John Kruk kisses his mother, Lena, during his induction into the Philadelphia Phillies Wall of Fame in 2011.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- John Kruk is returning to where it all started.At least for him.On Saturday, Kruk, a three-time Major League baseball all-star and current ESPN "Baseball Tonight" analyst, will visit his birthplace of Charleston to host the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Cultural Center theater.You might ask how Kruk, one of baseball's all-time most colorful characters, wound up as a host to a musical Hall of Fame show."Good question," he said in an interview with the Gazette. "I wish I had a really good answer. But I'm good friends with the Davisson Brothers Band. Someone contacted them and asked if they thought I'd do it. I said, 'Why not? Sounds like fun.'"Then I found out a lot of the show won't be scripted. It's hard to tell where it will go if I ad-lib."More than likely, it will be entertaining if history is a guide. In the 1993 All-Star game, Kruk faced hard-throwing lefty Randy Johnson, who sailed a fastball over Kruk's head on the first pitch. Afterward, Kruk bailed on pitches and quickly struck out. His body language made for one of the game's all-time great moments."When I stepped in the box, I said all I want to do is make contact," Kruk said at the time. "After the first pitch, I said all I want to do is live. And I lived. So it was a good at-bat."Kruk is almost as famous for his quotes as his career .300 batting average with San Diego, Philadelphia and the Chicago White Sox. Among the most memorable quotes was this gem to a fan: "I ain't an athlete, lady. I'm a baseball player."After his friend, Mitch Williams, blew a save that led to a six-hour game, Kruk said, "I wanted to kill Mitch. But they told me I couldn't because it's illegal."
Kruk's West Virginia roots run deep. His father, Moe, was an outstanding athlete at Charleston Catholic who went on to work in Charleston at an Owens-Illinois glass plant."Dad was transferred from there and we went to New Jersey," John said. "But I remember to this day that he couldn't wait to get back to West Virginia."Moe Kruk finally got his wish, landing a mold-making job with Anchor Glass in Keyser, where John was raised. The younger Kruk played ball for Keyser High, Potomac State and then Allegany [Md.] Community College."After I got into the minor leagues," Kruk said, "I told my dad I was quitting baseball. I said, 'These guys are too good. They throw 95 miles an hour with movement on their pitches.'"He told me to work a day with him. I did and said, 'This sucks.' I said I'd figure out the pitches."
Kruk played 10 seasons in the majors."Even after I got drafted," he said, "I thought the whole thing was a cruel joke. I thought I'd wake up and it would be over."Instead, it was just the beginning. Now he's one of ESPN's most popular analysts."After I retired from baseball, I was doing some stuff for the Phillies," Kruk said. "My agent called and said ESPN was looking for an analyst. I went for the audition and now I'm in my 11th year."Understand that moving from the field to the media isn't always easy."I get in trouble sometimes," Kruk said. "Some players say, 'Why did you say that about me?' I tell them it's my job. Baseball fans are knowledgeable. They know when you're phoney."
Words, though, can be taken the wrong way."I was working with Orel Hershiser once and said I always hated Dodger Stadium," Kruk said. "I received all kinds of hate mail. Finally, I had to explain the reason I hated Dodger Stadium wasn't because of the park, but because, in the 1970's and '80s, they always had great pitchers there."Kruk said working "Sunday Night Baseball" games has helped."You get a better feel for the players and they get a better feel for me," Kruk said. "To me it's about speaking the truth."These days, Kruk lives in Naples, Fla., with his wife and kids. While visits to Charleston are few and far between now, he does get to Keyser "every chance I get."He plays some golf there, particularly at Mill Creek Country Club. ("I took Mitch Williams there one day and we played like 54 holes," Kruk said. "Had a few beverages. It was a blast.")Mostly, though, Kruk hits Keyser to visit his mother, Lena, who is now 92 years of age. His father passed away this past August.This weekend, however, he's visiting the place where it all began."Maybe that's," he said, "where I get all my candor."Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.