Ralph Kiner: 1922-2014

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Sad news to pass along this afternoon, as Hall of Fame outfielder and broadcasting legend Ralph Kiner has passed away. He was 91 years old.

A feared slugger, Kiner had a storied and brief playing career, compiling a .279/.398/.548 batting line and 369 home runs over 10 seasons between the Pirates, Cubs, and Indians. A six-time All-Star, he either led or tied for the National League lead in home runs for each of his first seven seasons (1946-1952) in the majors. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1975.

Back injuries forced Kiner into early retirement at 32 years old, but he soon created a whole new legion of fans as a broadcaster. While he began his broadcasting career in 1961 with the White Sox, he’s best known as one of the voices of the Mets. He was there at the inception of the franchise in 1962 along with Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy and became an institution, beloved for his wit, storytelling ability, and occasional flubs. His “Kiner’s Korner” post-game show on WOR-TV was iconic and the site of many classic moments.

Kiner was a big part of my fan experience as a child and it was still a treat to see him stop by the SNY booth in recent years. While he was getting older, he was just as sharp as ever. He’ll be dearly missed.

Here’s a statement from Mets chairman and CEO Fred Wilpon:

“Ralph Kiner was one of the most beloved people in Mets history — an original Met and extraordinary gentleman. After a Hall of Fame playing career, Ralph became a treasured broadcasting icon for more than half a century. His knowledge of the game, wit, and charm entertained generations of Mets fans. Like his stories, he was one of a kind. We send our deepest condolences to Ralph’s five children and 12 grandchildren. Our sport and society today lost one of the all-time greats.”

Mariners claim Kaleb Cowart off waivers from Angels

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The Mariners announced that the club claimed Kaleb Cowart off waivers from the Angels. Interestingly, the Mariners list Cowart as both an outfielder and a right-handed pitcher. Cowart has never pitched professionally, but the Mariners will try him as a two-way player next season, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reports. Cowart was a highly regarded pitcher in high school.

Cowart, 26, has played all over the field, spending most of his time at third base and second base, but also logging a handful of innings at first base, shortstop, and left field.  He hasn’t hit much at all, owning a career .177/.241/.293 triple-slash line across 380 plate appearances in the big leagues. It makes sense to try another angle.

Shohei Ohtani, of course, is helping to popularize the rebirth of the two-way player. In his first year in the majors after having played in Japan for five years, Ohtani won the AL Rookie of the Year Award by posting a .925 OPS in 367 plate appearances along with a 3.31 ERA over 10 starts. Don’t expect Cowart to hit those lofty numbers, but additional versatility could prolong his life in the majors.