Feb 06

Mets’ Legend Ralph Kiner Remembered

This one hurts. Not just the New York Mets and their fans, but all Major League Baseball, lost a legend today with the passing of Ralph Kiner in his California home with his family by his side.

Kiner lived his 91 years to his fullest as a Hall of Fame slugger followed by a 52-year broadcast career with the Mets. This is a man who hung around with Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, and dated Elizabeth Taylor.

Murphy, Nelson and Kiner: Gone, but never forgotten.

Murphy, Nelson and Kiner: Gone, but never forgotten.

On and off the field, Kiner was a star, one who inspired and drew awe, but of his traits and skills, perhaps his greatest was his humility and ability to connect with his adoring fans on a basic, human level.

“Losing Ralph is like losing a member of the family,’’ said Mets broadcaster Howie Rose, perhaps saying it best. “His warmth, humility and sense of humor will be missed. I’ll always treasure being able to share a broadcast booth with a Hall of Famer in every sense of the word.’’

Numbers are numbers, and Kiner’s were most impressive, beginning with leading the National League in homers in each of his first seven years in the majors. He averaged a homer every 14.1 at-bats and over 100 RBI a season.

However, those are numbers, which don’t accurately measure his impact.

Bud Selig called him “a player ahead of his time.’’

In a statement, the Pirates, for whom he starred, said: “Ralph was one of the greatest players to ever wear a Pirates uniform and was a tireless ambassador for the game of baseball. He was a treasured member of the Pittsburgh community during his seven years with the Pirates.’’

Tom Seaver called him “a jewel,’’ while Mets owner Fred Wilpon said: “Ralph Kiner was one of the most beloved people in Mets history – an original Met and extraordinary gentleman. … He was one of a kind.’’

Mets fans grew to know, and love Kiner, as a broadcaster. He, along with Bob Murphy and Lindsey Nelson, were their original broadcast team. Kiner carved out a niche for himself as host of “Kiner’s Korner,’’ the postgame show where players reveled in talking with Kiner and getting gift certificates and $100 checks.

Kiner became known for his stories and malaprops, once saying, “if Casey Stengel were alive today he’d be spinning in his grave.’’

Not just stories, but Kiner loved to talk hitting, often, in the days before specialized hitting coaches, talking with the younger Mets.

“One September afternoon in 1969, I asked him to come and feed balls through the pitching machine,’’ recalled Ron Swoboda. “We talked for about an hour. He gave me tips on holding the bat. That night I had the greatest night of my career.’’

That night, Sept. 15, Swoboda hit a pair of two-run homers off Steve Carlton in a 4-3 victory. That night, Carlton struck out 19 Mets.

I have had several opportunities to talk with Kiner while covering the Mets. Once in spring training, Kiner spoke to a group of reporters for about 15 minutes. I had a couple of extra questions and wanted to grab him for a few more moments.

Forty-five minutes later, Ralph and I were still talking in the Mets’ dugout in Port St. Lucie. He was a joy.

However, that wasn’t the first time Ralph was so generous with his time with me.

As a college intern working for the Houston Astros, I had the opportunity to do stats for the Mets broadcast crew of Ralph, Murphy and Nelson for a weekend series. I don’t remember if he said anything humorous that weekend. What I do remember was he was gracious, warm and friendly. I was a college intern and this man was in the Hall of Fame and dated Liz Taylor.

Still, he was genuine, and as Howie Rose said, treated everyone like they were family. I had a chance that weekend to learn first hand what thousands of New Yorkers already knew: Ralph Kiner was a gem.

 

Apr 11

Mets No Longer Lovable Losers

Well, you didn’t expect perfection, did you?

POLO GROUNDS: Where it began for the Mets.

The Mets gained the reputation as “Lovable Losers” in their infancy, which began 50 years ago today with a decisive loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. Last night was also decisive, but there was nothing lovable about it as the Mets started the night with news their often-injured third baseman, David Wright, had a fractured right pinkie and is expected to be placed on the disabled list.

Then, I suppose in a page taken from the original Mets, Dillon Gee gave up a game-opening home run to Ian Desmond. We knew the Mets would eventually lose, but defeat was certain and ugly, containing butchered plays by Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda, two defensive liabilities to begin with, but not with the Marvelous Marv flair.

Gee was roughed up and the offense disappeared and their first defeat of the season was in the books. There will be others, but defeat in 2012 will be different than defeat in 1962.

Back then, New York was happy to have National League baseball back in the city and embraced the rag-tag group of veteran rejects managed by circus barker Casey Stengel. Defeat was often and came in various forms and with the Stengel proclamation: “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

Well, at one time, they did. At one time, Gil Hodges, Duke Snider and Richie Ashburn could really play. However, 50 years ago, they represented memories in flannels.

Today’s Mets, while undermanned, have a core of young and talented players, with more on the way up. Had the original Mets taken to start with youth before veterans, who knows how the history of the franchise would have changed?

Perhaps, we might have had the Miracle Mets before 1969. Then again, the karma would have been altered. Like much about baseball, there’s fun and beauty in speculation.

The Mets celebrate 50 years this season, and we all have our memories and special moments. Mine is different than yours, but they are all special. I don’t know how this year will wind up, but it will be special in its own right because it will contain a new set of memories.

It began with a sprint out of the gate with four exciting and well-played victories, but sputtered last night with bad pitching, spotty defense and no hitting, just like it was 50 years ago.

But, it’s not 1962 anymore. The Mets have a new stadium and aren’t playing in the rundown Polo Grounds. Those Mets weren’t expected to be good, or even compete. Today’s Mets must compete, and in New York, that means winning.

 

Feb 10

No problems with Alderson on social media.

Sandy Alderson came here as a caretaker with commissioner Bud Selig’s blessing. He knew he was inheriting a mess and was brought in to clean it up. In his introductory press conference, Alderson promised a new culture and a better connection with the fans.

Social media is a part of that.

ALDERSON: Trying to connect.

Alderson’s comment about holding a fund raiser for gas money was funny and taking a shot at the Mets’ finances was self-disparaging humor at its best. Better have Alderson make a crack than have the fans posting for days about the team having no money. It’s something Casey Stengel would have said.

Alderson is trying to relate to the fan base in way the organization hasn’t for years. Social media is that outlet.

The Mets send emails to their season-ticket holder, but Twitter is the way to say something to the masses spontaneously. I don’t expect Alderson to go on Twitter telling of contract negotiations and trade talks, but it doesn’t hurt when the man occasionally comes out from behind the curtain.

 

 

 

Jul 24

Today in Mets’ History: Casey inducted into Hall.

On this day in 1966, former Mets and Yankees manager Casey Stengel was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Stengel was an original and his estate has made his life a cottage industry.

To learn more about the man, the player and the manager, please read on.

And, to laugh about the legend that is Stengel, browse through some of his more memorable quotes.

CASEY STENGEL STATS

 

Jul 06

Today in Mets’ History: Remembering Rod Kanehl

On this date in 1962, Rod Kanehl became the first Met to hit a grand slam homer in a 10-3 rout of the Cardinals in the Polo Grounds. Kanehl connected off Bobby Shantz.

KANEHL: A Casey favorite.

Kanehl played eight seasons in the minors with the Yankees and Reds organizations before getting his shot at age 28 with the Mets in 1962.

Kanehl became of favorite of Casey Stengel for his hustle and versatility, playing everywhere but pitcher and catcher.  Reportedly, when Stengel died in 1975, Kanehl was the only former Met to attend the funeral.

Kanehl played in 340 games over three years and batted .241 with six homers and 47 RBI.

Kanehl died in Palm Springs, Calif., at 70, in 2004.

KANEHL’s CAREER