RALPHIE-BOY; BLANDA WASN’T BLAND

July 31, 2010

Neil Best of Newsday wrote about Ralph Kiner and his links to the past.
“The stories never stop, a bottomless trove from the long, sharp memory of Ralph Kiner.

An hour before yesterday’s Cardinals-Mets game, he was talking to an audience of one about Ty
Cobb, the 1952 Pirates, Lou Gehrig, Bob Murphy, Joe Garagiola and Bob Sheppard, among many other
things.

Soon he would continue on TV, veering from Gus Zernial (an Athletics slugger of the 1950s) to
Terry Moore (a Cardinals outfielder of the ’30s) to Rick Ferrell (a Senators catcher of the ’30s).
Even Toots Shor and Jackie Gleason made cameo appearances during Kiner’s 4½ innings in the SNY
booth.

“Two things good about being around a long time,” he said before the game. “One is you can tell
a lot of stories, and the people that might refute the stories are all dead now.”

But something else he said was more serious, and to the point.

As he was comparing the 1952 Pirates, who lost 112 games with Kiner in the lineup, to the ’62
Mets, who lost 120 with him in the booth, he interrupted himself and said this:

“It’s really one lifelong story.”

So it is. At 87, now 55 years after he retired as a player and 35 since he made the Hall of
Fame, Kiner is living history, a guy old enough to have met Babe Ruth and young enough at heart
to studiously follow the 2010 Mets and other teams.

The trick is being willing and able at his age to share that knowledge with a television
audience more interested in the present.

Kiner does that consistently, tossing loose ends of baseball’s past into the air and then tying
them together during his 25 or so shifts for SNY each season.

It is a role he takes seriously. “I want to keep the names of the people I knew and the ones I
heard about before my time alive,” he said. “I want that history to be preserved.”

For Mets fans of every age, Kiner is a link to their own memories as part of the broadcast crew
since Day One.

That includes play-by-play man Gary Cohen, who said, “It’s such an incredible honor to sit next
to him and actually get to work with him, I can barely express it.”

Cohen is impressed both by Kiner’s preparation and the breadth of his material.

“It fascinates me: A guy who hasn’t played a game in the major leagues in 55 years constantly
comes up with stuff I’ve never heard before,” he said, “and I’ve been watching him since I was
6.”

Said another of Kiner’s broadcast partners, Keith Hernandez: “I always feel Ralph’s a bridge to
the ’40s, the ’30s, the ’20s, stuff that none of us can go back to and bring up.”

Kiner would like to work more games, but he largely is limited to day games at home to ease the
burden physically. And more of a good thing might be too much. As it is, he is a welcome change
of pace.

(Early in the season, he commutes to Mets games from his home in Florida, but in the summer, he
lives in Greenwich, Conn., easing the travel grind.)

But SNY is looking for more ways to use him. Later this season, it plans to package clips from
the old “Kiner’s Korner” postgame show with fresh insights from Kiner on the network’s website.

Reviving “Kiner’s Korner” on television is unlikely. “The players are making enough money that
they don’t need the 50 bucks,” Kiner said.

What would the then- 39-year-old Kiner have said in 1962 if someone had told him he’d still be
working Mets games in 2010, let alone in a booth named in his honor?

“I’d never have believed it,” he said, adding that for his first several years, he worked on
one-year contracts, never sure he’d be back.

Those dreadful early Mets teams provided some of his best stories, Kiner said, as did the woeful
’52 Pirates. How did they lose 112? Weren’t there any other good players on the team?

“I can’t think of any,” he said, laughing. “No, we did have some.”

Still . . . “After my last time at bat, people would get up and go. They knew we were going to
lose it and they were going to beat the traffic.”

Kiner hit 37 home runs that season, his seventh consecutive year leading the National League. It
was a very long time ago, but he often finds that teenaged players he speaks to are interested i
n that era, even if they know little about it.

“I always say to them, ‘Do you have a computer?’ and they always have one, obviously,” he said.
“I say, ‘Look me up on Google and you’ll find out all you want to know about me there.’ ”

Frank Rajkowski of the St. Cloud Times (MN) had a piece posted in the Boston Herald that
profiled George Blanda’s long and storied career and compared him to Brett Favre.

“Brett Favre will not be on hand when the Minnesota Vikings begin training camp this afternoon
in Mankato.

The veteran quarterback remains at home in Mississippi and has yet to announce whether he will
return for what would be his 20th NFL season.

But after seeing the way the 40-year-old performed in 2009, the man who set the standard for
longevity in pro football believes Favre will be back for another go-around this fall.

George Blanda — who played a total of 26 seasons as a quarterback and kicker in the NFL and
AFL — does not believe Favre is yet ready to ride off into the sunset of retirement.

“I think he’ll be back,” said Blanda, now 82, who began his pro career with the Chicago Bears
in 1949 and ended it at age 48 with the Oakland Raiders in 1975. “He can still get the job done.

“(The Vikings) came within a play of going to the Super Bowl last season and he’s a
competitive guy. I’m sure he thinks they have the talent to get to the Super Bowl this
season and win it.”

Favre certainly didn’t show signs of aging in his first season with the Vikings a year ago.

In fact, he put together one of the best seasons of his career, throwing for 4,202 yards and 33
touchdowns with just seven interceptions.

Favre helped lead his team to a matchup against the eventual Super Bowl champion New Orleans
Saints in the NFC Championship Game where only a too-many-men-in-the-huddle penalty and an
interception late in the fourth quarter ended what looked like a potential game-winning drive.

All this during a year that saw Favre turn 40, an age when many of his peers have long since
moved into their post-football careers. The success he achieved has many assuming he will be
back, despite an ankle injury that required offseason surgery.

“I wasn’t surprised at all,” said Blanda of Favre’s 2009 performance. “He’s a great player and
he always has been. He keeps himself in good shape and he hasn’t had many injuries until
recently.

“As long as he hasn’t lost his enthusiasm for the game, he can keep going. And he certainly
looks like he still has it. He still looks like a kid in a candy store out there.”

In recent off seasons, Favre has weighed retirement only to eventually return. A year ago, he
announced in late July he would not be back, only to change his mind and sign with the Vikings
in August.

Blanda never went through such public indecision. He always knew he would return as long as the
teams he was playing for would have him. After leaving the Bears and the sport following the
1958 season, he returned to football with the Houston Oilers in the then-new American Football
League in 1960. He quarterbacked Houston to the first two AFL titles and was named league player
of the year in 1961.

He was released by the Oilers after the 1966 season, but was picked up by Oakland as a backup
quarterback and kicker in 1967 and remained with the Raiders for nine more years. His final NFL
game was the AFC Championship Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Jan. 4, 1976 in which he
kicked a 41-yard field goal.

“I was never in the same position that (Favre) is in,” Blanda said. “When the Raiders picked me
up in 1967, I was already a 40-year-old backup quarterback and kicker. I knew if I did my job
well, they might invite me back. But I was never the starting quarterback there where my
position was more secure. It was always one year at a time.”

But despite primarily being a kicker in Oakland, Blanda did log some significant time at
quarterback, notably during the 1970 season when he came on in relief of starter Daryle Lamonica
on several occasions, including in an AFC Championship Game loss to the Baltimore Colts.

He finished the 1970 season with 55 passing attempts for 461 yards and five touchdowns, coming
off the bench to help the Raiders to a win or tie in a stretch of five straight games, all at
age 43.

In 1971, he attempted 58 passes for 378 yards and six touchdowns. And while in his final season
in 1975, he attempted just three passes for 11 yards, he was still 44 for 48 on extra-point
attempts and 13-for-31 on field goals, including a season-long 37-yarder.

“I still felt like I could play, but at that age, it becomes harder and harder to kick those
40- to 49-yard field goals,” said Blanda, who finished his career with a then-record 2,002 points.
“When you’re younger, you have a stronger leg. And there were younger guys around. So it
probably was time for me to go at that point.”

Blanda said age can be an asset for a pro quarterback, even one 40 or older.

“Playing quarterback at 40 was just like playing quarterback when I was 21 except that I had
more experience,” Blanda said. “When I was 40, I knew how to get rid of the ball quicker, how
to read defenses better and I had a better sense of when my receivers we’re going to get open.
I’d seen a lot more by that point.”

Those were traits Blanda noticed while watching Favre play last season as well.

“There were a lot of things he didn’t do last year that he’s done in the past,” Blanda said.
“When he was younger, he was a gunslinger and he threw the ball all over the place. If it went
to the wrong person every now and then, he didn’t worry about it too much. But today, he seems
more concerned with turning the ball over and he makes better decisions. He’s more willing to go
to the shorter routes if he gets into trouble.”

Blanda said he sees no reason why Favre, who will turn 41 in October, should step away from the
game.

“If he asked me, I’d tell him to do what his heart tells him to,” Blanda said. “If his family
wants him to play, and he’s still excited about it, he should.

“Once you quit, you’re finished. That’s it. You can’t go back. You can be a doctor and retire
for awhile, then step back into your job. But you can’t be a football player and do that. So as
long as you can keep playing, and they want you to, you should do it.”

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