THE HEIGHTS, NY – As a child, my formative years centered around all four team sports. The first eight years in Washington Heights featured the earliest form of cable television, showing Madison Square Garden events. All were watched with regularity.
Even with these new viewing options, my Dad was a baseball fan first and if you needed any proof, all three of his children were better-than-average ballplayers and students of the game. Part of our baseball education was watching, what might have been novel back then, a post game show called Kiner’s Korner.
How important was this show? Punishments were lifted, chores could be halted and meal times delayed so a father could watch but also teach his offspring what Professor Kiner was preaching in his interviews with players among analysis of that game’s highlights. And yes, Mom watched, too. The program’s studio was outfitted like a working class family’s finished basement; cozy if not cramped with faux wood paneling, crummy lighting, a large table and a few spare chairs.
Kiner also helped bridge a generation gap in a way. Collecting baseball cards and recognizing statistics on the back was a method of promoting the numbers associated with baseball and wasn’t lost on Dad. One day I’d asked Dad about Kiner as a player and that Christmas received what is to this day a most memorable gift, a copy of The Baseball Encyclopedia. Names I was familiar with now came to life and could be discussed with Dad and siblings through pages of statistics.
I revisited Kiner’s stats on Baseball Reference and as always, ignored all the sabermatrician categories and look immediately at a player’s 162-game average. For Ralph Kiner: 41 HR, 112 RBI, .280 Avg., right up there with The Bambino and Hammerin’ Hank Aaron. And speaking of which, only Ruth had a better HR to AB ratio among non-juicers (McGwire and Bonds others). Only a shortened career kept Kiner from the 500 or 600 Home Run Club – but didn’t deny him a worthy place in Cooperstown as a Hall of Famer.
In listening to many people recant stories of Kiner - the man - from colleagues to personnel to everyman, he was a Hall of Fame person. Not many athletes “get it” but Ralph did. He lived a charmed life through his ability and the game of baseball and knew it. Listening to his broadcasts you can tell he was a baseball historian and baseball fan first and foremost and reached his audience–and that’s giving back to the game. He dated harlots but his surf ’n turf taste in women couldn’t hide his beer and hot dog fabric as part of his HOF induction speech bares;
“Jimmy Cullinane (first close friend in baseball), will you stand up for a minute, please. There he is, right here. Jimmy taught me how to drink beer“. (Full speech at www.baseballhall.org) What a friggin’ guy! As simple and understated as his home run call was is as overstated as his congeniality toward everybody. With Ralph Kiner goes one more connection to my Dad and youth, as well.
Ralph Kiner… Going, going, gone goodbye.
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