Friday, February 7, 2014

"Home run hitters drive Cadillacs, singles hitters drive Fords."

                               It's a great accomplishment to be beloved by two generations of fans.  It could be argued that Ralph Kiner was beloved by three, possibly four generations, depending on your definition of "generation."  I moved to New York in 2002, so by the time I saw Ralph Kiner, he was one of the elderly statesmen of baseball, usually showing up somewhere in the middle of Mets T.V. broadcasts, giving his insights while Gary Cohen, Ron Darling and/or Keith Hernandez called the game.

                   Of course being somewhat of a baseball historian, I knew Kiner was one of the most feared sluggers of the first half of the 20th century.  After serving his time in WWII, he burst onto the scene with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1946, leading the league with 23 home runs...he was only just getting started.  Kiner led the National league in homers every year from 1946-1952, and in six of those years, he led the entire Major leagues in that category...both are still records to this day.

           He was helped slightly by Forbes field's short leftfield porch, which they constructed for the then newly acquired slugger Hank Greenberg, calling it "Greenberg Gardens."  After Kiner hit 51 homers in '47, fans renamed it "Kiner's Korner", which later became the name for a post T.V. broadcast show he would host.  The Pirates were a second division club during his tenure there, so Pittsburgh's GM Branch Rickey decided to trade Ralph to the Cubs saying, "We finished last with you, we can finish last without you.

       A bad back forced Kiner out of the  game by the mid mid '50s, and he became a broadcaster in 1961 for the Chicago White Sox.  The next year, he landed the radio broadcast job for the expansion New York Mets, in which he, Bob Murphy and Linsay Nelson would rotate duties.  When the Mets won it all in '69, he was  one of the announcers for NBC radio.  As an announcer, he had the third longest run, trailing only Jamie Jarrin and Vin Scully while also hosting the aforementioned "Kiner's Korner on T.V., where he'd interview player's after the game.

                 During his last year of eligibility in 1975, Kiner  was elected to the baseball hall of fame, making it by one vote.  By that point, of course, he was probably more well known as a broadcaster than he was a player.  One of the more amazing aspects of his longevity in that field was the fact that he suffered from Bell's Palsy, a condition which slurs your speech.  He was able to deal with it for the most part, until his later years...His malapropisms were legendary, once calling Gary carter "Gary Cooper" and himself "Ralph Korner."  He was a humble man, despite uttering the immortal line: "Home run hitters drives Cadillacs, singles hitters drive Fords..."  (editors note: My last car was a Ford...)

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