Monday, June 24, 2013

#561 - Ed Kranepool

From action shot to action shot, here we get Ed Kranepool looking like he just speared a liner and is looking to double a runner off second. Ed is playing in front of a packed house. It is inviting to call this a post-season game given the crowd but at Shea Ed only played left field when he was in the field at all. ’73 would set the tone of Ed’s career the next few seasons. Continuing to platoon at first – mostly with John Milner – he also got a bunch of starts in left field for the first time, primarily due to an injury to regular starter Cleon Jones. His RBI numbers were better than the prior year but most of his other offensive stats fell. He only went 2 for 17 as a pinch hitter that year but he would get considerably better in that role down the road.

Ed Kranepool was not yet born when his dad died in WW II. A local Little League coach took him under his wing and Ed grew up playing on a bunch of local all-star and all-area teams. At James Monroe High School in The Bronx he was a big hoops star – about 24 ppg for his career – and hit nine homers his senior year in leading his team to the NYC championships. His total of 21 for his career broke a school record set by Hank Greenberg. That year was ’62 which also happened to be the initial season for the Mets. They were looking for a local athlete to draw fans and Ed was their boy. After an aggressive recruitment they signed him right after graduation and sent him to Triple A Syracuse where he hit .229 with no power his first few games. He was moved down to A ball - .278 in seven games – and finally D ball, where he remembered his stroke and hit .351 with 18 RBI’s in 77 at bats. That September, at 17, he made his debut for NY and in his second game he recorded his first hit, a double. He shared a rookie card in ’63 with Tony Oliva and Max Alvis and began the year on the NY roster, hitting .300 through April when he played primarily first base. He was then moved to right field and though he got a bunch of starts there, his offense went south so that by early July he was under .200 and sent to Triple A Buffalo. There he hit .310 with 33 RBI’s in 53 games before he returned to the Mets where he added a few points to his numbers. He then began ’64 at Buffalo after being hurt in spring training – he hit .352 in twenty games - but was up by late May and most of that time was the starting first baseman. From then on it was – mostly – all majors.

In ’65 Ed was given the starting nod at first and he came out of the gate strong, his average above .400 in early May. That start got him selected to his only All-Star game and he was still around .300 at game time. His average faded the rest of the way and his homer total didn’t move from the prior year despite 100 more at bats. By then it was decided Ed probably wasn’t the next Mickey Mantle and in ’66 he began to be platooned at first. Because Ed was the lefty side of the duo he got the most starting time at first, but his at bats would go on a downward trend. In ’66 he split time with Dick Stuart and Jim Hickman and hit 16 homers, his best for a season. In ’67 it was he, Ron Swoboda, and Bob Johnson and Ed put up his best average to date with a .269. In ’68 Gil Hodges was named Mets manager and though he generally got along with just about all his players, there was some tension between Ed and him. That year Ed’s starts fell below 100 for the first time as he shared time with Greg Goossen, Art Shamsky, and JC Martin. His numbers tanked that year but a good spring in ’69 had him pretty much solo at first – Cleon Jones got a few starts there – until a mid-season acquisition of Donn Clendenon had them split time there the rest of the way. Ed’s average stayed pretty low but his power numbers were his best to date when drawn out to a full season. He’d had a big hit in an important series against the Cubs and got all the starts in the playoff sweep of Atlanta since the Braves threw all righties. But against the Orioles in the Series he only got into one game as Clendenon went on his offensive tear against the O’s lefty starters.

In 1970 Kranepool was named team player rep and also held out in spring training. He got his raise but either because of that, his rep status (never a good career move), or that with him, Art Shamsky, and Mike Jorgenssen, the Mets had three lefty first basemen, Ed got barely any at bats through late June and most of those were in the pinch. He was sent to Triple A where he had a .310/7/45 season in only 174 at bats before being recalled and hit over .300 the rest of the way as a pinch hitter. Clendenon had a monster offensive year in ’70 but by ’71 both he and Shamsky were slowing down considerably and so Ed was back as the de facto starter at first despite the adding of rookie John Milner to the roster. Ed had probably his best offensive year as his average bounced a bunch and his power numbers were up there with his best. In ’72 the Mets acquired Willie Mays and Ed split time at first with him and Cleon Jones, another outfielder whose knees needed a rest. In ’73 Milner got most of the starts at first and in ’74 as Ed’s at bats continued to decline, he began his new added role as a pinch hitter deluxe. He went 17 for 35 including one run where he had five straight pinch hits. Then in ’75 despite the addition of two more first baseman in Joe Torre and Dave Kingman, Ed’s starts there increased a bunch as both Kingman and Milner concentrated on the outfield. His .323/4/43 with 16 doubles came in 325 at bats and was propelled in part by another excellent pinch-hitting season in which he hit .400 in that role. In ’76 Torre’s role contracted considerably as he was readied to step into a managerial role and Ed ramped his at bats to north of 400 as he started at both first and in left field. That year he hit .292 with ten homers and 49 RBI’s and hit .364 in the pinch. In ’77 his time at first was roughly halved as he also did time in right and left, but though his at bats declined he kept his stats up with a .281/10/40 season with 17 doubles in 281 at bats, led by a .414 pinch hitting average. That season the Mets were awful, a status they would retain throughout the rest of Ed’s career. By ’78 he was almost exclusively a pinch hitter. That year he hit only .210 in his 81 at bats (.280 in the pinch). He followed that with a ’79 in which he hit .232 but only .184 in his pinch-hitting role. That was it for Ed as he retired after nearly two decades with NY. He finished with a .261 average with 118 homers and 614 RBI’s and just about every career offensive record for the team when he was done. He hit .238 with a homer and four RBI’s in nine post-season games.

Kranepool was a busy guy in the off-season. He got a stockbroker license and began working in that capacity when he was 20. He did that for roughly the same amount of time that he ran a restaurant with Ron Swoboda called “the Dugout” on Long Island. He was also an active speaker during those months. When he retired he moved to a company called Les Jay which was big in display advertising. A year after he retired he put together a group to try to buy his former team but lost out to the Doubleday’s. He then was a marketing rep for Pfizer for a bunch of years before he quit in the early Nineties. He had runs in different businesses on Long Island and at the time his SABR bio was written in 2008 was part of a group that handled credit card accounts for businesses. In 2011 he was again part of a group – this time with Martin Luther King III – that wanted to buy a piece of the Mets when Fred Wilpon had to do the distressed sale.

This is a pretty wild card back for a guy who was not yet 30. Ed would continue to be the only remaining original Met through ’79. He was also inducted to the team’s hall of fame earlier this century.

Ed gets hooked up to his ’69 Series opponent through the NL of course:

1. Kranepool and Rusty Staub ’72 to ’75 Mets;
2. Staub and Mike Cuellar ’65 to ’68 Astros.

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