Do you remember the SuperStations? When cable was just starting to become a viable alternative to free TV, the superstations were a marquee attraction, if only for the novelty of being able to watch regional programming anywhere in the US. For baseball fanatics, the SuperStations invoke memories of WWOR (New York) and WTBS (Atlanta). And that, of course, meant watching the Mets and the Braves.
It was great having access to a ton of Mets games in the mid-1980s, because those teams were good. The Braves were good too from 1982-1984, but rapidly became lousy. Having access to the broadcasts on the west coast meant 30 more opportunities to watch the Cardinals. Plus, you could see the rest of the League as well. The other cool thing about access those stations? The local radio guys did the TV play-by-play, so you got to hear guys like Skip Caray, Pete van Wieren, and Tim McCarver (when he was really good) call the action.
And you got to hear a great old timer in Ralph Kiner. I was reminded of this last night when I learned that Kiner had passed away. He was 91.
Kiner is probably best known as the most prolific home run hitter in history over the first 5 years of his career. Only two men have hit 200+ HR in their first 5 full seasons: Albert Pujols and Kiner. I looked up Kiner’s career numbers, and it turns out Kiner tortured the Cardinals. In 193 career games, he hit .309/.424/.599 against St Louis (830 PA). His 1.024 OPS was his highest against any NL team, and other than destroying Boston over 19 games at the end of his career, it was the highest against any team.
His loss means another classic voice is gone. I guess this is more prominent in my mind because I live in San Diego, and we said good-bye to Jerry Coleman last month. Not to beat on the modern announcer, but they all seem to describe the game the same way, in the same voice, and none of them work alone. Not so long ago, every team had a distinctive voice, a man who had described the action for years and could spin his own stories into his game-calling. Ernie Harwell. Jack Buck. Harry Caray. Mel Allen. Now all of those voices save have fallen silent. The last of the great baseball announcers, Vin Scully, is an octogenarian, and can see the light of his retirement date at the end of the tunnel. Marty Brennaman is 71. Even ageless Mike Shannon is 74.
Pitchers and catchers report next week, and games start next month. It will be good to hear Mike Shannon behind the mike again.
Pardon the rambling, I’m in a reflective mood at the moment…