Ralph Kiner led the National League in home runs for seven straight seasons, starting with his first as a pro ballplayer. He then became a famous broadcaster, working with the New York Mets for more than 40 years, and as recently as last season. Along the way, he earned the game's ultimate honor, induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Kiner dated Elizabeth Taylor, palled around with Frank Sinatra and flew a plane in World War II. He was even in a Wheaties commercial back in the 1950s. His former broadcast partner, the late Bob Murphy, once said Kiner was "impossible to dislike."
Kiner died Thursday, at age 91, of natural causes at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. He's survived by his five children and 12 grandchildren. Marty Noble of MLB.com reports that Kiner died peacefully with his family at his side.
If all the words above didn't already make it abundantly clear, the man lived a heck of a life. A life to envy. The kind of life that today would inspire a meme like "Ralph Kiner facts."
His baseball stats were stellar. Starting in 1946, his year-by-year home run totals were 23, 51, 40, 54, 47, 42, 37, each of them tops in the NL. In 1949, he had 127 RBIs to go along with 54 homers. He hit .310/.432/.658 and led the league in walks. Kiner had a relatively short career, playing just 10 seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians, but he finished with 369 homers and 1015 RBIs. That's a 162-game average of 41 homers and 112 RBIs. He was inducted into Cooperstown in 1975.
As great as all that was, Kiner's legacy off-the-field might even be greater. He started a broadcasting career in 1961, six years after his playing days ended. He worked one year for the White Sox, then joined the Mets when they were an expansion team and never left. He worked a handful of games in 2013.
Beyond baseball, Kiner was popular in Hollywood circles. He was befriended by Bing Crosby, who was a part-owner of the Pirates when Kiner joined the team after his World War II days as a Navy pilot. Kiner became friends with Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz living in Palm Springs. He dated Taylor, as noted above, but also actress Janet Leigh. Kiner was, as they say, a ladies man. He also was rumored to have dated Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardner and Jane Russell. Tennis star Nancy Chaffee was one of his three wives.
Add it all together, and that's a full and accomplished 91 years. Especially for a man who knew as a child he wanted to be a professional baseball player. He did that, and so much more.
Here are a few choice YouTube selections featuring Kiner:
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