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Remembering two Ralphs and Fregosi

February 18, 2014 - John Mehno
--Ralph Kiner was well before my time of following the Pirates.

He used to come back to Pittsburgh regularly as a Mets announcer. His broadcasting career started in Pittsburgh. In 1960, WIIC-TV (now WPXI) was looking for an ex-player to appear on local pre-game and post-game shows wrapped around NBC's World Series coverage. Bob Prince recommended Kiner, who was then the GM of the Class AAA team in San Diego. The next year Kiner signed on to broadcast White Sox games, and he joined the Mets for their inaugural season in 1962. That association with the Mets lasted the rest of his life.

Kiner was a great storyteller. Once in 1975, he had to fill a rain delay from Three Rivers Stadium. Prince joined him in the booth and they told stories from their days together in the 1940s and '50s. It was a shame the rain stopped and brought an end to their impromptu show.

Unlike a lot of old-timers, Kiner didn't live in the past. I got an assignment to do a magazine story on him in the mid-1990s and I called him at home in California. He said, "Can you call me back in about an hour? I'm taking a computer lesson."

--The press room at PNC Park will be quieter this year without Jim Fregosi. The former player worked as an assistant GM for the Braves and often scouted games in Pittsburgh. You always knew when he was there. He was loud and opinionated, and he had confidence in his opinions. That rubbed a few people the wrong way, but Fregosi was a nice guy under the bluster.

He finished his career abruptly with the Pirates in 1978. He was hanging on as a pinch hitter when he got a call during an off day in Cincinnati inviting him to manage the California Angels. Fregosi packed his bags, booked a flight and started on a second career that would see him manage four different teams. Pete Peterson, the Pirates' GM, argued for years that the Angels should have been required to provide the Pirates some compensation, but the commissioners office disagreed.

Fregosi spent the first part of his career playing for the Angels, and he embraced the Hollywood lifestyle. Upon learning of his passing, 1960s movie bombshell Mamie Van Doren called it "a personal loss" on her Facebook page.

--Mary Grace Canfield died last week at 89. You may not recognize the name, but if you watched "Green Acres," you remember her character, Ralph Monroe. She was part of the brother-sister carpenter team who never quite finished the remodeling job at the Douglas home. Her trademark greeting was "Howdy Doody."

"Green Acres" was a wonderfully subversive show, hiding a surreal approach under its cover story of a city slicker flummoxed by farm life. I believe the only major cast member who survives is Tom Lester, who played handyman Eb.

Like the theme song said, Green Acres was the place to be -- even if the closet door in the Douglas bedroom always fell down.

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