PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) – After Pirates great Ralph Kiner passed away on Thursday, The Fan Morning Show talked about Kiner’s life and legacy with two men that knew him very well, former teammate Dick Groat and broadcast colleague Ron Darling.
Groat felt extremely lucky to go from watching Kiner play while he was growing up in the Pittsburgh area, to spending his rookie season as Kiner’s teammate in 1952.
“He was a very, very wonderful person in every way,” Groat said.
“I’m telling you, for me, to look up to him as I did as a youngster, and then be able to room with him the last month in the big leagues in 1952 was so special to me, it was unreal,” he added.
Groat always marveled at Kiner’s ability to make solid contact, despite pitchers giving him little to work with.
“It’s amazing that he hit as many home runs as he did, but also not only hitting home runs. He hit .300 on a team that everybody pitched around him all the time,” Groat said.
Groat also said that Kiner took extra batting practice during the dying days of the 1952 season in order to catch up to Hank Sauer in the home run race, who seemed poised to end Kiner’s run of six consecutive home run titles. The dedication paid off, as Kiner ended up tying Sauer and capturing a share of the home run crown to make it seven titles in a row.
“He was serious about hitting,” Groat said. “He was a student of hitting. I’ve always said there’s one thing- there’s power hitters and home run hitters. Ralph hit .300 a number of times. He was a good, solid hitter, with power, plus.”
When asked how Kiner could best be described, Groat pointed to the way Kiner carried himself despite being surrounded by a young, unimpressive team.
“I think more than anything, how warm and friendly and how nice he was to a very bad, young baseball team,” Groat said. “Believe it or not, it was amazing how everybody pitched around Ralph Kiner. He was all the offense we had. I mean, it was unbelievable … we did so many stupid things. Randy Davis, don’t ask me how he got on, but he was on third base with two outs in the ninth inning in a one-run game, and he tried to steal home plate with Ralph Kiner hitting, and was thrown out. The news media couldn’t believe anybody would be that bad, but that actually happened with the Pittsburgh Pirates.”
Groat said that Kiner was wonderful to him and other youngsters, even when he just a rising high school senior working out with the Pirates.
“He was always congenial and friendly, and always nice to young people when they were around,” Groat said. “Just really a class gentleman in every possible way.”
As he shared all of these Ralph Kiner stories, he pointed out that they all have a common theme.
“You never hear anything about Ralph that wasn’t so special,” Groat said. “He was a warm, friendly, nice, nice person.”
The full Groat interview can be heard here: