A Hall of Fame slugger who dated Hollywood stars and made it big in New York, Ralph Kiner, who died Thursday at age 91, lived a life that others dream about. Yet unlike so many other big name athletes, Kiner knew the world wasn’t all about him. Like his baseball royalty contemporary Yogi Berra, Kiner had an innate sense of humility that comes not just from excelling at game where failing seven out of ten times makes you a star but from being comfortable enough with who you are that you don’t need to prove anything.
One of the most revealing things about Kiner, which I didn’t see in any of the tributes to him, was the story he told about an autograph seeker who asked him, “Didn’t you used to be Ralph Kiner?”
Kiner led the National League in home runs for his first seven seasons with the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates. After one season, Pirates general manager Branch Rickey presented Kiner with a contract calling for a pay cut. According to Kiner, Rickey told him, “Son, we can finish last without you.” Kiner became an ardent campaigner for improved pensions for players,
I grew up with Kiner in his role as one of the New York Mets original broadcasters, along with Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy. Referring to a Philadelphia Phillies outfielder, Kiner made another lasting addition to the baseball lexicon: “Two-thirds of the earth is covered by water. The other third is covered by Garry Maddox.”
There wasn’t any aspect of baseball and good living that Ralph Kiner didn’t cover, and the game was greatly enriched by his association with it. Now, stay tuned for Kiner’s Korner.
Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.