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:
After his playing days, Kiner moved to the broadcast booth, where he became one of the most influential members of the Mets’ organization, calling games for the team all the way from the team’s inception in 1962 until last year.
Kiner became a beloved fixture in New York over those five-plus decades, and his Kiner’s Korner postgame segment turned into the stuff of legend.
During his time in the Mets’ booth, he had a chance to touch the lives of many players, one of whom was pitcher Ron Darling, who eventually joined Kiner in the booth himself and saw his own broadcasting career blossom into national work with MLB Network and TBS.
Darling told the guys that players considered it an incredible honor and a magical experience to appear on Kiner’s Korner, even after an exhausting three- or four-hour game.
“Guys in their 20s and 30s would be giddy,” Darling said. “It would become a laugh-a-thon for 15 minutes as he would bring out that kind of little kid in you by the end. And the 15 minutes- which is a huge amount of time when you think about it today- when the 15-minute interview was done, you were craving more. You’re like, ‘We’re done already? Aw, bad.’”
During his time in the booth, Kiner became notorious for his malapropisms, which would be a source of frustration for most broadcasters. But Kiner just wasn’t the type to deal with slip-ups in that manner.
“You spent the next two innings analyzing it and laughing about it,” Darling said. “He had that kind of elegance about him, that he was not too big to fail, that everyone could make a mistake … it was so innocent and so beautiful.”
Darling saw Kiner as a figure whose star greatly transcended that of your typical baseball legend.
“He lived such an unbelievable life,” Darling said. “I feel with his passing we’ve lost kind of like a head of state. I played with people named Taylor, he dated Elizabeth Taylor. It was a whole different kind of deal, but everyone he talked to, whomever it was, was just enthralled just to hear his stories.”
He recounted one of his favorite Kiner stories for the guys.
“I remember one in the Philadelphia locker room,” Darling said. “He was there and Jamie Lee Curtis came in and she was a star then. Trading Places had just come out, and she was a beautiful woman and everyone in the locker room wanted to meet her and say hello. And Ralph, in his gentile, elegant way, walked over and said, ‘Jamie Lee, I would just like to say hello, my name’s Ralph Kiner, and I dated your mother.’ And without missing a beat, she jumped in his arms and said, ‘Daddy!’ and the whole locker room just went crazy and was laughing. That’s the kind of guy that Ralph was. He could make a ballplayer who had a bad game feel better, and he could go shtick on shtick with a Hollywood starlet.”
The full Darling interview can be heard here: