RIP, Ralph Kiner, 91

by Jason Epstein

Hall of Fame outfielder, one-time Elizabeth Taylor boyfriend, and longtime Mets broadcaster Ralph Kiner has died, reportedly from natural causes. He was 91 years old.

Ralph slugged 369 big-league home runs over a mere ten seasons (1946–55), most of which were spent with the usually hapless Pirates. It is possible that the Second World War shortened his playing career. (According to Bill Madden of the New York Daily News, Ralph was playing in Triple A in 1943 but joined the Navy halfway through the season.) However, he retired while still 33, thanks to a chronic back condition that was affecting his play.

In 1962, Ralph joined Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy as the expansion Mets’ television and radio team, a threesome that remained together for a record 17 years. Starting in 1982, Ralph called games exclusively on telecasts and remained a regular in the TV booth until 2006.

Let’s be clear: Ralph could never be confused with Vin Scully, but he was no slouch either. Listening to him as a youngster in the late 1970s and throughout the 80s, I knew Ralph as a credible narrator of what was taking place on the diamond. His trademark home-run call was understated yet unmistakable: “That ball is going, going, gone, good-bye.”

Perhaps even more important, during lulls in the game he would tell simply fabulous stories covering a variety of topics: Branch Rickey, Hank Greenberg, Casey Stengel, Marv Throneberry, Ms. Taylor and other Hollywood celebrities, charity golf tournaments, dry cleaning — you name it.

Every Mets fan of a certain age fondly remembers Kiner’s Korner, the breezy, postgame wrap-up show on WOR-TV (channel 9 in New York), which typically included an interview with one of the key players from the winning squad.

And as Ralph aged, he also became known for his unwitting embrace of malapropisms. One of my all-time favorites: “If Casey Stengel were alive today, he’d be spinning in his grave.”

Gone, good-bye, Ralph. Rest in peace.

Right Field

Brief chronicles of our sporting times.