Thursday, October 27, 2011

Rant #605: Happy Birthday, Ralph

Ralph Kiner is 89 today.

It is hard to believe that the youthful Kiner is nearing 90, but I guess we all get older.

If you are a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, you know of Kiner's exploits on the baseball field.

As the 2011 season nears its end, Kiner continues to stand as one of the most feared sluggers in the history of the game.

But to New Yorkers, and especially Mets fans, Kiner is something else entirely.

When the fledgling franchise began operations in 1962, Kiner was the third voice hired to guide fans through the pitfalls--and pratfalls--of the expansion team.

Along with Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy, Kiner made their first season--40 wins, 120 losses--at least somewhat palatable.

And he stayed with the Mets through the lean years and the good years, back to the lean years of today.

He was with them when they won the championship in 1969 and 1986, and he is still with them.

With Nelson and Murphy long gone, Kiner has been a broadcaster with the Mets for nearly 50 years.

And with that, we come to Kiner's Korner.

This was the long-time postgame show that Kiner hosted after Mets games, then on Channel 9.

The only way I can describe it is that it was sort of "The Twilight Zone" mashing up with a normal sports report.

And although that sounds bizarre, and it was bizarre, it worked.

Guests, usually the star of the game, would appear on the show. In fact, they considered it a badge of honor to appear on the show.

Kiner would often forget who he was interviewing, or would garble their names.

He often forgot the score of the game that was just broadcast, and when he gave the out of town scores, he often messed up who won and who lost.

He often garbled ad copy that he had to read.

And the cheesey set that the show used didn't help either.

It was surreal, but it was highly watchable, even for this dyed-in-the-wool Yankees fan. I tried to never miss it.

Most of the shows are reportedly gone, as most shows of this nature simply weren't thought to be anything that anybody would care about years later. How wrong that is! I would love to see some of the old shows again.

Kiner has slowed down some in later years. He suffers from Bell's Palsy, which greatly impacted his speech. He doesn't hold court at his Korner anymore, and he only occasionally joins those manning the booth, including former major leaguers Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling.

But he does appear during numerous games, and when he comes into the booth, you know that you are home. This guy knows baseball as well as anyone, and his Hall of Fame credentials notwithstanding, he is someone that you really have to stop and listen to. The insight he gives on baseball is really second to none. He knows what he is talking about.

When Kiner, Murphy and Nelson manned the Mets' booth, the were part of the heyday of New York baseball on television and radio. With the Yankees, you had their classic team of Phil Rizzuto, Bill White and Frank Messer.

Through these broadcast teams, you not only found out what was happening on the field, but off the field too, like what Rizzuto was going to have for dinner, or whose birthday it was.

It was heaven. Either you loved these guys or you hated them. I happened to love them. They looked at baseball as what it was--a kids' game played by grown men--and they went with it, full steam ahead.

So happy birthday, Ralph. Even though I am a Yankees fan, I always look forward to hearing what you have to say.

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