RANCHO MIRAGE (CBSLA.com) — Hall of Fame slugger and longtime New York Mets broadcaster Ralph Kiner died Thursday at his home in Rancho Mirage. Kiner was 91.

According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Kiner died of natural causes with his family at his side.

“With the passing of Ralph Kiner, the baseball world has lost one of its greatest ambassadors and the Hall of Fame has lost a wonderful friend,” according to Jane Forbes Clark, chair of the Hall of Fame. “Ralph spent eight decades as a player, executive and broadcaster. He was a man who truly loved on national pastime and made it better in every way. His legacy will live forever in Cooperstown.”

Kiner, who was born in New Mexico but raised in Southern California, signed with the Pirates in 1941, but his minor-league career was interrupted by World War II, during which he served as a Navy pilot. Kiner returned to the Pirates’ big-league squad in 1946.

Kiner hit 51 home runs in 1947 and 54 in 1949. Throughout his career, Kiner hit a home run every 14.1 times he stepped to the plate, the sixth-best ratio of all time. He was a career .279 hitter, collecting 1,451 hits and 1,015 RBIs and walked 100 or more times in six seasons.

After his playing career, Kiner became a broadcaster, calling New York Mets games for 52 seasons, starting in 1962.

“As one of baseball’s most prolific power hitters for a decade, Ralph struck fear into the hearts of the best pitchers of baseball’s golden era, despite his easy-going nature, disarming humility and movie-star smile,” said Jeff Idelson, president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. “His engaging personality and profound knowledge of the game turned him into a living room companion for millions of New York Mets fans who adored his game broadcasts and later `Kiner’s Korner’ for more than half a century.

“He was as comfortable hanging out in Palm Springs with his friend Bob Hope as he was hitting in front of Hank Greenberg at Forbes Field,” he said.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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