ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The University of New Mexico baseball team is going to honor Ralph Kiner, the greatest player to ever come out of the state of New Mexico, with a jersey patch the rest of the season, beginning with its game Friday against Northern Colorado.
Kiner, who was born in Santa Rita, N.M. in 1922, passed away from natural causes on Feb. 6 at the age of 91. He was a Hall of Fame slugger for the Pittsburgh Pirates and was a radio and television broadcaster for the New York Metsfor 52 years, from the team's inaugural season until his death.
"Not only was Ralph Kiner a great player, but he was also a great man too," UNM head coach Ray Birmingham said. "He typefies the type of player and person this state produces.
The patch, which will be worn on the right sleeve of all of UNM's jerseys, features Kiner's initals in an outline of the state of New Mexico.
"We're proud to pay tribute to a man who was a Hall of Famer and a great baseball player from a great baseball state," Birmingham said.
Kiner was one of the preeminent sluggers of his time. After serving as a fighter pilot in the Navy in World War II, he made his Major League debut in 1946 and proceeded to set a new MLB record by leading the National League in home runs for seven straight seasons, something even Babe Ruth never accomplished. He still holds the Pirates’ single-season home run record of 54, which he set in 1949. In 10 seasons with the Pirates, Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians he hit 369 home runs with 1,015 RBIs. His home run total was sixth highest all time when he was forced to retire due to back issues. In 1975 he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and in 1987 the Pirates retired his No. 4.
Following his playing career he got into broadcasting with the Chicago White Sox in 1961. The following year, though, he began broadcasting games for the expansion New York Mets, where he spent the next five decades.
"Ralph dominated at the plate for a decade, but his contributions to our national pastime spanned generations," MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said. "For 52 years, Ralph was a one-of-a-kind voice of the Mets, linking baseball's unparalleled history to New York's new National League franchise since its very inception.
"I am grateful that I recently had the opportunity to visit with Ralph, whose lifetime of service to baseball will always be treasured by the fans of Pittsburgh, New York and beyond. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to his five children, his 12 grandchildren, his friends throughout our game and his admirers everywhere."
To this day Kiner remains the only Hall of Famer born in New Mexico, and he will always be remembered not only as a powerful slugger or a beloved broadcaster, but also for being the shining example of the kind of talent the Land of Enchantment is capable of producing.