Whatever scale of tribute they pursue, I trust the Mets to do right by Ralph Kiner in death. They did just fine by him in life.
Ralph Kiner was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame, alongside Bob Murphy and Lindsey Nelson, in 1984, nine years after the team heartily toasted his induction as a (non-Met) player into Cooperstown. A plaque portraying his likeness has been hung in the Mets museum since it opened in 2010. In that same exhibit space, there is an interactive kiosk devoted to Mets announcers, with Lindsey, Bob and Ralph featured prominently.
The television broadcast booth at Shea Stadium was named for Ralph Kiner in 2002 and the designation was seamlessly transferred to the Citi Field press level. In 2003, Ralph and Murph were the subjects of a shared bobblehead that more or less resembled the men in question. The Mets threw a stupendous Ralph Kiner Night in 2007, attended by 51,742 and appreciated by the vast majority who witnessed it. Over the past decade-and-a-half, as his everyday presence diminished, Ralph was invited to throw out first pitches on outsize occasions, was given special on-field introductions and remained part of the Mets announcing corps on whatever basis he could contribute. It was good for the Mets, it was good for the last of the three original Mets announcers, it was fantastic for us.
The Mets clearly recognized the gem they had in Ralph Kiner and the 14-karat connection he forged with multiple generations of Mets fans. Management treated him as an heirloom rather than a relic and allowed him to shine to the very end. I doubt they’d do anything to dismantle his legacy now that he’s gone, and of course I hope they take every step possible to not just preserve it but embellish it.
Most importantly, though, they did right by him in life.
Since Ralph’s passing Thursday, I’ve seen the outpouring of affection and emotion encompass an impulse that has become common when a beloved figure leaves us, particularly in sports. The news barely sinks in before it is wondered what will be done to honor the individual we lost. Perhaps it’s a reflection of how we reflexively wish to keep the spirit of the departed alive for as many extra innings as we can that we are almost instantly moved to want to name, erect, emblazon, display and enshrine. Quiet remembrance amongst ourselves just never seems sufficient when public sadness overtakes us.
In the case of the Mets, the wondering tends to be laced with wariness. This is the Mets, the organization that generally has to be badgered into celebrating or sometimes simply acknowledging what they represent to the people who love them most — the Mets who seem to take perverse pride in not getting what their lore means to their fans. To put it kindly, when it comes to reveling in Metsiana, the Mets veer to the suffocatingly subtle.
Will the Mets wear a patch honoring the memory of Ralph Kiner in 2014? I’d book it. Will there be a ceremony to mark the totality of his 52 seasons as a Mets icon? On Opening Day, I’d assume. Will some segment of left field be officially dubbed Kiner’s Korner, as has been suggested by several bright people? I don’t know. I’d like that. You probably would, too. Will the Mets break their persistent boycott of statuary for, ideally, a substantial work of art that portrays Messrs. Kiner, Murphy and Nelson occupying the airwaves they made theirs forever more in 1962? Based on the Mets’ track record in such matters, I wouldn’t bet on it.
The Mets will probably be the Mets about it. Whatever they do will inevitably be tasteful, classy, heartfelt and somehow not quite perfect enough. That, I’ve come to realize, is how it can’t help but be.
But isn’t it the Mets’ job to make Met things perfect? Yes it is — which is why they will never come close to achieving and maintaining Met perfection. What is their job is our passion. We are going to care more than they do. It’s unavoidable. The caringest Met employee will not care about hundreds of Met details as much as tens of thousands of the caringest Mets fans care. They can only think about so many Met things in the course of a day. We never stop dwelling on Met things. When they get a Met thing right, they can take satisfaction in a job well done. We are never satisfied, because we know Met things can always be done better. They are paid to take care of Met things. It is our mission to perfect every Met thing that crosses our collective mind and it never occurs to us that there’s a reward beyond the perfection itself.
Not that we’d ever achieve perfection, because our process doesn’t allow it. We’d always have one more idea to put into action, one more flourish with which to adorn the tableau, one more “wouldn’t it be great if…?” morsel to make complete our feast of expression. I’ve rarely been in a conversation with fellow Mets fans that ends with one person putting forth a thought and everybody else concurring that the issue at hand has been solved. We’re not about solutions. We’re about taking issues to the next level.
Nevertheless, Metsopotamia’s insatiable appetite to achieve a state of Marvana should not be taken by the Mets as license to squirm out of their responsibility as tenders of the family jewels (so to speak). They can’t say, “ah, these fans, they’ll never be satisfied, just play ‘Sweet Caroline’ really loud and shoot a few more t-shirts at ’em.” They have to absorb our passion and our energy and spin it back to us in a manner that will take our breath away. They may not be able to do it this year with a proven major league shortstop — and they don’t necessarily have to do it with a statue of Ralph Kiner — but they’d be well-served to recognize what makes our souls hum and our pulses pound.
They should notice at times like these, when each and every one of us takes the death of someone most of us never met absolutely personally, that the Mets are more than a “brand” or a “product” to us…and we’re more than an “audience” or “customers” for what we continue to invest in from them. They should realize, if they haven’t already (and they probably haven’t), that we interpret Mets history as our history. It’s the history of the people who wear the team on their sleeve and in their heart as much as it’s any nine players who’ve taken the field on our behalf.
We — that is us and what the Mets mean to us — are no less intertwined than Ralph, Bob and Lindsey. Nobody’s building a statue to Mets fandom, either, but it ought to be evident how monumental it really is.