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.

 

Feb 02

Mets Vs. Jets: Which 1969 Championship Had The Most Impact?

Regardless of the outcome of today’s Super Bowl, it won’t be a defining upset in the way the New York Jets’ stunner over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

Of course, that was the Joe Namath Super Bowl, the one in which unfortunately Johnny Unitas didn’t make an appearance until it was too late. Namath played a brilliant game that eventually carried him to the Hall of Fame. Without that victory, I don’t know if Namath makes it to Canton.

NAMATH: Led Jets to historic upset.

NAMATH: Led Jets to historic upset.

The Jets’ victory over the Colts is arguably one of sports’ greatest upsets. Several months later there was another, courtesy of another New York team, when the Mets stunned the Orioles in five games in the 1969 World Series.

As the Colts were overwhelming favorites, so too were the Orioles. Both, were stuffed.

So, which was the more surprising? Which was the most significant?

The Mets’ championship was harder to attain because they had to overcome a supposed superior opponent four times instead of once.

In one game, anything can happen, like the Colts throwing four interceptions and Earl Morrall not seeing a wide-open Jimmy Orr at the end of the first half. If one or two plays had been different, the Colts might have prevailed.

Given a football game can change on one or two plays, in retrospect the Jets’ victory is more easily comprehendible than it was in the hours after final gun in the Orange Bowl.

Sure, the odds were long, but throughout history – in all sports – teams have played the perfect game to orchestrate upsets in all sports.

However, in looking at the Mets, they won 100 games that season, so while their first trip to the playoffs was surprising, they were not a fluke team. By the time they overtook the Chicago Cubs, there was an inkling this was going to be a special team.

The 1969 Mets had one of history’s greatest pitching staffs, won their division going away and crushed Atlanta in the playoffs. Then, they dismissed the Orioles in five games, shutting down a crushing offense with Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman, and an array of clutch offensive performers – Donn Clendenon for one – and defensive gems – Tommie Agee and Ron Swoboda.

Clearly, the Jets’ victory was the most significant as it drove the merger between the established NFL and the AFL. The Jets’ victory might also have been the most stunning because they needed to catch lightning in a bottle to upset a superior opponent.

But, the Mets, while their title was an upset, in hindsight they were a lot better than history might remember them.

May 03

Giving The Mets Horse Names

In honor of the Kentucky Derby, I decided to give the Mets – past and present – horse names. Some are humorous, some are descriptive, and some are critical. I know I missed some. If you have suggestions, let’s hear them.

The Man With Words

The Man With Words

PRESENT METS

Matt Harvey: “Nasty Stuff’’

Jon Niese: “Lefty Heat’’

Zack Wheeler: “Promises, Promises’’

Ike Davis: “Hole In Bat”

Daniel Murphy: “Taking To Second’’

David Wright: “In The Clutch’’

Lucas Duda: “Strong As Onions’’

Jordany Valdespin: “Has A Knack’’

Terry Collins: “Dealing With Few Pieces’’

Sandy Alderson: “GM Seeking Bullpen’’

Ruben Tejada: “Big Shoes To Fill’’

John Buck: “More Than A Throw-in’’

Bobby Parnell: “Getting His Chance’’

Scott Rice: “Perseverance Rewarded’’

Johan Santana: “Sad Ending’’

Frank Francisco: “Is He Still Around?’’

The Wilpons: “Write That Check’’

IN THE BOOTH

Gary Cohen: “Outta Here’’

Ralph Kiner: “A Treasure’’

Lindsey Nelson: “Where Did He Get That Coat?’’

Bob Murphy: “They Won The Damn Thing’’

Kevin Burkhardt: “Where’s Waldo? Where’s Kevin?’’

Howie Rose: “Close The Books’’

Josh Lewin: “The New Kid’’

Ed Coleman: “How Often Can You Ask About The Bullpen?’’

PAST METS

Tom Seaver: “Best Met Ever’’

Jerry Koosman: “Underrated Greatness’’

Jon Matlack: “Linked To Roberto”

Darryl Strawberry: “What Could Have Been’’

Keith Hernandez: “Retire His Number’’

Gary Carter: “A Missing Piece’’

Dwight Gooden: “Left Us Wanting’’

Lenny Dykstra: “Out of Control”

Wally Backman: “Future Boss”

Nolan Ryan: “Didn’t Do It Here”

Jim Fregosi: “Trivia Question Answer”

Gil Hodges: “Commanded Respect’’

Davey Johnson:  “Riverboat Gambler’’

Casey Stengel: “A Way With Words’’

Bobby Valentine: “Always On Stage’’

Willie Randolph: “Midnight Massacre’’

Frank Cashen: “The Architect”

Joan Payson: “Mom Met”

Jane Jarvis: “Shea Soundtrack”

Karl Ehrhardt: “A Fixture”

Omar Minaya: “Could Write A Check”

Ed Kranepool: “Early Era Good Guy’’

Jerry Grote: “Last Defense’’

Bud Harrelson: “Picked A Rose’’

Jose Reyes: “My Aching Hammy’’

Carlos Beltran: “Not Appreciated’’

Oliver Perez: “Omar’s Folly’’

Bobby Bonilla: “Bronx Tour Guide”

Mo Vaughn: “What Were They Thinking?”

Ron Darling: “Sharp Stuff, Sharp Analysis’’

John Franco: “Shut The Door’’

Tug McGraw: “Turned A Phrase’’

Ron Swoboda: “Headlong Dive’’

Tommie Agee: “Gap Runner’’

Cleon Jones: “Catches The Last Out’’

Rusty Staub: “The Gourmet’’

Mike Piazza: “Historic Blast’’

Donn Clendenon: “Had October Magic”

Rey Ordonez: “Magic Leather’’

Robin Ventura: “The Grand Single’’

Al Leiter: “Politician In The Making’’

Edgardo Alfonzo: “Second To None’’

Armando Benitez: “Please, Not Him’’

Jose Lima: “It Was Never Time”

Pedro Martinez: “The Diva”

Mike Pelfrey: “Licking Fingers”

Carlos Delgado: “Clubhouse Lawyer”

Tom Glavine: “Not Devastated”

R.A. Dickey: “One Good Year”

Willie Mays: “Ended It At Home”

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Jul 02

Today in Mets’ History: Boswell, Garrett pace win over Cards.

Yes, there was Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman. Cleon Jones and Tommie Agee had good years. The 1969 Miracle Mets weren’t void of marquee players.

However, they were also a team comprised of role players. Donn Clendenon was a late season addition. Ron Swoboda, Ed Kranepool and Al Weis had their moments.

On this day in 1969, Ken Boswell and Wayne Garrett – two guys probably not recognizable if they chose to take the subway to Shea Stadium – contributed in a 6-4, 14-inning victory at St. Louis.

Boswell singled in a run in the 14th against Ron Willis and Garrett drew a bases-loaded walk.  They combined to go 6-for-13 with five RBI and three runs scored.

BOX SCORE

Koosman started and worked 7.2 innings and Tug McGraw pitched six innings in relief to pick up the win.

Jun 14

Today in Mets History: Mets outlast Maloney.

It was one of those games I had forgotten, but fit in with the wildness and uniqueness of the early Mets. This time they came out on the winning end.

LEWIS: Beats Maloney.

 

On this date in 1965, Cincinnati’s Jim Maloney threw a gem against the Mets with ten innings of no-hit ball and 18 strikeouts. The Mets’ only baserunner came on a leadoff walk to Ed Kranepool in the second. Maloney came out for the 11th inning and gave up a homer to Johnny Lewis, the first batter he faced. He also gave up a single to Roy McMillan later in the inning.

BOX SCORE

Frank Lary pitched eight scoreless innings for the Mets that day, giving up five hits and walking one.

Among the notables who played in that game were Pete Rose, Vada Pinson and Frank Robinson for the Reds, and Kranepool and Ron Swoboda for the Mets.

 

ON DECK: Let’s forget about Santana for this year.