By Mark Romeo
Ralph Kiner’s passing reminds me of … The Rangers winning the Stanley Cup.
And not because the Rangers were defending Stanley Cup Champions when Ralph graduated from Alhambra High School in California and signed his first pro contract with Pirates. I guess I should explain. Here goes.
Any time we hear that someone that we knew, loved, or even someone well known, passes away, we usually run through our memories of that person. It’s only natural. Of course the degree of emotion in these times will vary depending on our closeness to that person.
When Ralph Kiner passed last week, many of us thought back, with a warm amusement, to Ralph’s many malaprops and vocal fumbles while broadcasting not just the Mets games but more so Kiner’s Korner.
Kiner’s Korner: a 1960s and 70s gem, albeit a dull one, of a television production the likes of which will never be seen again, for a variety of reasons.
I went through all those memories and more: Ralph interviewing Casey Stengel, Nolan Ryan dumping champagne on his head. But nothing topped off a mid-August Mets error clinic, like the awkward, forced back-and- forth between Ralph and a sweaty Ron Hodges or Jack Hamilton. Yet in our A/C challenged four-bedroom house in Metuchen, we were riveted to the black and white Magnavox.
I always wished I could have seen him play, they said the ball jumped off his bat like few others.
But the first thing I thought of last week when I heard the news of Kiner’s passing was Game 5, 1994 Eastern Conference Finals.
I don’t have to spell out the range of emotions we all went through that spring. It was such an all-consuming roller coaster, I was a mess. If I wasn’t working for my father at the time I probably would have been fired. Not so much in rounds one or two, but by the time Mother’s Day rolled around it was looking like this group of Rangers may have what it takes.
The way they dismissed The Islanders and Capitals raised expectations. And with expectations come anxiety; ask any Rangers fan. The Devils series raised the angst to a troubling level. And now we were on the brink of elimination to who — The Devils? Back then, before Lou Lamarello was anointed a genius, the team from New Jersey were the unwanted step-children of both the NHL and the metropolitan area.
Sure, maybe it would be one more year that we would have to listen to “1940!” but we weren’t supposed to lose to the Devils, they can’t be for real. Maybe the Canadiens or some more formidable, respectable foe than the Mickey Mouse monikered misfits from across the Hudson.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one with a general sense of doom, as I rode the escalator in silence, leaving the Garden on May 23. Penn Station had a few anguished outbursts from Blueshirt faithful. Some pure anger and frustration, some beer assisted. The worst part was, if you lived in New Jersey like me, that you had to ride the train home with Devils fans! Most of whom were wise enough to not rub salt in the wounds of Rangers fans. So it was an eerily quiet train ride.
Not even an emotional shot in the arm from Bill Clement himself could raise my confidence that we wouldn’t be looking at another empty summer. Clement was on the train and in our car, riding home to Philadelphia himself after working the game for ESPN with Gary “1940 is history!” Thorne. A small crowd of Rangers fans was gathered around him and asking “Do we have a shot?” and “What’s wrong with the Rangers?” Even he couldn’t sugar coat it, The Devils were hitting on all cylinders and the situation was, well, bleak. He did however say that you can’t sell short the veteran leadership of the Rangers.
So, with the sense of dread and mentally exhausted I went to sleep and slept surprisingly well. I woke the next morning in the middle of a most realistic dream. Ralph Kiner had died. Now I’m no psychic, heck Ralph lived almost another 20 years. But it was so depressing, so real I had to turn on the FAN to see if it was real or not. No luck there since Imus was on. There was nothing in the Star-Ledger about and it was 1994: no smart phones tablets, etc. This is ridiculous. I tell myself it was just a dream. Finally the 20-20 flash came and went with no mention.
What a random dream. Why Ralph Kiner? Maybe it was my subconscious telling me that while things were looking pretty bad: Hey, nobody died!
I felt much better, way better. I had a good day of work and the next day I woke to the phone ringing. It was my brother yelling “Did you see what Messier did?!”
I told my brother: “We’re gonna be alright.”
Photo by Getty Images.
Four medal-round qualification games today: Slovenia-Austria, Russia-Norway, Switzerland-Latvia, Czech Republic-Slovakia.