Baseball Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner dies

Hall of Fame player and broadcaster Ralph Kiner, seen here April 5, 2012 in New York, died...

Hall of Fame player and broadcaster Ralph Kiner, seen here April 5, 2012 in New York, died Thursday. (REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

The Sports Xchange

, Last Updated: 7:19 PM ET

Hall of Fame slugger and broadcasting icon Ralph Kiner died Thursday at his Rancho Mirage, Calif., home. He was 91.

Kiner died of natural causes, with his family at his side.

Baseball commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig issued the following statement:

"Ralph Kiner was one of the greatest sluggers in National League history, leading the Senior Circuit in home runs in each of the first seven years of his Hall of Fame career. His consistent power and patience in the heart of the Pirates lineup made him a member of our All-Century Team and, in many respects, a player ahead of his time.

"Ralph dominated at the plate for a decade, but his contributions to our national pastime spanned generations. For 52 years, Ralph was a one-of-a-kind voice of the Mets, linking baseball's unparalleled history to New York's new National League franchise since its very inception.

"I am grateful that I recently had the opportunity to visit with Ralph, whose lifetime of service to baseball will always be treasured by the fans of Pittsburgh, New York and beyond. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to his five children, his 12 grandchildren, his friends throughout our game and his admirers everywhere."

In his final minor-league season, Kiner played part of the 1943 season for the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League before being called to report for duty in the U.S. military. Kiner made his major-league debut in 1946.

During his 10-year career as an outfielder, Kiner hit 369 home runs, winning or sharing the National League home run title in each of his first seven seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He twice topped 50 home runs, with 51 in 1947 and 54 in 1949. He averaged more than 100 RBIs per season.

"With the passing of Ralph Kiner, the baseball world has lost one of its greatest ambassadors and the Hall of Fame has lost a wonderful friend," Jane Forbes Clark, chairman of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, said in a statement. "Ralph spent eight decades as a player, executive and broadcaster. He was a man who truly loved our national pastime and made it better in every way. His legacy will live forever in Cooperstown."

Following his playing career, which was cut short by continuing back ailments, Kiner transitioned to the broadcast booth starting in 1962, where he would become a New York broadcast icon for the Mets.

"As one of baseball's most prolific power hitters for a decade, Ralph struck fear into the hearts of the best pitchers of Baseball's Golden Era despite his easy-going nature, disarming humility and movie-star smile," said Jeff Idelson, president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

"His engaging personality and profound knowledge of the game turned him into a living room companion for millions of New York Mets fans who adored his game broadcasts and later 'Kiner's Korner' for more than half a century. He was as comfortable hanging out in Palm Springs with his friend Bob Hope as he was hitting in front of Hank Greenberg at Forbes Field."

Born Oct. 27, 1922 in Santa Rita, N.M., Kiner played for the Pirates from 1946-53, the Chicago Cubs in 1953-54 and the Cleveland Indians in 1955. Kiner averaged a home run every 14.1 at-bats, the sixth-best ratio of all-time and second among right-handed batters.

Some notable quotes over the years from Kiner:

--"I never even thought about being a big leaguer. But our neighbors had a son who was four years older than me, and I used to shag fly balls for him. Finally, after about two months of shagging for him, I told him: 'I want to hit.' So he let me hit."

--"I got to Forbes Field and saw it was 406 feet to left-center with a 30-foot scoreboard, and I thought: 'I'm going to kill that scout who signed me.'"

--"The best thing that ever happened to me was when (the Pirates) got Hank Greenberg. Everything he told me worked. He's the one who really got me going."

--"Someone asked me how come I signed up with the Mets (as a broadcaster), since they weren't going to win many games. I said: 'I've got a lot of experience with losing.'"


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