Jack Kralick

This article was written by David E. Skelton

On August 8, 1962, Minnesota Twins left-hander Jack Kralick was nursing a two-hit, 2-1 lead over the Kansas City Athletics in the seventh inning when Kansas City right fielder George Alusik hoisted a two-run homer. The smash led to a 4-3 Twins loss. Protecting a similarly narrow ninth-inning 1-0 lead 18 days later, Kralick had not forgotten the Alusik blast when the right-handed hitter stepped to the plate as a pinch-hitter. Alusik fouled off a full-count fastball and drew a walk on the next delivery. The hurler needed just five pitches more to retire the next two batters for his fifth career shutout.

More significantly, the walk was the only bar between Kralick and the major leagues’ first regular-season perfect game in 40 years. The brilliant outing was the Twins’ first no-hitter and the Washington/Minnesota franchise’s third overall (joining Senators hurlers Bobby Burke and Hall of Famer Walter Johnson). It became the only no-hitter pitched at Minnesota’s Metropolitan Stadium. The performance was a career high-water mark for Kralick, who four years earlier had been released from the Chicago White Sox’ Class B affiliate as not major-league material.

John Francis Kralick was born in Youngstown, Ohio, on June 1, 1935, one of two sons of John Peter and Margaret M. (Cannon) Kralick. His paternal grandparents were from Austria-Hungary, both having been brought to the United States as infants in the 1880s. His father, John Peter, was born in Pennsylvania and moved to Youngstown, where he found employment as a foreman in the steel industry. In Jack’s youth the family moved to Wyandotte, Michigan, where Jack attended St. Patrick’s High School.1 John Peter was a catcher in the semipro leagues that populated the industrial regions of the Upper Midwest. Judging from Jack’s induction into the Wyandotte Sports Hall of Fame in 2007, he also excelled at baseball in high school, American Legion ball, and a competitive Wyandotte-based men’s team. Until he was quickly plucked from the collegiate ranks, Jack earned a place on the Michigan State University Spartans’ baseball team.

The person who likely enticed Kralick from the Spartans in June 19542 was Chicago White Sox scout Pete Milito.3 A former minor-league catcher, Milito is credited with signing Michigan State outfielder Bob Powell in 1955, Dean Look five years later. The White Sox showed early interest in Kralick, inviting him to Tampa, Florida, in February 1955 as a spring-training nonroster invitee. But the attention waned as the lefty bounced among the lower minors from 1955 to 1958. Kralick’s potential was glimpsed while pitching for his first professional club, the Madisonville (Kentucky) Miners of the Class C Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee (Kitty) League, when he pitched a no-hitter against Union City. Another no-no followed, on August 8, 1956, in the Northern League (Class C) in a seven-inning, 11-strikeout performance against Fargo-Moorhead. (A fifth-inning error by the second baseman robbed Kralick of a perfect game.) But the White Sox continually bypassed Kralick in favor of other hurlers including fellow Michigan Stater Ed Hobaugh. After just 30 innings pitched for Davenport in the Three-I League (Class B), the organization felt Kralick had shown little improvement. He was released in the spring of 1958.4

Kralick returned to Michigan and discovered renewed success with a Grand Rapids semipro squad. Undefeated in 11 decisions, he captured renewed major-league attention, throwing a no-hitter in the national semipro tourney in Wichita, Kansas. Pursued by the New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers, and Cleveland Indians, Kralick was swayed by the minor-league contract offered by Washington scout Dick Wiencek that came with a promise to train with the Senators in the spring of 1959. “[There was] no bonus to speak of,” Kralick said later.5 “I was glad to get another chance.”6 Perhaps at Wiencek’s prompting, the hurler soon began reporting his birth year as 1936, trimming a year off his age to appear more attractive to the Senators.

In October 1958, at the Senators’ urging, Kralick reported to the Nicaraguan League. On November 20 he fell one shy of tying the single-game record of 15 strikeouts as he led the Boer Indians to a 1-0 win over Leon (the run scoring on Kralick’s ninth-inning hit). In December he led the loop with a minuscule 1.44 ERA and finished the campaign with a league-record 14 wins. Kralick was soon extending this Central American success to Florida.

“[Y]ou don’t ignore a kid who has done all the things he has in the exhibition games,” said Washington manager Cookie Lavagetto in March 1959. “[Kralick is] a rare … left-hander with both stuff and control, and a lot of poise.”7 Surrendering just one run and seven hits in his first 13 Grapefruit League innings, Kralick was selected the Senators’ “Best Young Pitcher”8 in a poll of national scribes. Needing a second lefty to accompany Chuck Stobbs in the bullpen, the Senators hastily purchased Kralick’s minor-league contract. The only concern expressed by the team was whether the hurler’s thin frame (6-feet-2 and a generously listed 180 pounds) could withstand the long season.

Kralick made his major-league debut on April 15, 1959, in Boston’s Fenway Park. Brought in for mop-up duty in the eighth inning of a 7-1 deficit, he induced the first batter to ground out and struck out Red Sox pitcher Jerry Casale. Two walks followed before Kralick struck out center fielder Gene Stephens. After surrendering five runs in relief against the Yankees on the 21st, Kralick entered against Boston on the 24th and immediately surrendered consecutive home runs – the 17th such dubious relief appearance in the major leagues. He made two more appearances before Washington assigned him to the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts.

Kralick’s Southern Association debut on May 15 was an impressive 14-3 win over the Nashville Volunteers. A month later, against the Atlanta Crackers, he carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning before settling for a three-hit, 10-1 victory. These blowouts were an anomaly for the offensively challenged Lookouts. Despite a league-leading 2.17 ERA in June, Kralick possessed a pedestrian record of 3-3. Though he encountered challenges in the season’s second half (4-8, 4.74), Kralick earned a September call-up. He made a final appearance against the Red Sox on September 27 with an impressive two-inning stint. That winter Kralick returned to Nicaragua to prepare for the 1960 season.

Stamina concerns continued to plague Kralick as the Washington brass appeared incapable of viewing him as anything more than a short reliever. During spring training he thrived in this limited role, which included a two-inning stint on April 8 against the Yankees in which he struck out the side in the ninth. Unlike many of his teammates Kralick struggled to keep weight on and the team physician ordered a regimen of vitamins. But except for catching the second of two Opening Day pitches from President Dwight Eisenhower on April 18, little success followed Kralick in the early season. Despite two wins Kralick’s 7.50 ERA on May 15 telegraphed an imminent return to the minors. On May 28 he entered a match against the Yankees and immediately surrendered a seventh-inning leadoff homer to slugger Roger Maris. But except for a difficult outing against the Tigers on June 10, Kralick gave up just two runs over the next 11? innings (eight appearances). On June 24 he relieved starter Don Lee in the second inning and pitched 5? innings against Detroit – his longest appearance in the majors thus far.

The extended outing dispelled stamina concerns. Pressed for a starter on June 27 due to a plague of injuries, manager Lavagetto turned to Kralick against the Orioles in Baltimore. The lefty delivered a 10-inning complete-game victory that earned a second look in Boston on July 6. In a stadium unfriendly to southpaws Kralick was even more impressive, twirling a four-hit shutout, the first blanking of the Red Sox by a lefty in Fenway Park since Herb Score did it on May 18, 1955. Ensconced in the rotation, Kralick made only two more appearances from the bullpen (five over the next four years). As a starter he finished the season with a 2.88 ERA (league: 3.87). Once again a lack of run support left Kralick with a pedestrian record, 6-6. He twirled a 2.32 ERA over seven starts in which he was saddled with an 0-2 mark. Kralick’s capable mound work (he credited the help of coach Eddie Lopat) was built on pinpoint control. Possessed of a sneaky but not overpowering fastball, Kralick fooled batters with a slow curve that acted like a changeup. He also developed an effective knuckler. Had he thought of building on his fortune with another return to Central America, those thoughts were washed away with the devastating floods that canceled the 1960-1961 Nicaraguan League season.

With the franchise moved to Minnesota in 1961, Kralick wasted little time resuming his success with a four-hit 1-0 shutout on April 23 over the expansion Senators. A decent (but far from great) hitter, he took more pride in driving in the game’s only run: “I usually get a piece of the ball, and probably strike out less than the average pitcher,” he said.9 On July 30 Kralick soldiered through illness and fever to record a shutout against the Tigers. But there were also heartbreaking losses: Despite an ERA nearly one run less than the league average (3.07 to 4.02), Kralick could muster only a 10-7 mark by August 5. Twenty-six days later he delivered a league-record 194th homer to the Yankees but still came out on top with a 5-4 win. On September 21 he earned the last victory in Washington’s Griffith Stadium in an abbreviated start. The wins over the Yankees and Senators represented two of only three victories Kralick secured over the last two months of the season. Seemingly exhibiting the stamina concerns previously expressed by management, Kralick posted a record of 3-4, 5.25 over his last 10 starts. During the offseason he moved to the Minneapolis region and consciously set about gaining weight. “I’m about as heavy now [175 pounds] as I’ve ever been,” Kralick said. “I want the weight but I’m not sure my stomach will hold out, facing the Knife and Fork League.”10 He received a moderate raise to $12,500 as Calvin Griffith, the tight-fisted owner and general manager, predicted a 20-win campaign for the lefty in 1962.

Though the franchise succeeded in delivering only its third winning season in 26 years, Kralick did not come close to fulfilling Griffith’s expectations. A strong spring training translated into a miserable April as the hurler struggled with an ERA above six. Having placed among the team leaders in complete games the preceding season, Kralick finished only one game in his first 24 starts in 1962. He surrendered a career-high 31 home runs (second in the league) as he struggled with his bread-and-butter pitch. “My curve was hanging … [so] I had to depend on my slider and they were long-balling me.”11 Kralick’s record in 11 starts from June 13 to July 29 was a dismal 1-4, 5.12. When the Twins began slipping from contention in July, new manager Sam Mele took the unusual step of publicly berating Kralick among others. The humiliation appears to have motivated the 27-year-old. Kralick won his next three decisions and arguably should have been on the winning side of two no-decisions. On August 21 he carried a no-hitter into the sixth against the Senators before settling for a four-hit, 5-2 victory. This success set the stage for his no-hitter on August 26.

Entering the contest against Kralick that Sunday afternoon, the ninth-place Kansas City Athletics did not lack for offense, leading the league in hitting. The leadoff batter, center fielder Bobby Del Greco, opened the game with a drive to left that would have been a home run except for the strong wind blowing in. Three innings later outfielder Bob Allison leapt 8 inches above the right-field fence to catch the Athletics’ second home-run bid, this from third baseman Ed Charles. Kralick helped his own cause with a second-inning between-the-knees catch of a Gino Cimoli low hopper, while his sacrifice bunt in the seventh led to the game’s only score. Through 2014 Kralick’s no-hitter remains one of the finest pitched games in Twins history.

Excepting two miserable starts in September, Kralick finished the season strong: 6-2, 2.14 in his final 11 appearances. The season had barely ended when Kralick’s name surfaced in trade rumors. Blessed with an abundance of left-handers, the Twins looked to balance the staff. Nothing came of this in the offseason. A six-hit spring-training shutout of the Orioles on March 26, 1963, reinvigorated the trade talk. Interest from the Red Sox was turned away while Indians general manager Gabe Paul, in need of a lefty, squelched April rumors of a six-player swap involving Kralick. But there was obviously something to this rumor. After Kralick’s slow start to the season (0-3 on April 21), a pending move to the bullpen was rumored. These reports were temporary scotched by his three-hit shutout of the Senators on April 25. But on May 1 Kralick yielded five runs in less than three innings in a 14-5 loss to Boston. On the same day Indians right-hander Jim Perry suffered a similar fate in Kansas City. The next day the hurlers were traded for each other.

Though the move benefited the Twins for years thereafter, the Indians received more immediate rewards. Except for a pasting by the Athletics on May 14, Kralick posted a record of 8-1, 1.75 over his first 10 starts, including a two-hit shutout of the Yankees on June 2 (a game in which he claimed to have had better stuff than during the no-hitter) and a five-hit blanking of the Senators on the 17th. The surge helped the Indians win 23 games in June (their best since August 1954), vaulting the club to within three games of first place. But this gain was reversed in July. Kralick lost seven of eight decisions, including two starts in which he secured but one out each. On July 17 he suffered a 1-0 loss to Los Angeles when the Angels’ run scored on a wild pitch. Kralick profited in September with four consecutive wins but by this point the Indians had fallen out of contention. He finished among the team leaders with a record of 13-9, 2.92 (14-13, 3.03 ERA overall), 10 complete games, and four shutouts. This included a remarkable dominance over the Senators: 5-0, 0.95 in six appearances.

In 1964 Kralick had the fastest start of his career. On May 22, with an ERA under 1.33, he earned his fourth win of the season without a defeat (eighth consecutive win dating to September 2, 1963). Once again lacking run support, he should have had two more victories. For the only time in his career Kralick was selected to the American League All Star squad (though he did not pitch). Three days after the midsummer tilt he shut out the league-leading Orioles to hoist his record to 9-4, 2.42. A sore back that initially surfaced in April shelved Kralick for brief stints in July and August and contributed to a number of ineffective outings. He did not capture his 10th win until August 23 and finished the season at 12-7, 3.21. Despite his second-half malaise, Kralick led the team in wins (12), games started (29), and innings pitched (190?), tying Luis Tiant with three shutouts. It proved to be Kralick’s last season of more than 100 innings.

The difficulties Kralick encountered in 1965 ran the gamut from infections and afflictions to ineffectiveness and finally to a hospital visit after a fight with his roommate. He contracted a minor skin infection during spring training that, combined with nagging injuries, caused him to miss a considerable amount of time. The rustiness was evident on March 26 when Kralick yielded eight runs in less than five innings to the Red Sox in a 15-9 exhibition rout. Unprepared for the season, Kralick made his first appearance on April 18, in relief. Ten days later, in his first start, he faced just eight batters before being lifted. Kralick began showing signs of turning his season around in mid-May only to suffer a strained arm muscle on June 11 that landed him on the disabled list. His continued struggles after his return on June 27 drew the ire of manager Birdie Tebbetts. The manager-hurler relationship had been rocky since a September 13, 1963, blow-up after Tebbetts pulled Kralick in the sixth inning. When the Indians began slipping in the standings in July 1965, Tebbetts criticized a number of players for poor performance, including Kralick. The two grew further apart on July 31 when the lefty relieved Luis Tiant in the fourth inning with the Indians leading 5-2 and promptly surrendered two runs to the Yankees. It was only after the 7-6 loss that Tebbetts angrily discovered Kralick had said nothing about an aching arm prior to the game.

But the final insult came in the early morning of August 23 at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington. Innocent joking with his roommate and longtime friend Gary Bell escalated to barbed words and eventual fisticuffs. Kralick suffered a broken eye tooth and a gash on his cheek that required nine stitches. He missed the team flight to California but caught a later plane in time to make his scheduled start that evening (an 8-2 loss to the Angels). All was quickly forgiven between the combatants and they remained lifelong friends.

Kralick finished the trying campaign with a record of 5-11, 4.92 in 30 appearances (just 86 innings, 16 starts). Rumors of his imminent departure surfaced, but were quickly dismissed by Indians general manager Gabe Paul. Even Tebbetts appeared conciliatory toward the hurler, identifying a rebound from Kralick as a necessary component to the Indians’ pennant hopes for 1966. These hopes appeared realized the following spring when Kralick’s arm looked sound after a successful exhibition campaign. X-rays of his throwing elbow after minor discomfort revealed calcium deposits but no bone chips. On April 15 Kralick made his first appearance of the season, from the bullpen – the Indians seem to have chosen a conservative approach in his rehabilitation by using him in relief – and retired the Red Sox in order to capture the team’s second win of the season.

But the elbow problem apparently lingered as Kralick pitched just 2? innings over the next three weeks. On May 30 he received the first of only four starting assignments, a winnable outing that went wanting due to little run support. The same scenario developed with a 2-1 loss to the Senators on June 19. Before long Kralick was relegated to mop-up and middle relief and was used sparingly. He finished with a record of 3-4, 3.82 in 68? innings. That winter Gabe Paul no longer denied trade rumors. The Indians were actively shopping pitchers Kralick, Tiant, and Bell.

The Indians were unable to pull the trigger on any deal during the offseason and Kralick reported to spring training. But by the start of the season the asking price for Kralick was severely reduced. A difficult exhibition outing against Cincinnati on April 7 was followed by two equally unimpressive relief appearances two weeks later. On May 1, 1967, Kralick was sold to the New York Mets, who assigned him to Triple-A Jacksonville. The trade did not surprise Kralick – he’d been expecting a move for some time. The demotion did. Though he was assured by Mets general manager Bing Devine that he would be promoted once a roster space was cleared, Kralick never pitched for the organization.

That same evening of the trade Kralick lost control of his car and crashed on Cleveland’s Memorial Shoreway. The crash sent his head through the windshield and he was pinned in the wreckage. He sustained a concussion and suffered from double vision. On May 10 Kralick returned to his Minneapolis area home with hopes of rehabbing and returning to the majors in mid-June. But in the crash he suffered a pinched nerve in his head and the vision problems persisted. “[E]verything is in doubt,” Kralick said. “I don’t know if I should continue in baseball and I don’t know if I can. The doctors told me I can do everything but drive or let someone hit a baseball back at me.”12 He waited until the spring of 1968 to assess his situation. Witnessing little improvement, he retired.

Kralick found employment in a number of occupations. A great storyteller, he was plucked by the clubs to accompany the winter caravans soliciting season-ticket purchasers. Kralick was often sought on the banquet circuit as well. He worked in public relations for a Minneapolis-based brewery in the early 1960s and later served in the same capacity for a heating/air-conditioning enterprise. When he retired from baseball he had established a career in insurance for the North American Life Assurance Company of Toronto. He appears to have also taken a job working for a school-supply company in Watertown, South Dakota, in the early 1970s.

Despite having a two-pack-a-day smoking addiction,13 Kralick was an avid sportsman. During his playing career he was variously reported hunting and fishing with teammates Sam McDowell and Camilo Pascual, snowmobiling in the upper reaches of Minnesota to go hunting in 1967. Kralick was also an accomplished bowler, achieving a perfect 300 score in 1963. A year later he joined Jim Kaat, Dick Stigman, Billy Martin, and other players and coaches in a Minneapolis-based winter bowling league. These sporting pursuits persisted after Kralick moved to Alaska in 1973. He joined the Arctic Winter Games in Anchorage in 1974 and a year later was the pitching coach for the Anchorage Glacier Pilots college summer baseball team. He took flying lessons in 1975.

Though he apparently preferred colder climates, Kralick made a surprising move in the mid-1980s to the fishing village of San Blas, on Mexico’s Pacific coast. There he was highly respected for helping the local community. In 2012 Kralick suffered a series of strokes that took his life on September 18. He was survived by a former wife, 6 children, 16 grandchildren, and 6 great-grandchildren.

Discarded by the White Sox organization in 1958, Kralick went on to construct a successful nine-year major league career: 67-65, 3.56 in 235 appearances. Habitually pulling on his hat, tugging his belt, or wiping his hand on his shirt on the mound earned Kralick the nickname Jittery Jack. Remembered for hurling the first no-hitter in Twins history, this superb athlete made his mark with the bat as well. His first three extra-base hits were home runs, with his first (on August 20, 1961) struck in the same game in which reliever and teammate Al Schroll hit his only career homer. On September 8, 1963, Kralick celebrated the birth of one of his sons with three hits and an RBI in a 6-2 win over the Senators.

Kralick also exhibited a wry sense of humor. On August 7, 1960, tensions were high between his Senators and the White Sox from an early scuffle. When White Sox second baseman Nellie Fox swung at a Kralick pitch, the bat slipped out of his hands and rolled toward the mound. As the future Hall of Famer retrieved the bat, the much taller Kralick raised his hands in mock surrender. The stadium erupted in laughter. On April 22, 1964, the Athletics tagged Kralick for four first-inning hits in Kansas City. After the game was washed away by rain, Kralick joked, “Shucks, and just when I had a four-hitter going, too!”14

From 1960 to 1964 Kralick carved an impressive record of 59-48, 3.39 while occasionally placing among the American League leaders in ERA, innings pitched, complete games, and shutouts. At 30 years old he appeared poised to build upon these achievements when back and arm problems befell him. One wonders how Kralick’s career might have developed without these misfortunes.

 


Acknowledgements

The author wishes to thank Justin Lanagan, the superintendent of recreation for the city of Wyandotte, for assistance on Kralick’s early achievements. Further thanks are extended to Rod Nelson, chair of the SABR Scouts Committee, and Len Levin for reviewing and editing the narrative.

 

Sources

Baseball-reference.com.

Ancestry.com.

http://sabr.org/gamesproj/game/april-18-1960-camilo-pascual-sets-senator....

http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/6175a94a.

http://startribune.com/former-pitcher-kralick-dies-at-age-77/170441556/?refer=y.

http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2209&dat=19680402&id=u41jAAAAIBAJ&....

http://legacy.com/obituaries/peninsulaclarion/obituary.aspx?pid=160131721.

http://twinstrivia.com/2012/09/20/one-of-the-original-minnesota-twins-ja....

 

Notes

1 The school’s last graduating class was that of 1968. In 1980 St. Patrick Catholic Church demolished the building for construction of a child-care center and parish offices.

2 Other sources cite 1955.

3 Another potential candidate is Cass Michaels.

4 Another report indicates Kralick requested his release.

5 A $5,000 bonus is reported elsewhere.

6 “Misfit in Three-I League – Kralick Shines in Big Time,” The Sporting News, May 24, 1961: 17.

7 “ ‘Ready’ Label Put on Pair of Nats’ Rookies,” The Sporting News, April 1, 1959: 18.

8 “Comebackers Grab Spring Spotlight,” The Sporting News, April 8, 1959: 32.

9 “Kralick Prouder of Swatting Single Than Hurling Shutout,” May 3, 1961: 20.

10 “Kralick Fattens Up in Pocketbook and Weight Department,” The Sporting News, January 17, 1962: 19.

11 “Nifty Lefties Fuel Twins’ Flag Rocket,” The Sporting News, September 1, 1962: 10.

12 “Kralick’s Full Recovery Slowed by Double Vision,” The Sporting News, June 10, 1967: 22.

13 Kralick and teammate Steve Hargan kicked the habit in 1966 after hypnosis.

14 “Who’s Nervous? Hitters … Not Fidgety Kralick,” The Sporting News, May 16, 1964: 5.