This week began with the shocking death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. He was, of course, one of those folks frequently short-listed for the title "Greatest Actor of His Generation," and we will not soon see his like again. The week ended, though, with another death, much less shocking and much less generally noticed, but sadder on a personal level: the passing of Ralph Kiner and. with him, of a distinctive part of my youth.
Kiner was a Hall-of-Fame baseball player, primarily with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the late 1940's and early 1950's. Over a playing career abbreviated by persistent back injuries, Kiner was one of the most fearsome power hitters in the game. But of course, he played his last game fifteen years before I was born. So to me, and probably to a majority of baseball fans alive today, Ralph Kiner was not primarily a superstar slugger but was, instead, the television voice of the New York Mets. From their almost satirical entry into the National League in 1962, through their miraculous 1969 season, and more than 40 more years of triumph and haplessness--OK, mostly haplessness--Ralph Kiner was the somewhat drab but always professional play-by-play man in the broadcast booth--and as such was someone with whom I spent an inordinate amount of time beginning in the mid-1980s.
Back in those days, my metabolism was such that I could polish off a pint of Haagen-Dazs peach ice cream virtually every night of the baseball season--from April to October--and still weigh about 140 pounds soaking wet come Halloween. And the soundtrack to these ice cream binges, whenever the Mets were on channel nine (WOR Secaucus, NJ), was good ol' Ralph Kiner, ably complemented by the color commentary of Tim McCarver (not yet the official voice of Major League Baseball). The results of those games were often nowhere near as sweet as the dessert, I'm sad to say.
Rest in peace, Ralph. The games won't be the same without you.