RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (AP) – Ralph Kiner, who slugged his way into the baseball Hall of Fame and enjoyed a half-century career as a popular broadcaster, died Thursday. He was 91.
The Hall said Kiner died at his home in Rancho Mirage with his family at his side.
Kiner hit 369 home runs during his 10-year career, mostly with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He made his debut in 1946 and his power quickly became the talk of baseball – he won or tied for the National League lead in homers in each of his first seven seasons.
“Kiner’s Korner” was already a fixture on the New York Mets’ airways when he was inducted into the Hall in 1975. He was elected with just one vote to spare in his 15th and final year on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot.
The six-time All-Star still ranks sixth all-time with a home run every 14.1 at-bats. He averaged more than 100 RBIs per season and hit .279 with the Pirates, the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland.
When he retired early because of back problems, Kiner was sixth on the career home run list. Several years later, he joined the broadcast crew of the Mets for their expansion season in 1962 and earned a permanent place – the home TV booth at Shea Stadium was named in his honor.
“Kiner’s Korner” was a delight for players and fans alike, where stars would join Kiner for postgame chats.
Kiner was known for his malaprops and took them in stride, often laughing about his own comments. He once famously said: “If Casey Stengel were alive today, he’d be spinning in his grave.”
Kiner had a stroke about a decade ago that slowed his speech, but remained an occasional part of the Mets’ announcing crew. He worked a handful of games last season at Citi Field, his 52th year of calling their games.
Fellow announcers such as Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling always brightened when Kiner was alongside them. Younger fans who were born long after Kiner retired also reveled in his folksy tales.
“As one of baseball’s most prolific power hitters for a decade, Ralph struck fear into the hearts of the best pitchers of baseball’s Golden Era despite his easygoing nature, disarming humility and movie-star smile,” Hall President Jeff Idelson said in a statement.
“His engaging personality and profound knowledge of the game turned him into a living room companion for millions of New York Mets fans who adored his game broadcasts and later ‘Kiner’s Korner’ for more than half a century,” he said. “He was as comfortable hanging out in Palm Springs with his friend Bob Hope as he was hitting in front of Hank Greenberg at Forbes Field.”
As a teen, hanging around the Hollywood Stars in the Pacific Coast League, Kiner shook hands with Babe Ruth and talked ball with Ty Cobb. In high school, he hit a home run off Satchel Paige during a barnstorming tour.
When he got older, Kiner got to play with real Hollywood stars. His pals included Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra and he once squired Liz Taylor.
As a rookie, Kiner won the NL homer title with 23, beating Johnny Mize by one. He really broke loose the next year, hitting 51 home runs with 127 RBIs while batting .313.
Stuck on poor teams, Kiner never made it to the postseason. He made his mark in All-Star games, homering in three straight.
Kiner connected in the 1950 showcase at Comiskey Park, but made more noise with another ball he hit in the game. He hit a long drive to the base of the scoreboard in left-center field and Ted Williams broke his left elbow making the catch, causing him to miss two months.
“Williams always said I ruined his batting stroke, that he could never hit after that,” Kiner said. “Yeah, sure. He only hit .388 in ’57.”
Ralph McPherran Kiner was born on Oct. 27, 1922. He married tennis star Nancy Chaffee in 1951.