November 08, 2011
On occasion, Big League Stew honors a birthday boy per week by taking a longer look at his career. Please join us in lighting the candles.
Forget the seamy guy with the big head. Ed Kranepool is the real Mr. Met. Edward Emil Kranepool III signed with the Mets in 1962, the team's first year of existence, as a 17-year old out of James Monroe High School in the Bronx. He spent the next two decades with the team, and has been one of the players most associated with the team in the three decades to follow.
Kranepool was a big deal as a high school prospect. In his senior year at James Monroe, he broke a home run record previously held by school alumnus Hank Greenberg and that was the sort of slugging lefty first baseman the Mets thought they were getting for their $80,000 bonus. They fast-tracked him to the majors, as he appeared in three games that September, all before his 18th birthday on Nov. 8. But while everyone predicted from the start that he'd be a perennial star, Kranepool turned out to be merely okay.
Still, Kranepool is one of the better New York-born baseball players to actually play in his hometown. He's one of 50 players born in the five boroughs of New York to make the All-Star team, but just one of 19 to make the All-Star team while playing for a New York team. (The modern All-Star game began in 1933, so this excludes a few earlier New York stars, like Frankie Frisch, the Fordham Flash, who starred for the Giants in the 1920s.) Kranepool still lives in the Big Apple, still gives interviews to WFAN and other local outlets, and still has a Noo Yawk accent.
Quite frankly, Kranepool almost certainly would have benefited from more seasoning in the minors. He played just 41 games in the minors in 1962 before being called up for the firs time and played just another 68 over the next two seasons. He was essentially a starting major leaguer at age 18, partly because the woeful Amazin's didn't particularly have anyone else to play first base. From 1962 to 1967, they lost 648 games, an average of 108 a year. But Kranepool was so offensively inconsistent that he got sent back to the minors for two months in 1970 at age 25 after playing parts of eight years in the majors. He came back for good after that, but was never a full-time starter, platooning at first base and in the outfield.
Best Year: 1971: .280/.340/.447, 14 HR, 58 RBIs, 38 BB/33 K, 0 SB, 4 CS
Kranepool's lone All-Star appearance came in 1965, when he was just 20 years old. It wasn't a particularly good season in any respect — he was hitting a decent-not-great .287/.334/.444 when he went to the Midsummer Classic, and wound up hitting .253/.303/.371 on the season — but the Mets didn't have anyone else who was particularly good, either, so Kranepool was the single player they sent. Kranepool set his career high in games played that year, with 153. His actual best season was 1971, after his minor league stint in 1970.
In fairness, Kranepool hit very well in Triple-A, during his brief stints there in 1963, 1964, and 1970, but he only played a combined 156 games on the farm, hardly enough time to unlearn any bad habits or learn any good ones. If the Mets could have had more patience with him as a prospect, he might have prospered more as a hitter. According to SABR historian Tara Krieger, Kranepool later came to the same conclusion, saying, "It might not have been to my best advantage to get to the major leagues so fast."
The 1971 season marked his second-highest home run total, exceeded only by his 16 in 1966, and his highest RBI total.
But if that was his best season as a regular, 1974 was surely his best as a pinch-hitter. For his career, he hit a fine .277/.343/.388 coming off the bench, and in '74 he was an amazing 17-for-35, a .486 average that baseball-reference.com notes is the best in history among pinch hitters with at least 30 at-bats.
Worst Year: 1968: .231/.271/.295, 3 HR, 20 RBIs, 19 BB/39 K, 0 SB, 3 CS
The Year of the Pitcher was hell on every hitter — the entire National League batted .243/.300/.341 — but Kranepool suffered more than most. In 127 games and 405 plate appearances, he only managed 17 extra-base hits and 19 walks. Led by Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and a young Nolan Ryan, the team's pitching staff took advantage of the league-wide downturn in offense, and the Mets showed the first signs of non-ineptitude in their short existence. After averaging 108 losses a year during their first six seasons, the 1968 Mets improved to 73-89, presaging the success of the Miracle Mets of 1969, who shocked the Orioles for the first World Series championship in franchise history.
Off the Field: Kranepool opened a restaurant on Long Island with Ron Swoboda after the 1969 World Series, operating it for a relatively brief period of time. He was the Mets' representative to the players' union. And Kranepool passed the stockbroker's exam after turning 21, thus becoming one of only two licensed brokers in the league, along with the future Hall of Famer and future Senator Jim Bunning. He explained the similarities between baseball and investing to the New York Times:
"There is an element of risk in the situation," he said, referring to both the Mets and the market." The important thing is to eliminate slumps. We must analyze the reasons for the decline, then restore confidence.
"Personally, I like to catch things on the upswing. I'm a little like the stock market myself. I'm good for about half the year."
Today, Ed Kranepool might be best known to young fans as the namesake for a popular Mets blog. But his unique name has really been everywhere for the past half-century. As the famous note handed to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart during the 1973 NLCS read: "Kranepool flies to right, Agnew resigns."