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Mudville: May 18, 2021 10:58 am PDT
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Amazin’ Journey

Ed Kranepool is much more than a Mets treasure. He is an American treasure.

His life embodies the characteristics we strive for in this world. He is loyal, his entire 18-year career that covered 1,853 games and produced 1,418 hits was with the Mets. He has lived the American Dream, a New York icon with the hometown team, and then becoming a successful stockbroker.

And this all began in the most difficult of circumstances anyone can imagine.

“I never knew my dad,’’ Kranepool told BallNine. “My mother was pregnant with me, she was about six months pregnant. My sister was three years older so she knew my dad. But I never had the opportunity.

“My dad was in the Army, he got machine-gunned down,’’ Kranepool said of 31-year-old Sgt. Edward Kranepool.

That happened on July 28, 1944 in the fighting at Saint-Lo, France.

His mother persevered.

“It’s touchy, but I never had any feelings for my dad because I never knew him,’’ Kranepool said. “My mother took good care of me. She became my mother and my father. It was tougher on her. I didn’t know any different. But that’s why I try to be as good as I can to all the kids and grandkids. Be around as much as you can, this way they have some remembrances of you.’’

Words straight from the heart. There are three kids and seven grandchildren.

“It keeps us young,’’ Kranepool said of he and his wife, Monica. “It keeps you moving around. It’s a lot of fun.’’

Growing up in the Bronx, baseball and sports were his life.

His neighbor and Little League coach Jim Schiaffo was there to help. “My friend Jimmy was like a stepfather to me even though he wasn’t,’’ Kranepool said. “He took me under his wing. He had two boys of his own and we all played on the same Little League team. He was my first coach. He was behind me. He gave me the guidance and the leadership that I needed growing up because you need a father image, otherwise you can go astray. Your mother can only be so strong.’’

Young Ed, a left-handed hitter, found his own inner strength.

“I was so involved in sports and lived next to a playground in the Bronx,’’ Kranepool said. “I always ran from my house after breakfast over to the playground, whether it be stickball, basketball, football, depending on the season. My whole life was the playground and then I started playing Little League when I was 10. I played three years of Little League then after that sandlot baseball and I always played up because I was a little better than most kids and then the Mets started following me.’’

That would be scout Bubber Jonnard, a former catcher, who also signed Ken Singleton.

Kranepool was there for the first 18 Mets Opening Days, the very first in 1962 in the Polo Grounds as a high school senior and a guest of the expansion Mets.

“You couldn’t wait for Opening Day,’’ Kranepool said, excitement still in his voice. “That was a big day. If you were going to get butterflies you were going to get them that day.

“All this stuff they are doing, the analytics, it’s great, but you got to use it with your own understanding of the game. You can’t rely 100 percent on that stuff because that’s bullshit. That’s a numbers game. You can change numbers in anything you do like your accountant.”

The 6-3 first baseman was a bonus baby, signing with the hometown team.

“I was at Opening Day in ’62, Mets against the Pirates and it snowed, I remember that, it was a cold afternoon,’’ he said. “I was invited by the Mets, Johnny Murphy and Bubber Jonnard.’’

He got to see Sherman Jones get the Pirates out in order in the top of the first. It went downhill from there – as Bill Mazeroski tripled in the first run against the Mets in the second inning. Jones would finish the year 0-4 with a 7.71 ERA.

It was Friday the 13th. The Mets lost, 4-3.

The Mets would finish 40-120. In that Opening Day lineup for the Mets was Don Zimmer at third base. Gus Bell, grandfather to Reds manager David Bell was in right field. Gil Hodges was a backup. The Pirates right-fielder was the Great Roberto Clemente. Richie Ashburn was in center and batted leadoff for the Mets.

After Opening Day, Kranepool graduated from James Monroe High School in the Bronx and went off to play 41 minor league games before being called up to the Mets on September 22, 1962 at the age of 17. There were a few other minor league stints but in 1964, Kranepool was here to stay at the new Shea Stadium (except for a return to the minors for a time in 1970) and quickly became a fan favorite with chants of “Ed-dee! Ed-dee! Ed-dee!.”

“After graduation they followed me home,’’ Kranepool recalled of the expansion Mets in 1962. “They had the first appointment because there was no draft. You signed with whoever you wanted to. I signed with the Mets and they were the only club I played for.’’

And how about this, Kranepool played for seven managers, including Casey Stengel, Hodges, Yogi Berra and Joe Torre.

ED KRANEPOOL NY METS, SPRING TRAINING CAMP. ST. PETERSBURG, FLORIDA. MARCH 1968.

Kranepool always stood up for what was right and was not afraid to have an opinion. He worked hard and got his stockbroker’s license. He took an early leadership presence in the burgeoning Players Association and spoke on behalf of the other players.

“I think I got that from my mother,’’ Kranepool told me. “She was a very strict person and wanted you to have values. I’ve always been loyal. I’ve always felt that way. If you give your word or shake somebody’s hand, that stands for something.’’

Kranepool sheds new light on the career of M. Donald Grant, the chairman and minority owner of the Mets from their inception when Joan Payson owned the team.

“I really got along with Donald Grant,’’ he said. “Donald Grant, I thought, was a very professional person. He got a bad rap for all these trades. They blamed him for that. He was really a gentleman.’’

It was on June 15, 1977 when Tom Seaver was traded. The Franchise was sent to Cincinnati.

“Donald Grant was not a baseball man, he was a financial man. If he gave you his word on something you could shake his hand and go to the bank. He helped me when I had my one problem with (GM) Joe McDonald. He gave his word and he kept it. I always respected him and I hate to see people rip him apart.’’

Kranepool lived through so much of Mets history.

There was, of course, the 1969 Miracle Mets. Kranepool went from the 40-win Mets under Casey in 1962 to the 100-win Mets and winners of the World Series under Gil in 1969.

Then there was the famous “Ya Gotta Believe!’’ episode with his roommate Tug McGraw in 1973 when the 82-win Mets shocked the Reds in five games in the NLCS and then took the A’s to seven games before losing in the World Series. If not for Kranepool stepping in and talking to his roommate, McGraw,  to set a tense situation straight, McGraw would have become an ex-Met quickly.

Around mid-season, Grant met with the struggling team. At the end of the talk McGraw got up and started yelling: “Ya gotta believe!’’

“When he was screaming and yelling at Donald, Donald looked at him as if he were crazy,’’ Kranepool said. “We all knew Tug was crazy. If you didn’t know Tug you would have said he was mocking Mr. Grant. And Mr. Grant, being a businessman and executive with his suit and tie on coming in there and you start making him look like a buffoon, I knew (Tug) was gone. My roomie was gone. So when I went over to him I said, ‘Tug, you better tell him that you were just trying to rally up the ballclub.’ Tug was rah-rah-rah, ahead of his time.’’

McGraw immediately went out into the hallway and apologized to Grant. The air was cleared and ‘Ya gotta believe! became the Mets’ rallying cry.

Ed Kranepool, 1963. (Photo by Herb Scharfman/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images)

Kranepool became good friends with Willie Mays, their families used to vacation together and there was lots and lots of golf. Kranepool  spoke to Willie a few days ago. “He’s hanging in there,’’ Kranepool, 76, said of Mays, who will turn 90 next month.

Kranepool’s insight into the game is off the charts. “The game is so much more fun when you win,’’ he said. “When you are fighting for something it gives you a reason to go to the ballpark.’’

Being a stockbroker, he certainly understands numbers, but baseball cannot live by numbers alone.

“All this stuff they are doing, the analytics, it’s great, but you got to use it with your own understanding of the game,’’ he said. “You can’t rely 100 percent on that stuff because that’s bullshit. That’s a numbers game. You can change numbers in anything you do like your accountant. He can make the numbers say whatever he wants to if he is creative enough. You have to have some input in knowing what you are doing. I believe in analytics, but I would add, in a certain situation I believe this guy can handle the pressure better than this other guy even though this guy has a couple of hits against a certain pitcher.’’

And this is really all you need to know about today’s game.

“Gil Hodges today, would have a very difficult time managing,’’ Kranepool said. “The teams have all the guys who have all these sheets and it seems to me that every manager is going 100 percent with all this stuff – and Gil was a good manager because he was able to have a gut feeling in the situation.’’

Hodges believed in numbers too and used a platoon system.

“He didn’t always go by the book. There were plenty of times he made some moves that people thought were wrong. Look at the way he handled our ballclub in ’69. He believed in platooning. He got us convinced it was better for the ballclub to do this.

“In the playoffs we swept Atlanta, the left-handers did so well, we scored all those runs when the pitchers went south,’’ Kranepool said. “The pitchers were horrible in the playoffs.’’

The Mets scored 27 runs in the three-game sweep of the Braves. Then came the Orioles and their great pitching staff.

“Yet, the first game of the World Series comes and we got the right-handers of the platoon in there and the lefties after scoring 7-8 runs a ballgame sat there like a bunch of jackasses,” noted Kranepool. “We lose the first game (4-1), the second game we don’t score a lot of runs. (Jerry) Koosman pitches a great game and the lefties are bitching and moaning to ourselves, you wouldn’t want Gil to hear it.’’

(L-R) New York Mets Bud Harrelson (3), Tom Seaver (41), Jerry Koosman (36), and Ed Kranepool (7) victorious in locker room after clinching National League Eastern Division with win vs vs St. Louis Cardinals. Kranepool pouring champagne out of bottle. Flushing, NY 9/23/1969 CREDIT: Herb Scharfman (Photo by Herb Scharfman /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

The Mets won that game 2-1. The lefty platoon came on strong in Game 3.

“Then comes the third game. You have Jim Palmer the ace over there and we jump out of the box and score a bunch of runs and knock him out and then we go back to the bench again. It was crazy.’’

But it all worked. The Mets had their first World Series win in five games. “Gil convinced us it was better for the team and we all had a role to do,’’ Kranepool said.

The Mets trusted Gil Hodges.

“You start winning and that helps also. We had great pitching. I think today’s Mets have the nucleus of some good kids, I think it is going to be an exciting year. They have to put it all together. They have got to believe in themselves. They have screwed around here a little bit in the beginning. They have got to get their act together.’’

Kranepool is watching closely.

“The game doesn’t really change,’’ he said. “The game is still The Game. Don’t try and make it more difficult than it really is. What you see is what you get. Sometimes you got to go with it.’’

Kranepool offered this bit of philosophy to me about life in general, but it also fits baseball perfectly.

“In this world, you got three types of people. People that watch things happen, people that make things happen and some people don’t know what’s happening. I have to figure out who I am getting my decisions from.’’

Kranepool most recently was in the spotlight because he was in desperate need of a kidney transplant. How that came about is an Amazin’ story in itself and now with a little perspective, it is even more Amazin’ how it all came together for the life-saving operation at Stony Brook Medicine’s Kidney Transplantation Services in May of 2019.

Two lives were saved.

“Every day is a new day and every day you are above the ground you are a whole lot better off,’’ Kranepool said. He is quick to credit his wife Monica for helping him. “She gave up her career in real estate to take care of me,’’ he explained. “It’s a major situation. It’s almost two years now and I feel great.’’

And grateful.

A 71-year-old Casey Stengel sits with 18-year-old Mets rookie Ed Kranepool in 1963 at the Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan. After losing a record 120 games in their inaugural season, 1962, the Mets finished 51-111 in 1963 while Kranepool appeared in 86 games. (Bettman Archive / Getty Images)

“I stay in touch with the other three people who were involved,’’ he said. “Our situation was not one on one. All four of us are friends, and we’ve been talking to each other. It really brought me back into the limelight in New York because you are out of the game so long. We were on the front page, the back page in soliciting a kidney. You got a new existence. A new shot. The Mets were good about it. Jeff Wilpon helped me. You got to give everybody credit.

“My donors, I had two different donors involved. I had a police officer who was willing to give up his kidney for me. As it turns out there was a wife of a fireman who was on dialysis. His wife was not a match for him.’’

Doctors told Kranepool: “We have a situation that is unusual, you can accept a lot of kidneys. The woman is trying to give it to her husband, who is not a match, but your guy is a match for her husband. She is a match for you.’’

The Met who was never traded, then was in the biggest trade of his life. He was saved and so was the other recipient, Al Barbieri.

The donors switched. The wife of the firefighter gave Kranepool her kidney and his original donor matched up to Barbieri and so that was the way it went.

“It was a paired match with all four of us. The two donors went in one time.’’

Then it was time for the two recipients to get their new kidneys.

“They went out, we went in, and five hours later, it was all done and we have all become good friends,’’ Kranepool said. “That was an unusual situation, but it proved you can do a lot of things if you have the donors.’’

Through it all, Ed Kranepool remains a Met in every sense of the word. That journey will reach 60 years next year.

“You live life one day at a time and you don’t let little things get you,’’ Kranepool said of lessons learned. “If you can’t change it, you don’t worry about it.’’

The wisest of words.

44+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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