John Kruk: Today Is His Birthday. He Was a Really Good Hitter.

Drew Hallowell

Former Phillies first baseman and outfielder John Kruk turns 52 today. It turns out he was a heck of a ballplayer.

This is going to be one of those pieces without a Big Purpose. I just happened to read a tweet earlier wishing John Kruk a happy birthday. Yes, the Krukker is turning 52 today.

Kruk, who along with Darren Daulton and Lenny Dykstra became the faces of the first generation of the Post-Mike Schmidt Phillies, was brought to Philadelphia in a trade with the Padres on June 8, 1989 less than two weeks after Schmidt's abrupt retirement on May 29. The Padres sent Kruk and Randy Ready to the Phillies for the pretty crummy infielder/outfielder Chris James, who had posted a line of .254/.294/.413 in parts of four seasons in Philadelphia.

Kruk, on the other hand, had been a .281/.389/.421 hitter in his first three-plus seasons in San Diego, including a seventh place Rookie of the Year finish in 1986. But he got off to a dreadful start in 1989 (.184/.333/.303, thanks in no small part to a .186 baBIP in 94 plate appearances) before finding himself in Philadelphia in June.

Once in Philadelphia, the hits started coming again, and Kruk would go .331/.383/.473 the rest of the way, mostly playing left field for a terrible Phillies team. Kruk would play less and less outfield as his time in Philadelphia went on, finally playing first base full time by 1993.

Kruk quickly became a fan-favorite thanks to his non-traditional athletic appearance (read: fatso) and his self-deprecating sense of humor, making multiple appearances on late night talk shows and purportedly giving the world the immortal "I ain't an athlete, lady, I'm a baseball player!" zinger, which probably enabled the poor habits of tens of thousands of slovenly weekend warrior athletes, to be quite honest. All of which kind of obscured just how good of a hitter Kruk was for the Phillies:

Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
1989 28 PHI NL 81 312 281 46 93 13 6 5 38 3 0 27 39 .331 .386 .473 .859 146
1990 29 PHI NL 142 515 443 52 129 25 8 7 67 10 5 69 70 .291 .386 .431 .817 126
1991 30 PHI NL 152 615 538 84 158 27 6 21 92 7 0 67 100 .294 .367 .483 .851 139
1992 31 PHI NL 144 607 507 86 164 30 4 10 70 3 5 92 88 .323 .423 .458 .881 150
1993 32 PHI NL 150 651 535 100 169 33 5 14 85 6 2 111 87 .316 .430 .475 .905 145
1994 33 PHI NL 75 301 255 35 77 17 0 5 38 4 1 42 51 .302 .395 .427 .823 114
PHI (6 yrs) 744 3001 2559 403 790 145 29 62 390 33 13 408 435 .309 .400 .461 .861 138
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/9/2013.

Of course, we all remember the 1993 Phillies, who embodied a hipster proto-"Moneyball" ethos of working pitchers and getting on-base before it was cool. The 1993 Philles led the National League in runs with 877 (69 more than second place San Francisco), and Kruk led the team with an unreal .430 on-base percentage.

Kruk, like the Phillies, would never be the same after 1993. Diagnosed with testicular cancer during Spring Training in 1994, knee problems and weight gain held Kruk to just 75 games in the strike shortened 1994 season, after which the Phillies would release the first baseman. Kruk would sign on with the Chicago White Sox, playing in 45 games, posting a .399 OBP, and memorably retiring on-field after collecting his final big league hit. He was 34 years old.

One is left to wonder what Kruk could have done as a hitter if he had been able to stay healthy which, let's be honest, could have been a bit easier if he tried to be a little more "athlete" and a little less "ballplayer." Nonetheless, the guy could hit, and he racked up some really nice seasons for some memorable and not-so-memorable Phillies teams.


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