Tim McCarver spent countless hours with Ralph Kiner, through a couple of thousand baseball games, hundreds of dinners and even a few visits to "Kiner's Korner."

But through it all, he said yesterday, "You never got tired of listening to Ralph."

That was what helped make Kiner, who died Thursday, such an endearing professional partner for McCarver in 16 years together calling Mets games -- and also what made Kiner such an endearing figure for fans.

"You don't want to tell stories where you know that someone sitting at home is rolling their eyes going, 'Oh, no, I have heard this before,' " McCarver said. "You never got that feeling with Ralph.

"He was a master raconteur. It was the feeling that even though you had heard the stories time and time and time again, there was a different twist to it every time."

Many of Kiner's relatively recent colleagues spoke fondly of him when the news came Thursday, but no one alive had as long and close a partnership with him as McCarver.

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As with most remembrances of Kiner's life and times, his was more celebratory than sad.

"It was just a privilege to sit next to him on a nightly basis and travel with him and have myriad dinners together and laugh and laugh," McCarver said by phone from northern California.

"When you can talk about someone who has passed and a smile comes to your face -- that might be the greatest compliment you can pay someone in your life."

McCarver lamented that Kiner's death severed "probably baseball's best generational connection.

"You could say Vin Scully is also, and Vinny certainly is. But Vinny didn't play the game. Ralph played the game at the highest level."

Part of the fun of working with Kiner was the "dynamic" Mets teams they chronicled in the mid-1980s, when the television ratings were stratospheric and the Mets ruled the town.

"The Mets were enormously popular in those days, and we got to be the conduits," he said.

McCarver, 72, is old enough to recall the honor and thrill of appearing on "Kiner's Korner" as a visiting player, when the $50 reward that came with the gig "carried a different meaning" than it does now.

"Believe me," he said, laughing, "you could do a lot in New York for $50 in those days."