BY MARC MATURO
“Whaddaya say, Ralphie Boy,” was often my gracious, energetic greeting, and the big guy most often responded with a gracious smile and a greeting of his own.
I last had the pleasure of being around Kiner during the 1985 season, my last year of seven covering our beloved Metsies, at home and on the road.
Never, not once, did I ever see Kiner have an angry word for anyone, even when we traveled to Montreal and, just like the high-priced stars of the time, we had to lug our own luggage through customs (in every other city, the Mets’ equipment manager and his crew handled the luggage for our traveling party, including mine. On each road trip, you’d drop off your bag at Shea Stadium and would not see it again until you reached the hotel in whatever city the Mets were playing. So, it was quite entertaining to see such high-profile players as George Foster, Criag Swan,Tom Seaver and Lee Mazzilli, among others, pushing their own carts through the Montreal airport just like us commoners).
I was introduced to Kiner in my rookie season on the beat in 1979, at spring training in St. Petersburg, Fla., by the late Daily News scribe Jack Lang. During one spring trip, I savored an hour-long interview with Kiner on a bench at Miller-Huggins Field, the Mets’ spring training home at the time. Manger Casey Stengel was more celebrated as a raconteur, but Kiner had to be at least his equal as a storyteller.
Kiner was always able to connect any incident or player, manager or coach in the game to a related story. And he would always be able to dig out information from a player that might have been difficult to deal with, for whatever reason, from a writer’s point of view. But there was one player even Kiner had trouble in getting more than one word answers. Catcher Clarence “Choo Choo” Coleman (don’t ask him how he got the nickname, he didn’t know) was once asked by Kiner, “So, Choo Choo, what is your wife’s name?” To which Choo- Choo replied, “Mrs. Coleman.”
End of interview. End of a life well-lived. RIP Ralphie Boy.