Two facts of life become apparent every summer in these parts:
1) New York is a humid place.
2) Ralph Kiner is an awesome man.
You know that incessantly run Heineken Light commercial, the one in which the young-ish guy explains how he and his pal Jamie won $94 million in the lottery and relocated to some slice of paradise where sun-splashed retirement seems to be agreeing with everybody on camera, all of whom are “pretty awesome”?
Ralph Kiner belongs in that commercial, except he’s never exactly retired.
Still, I can see Ralph sitting around that table with Terry the sniper in the Big One and Maurice who dated not one but two Pointer Sisters. Ralph might have dated all four, including Bonnie who left the group to pursue a solo career. Shoot, we know he dated Janet Leigh and Elizabeth Taylor.
Even if it wasn’t at the same time, that’s a world-class batting order.
Why choose a sweltering Tuesday in late June to celebrate Ralph Kiner? Why not? Is there a bad time? The Mets gave Ralph his own night three Julys ago. They can give him another one anytime and it would be perfectly appropriate.
Ralph rose to his rightful place in my consciousness once again on Sunday afternoon when he contributed six innings of analysis on SNY. He joined Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez in the Ralph Kiner Television Booth, which makes sense since Ralph pretty much owned the whole six innings right from the start.
The subject of off days came up immediately. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was giving one to two of his regulars, Justin Morneau, who was batting .346, and Jason Kubel, who had homered Saturday. It was hot, it was the end of a long road trip and there would be a game in Minneapolis on Monday night, but Ralph wasn’t having any of it.
Why would you ever want a day off? Ralph asked incredulously. He was incensed as I’ve ever heard him. It’s a game. Baseball’s a game. You don’t need a day off. Ralph, whose Hall of Fame career was limited to ten seasons by injury, probably wishes he had gotten to play more games. Not that he hasn’t kept busy for the past 55 or so years — these last 49 with us — but once a Hall of Fame player, always a Hall of Fame player.
Keith, who usually fills the role of vaguely aggrieved icon (and beautifully, I might add), gently attempted to counter that these days players tend to run down with all the pressures of modern life that take a toll on them — all of the airline travel, for example.
Talk about a pitch in Ralph’s wheelhouse.
Teams used to travel by train, Ralph reminded Keith and the rest of us. And the trains weren’t air conditioned.
Keith was humbled. So was I. Ralph Kiner rode on steamy, sweaty trains; led the National League in home runs seven consecutive seasons; twice (because of ties and a trade) played in more than the regulation 154 games; and still found the wherewithal to date Janet Leigh and Elizabeth Taylor.
Ralph doesn’t really play the in-my-day card very often. He is loaded with anecdotes and remembrances, but it’s never been his style to force them on the conversation (though, admittedly, they do flow a little easier now than when he was a play-by-play man). He knows his baseball in the present tense and can analyze a swing from 2010 just as he might dissect one from 1950. But when he wants to, Ralph Kiner can let you know where he’s been and what he’s seen. It’s a blessed event when he does.
As for Keith…son, don’t mow Ralph’s lawn.