It's late in the year to be reporting that the first game of the World Series has taken place and that the Atlanta Braves won it, on the road, against the Houston Astros. My guess is that the first game of this year's autumn classic will be remembered for the grit of Charlie Morton. Atlanta's starting pitcher was hit in the leg with a hard-struck ground ball last night. Only after he retired three more hitters was it determined that he had a broken fibula. That's right, he stayed in the game with a broken leg.
That's the kind of toughness managers and teammates appreciate, although America once had an entire generation of such individuals.
Not all of them played sports, but I'm thinking this morning of one who did. His name is Ralph Kiner and he was born on this date in 1922 in the now-abandoned New Mexico mining town of Santa Rita. Kiner grew up in Southern California with a powerful swing that ticketed him for the major leagues. But world events delayed his destiny, as they did for millions of other Americans. Kiner was playing in a semi-pro game in Pasadena when he heard that Pearl Harbor had been attacked.
"We all immediately said the same thing: ‘You can't do that to this country!'" he recalled later. "The next day, instead of playing baseball, I went and enlisted in the United States Navy. It happened that fast." In a moment, I'll have more on Ralph Kiner, who I wrote about in this space during the World Series six years ago.
Although most of the baseball players who enlisted to fight in World War II chose the U.S. Army, a select group -- including superstars Charlie Gehringer and Ted Williams -- volunteered to be Navy aviators. Gehringer, as it happened, was one of Ralph Kiner's flight instructors at the naval training facility at St. Mary's College in California.
By the end of the war, Kiner was flying over the Pacific hunting Japanese submarines. His military service delayed his major league debut until 1946. He played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, a team going through lean years. Nevertheless, Kiner led the National League in home runs his first seven seasons. Considered a borderline candidate for the Hall of Fame, he was narrowly elected to join the elite in 1975, his last year of eligibility.
By then, Kiner was known for something other than his swing: His lovable colloquialisms and gaffes made in the broadcasting booth as a New York Mets announcer. (Sample: "The Mets have gotten their leadoff hitter on only once this inning.") As was true of his good friend Yogi Berra, Kiner didn't really say all of the things he was supposed to have uttered. But he said enough of them to earn a reputation in his second act in baseball.
"As a broadcaster for the New York Mets, he became famous for his verbal strikeouts," noted baseball historian Warren Corbett. Also like Yogi, though, Kiner really knew baseball, which makes up for a lot of rhetorical miscues. He also knew people, and liked them, and the feeling was mutual.
"The gentle and princely presence of Ralph Kiner could turn a gathering of crooks, rogues and rascals into civil and gracious fellows," baseball writer Marty Noble opined in an obituary. "Mr. Kiner had that effect, the opposite of one bad apple."
It's a nice line, but as I did in 2015, I'd like to leave the last word this morning to "Mr. Kiner" himself. Remember, when I mentioned above that the Second World War delayed the destinies of a generation of young men? In a 2009 Veterans Day essay he co-authored with Toby Mergler, Ralph Kiner reminded us that for many young men, World War II didn't impede their destiny. It was their destiny:
"As the great Bob Feller, who served well for more than four years during the war, once told me," Kiner recalled, "the real heroes aren't the ones who lived; it's the ones that died."
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.