Fans this winter got some bittersweet news when the team announced it had signed John Kruk as the new color analyst for the television broadcast, replacing the new hitting coach Matt Stairs and joining Tom McCarthy and Ben Davis. It was bittersweet because we as fans can no longer hear how good Stairs was at explaining hitting, yet now, we will be treated to the different perspective Kruk can bring to the broadcast.
It was a move met with open arms in some corners of the Phillies universe since Kruk remains one of the more popular Phillies from the 1993 National League champion. Luring him away from ESPN’s
Little League World Series baseball coverage is a boon for people who tune in regularly, as he has managed to combine humor and good analysis to whatever he is broadcasting at the time.
However, I think lost in all of the shuffle is the fact that a lot of fans don’t really remember how good of a player Kruk actually was while he wore the red pinstripes. I always knew he was a good hitter, but I didn’t realize how good.
When I think of the “Krukker”, I think of two things:
Yes, the 1993 Phillies were a mangy bunch. Much was made of the fact that they didn’t look like regular baseball players. We can all remember the “Saturday Night Live” sketch where Chris Farley was inspired by Kruk’s unkempt hair choice to imitate the first baseman as part of a Weekend Update segment. He appeared on Letterman as the spokesman for that crazy bunch. He looked like a vagrant and seemed proud of it.
For all of the craziness that he inspired, it masked what was actually a really good baseball player. (Notice I didn’t say athlete) While in Philadelphia from 1989-1994, Kruk amassed a .309/.400/.461 line with 145 doubles, 62 home runs, 390 RBI and 403 runs scored in 3,001 plate appearances. He made three All-Star games and even got some down-ballot MVP votes from 1991-93. When it came to postseason performance, he was even quite good then. In his 58 plate appearances during the 1993 run, he hit .298/.431/.468 with five extra base hits.
To put it simply: he was good. Sneaky good, if you prefer that avenue. Better than even I remembered. In a time dominated by the ascendance of Barry Bonds, the Atlanta Braves pitching staff and other “better” hitters, Kruk logged some significant totals. This is a list from Baseball Reference’s Play Index of all the players from 1989-1994 who had an OPS above .840 as well as an OPS+ above 130 (min. 2,000 PA):
Perhaps it’s beginning to jog your memory just how effective he was during his tenure. While he may not have the power numbers the other players on this list have, he was no less productive when it came to actual bat-to-ball skills. I mean, it’s easy to think about Kruk and only remember his on-field bowel movement during the 1993 All-Star game,
but there was so much more to him than that. He was legitimately one of the betters hitters in the National League during his time in Philadelphia. Think about the 1993 Phillies lineup. Where is it without Kruk hitting third? Yes, Lenny Dykstra was the clear MVP of the team that year, but he couldn’t have scored 143 runs that year without someone behind him driving him in. Even Kruk scored 104 runs that year, hitting in front of Dave Hollins and Darren Daulton. He did it that year with a modest 18 home runs, but when the name of the game is to score more runs than the other team, Kruk excelled.
When he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1994, it was news met with great sadness since it made us feel mortal that one of our heroes was vulnerable to sickness we think they can avoid. Admit it: when an athlete announces he or she has some kind of illness, whether it be during their playing days or in their retirement, our first response is one of shock. That’s what made Kruk’s diagnosis so sad. We knew his playing days would take a backseat to his (successful) recovery, and in the back of our minds, we also had to concede that his playing days would probably be, in fact, over. Now. though, we can sit and enjoy the kind of dry humor that we could only hear from the radio broadcast prior to Kruk’s hiring. As you’re doing so, just try to remember how go he was a baseball player.