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Ralph Kiner, the Hall of Fame slugger and colorful baseball broadcaster who worked New York Mets games for more than a half-century, died Thursday at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. He was 91.
After belting 369 home runs during his 10-year career, mostly with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Kiner, after one year as a Chicago White Sox broadcaster, joined the Mets for their inaugural season. A battle with bell’s palsy left his speech slurred in recent years, but he managed to squeeze in at least a few games each season.
Teamed in the broadcast booth with Bob Murphy and Lindsey Nelson for the Mets’ first 17 seasons, Kiner also was known for hosting the popular but distinctly low-budget postgame show Kiner’s Korner, which debuted in 1963 on WOR-TV (Channel 9). He usually interviewed players from the game (though his first guests were comedians Buddy Hackett and Phil Foster) and cued up highlights.
Kiner also was known for malapropos — he once forgot his own name on the air and said of a pitcher, “All of his saves have come in relief appearances” — but took the mistakes in stride.
He also came up with the occasional great line, as when he spoke of a sure-handed Philadelphia Phillies center fielder of the 1980s: “Two-thirds of the Earth is covered by water. The other third is covered by Garry Maddox.”
The home TV booth at Shea Stadium, the Mets’ former home, was named in his honor.
“Ralph Kiner was one of the most beloved people in Mets history — an original Met and extraordinary gentleman,” Mets chairman and CEO Fred Wilpon said in a statement. “After a Hall of Fame playing career, Ralph became a treasured broadcasting icon for more than half a century. His knowledge of the game, wit and charm entertained generations of Mets fans.”
Bing Crosby, who was part-owner of the Pirates when Kiner was playing, often took his left fielder under his wing during the off-season and introduced him around Hollywood. A photo from 1949 showed the ballplayer dressed in a tuxedo at a table with Elizabeth Taylor, then 17.
Kiner later built a home in Palm Springs, and Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz and Bob Hope became pals.
Kiner was married three times: to tennis star Nancy Chaffee (who later married to sportscaster Jack Whitaker) from 1951 to ’68; to Barbara Kiner from 1969 to 1980; and to DiAnn Kiner from 1982 until her death in 2004.
Kiner was born in Santa Rita, N.M., and raised in Alhambra, Calif. He spent World War II as a Navy pilot flying antisubmarine missions in the Pacific, then made his big-league debut in April 1946 with the Pirates.
In his second season, mentored by fellow Pittsburgh slugger Hank Greenberg, who had just come over in a trade with the Detroit Tigers, Kiner belted a league-leading 51 home runs. Many of his blasts at Forbes Field landed over the short left-field fence into the bullpen, an area sportswriters soon dubbed “Kiner’s Korner.”
When Kiner retired in 1955 because of a back injury at age 32, he was sixth on the all-time home run list, just ahead of Joe DiMaggio. The Pirates retired his uniform, No. 4, in 1987, and he entered the Hall of Fame on his 15th try in 1985 — by one writer’s vote — in his final year of his initial eligibility.
Survivors include five children and 12 grandchildren.
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