Opening Day 2011 will be the 50th Opening Day in Mets history. To honor that, around here we’ll be counting down the top 50 Mets in team history, one every weekday from now until we’ve done ’em all. Today, #50: Ed Kranepool
The Mets have always been a pitching-first team: since 1962, their franchise ERA (3.76) ranks third among the thirty teams, while their franchise batting average (.251) sits dead last. So it seems fitting that while Tom Seaver leads the Mets in every important pitching category, Ed Kranepool is the franchise’s all time leader in hits — in that Seaver is arguably the best pitcher of all time, and Kranepool is easily the least great player to hold any team’s hits record. Kranepool also holds the Mets record for games played, plate appearances, and total bases, and is probably the least great player to hold those records for any team as well. But hey, it’s the Mets. If you want to be suffocated with musty ghosts and stuffy glory, head up to the Bronx. But if you would rather spend your summers having t-shirts shot at you by a man with a giant baseball for a head, you picked the right team. The Mets aren’t supposed to be good – they’re supposed to be fun.
Ed Kranepool, a New York lifer, certainly wasn’t good. He was born and attended school in New York City, came up to the Polo Grounds as a teenager in 1962, played 18 seasons with the Mets, and still lives on Long Island. For the first half of his career, Kranepool was among the worst regulars in baseball. By Baseball-Reference’s count, he is one of just two players from the 1960s to have 3000 plate appearances and register negative wins above replacement. In his defense, Kranepool was incredibly young in the decade, being 24 when the Mets won the ’69 Series. That said — and my father loves to point this out — Kranepool did manage to lead the 1965 Mets in hitting with a .253 batting average. So it’s not like he had a lot of help from his teammates. He was a lovably bad player on several lovably bad teams.
The second half of his career was much better than the first, with Kranepool posting a 108 OPS+ over his final nine years. He also reinvented himself as an extraordinary pinch hitter, hitting .400 or better off the bench every year from 1974 to 1977, recording 75 total pinch hits in the decade, which I assume is some sort of record. He told Sports Illustrated in 1975: “I’ve really had two careers with the Mets, and I’d like to forget the first one. It just took me longer to know myself than it does for most other people. I’m a little smarter now and a little more mature. Baseball is fun again.” He retired after the 1979 season at the age of 34, the last of the original Mets to exit the game.
As is well known, the blue in the Mets uniform comes from the Brooklyn Dodgers, while the orange and interlocked NY is borrowed from the New York baseball Giants. The team was supposed to draw from both National League traditions, but the Mets seem to have inherited far more of the Dodgers’ legacy than the Giants’ — e.g. the Citi Field team store sells Brooklyn Dodgers hats. Part of this is an outer borough thing (and part of it is the fan affiliation of ownership), but I also think a big part of it is the early Mets continuation of the Dodgers’ myth. Dem Bums, the lovable local losers. I think Ed Kranepool had something to do with that.
Kranepool, more than anyone, represents the players of those early Mets teams. He wasn’t a very good baseball player, and they weren’t very good baseball teams. He was unnecessarily rushed by an organization that didn’t quite know what to do with their first top prospect. But Kranepool was a local boy, living and playing in the community. He originally said he wanted to make enough money playing professional baseball so that his mother, a war widow, wouldn’t have to work anymore. He wasn’t the best starting out, but I doubt anyone cared. He was theirs. National League baseball had returned to New York, and win or lose (usually lose), I think that was more than enough. Eventually, Kranepool and the Mets did turn themselves into something greater.
But, no, Ed Kranepool wasn’t a particularly great player. He was a good part time player and pinch hitter for a greater part of the 70s . . . but he was a part time player. He isn’t quite good enough to make this list for his on-field merits alone, but he sits at #50 because Ed Kranepool deserves to be on any list of top Mets players. Come on! He has the franchise hit record! Which is funny and a little bit sad, but mostly makes me glad to be a Mets fan.
Most hits before their age 20 season: