Putting Kruk in his place, on Phillies Wall of Fame

Kruk
Kruk
Posted: August 11, 2011

IMAGINE A PHILLIES team with two star lefthanded starting pitchers, arguably the best righthanded starter in major league baseball, an emerging rookie ace, and a lineup capable of putting a crooked number on the board a couple of times a night.

That's this team, right? Right. But it was a trade-deadline deal short of being the 1993 Phillies, John Kruk says, if the organization's current aggressive philosophy was the philosophy back then.

"If you remember the trade deadline, we had a chance to get Randy Johnson and they didn't want to give up, I think, Mike Lieberthal," the Krukker was saying yesterday. "Either him or Tyler Green . . . "

Kruk paused.

"Look, I love Lieby, he's one of my favorite people. But, at the time, I wish he was a Mariner."

In the past, that candor has put the ex-Phillie at odds with the ownership group that still oversees the team, and adds a certain edginess to this weekend's ceremonies, when the team will add the name of one of its most colorful and productive players to its Wall of Fame. As recently as 2007, in an interview with Philadelphia magazine, Kruk - the player most identified with the team's Macho Row era - was petitioning for the team to be sold to owners more willing to spend money on free agents and big-name players.

"Because they weren't spending money," he said. "They would never go out of their way to get a big-name guy to get over the hump."

That changed with the arrival of Pat Gillick, whose resume convinced the ownership to take more risks. Part of that resume included a 1993 world championship with Toronto - achieved at the expense of Kruk and his teammates.

It's not hard to imagine what that 1993 National League championship team, which scored an NL-tops 877 runs and whose pitchers completed a league-high 24 games without Johnson, could have done by adding the 6-10 lefty. Johnson finished second in the American League Cy Young Award voting that year. Eight years later, with Johnson relieving Schilling in a memorable Game 7, the Arizona Diamondbacks upset the mighty New York Yankees in seven games, despite closer Byung-Hyun Kim blowing two straight saves in Yankee Stadium.

"We were all gung-ho because we heard Randy Johnson was coming here," Kruk said. "That puts us over the hump. That's a win that day. Now you have him and Curt Schilling and Terry Mulholland? There's wins there. They didn't pull the trigger. So, there was some animosity, yeah."

Kruk no longer feels any of that.

"My relationship with the team is better now than it was when I was a player," he said. His 9-year-old son Kyle is a huge Phillies fan "and the fact that the Phillies are a great team brings us closer together because we talk about them all the time," he said.

A baseball player himself, Kyle Kruk's favorite player is Roy Halladay. It's fair to say Kruk's favorite teammate was not Curt Schilling. Yet when asked "Halladay or Schilling?" yesterday, Kruk's answer was immediate.

"I'll take Schilling," he said. "I love Roy, but I'll take Schilling in a big game over anyone. No [Roger] Clemens, no Pedro [Martinez] . . . I don't care who. Throw them out there . . . Matter of fact, they can have Halladay, Lee and the bullpen. I'm taking Schill.

"I'm biased, though. I've seen it, witnessed it, been on the field when he struck five Braves out of the first six and spit in the direction of their dugout walking off the field. 'That's it for you boys. You're done.' "

So then the obvious follow-up is this: Who wins a seven-game series, the 1993 team or this one?

Again, no hesitation. "Oh, this team," said Kruk. "Now if we had Randy? I'd go Randy and Schilling against Lee and Halladay. And the thing that's different is that our team was very patient and we walked a lot. We were very aggressive in the strike zone early. If it was strike one, we were hacking at it. But we just didn't swing at bad pitches. And that's where we had the advantage over the Braves, because they didn't have big strikeout guys.

"I'm not saying we could hit Halladay or Lee or Hamels, but our offense would give them a tougher test than what they faced this year. You can't let guys with that kind of stuff and that kind of command get ahead of you."

If the son wants to know what his father was like beyond the stats, that summation is a pretty good place to start. Whether it was his patient approach at the plate or his impatient and often ornery approach with the media, Kruk was the 1993 Phillies. That's what I'd put on the plaque anyway.

Him?

"You look at it - I'm going to be on the Phillies Wall of Fame with the greatest third baseman ever [Mike Schmidt]," he said. "Arguably the greatest lefthanded pitcher in the history of baseball ever [Steve Carlton] . . .

"Why would I belong there?"

Some have argued he doesn't, I said, at least not before Schilling.

"He played longer," he said. "So he has to wait. He just retired a few years ago. I'm 50 years old.

"I didn't want to go in posthumously, you know?"

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