Kiner cheered by fans, colleagues

Kiner cheered by fans, colleagues

NEW YORK -- It wasn't a Cadillac, but it got the job done.

A white 1962 Plymouth convertible eased around the field at Shea Stadium on Saturday night, carrying the man who has been the voice of the Mets for 46 years.

As a broadcaster for the Mets since the club's beginnings, Ralph Kiner has been a hallmark of the team, noted for his dedication, humor and insight. He's been remembered for countless interviews, colorful phrases -- several involving Cadillacs -- and 369 home runs in his 10 years as a Major Leaguer.

"Home-run hitters drive Cadillacs; singles hitters drive Fords," Kiner once said.

Kiner wasn't behind the wheel on Saturday night at Shea Stadium, though, so the make of the car probably didn't matter.

The blue-and-orange logo on the hood of the Plymouth didn't, either, as it spelled out what the crowd already knew: It was Ralph Kiner Night at Shea Stadium. The Mets joined the fans in celebrating the Hall of Famer in a 30-minute ceremony on Saturday night before their game against Cincinnati.

The longest-tenured sportscaster in baseball, Kiner sat in the backseat with his wife, Ann, as the Plymouth came to a halt in the foul territory behind first base. Thousands of fans honored him with a standing ovation.

"It means an awful lot to me to be recognized by the people that hired you over the years and be recognized after all these years," Kiner said. "To be a broadcaster in New York is not easy, especially when you had some seasons like we had for years and years. But the good years, obviously, were '69, '73, '86, and later on, 2000 -- that was really worth all the losing years that we've had."

Kiner and his wife climbed out of the car as WFAN's Howie Rose introduced them -- not that they needed an introduction -- to the already-standing crowd. The pair left the Plymouth behind first base and made the long walk out to a small stage planted in center field to meet Rose and many of Kiner's family and friends.

Stepping to the podium, Kiner thanked his fans, fellow broadcasters, and the Mets franchise that he has come to know inside and out. The Mets awarded Kiner and his wife, who enjoy traveling together, a cruise to the destination of their choice.

Hall of Famer and former Mets pitcher Tom Seaver presented Kiner with a plaque honoring the all-time longest-standing sportscaster for his excellence and dedication, a plaque identical to the one that will hang in Shea's Diamond Club. The broadcast booth at the new Citi Field, which is set to open in 2009, will also bear Kiner's name.

From his playing days, Seaver recalled fond memories of his appearances on Kiner's postgame show, Kiner's Korner. Now a broadcaster himself, Seaver has taken a tip or two from the man that Rose called "the soundtrack of summer."

"One of the great things from a broadcasting standpoint that I learned from Ralph was that Ralph Kiner wanted the spotlight on you, he didn't want it on himself," Seaver said. "He wanted you to be the center of the platform. He wanted you to be the center of the presentation ... of whatever was going on, without any qualms whatsoever."

Kiner, a three-time Emmy Award winner, remembered his first day on Kiner's Korner, when the player he was interviewing bolted with the microphone still attached, bringing the whole set with him.

"It was a mess, that first show," Kiner said.

Frank Sinatra's "Summer Wind" wound through the loudspeakers at Shea as the big screen played a montage of clips from Kiner's career as both a broadcaster and player.

Kiner was never a Met on the field, but spent 10 seasons making a name for himself as a big-time hitter. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1975.

"He was a unique home-run hitter," Bob Friend said. "Ralph used to hit those shock-and-awe deals. I'm telling you they were a mile high, and they'd never come down. They'd be over the fence about 50 feet, and they'd just break the pitcher's heart."

During a reception before the ceremony, Gary Thorne read a poem entitled "A Tribute to Ralph Kiner" that was written by Ed Charles, the Mets' unofficial poet laureate. Yogi Berra, Bob Feller, Charles, Bud Harrelson, Keith Hernandez, Jerry Koosman, Ed Kranepool, Joe Pignatano and Rusty Staub all joined Seaver, Friend and Rose on the field to honor the man whom each of them looks up to.

"You can't help from liking him," Berra said.

Lauren Kobylarz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.