I met Ed Kranepool once when I was a kid. It was the early 1990s, and he was sitting at a card table in the bowels of the Trenton Thunder’s new Mercer County Waterfront Park. The Thunder (Double-A affiliate of the Red Sox at the time) had opened the stadium 40 minutes from our house and I, at about eight-years-old and in full tomboy swing, considered this the most exciting thing ever to happen in the Tri-State area.
At the time I had no idea who Ed Kranepool was; he’d played his last professional game 18 years before I was born. In the Trenton Thunder hallway, that fluorescent track-lighting doing none of us any favors, I didn’t even notice him at first—like most kids I was in a perpetual hurry, would rather run than walk, and wanted to see the diamond and try to catch a foul ball. It was my father’s excitement that stopped me in my tracks. A diehard fan, I don’t remember whether there was some kind of signage or he just recognized Kranepool outright, but my father—who was (of course) wearing his Mets jersey—took off the shirt and asked Kranepool to autograph it. Kranepool signed the shoulder while my uncle went off in search of some Thunder merchandise and came back with a baseball for him to sign. Both my dad and uncle were star-struck, giddy in a way I’d never seen them. My uncle is 10 years younger than my dad, but looking back now I realize the rarity for them in sharing a moment like this—Kranepool was probably the only Met both their childhood teams shared.
My dad snapped a photo of Kranepool, my little sister, and I with a disposable camera. The photo has disappeared and resurfaced over the years, usually in a spring cleaning-related fit in which my mother, concerned says: “Who is this strange man and why do we have a picture of him?”
To which my dad always says something like, “That’s Ed Kranepool! Don’t throw it out!”
I don’t think the name Ed Kranepool really clarifies anything for my mother, but she sees something in my father’s face and puts it back in the drawer.
On the surface, Ed Kranepool may look like just another “Boy Wonder” (as the New York Times termed him in 1965) who never reached the heights projected for him. With a career WARP of 4.8, batting average of .261, and a peak of 16 home runs in 1966, his overall statistics reflect a middling player. But the first baseman-turned-pinch-hitter had his moments. He was the only Met on the 1965 National League All-Star team. In 1969, after having been swapped out in favor of Donn Clendenon for most of the World Series, he made the best of his Game 3 appearance with a home run in the eighth inning. He had a strong stretch as he crossed into his 30s from 1974-77 when he hit .300, .323, .292 and .281. In 1974, Kranepool held the MLB record for highest average as a pinch-hitter with .486.
But Kranepool’s consistent presence on the team is, to my mind, what makes him most special. He was with the Mets through their fiasco of an inaugural season at the Polo Grounds, to their reign as 1969 World Series Champions at Shea, then back down into their 70s slump. As a diehard Mets fan who was not alive the last time the team won a World Series, this kind of dedication means a lot to me.
Kranepool probably could’ve been a better player if he hadn’t joined or stayed with the Mets all those years. Playing for a team with such a dismal record meant he was called up to the majors frequently while he was still a teenager: he played three games in 1962 when he was just 17, followed by 86 and 119 in 1963 and ’64; by the time he hit twenty he was playing 153 regular season games. The Mets continued to call him up because he often managed batting averages around .300 during his stints in the minors, and because his steady averages of .250 plus in the majors were, frankly, better than most other Mets those first seasons. But having to deal with major league pressure at such a young age–and not being afforded the coaching attention and lower-stakes practice time he might’ve gotten had he spent any extensive time in the minors–surely stunted his potential. Considering the strength of his performances starting in 1971, it could have been his half-season 1970 demotion to Mets’ Triple-A affiliates the Tidewater Tides that rid him of some of his bad habits.
By the end of his career in 1979, Kranepool held many of the organization’s records—hits, total bases, sacrifice flies, and total plate appearances—all of which have since been taken over by David Wright. Kranepool still holds the record for most games played, but provided he keeps his stenosis at bay, Wright has enough time on his contract to take that, too.
Like Kranepool, Wright is a representative of a changing of the guard: he’s the last active member of the team to have played at Shea. Wright, too, stayed with the Mets in the face of what might’ve been better for his career (at least monetarily) when he turned down the prospect of free agency for the seven-year extension in 2012. But as team captain of the 2015 NL Champions and a Sandy Alderson favorite, we can bet that when Wright’s last day at Citi Field comes it won’t go unnoticed.
The Mets let Kranepool’s last day go by unmarked; indeed, they actively chose to recognize retiring Lou Brock of the Cardinals instead. Kranepool is quoted as saying, “I never knew I retired,” of his career’s anticlimactic end. Even his addition to the Mets Hall of Fame in 1990 feels a bit like an afterthought, as if team’s downward trajectory post-1986 had given them no other choice but to look back through the archives and honor Kranepool.
But beyond the New York Sports profile, “Ed Kranepool Never Got a Day,” Kranepool doesn’t seem to dwell on the way things ended. His attitude, I think, can be summed up in a much earlier quote. On May 31, 1963 he played both games of a doubleheader against the Giants, the second of which went for 23 innings until almost midnight. The Mets lost both games, and Kranepool had just played a doubleheader the day before for Triple-A Buffalo, but when asked about the game he said, “I wanted it to go a little longer. That way, I could always say that I played in a game that started in May and ended in June.”
An 18-year major league career is a feat in itself, never mind with a single team. And while I don’t think Kranepool’s career needed to be longer, I do think his legacy should stick around past the eclipsing of his final record-holdings, even if it’s just up to us fans.
I haven’t seen the photo of Ed Kranepool and I around in a while. Hopefully it’s just deep in the rotation.
Photo Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports