Sunday, August 14, 2011

Familiar Faces / Strange Places: John Kruk / White Sox

Continuing with this weekend's John Kruk theme.

John Kruk was drafted out of his native West Virginia in the 3rd round of the 1981 draft by the San Diego Padres. He played five seasons in the Padres minor league system before making his big league debut as a ninth inning pinch runner for Steve Garvey on opening day 1986 against the Dodgers. He was promptly thrown out by Mike Scioscia trying to steal second.

In 1987, playing for Padres manager Larry Bowa he hit .313 with 20 home runs and 91 RBI, and stole 18 bases. On April 13, 1987, Marvell Wynne, Tony Gwynn, and Kruk became the first players in MLB history to open a game with three consecutive home runs.

After struggling at the start of the 1989 season, he was traded to the Phillies on June 2nd -- less than a week after Mike Schmidt's mid-season retirement. Kruk quickly became an solid contributor in Philadelphia, making the NL All Star team in 1991, 1992, and 1993. His '93 all star appearance included a memorable and humorous strike out against Randy Johnson.

The 1993 Phillies shocked the baseball world as they rolled through the season spending all but one day in first place in the NL East. Kruk played a big role on that team, on the field with his .905 OPS and in the fun loving clubhouse. The '93 Phils beat the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS, but lost in heart-breaking fashion to the Toronto Blue Jays on Joe Carter's memorable walk off home run in Game 6 off of Mitch Williams.

During spring training in 1994, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer discovered after an errant pickoff throw from teammate Mitch Williams hit him in the groin and broke his protective cup. After only got two at bats in spring training before the diagnosis, he was activated for the Phillies 1994 home opener, and dramatically delivered three hits after he received a radiation treatment.

In his book "I Ain't an Athlete, Lady..." Kruk has this to say about his friend and teammate Mitch Williams:
In my book, he's a hero. I never thought I'd say it, but now I couldn't be happier that Mitch made that throw. What can you say when the best thing that ever happened to you is getting hit in the nuts?
From now on, when I think about Mitch Williams, I won't think about those blown saves in the World Series. Turns out he was responsible for the biggest save of my life.
Following the 1994 strike cancelled season Kruk realized he needed to become a designated hitter to continue his career and signed with the Chicago White Sox. He played well but never really found his groove in Chicago. On July 30, 1995 Kruk singled in the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles and took himself out of the game (after the end of the inning). He left Camden Yards and never played baseball again. He finished his 10-year career with exactly a .300 batting average and exactly 100 home runs.


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