Kiner’s Kids – Cherished Memories Of Induction Time In Cooperstown
Cooperstown holds special meaning for the children of Baseball Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner.
September 8 is when MLB legends return home.
July 21, 2019 was the last time so many immortals of the game visited their summer residence. Two summers back it was Edgar Martinez, Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina, Harold Baines, Lee Smith, and the late Roy Halladay who were welcomed into baseball's elite fraternity. The estimated crowd of 55,000 was the second-largest in induction history.
This year's class of Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons, and Marvin Miller bring the hall of fame roster to 333 members.
It was on August 18, 1975 that Ralph Kiner, earned his way to the microphone at the "Home of Baseball", to reflect on his magnificent career. During the first half of a ten-year career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs, and Cleveland Indians, Kiner's slugging prowess was unmatched.
Leading the National league in home runs in each of his first seven seasons (a record that still stands), including twice topping the 50-home run mark, Kiner clubbed 369 career round-trippers. On his late August visit to New York's Otsego County, the stars were lined up perfectly for the Kiner family.
On a day that was described by The New York Times as a "Sunday with the weather being perfect", an estimated 7,500 baseball fans from all corners of the game's fan base cozied up in Cooper Park, just off of Main Street, and focused on the podium set at the front steps of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library.
Kiner, along with fellow inductees of the 1975 Class - Judy Johnson, Earl Averill, Billy Herman, and Bucky Harris, looked out into a sea of well-wishers and offered much thanks for the journey that would lead them to enshrinement.
For Kiner, who was elected to the Hall in his final year of eligibility by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, is accurate to claim that his fan base grew to even higher heights, once hanging up his uniform in Cleveland due to back problems in 1955 a 32-year old.
As an inaugural member of the New York Mets broadcasting crew, beginning in 1962 with radio & TV partner Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy, Kiner worked with his partners for 17 seasons. In coming decades Kiner was a staple for generations of Mets fans following the club, through the 2013 season.
And during the 1975 season, Kiner, along with his family, made that sentimental (and exciting) trek to Cooperstown.
On Saturday August 17, right after the Mets scored a 3-0 win over the San Francisco Giants at Shea Stadium (Tom Seaver earned the victory, Jerry Koosman collected the save), it was off to Upstate New York where baseball immortality awaited for the six-time National League all-star.
KC Kiner accompanied her father to Cooperstown for his big day.
In reflecting on her dad's visit to Cooperstown in 1975, KC Kiner was living in California.
"At the time, I would see my dad a few times a year," Kiner said, who was 19-years-old during their August visit to Cooperstown. "I have his Hall of Fame plaque in my home."
KC Kiner tells of a story in the family's travels to Cooperstown , leaving Shea directly after the final out en route 200-plus miles north. Although it wasn't quite a scene from Hiltchcock's North By Northwest, there are similarities.
As KC Kiner recalls, along with his wife Barbara Kiner and other family members, they boarded a private plane bound for Cooperstown. While in-flight, the plane carrying the Kiners was diverted to Albany International Airport - a 70 miles drive from the steps of the Hall of Fame.
Loading into a rental, with the soon-to-be hall of famer at the wheel, the drive is underway. However, unfamiliar with the roadway in the "Empire State" region, soon passing signs were giving the number of miles to Montreal. The Kiners found themselves on Interstate 87; the Adirondack Northway. 220 miles to Quebec,
Turning around, the Kiners were on the right road to Cooperstown.
KC Kiner paints a picture of her dad as "low key", and quiet. In prepping for his acceptance speech, either before heading to Cooperstown or while at The Otesaga Resort Hotel a couple streets down from the Hall of Fame, KC Kiner doesn't recall her dad requesting input for his speech.
"Dad was very close with Jack Lang (longtime baseball writer with New York City newspapers). If he would have asked for advice, maybe it was with him," KC Kiner explains during a recent telephone conversation from her Southern California home.
Fellow hall of famer Hank Greenberg, who KC Kiner labels her dad's best friend, also, may have been a go-to for any suggestions on his acceptance speech.
When reviewing her travels from California to Cooperstown with her dad on his greatest day in baseball 46 years ago, KC Kiner capsulizes the experience as "incredible."
In years to follow from her first visit to 25 Main Street in Cooperstown in 1975, KC Kiner grew to learn just how "very important" her dad was in New York as a Mets broadcaster. During her dad's last 10 years of life (Ralph Kiner passed in 2014 at age 91), this is when KC Kiner absorbed what a great player he was,
She thinks often of numerous visits accompanying her dad to Cooperstown during Induction Weekends, years after 1975.
"He enjoyed seeing the newbies, and his old friends. I think of those time often. During his speech, I was very emotional, and proud of what was said," KC Kiner tells. "After the speeches were given, I congratulated him. Dad kissed me, and off he went for a dinner with his fellow hall of famers."
In reflecting on her earliest memories of her dad's association with the Mets, KC Kiner tells of her first visit to Shea's press box, and the set of Kiner's Korner. The famed post-game show hosted by Kiner, became as popular in a city with two MLB franchises , as anything playing in the Bronx.
"It (Kiner's Korner set) was so cold; like an ice box. I was so young, and didn't grasp how special it, and my dad, were to the fans."
KC Kiner remains thankful and humbled, when during current Mets TV broadcasters, from time to time, they mention her dad.
Michael Kiner, KC Kiner's older brother just turned 22-years-old, when his dad had his day in Cooperstown. Unlike his sister, Michael, an accomplished architect in Rancho Mirage, California, wasn't present for the 1975 induction ceremonies.
Michael Kiner was a member of the Wausau Mets of the Class-A Midwest League. This would Michael's one and only season in pro ball.
"I didn't want to go because I didn't want any special treatment," Michel Kiner reflects on his dad's induction. " Now, I know that was stupid of me not to go. I have a copy of his acceptance speech."
A senior in 1975 at UCLA, Michael Kiner recalls of his dad getting the call informing him of his making the cut to join the hall of fame.
"I knew it was his last chance (to be voted in). I was so excited for him," said Michael Kiner this past week.
As KC Kiner points out of fellow hall of famer Hank Greenberg being her dad's best friend, Michael Kiner compliments his sister's observation. Michael Kiner reveals that it was Greenberg who was one of the first to call his friend to congratulate him.
"They (Greenberg and Kiner) were best friends since 1946.
One of Michael Kiner's most cherished items handed down from his dad is a money clip given to his dad from Greenberg.
"I have it in my pocket right now," said Michael Kiner during our telephone conversation.
Next week, as the newest members to the Baseball Hall of Fame travel to Cooperstown memories will be made. Will they, once reaching Albany, perhaps take a wrong turn, and see signs directing to Montreal? Will they stop for a steak in a local restaurant, before continuing on to Otsego County as the Kiners did? Will new hall of famers find as much joy about being in Cooperstown as Ralph Kiner did?
But, remember, for all the attention spotlighted on the newest class, there are families coming along for the ride that will be processing the emotional pageantry (masks be-dam). During applauses when speeches are delivered, how about extending the clapping just a little longer for the hall of fame family members.
Memories last forever, and it's the family members who will be in charge of carrying on the accurate stories long after speeches and speechmakers are no longer with us.
Ralph Kiner's all-stars, KC and Michael, are the model for others to follow.
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter living in the Mohawk Valley. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.