RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. - Hall of Fame baseball player Ralph Kiner died Thursday morning at his Rancho Mirage home at the age of 91. His son Scott said his father died of congestive heart failure, with his family at his side.
Kiner was born in New Mexico and grew up in Southern California. For more than half a century, he was an iconic Coachella Valley resident.
Baseball greats and local fans honored the iconic athlete at Palm Valley School's "Talkin' Baseball" fundraiser at Thunderbird Country Club in Rancho Mirage. Kiner was a founding member at Thunderbird where he played his golf and spent his last days.
Kiner was set to be a surprise guest at the event Thursday, benefiting Palm Valley School's "Campaign for Tomorrow," which funds the construction of the school's new Upper School facility. He would've joined guest speakers, fellow Hall of Famers Johnny Bench and Don Sutton, who recently had dinner with Kiner and always admired him.
"It was a shock and a kick in the stomach. A class man and we're going to miss him," said Sutton.
"It's very special to know the man and he was funny until the last deal," said Bench.
With a relatively brief 10-year career, shortened by a back ailment, Kiner hit 369 home runs, mostly with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"Here's a man who set records all along the way," said former Dodger announcer Ross Porter.
Kiner won or shared the National League home run title in each of his first seven seasons. He hit a career high 54 round trippers in 1949.
"He's one of those old time players. He played the sport and it was fun. Those players aren't really around anymore," said Palm Valley's Head of School Robert Graves.
After finishing his career as a player, "Kiner's Korner" took flight. He became a popular broadcaster with the New York Mets for 52 seasons.
"It was such a relaxed atmosphere," said Bench. "He made you feel like the most important person in the world. He was a fan. He appreciated baseball and he knew his job and did it better than anyone else."
The Rancho Mirage resident set the bar for players young and old.
"He treated the game and his teammates with respect," said Sutton. If he were here, he would tell these young players, ‘If you want to do it, do it the right way.'"
"Widely acclaimed as a player and broadcaster, it was wonderful we had him while we had him," said Porter.
Kiner is survived by his children Kathryn, Michael and Scott, all who live in the Coachella Valley. They sent us the following statement.
"It's hard to imagine anyone living a more full and rewarding life. He touched so many lives through baseball, as a player and play-by-play announcer for over half a century. He will forever be a part of American sports history. Most of all we will miss his great sense of humor."
"Ralph had an influence. We're all better for that," said said Bench. "I think about their family. Tough time for them, but they were lucky, very lucky. As we were."