Kruk enjoying unlikely post-playing spotlight
Former Phillies All-Star now a member of ESPN's 'Sunday Night Baseball' team
Trivia question, 1993 Phillies 20th anniversary edition: Who led the National League champions in batting average and on-base percentage? Hint: It wasn't Lenny Dykstra.
And who had the best OPS? Hint: It wasn't Darren Daulton or Dave Hollins.
The answer, in both cases, is first baseman John Kruk. Reading from top to bottom, the numbers were .316, .430 and .905. But that's not why Kruk was one of the most popular players on a team that quickly became one of the most beloved in franchise history.
Part of that was the way Kruk looked. Since he carried a few extra pounds, he had the kind of body that the average fan could relate to. The long hair and beard only added to Kruk 's everyman appeal. And he had a dry, if sometimes gruff, honesty and sense of humor. One Spring Training, Kruk was asked if he was in good enough shape.
"To run a marathon?" Kruk said. "Probably not. To play baseball? I think I'll be fine."
Kruk also had a firm idea of what he'd do after he retired.
"I'll go back to West Virginia and nobody will ever hear from me again," he said.
Well, plans change. The 52-year-old has spent the past 10 years working as a baseball analyst for ESPN; this season, Kruk is in the booth for the network's "Sunday Night Baseball" telecasts. Before that, he worked for FOX, including a regular spot on "The Best Damn Sports Show, Period." Kruk has had roles in five movies, commercials and has appeared in a music video for one of his favorite bands, Sawyer Brown.
"But when the economy starts taking dips and turns, all of a sudden a new job was inevitable," he said. "I knew I couldn't play anymore, so I had to find something else. My body was shot, but the only thing I had left was my voice. So I figured, 'Why not?'"
And that turned out to be a most marketable commodity.
"Amazing, isn't it? That's the shocker," Kruk said. "Yeah, it's been good. It's been real good. I think the best thing is that I get to see every team now, go talk and hang out or whatever.
"This is my 10th year. I've done studio. I'll do Sunday night games this year. I did a couple in other years. Like if one of the guys, if one of their kids has a graduation or whatever, they'll get one of our studio guys to go do a game. I did more last year than I'd done any other years. And then you just wait for these former managers to get jobs, and [announcing] jobs open up."
Kruk had a hunch early on that 1993 had a chance to be a special year.
"As much as I disliked Spring Training, that was the most fun, because it was the first time I ever looked around in all the years I'd been playing and it looked like we had a chance, you know?" said Kruk. "I know a lot of the experts and stuff didn't give us a chance, but we looked around and knew we'd gotten so much better with our pitching staff. And our platoon situations and guys were going to be fresher.
"The years prior, guys who were playing every day, we had to play every day, pretty much. Because other than that, we weren't very good. But we had a great bench with the platoons [in 1993]. And our bullpen came around.
"It was exciting going to Houston to open the season and sweeping the Astros. That's when I said, 'We can do it this year.' When we got to Houston and Terry Mulholland pitched a complete game on Opening Day. We were like, 'Geez, he's an animal anyway, but that was really something.'
"And we knew what we had with [Curt Schilling]. At least we kind of knew what we had with him. Then you get those two going, and [Danny Jackson]. Tommy Greene probably had the best stuff of all of them, and he was our fourth starter. So we knew if they stayed healthy, our depth was good there. And [pitching coach Johnny Podres changed] Ben [Rivera] from a side-armer to straight over the top. So that was big, too."
Kruk played only another season and a half. In his final at-bat on July 30, 1995, he singled for the White Sox in the first inning, then left the game for a pinch-hitter when his turn came up next. He then retired, still just 34, with a career .300 average.
Kruk was inducted into the Phillies' Wall of Fame in 2011 and now lives in Fort Myers, Fla. He's more visible than ever. That wasn't how he planned it, but it's worked out pretty darn well just the same.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.