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.

 

Jan 06

Remembering Jerry Coleman; A Baseball Player And Human Treasure

Most every organization has their own Ralph Kiner, a legendary figure who didn’t carve out his career with the New York Mets, but became to define the franchise in the broadcast booth.

The San Diego Padres’ Kiner was Jerry Coleman, who played second base for the Yankees, spanning the end of the Joe DiMaggio and beginning of the Mickey Mantle eras. He was so much more than a guy who showed up at Yankees’ Old Timers Game and prompted kids to ask their fathers, “who is that?”

COLEMAN: Good player; great person.

COLEMAN: Good player; great person.

I never saw him play, but heard him on the radio numerous times and learned of his malapropos. Ralph isn’t the only one to make you scratch your heads and wonder, “what did he just say?’’

One of the perks in covering the Yankees and Mets was getting to meet and talk to the players I grew up watching and only heard about. Coleman was one of those men.

I’m a World War II history buff and was fascinated to learn of his record as a pilot in both World War II and Korea. He flew well over 100 combined missions in those wars.

I forget the year, but was with the Mets in San Diego and wanted to meet him. I was told he would be at the park early, so I showed up well before game time, knocked on the door to the Padres’ broadcast booth, introduced my myself and asked if I could get ten minutes with him sometime during the series.

Almost an hour-and-a-half later I left the Padres’ booth with a full notebook and my head swimming.

We talked about his career and military service. We talked about playing baseball in 1940s and 1950s New York. We talked about the evolution of baseball radio play-by-play. We talked for over an hour before I got around to asking him about DiMaggio and the guy I really wanted to ask him about, which was Mantle. I was always a Mantle guy.

What I remember most was his sense of humor and his warmth. His humility and passion for the sport was evident. I was there to ask about him, but he asked about me. I got the feeling he was genuinely interested and it made me feel good. Those I later spoke with said “that’s typical of Jerry.”

Later, I talked to several Padres’ writers who weren’t short on stories. Regretfully, I didn’t do my story justice in relation to the time he so generously gave me.

Like I said, meeting Jerry Coleman and others like him is one the best perks of the job. Baseball is loaded with personalities and characters like Jerry Coleman. I’ve met many, and would like to talk to many others. Regretfully, there are many more I will never get the chance.

The Hall of Fame announcements will be Wednesday, and I am proud I have a vote. Coleman was not a Hall of Fame player, but he was a Hall of Fame person and I am so fortunate to have met him.

I was saddened to learn of his passing over the weekend. Others who knew him well will have words that would do him greater justice. I simply want to say I was glad to meet him and express my sympathies to his friends and family.

You were lucky to have such a treasure in your lives.

Your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to respond. Follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Sep 19

Happy Birthday To Bob Murphy

New York Mets Report and MMO wants to send a Happy Birthday shout-out to the late great Bob Murphy (1924-2004).

“Murph” would have been 89 years old today and I can’t begin to tell you how often I think about him each season. Today’s game has become so noisy and just a non-stop barrage of promos and product pitches the game itself gets lost in translation.

Bob MurphyMurphy hearkens to a time when broadcasters like him, Lindsey Nelson and Ralph Kiner had a profound respect for the National Pastime and understood how the sounds of the game were an integral part of a baseball broadcast.

In 1994, Bob Murphy was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame alongside his former Mets broadcast partner Lindsey Nelson, both were recipient of the prestigious Ford C. Frick Award. Murphy was inducted into the New York Mets Hall of Fame in 1984.

His wonderful, folksy way about him, always made listeners feel right at home and there was nothing better than hearing his happy recaps after a Mets win.

Murph kept all of us company all Summer long like a good friend. We took him wherever we went whether at the beach, a backyard barbecue, or tucked underneath our pillows during those late west coast games. He was a part of our family.

He loved the Mets and in return Mets fans loved him.

Murph we miss you, Happy Birthday…

Sep 03

Mets Could Bring New Traditions To Citi Field

I spent Labor Day in Boston, a city steeped in tradition, and somehow over a bowl of clam chowder that got me thinking about the New York Mets.

The Red Sox were home and their game days start outside Fenway Park on Yawkey Way with the food vendors and souvenir stores on the other side of the street.

Now this is a stadium built in 1912 within the confines of the city, which accounts for its unique configuration. It also account for people milling around before the gates open. Fenway’s history can’t be replicated anywhere, but the Mets could do a few things to make their game days experience unique before and after games.

Something could be done in that vast area between the subway and Jackie Robinson Rotunda. Yes, I get the idea of the Ebbets Field replica being the grand entrance, but off to the side, funneling into rotunda they could do so much more.

Why not have a row of food vendors to have the fans getting started early? No beer for obvious reasons. There’s always somebody that didn’t get that last hot dog, so why not have some vendors open for an hour after game time? Remember, this is the city that never sleeps.

Let’s go big on the souvenirs with the construction of a small stand-alone shop. For all those shaking their hands lamenting, “I wish I’d gotten that jersey,’’ well here’s their chance.

There could be unique vendors other than jersey’s and hats.

Topps is a Mets’ sponsor; so let’s have the company open a booth to sell baseball cards of that season and sets from previous years. But, if their pricing is $800 for the 1962 set, well, that defeats the fun purpose. But, couldn’t the company make far cheaper replica sets? People would still buy them, just not the fanatical collectors.

How about a booth for bobble head dolls? Let’s go big and include bobble head dolls for players from other teams. If there’s coin involved for the other teams and sponsors of their dolls, then it’s possible.

There could be a Mets ticket booth for future sales, or if not, keep the one at Citi Field open after the games. If you’re thinking baseball, and the Mets just won a tight one, then you might be thinking of when’s the next time you’ll come back.

Keep them thinking baseball before and after games.

How about one of those carnival games where your speed gets timed on a radar gun?

Of course, that day’s line-up would be posted everywhere you look. However, let’s get away from today for a moment and get into Mets’ history and tradition.

Let’s do something along the nature of clinics and autograph booth with retired players. Or maybe an outdoor theatre featuring highlights. The Mets could easily make a 15-minute short film that could run on a loop.

It might cost the club something to bring the players in. I’d like for something every day to make each game day special, but if not, perhaps once or twice a homestand. Just make it more often than SNY brings in Ralph Kiner.

As far as present day players are concerned, they can sign balls, cards and photos for the club to sell. But, of course, that likely might have to come after approval with the Players Association. But, what if the proceeds from player’s autographs alone were to go to charity. Perhaps a “charity of the day.’’

There could be autographs from retired players with the proceeds going to BAT, an organization that helps players down on their luck.

The Mets are as giving as any sports team to groups in their city. But, here something that separates them from the Yankees, Giants and Rangers.

Of course, the autographs would have to be written in such a way as to deter collectors. Perhaps, if they were to be stamped, “Have a great day at Citi Field,’’ with the autograph underneath, that might work.

On special days, say Mother’s Day, the players – save that day’s starting pitcher – could be at the entrances giving roses to women entering the park. The Orioles did it one year with rave reviews, except for Randy Myers who refused to participate.

Maybe some of these ideas would work. Maybe some won’t, but the could add some juice to Citi Field gamedays.

Your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to respond. Follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Jun 16

Baseball As A Bond On Father’s Day

Was channel surfing on the car radio Saturday when the numbers stopped on the New York Mets game. I thought I’d stick around for a quick listen to Howie Rose and Josh Lewin for a couple of reasons.

First, they are good, and secondly I thought I’d do my part to boost their ratings. What else are friends for?

I forget the context it was mentioned, but Howie brought up the now-demolished Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Josh called it, “The Mistake on the Lake.” Constructed on the shores of Lake Erie, the one-time home of the Indians and Browns – and built in the long-forgotten hope of Cleveland one day hosting the Olympics – like so many others exists only in film clips and memories.

Howie mentioned his disdain for the Stadium and asked how anybody could like the place. To anybody who once shivered watching the Browns in December or Indians in April, or battled the monstrous bugs, or sat behind a pillar, or smelt the stench of the beer and urine-soaked concourses, I surely understand.

But, I said “once.’’

For me, and thousands like me, there were countless trips and Cleveland Stadium became a second home. When Howie mentioned it I couldn’t help think of my father, who on this special day, is only with me in my distracted and rushing thoughts.

My father instilled in me my love of baseball and sense of fair play. He was my Little League coach and my teams weren’t that good, but win or lose, after each game we’d go for ice cream. And, whether you were good or not, on my father’s team you always played and everybody batted. No exceptions. Only now do I understand why we lost so many games late because some kid I’ve long since forgotten muffed a pop up or struck out.

The first day of practice was for preparing the field. You brought shovels and rakes, not bats and gloves that day.

Baseball was it in my house. Dad rushed home to coach the games, and on the nights we didn’t play we’d watch the Indians. I loved watching those games with him. Somehow, it was better in black-and-white long before the days of instant replay and high-def.

However, serious bonding was done at Cleveland Stadium. I still have the box score from the first game he took me to, won 5-0 by the Indians over Baltimore. I came to see Rocky Colavito, but Chuck Hinton homered.

We’d go several times each summer, and he always brought along a group of my friends for my birthday. I’ll never forget when he took my brother and me out of school for Opening Day. He said we’d remember that more than anything they’d teach us that day in school.

He was right, as he often was, but I didn’t give him that much.

I remember a lot of the games, including the time we had standing room tickets to watch the Browns beat Dallas in the playoffs. Dale Lindsey ran back an interception for a touchdown. What I remember most was looking up at him as he shivered just because I wanted to be there.

When I got older and covered the Indians, I treated him. Then, years later, the best time I had with him in my adult life was when he spent a week with me in spring training. Sadly, we did it once. But, that week in Florida was planted in Cleveland Stadium decades earlier.

The Stadium wasn’t glamorous, but it was mine. Just as Shea Stadium was Howie’s place of worship, so to speak. In these days of Citi Field and retro stadiums, there are countless of baseball fans like us weaned in dumpy ballparks.

Gone are Tiger Stadium; Memorial Stadium in Baltimore; the old Yankee Stadium; RFK in Washington; Metropolitan Stadium in Minnesota; Crosley Field; and Forbes Field. And, we haven’t even gotten to Ebbets Field or the Polo Grounds.

Those are sacred places of Tom Seaver and Mickey Mantle; of Al Kaline and Brooks Robinson; of Harmon Killebrew and Pete Rose; of Ralph Kiner and Willie Mays.

Some of those stadiums are now dust, or covered in concrete and built over by apartment complexes and shopping malls. Some of the players are also gone.

They remain in our consciousness in large part because our fathers told us about them while sitting in cramped aisles between innings and pitching changes. Those were the days before non-stop video and blaring audio, sometimes between batters. The lull in the action is the beauty of the sport, which those who run this game worrying about the added five minutes will never understand.

My father and I were close then, but drifted apart as I grew older. We differed politically and I rebelled about a lot of things, as most teenagers do.

I don’t recall if we ever played catch in the yard after he stopped coaching and I went to high school. Maybe we did, but honestly, I don’t think so. However, when things were the coldest between us, we always had baseball and World War II history to talk about.

There were times, even if I knew the answers, I’d ask questions just to hear him talk. Even manufactured conversation is better than silence. He’s gone now and there’s so much more I’d like to tell him if I had the chance I will never get.

If I were smart enough then as reflective as I am now, perhaps we would have thrown the ball around a lot more.