Whenever I think of him, I think of a plane ride in 1984 when I made a point to sit in front of him and engage him in a conversation on hitting," Hernandez said. "We talked the whole flight. I will remember that as long as I live."
Kiner always was a gifted storyteller, but in later years, he had a knack for taking stories from the 1940s and '50s and adapting them to what was happening on the field in the 2010s.
Cohen, Darling and Hernandez all noted how well prepared he was.
"I was shocked that he watched every game," Hernandez said. "He loved baseball. He would come and ask what you think of the team and he would know exactly what was going on."
Hernandez said working with Kiner was "magic. He never lost his intelligence or his wit in his 90s. He never lost his acuteness."
Said Cohen: "The vocal quality may have waned, but the content was as sharp in his last years as it ever was."
Darling said that whenever Kiner was scheduled to work, he would try to arrive early "so I could just sit with him and talk. He had all of his old stories but also could tell me what happened the last couple of weeks and say, 'How come so-and-so is not hitting?' He was so current."
Kiner grew up in California, never played in New York and began his broadcasting career with the White Sox in 1961. But as an established former National League star, he was a natural fit for the league's return to New York in 1962.
It was a connection that lasted far longer than anyone could have imagined.
"There's no question to me that this is one of the last links between the Met fan and the origins of the franchise," Cohen said.
Bob Wolff of News 12 Long Island, who is 93, interviewed Kiner during his playing days and saw him make the transition to the broadcast booth in an era when former players still were a relative novelty in that role.
"He gave his opinions when there were very few opinion guys," Wolff said. "But he was particularly good at it because he got along with everybody.
"When you're on every day, you have to wear well with people. Announcers become part of the family and their idiosyncrasies are accepted like any other family member. He was terrific."
Rusty Staub, another of Kiner's former broadcast partners, said, "We had great fun during the games. We both enjoyed good food and wine. Most of all, he was one of the nicest human beings I've ever met."
Added Mets radio announcer Howie Rose, "There has never been a warmer, more genuine individual in any walk of life that I've ever come in contact with. He didn't just live to be 91 years old; he lived for 91 years. He wasn't cheated for one second, and neither was anyone who knew him."
Cohen was struck by the reverence Hernandez clearly had for Kiner. "Keith doesn't get awed by much, but I think he was awed by Ralph," he said.
But Kiner's personality was such that he made everyone around him comfortable.
"Obviously I grew up listening to Ralph, and to me, he's one of the towering figures in the game of all time," Cohen said. "He was an enormous figure. But he became part of our family."
With Arthur Staple