World War II veteran Dick Kryhoski was a lefty-hitting first baseman for seven years in the majors. The son of Polish immigrants played for five teams, including the final St. Louis Browns club and the first edition of the modern Baltimore Orioles.
Richard David Kryhoski was born on March 24, 1925, in Leonia, New Jersey. He was the youngest of four children born to John and Rosalie (Weinconek), who had emigrated from Poland, John in 1900 and Rosalie in 1912. The elder Kryhoski found work as a gardener –and later as a chauffeur—for the family of Edward Stagg, a businessman described by a Leonia newspaper as “one of its oldest and most highly respected citizens.”1
According to Carol Karels, a Leonia historian, Dick honed his baseball skills on a sandlot near his Christie Heights Street home.2 Six-foot-two with blond hair and blue eyes, he captained both the basketball and baseball teams at Leonia High School. He showed so much potential as a hoopster that he avoided football rather than risk an injury.3 It was in baseball, however, that he earned All-Star honors twice as a first baseman and led the Northern New Jersey Interscholastic League in hitting.4 Next to Kryhoski’s senior photo in his 1943 high school yearbook, his ambition read “professional baseball.”5 He had already taken batting practice at Yankee Stadium. “I worked out with the Yanks both in 1942 and ’43,” he recalled.6 “I was scared to death. At the time, they had players like Joe DiMaggio and Charlie Keller and Bill Dickey and Red Rolfe.”7
Kryhoski impressed Yankees scout Paul Krichell but, with World War II intensifying, the 18-year-old enlisted in the United States Navy after his high school graduation.8 As a machinist’s mate, Kryhoski wound up in the Pacific Ocean Theater aboard the USS Ticonderoga aircraft carrier.9 On January 21, 1945, it was near Taiwan when multiple Japanese kamikaze pilots slammed into the deck, killing 143 and injuring 202.10 The New Jersey native wasn’t hurt but, according to a 2004 Baltimore Sun article, “Nightmares lingered for years, accompanied by Kryhoski’s screams of ‘Fire! Fire!’ that terrified his roommates on road trips.”11
The war ended in September and, by the spring of 1946, the 21-year-old Kryhoski was playing semipro ball for the Lincoln Fliers in New Jersey.12 In May he signed with the Yankees and debuted with the Amsterdam Rugmakers of the Class-C Canadian-American League. When the rookie was informed that he would be sent down to Class-D Wellsville in June, however, the Rugmakers manager had to talk him out of quitting. “I figured that I had no future in baseball,” Kryhoski explained. “I finally went to Wellsville, but I wasn’t happy.”13
In 66 PONY League games, he batted 396 with 28 doubles and 19 home runs for a .740 slugging percentage. After missing two weeks following a beaning, he returned to the lineup on August 30 and exploded for three homers and nine RBIs versus Olean.14 He finished the season playing four games for the Binghamton Triplets of the Single-A Eastern League.
In 1947 the lefty swinger went to spring training with the Yankees’ Triple-A Kansas City Blues affiliate in Lake Wales, Florida. He showed so much promise that Blues skipper Bill Meyer — a former teammate of Nap Lajoie — raved to reporters that Kryhoski was one of the greatest natural hitters he ever saw.15 Unfortunately, the first baseman slipped in the shower and landed on his right shoulder before camp was over.16 He went hitless in his only two at-bats for Kansas City and spent the bulk of the year in Binghamton. In 101 games there, Kryhoski batted a solid but unspectacular .281 with 11 home runs.
When Kryhoski advanced to Kansas City in 1948, Meyer was gone, managing the Pittsburgh Pirates. New skipper Dick Bartell encouraged him to “just try meeting the ball,” and the 23-year-old responded by stroking eight consecutive hits over two days before grounding out in his final at-bat on May 9. After he singled three times the next day, the Yankees’ Joe Devine remarked, “I’ve been scouting for a long time now, but in those three games the big first sacker showed me the best hitting I’ve seen any place and by anybody.”17
The Yankees trained in St. Petersburg, Florida. “There were eight first basemen in camp, including Tommy Henrich, and I didn’t play for two weeks,” Kryhoski recalled. “Before one game I was daydreaming on the bench when I heard DiMaggio say to Casey Stengel, `Why don’t you play the kid?’19
“It was just a little thing that he did, but for me it was a very big thing,” Kryhoski said.20 The rookie delivered three hits, leading to more opportunities. When he tried to thank the “Yankee Clipper” for helping him showcase his skills, he recalled that DiMaggio “just waved me off and said, ‘Forget about it.’”21 Kryhoski was in the Opening Day lineup at Yankee Stadium, playing first base and batting seventh. “I remember putting my uniform on and standing in front of the mirror for a long time,” he said.22 He singled in his first at-bat against Washington Senators righty Sid Hudson. “A bloop right over the shortstop’s head,” he recalled.23
With Kryhoski and Jack Phillips — a righty hitter and better defender — platooning at first base, the Yankees had the majors’ best record by mid-season, but the two rookies had only hit one home run apiece. Stengel soon moved Henrich from right field to first base to make room for powerful freshman Hank Bauer. Phillips was sold to the Pirates in early August, two weeks after Kryhoski was sent down to the Triple-A Oakland Oaks.
Kryhoski’s .294 batting average in the majors included a .324 clip against right-handers, but the Yankees hoped everyday action in the Pacific Coast League would help him improve his .200 mark against southpaws in the small sample size of 25 at-bats. “It’s pretty tough to learn how to hit lefties when you’re on the bench,” he observed the following spring.24 In 66 games with the Oaks, he batted .328 with 32 extra-base hits.
On December 17, New York traded Kryhoski to the Detroit Tigers for former All-Star Dick Wakefield. “[Kryhoski’s] a good, hard-working boy whose minor-league record suggests he had power. We’ll give him all the chance in the world,” promised Detroit manager Red Rolfe.25 “I believe he has greater promise than any first baseman in the league.”26
According to The Sporting News, an unnamed Detroit club official said, “Maybe he can’t hit left-handers. Perhaps he never had a chance. He’ll get plenty of chance this spring. Mark my word, he’ll be the first baseman on Opening Day in April.”27
After Kryhoski finished his two-year program at Bergen Community College, he appeared at a banquet in Detroit and made a good impression. “This is my big chance, much better than last year,” he remarked. “It’s murder to have to battle a fellow like Henrich for a job.”28 Asked about hitting southpaws in spring training, he said, “I know I’ve got more confidence right now against them than I’ve ever had in my life.”29
Kryhoski had three hits on Opening Day in Cleveland, but he started off 0-for-26 in front of the home fans at Briggs Stadium. He hit his first home run off a lefty on the road, but didn’t get his first hit of the season in Detroit until May 17, when he went deep against Ellis Kinder of the Red Sox. The slumping first baseman started only six games in June and none in July. He spent most of August back with the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens, returning to Detroit in September after crushing American Association pitching but his first season with the Tigers ended with a disappointing .219 batting average and four homers in 53 games.
Don Kolloway was the Tigers’ Opening Day first baseman in 1951, but Kryhoski capitalized on an opportunity when the veteran struggled. His performance on May 4 — 4-for-4 with three doubles — was part of a hot stretch that prompted The Sporting News headline “12-game Batting Streak Lifts Kryhoski into Lead.”30 Though he hadn’t made enough plate appearances to qualify for the top spot, he was still batting .403 when his consecutive games’ hitting streak was snapped at 13 on May 20. Three days later, he married Donna Henwood.
By season’s end, Kryhoski’s numbers included a .287 batting average, 12 homers and 57 RBIs. He’d started 103 games, including the second game of the August 19 doubleheader in St. Louis in which the Browns sent 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel up to pinch-hit. “Everyone who was at that game was stunned by what was happening,” the first baseman recalled in 2001. “That’s the kind of thing in your life that you’ll never forget seeing.”31
Kryhoski even hit .333 in 27 at-bats against lefties, prompting Rolfe to remark that winter, “The time has come to go down the line with Kryhoski.”32 In February, however, the Tigers traded him to the St. Louis Browns in a seven-player deal. “Maybe Dick isn’t the greatest fielding first sacker in the majors,” said Browns owner Bill Veeck. “But I believe he’ll enjoy peppering our right field screen with line drives this summer.”33
On May 25, 1952, at Sportsman’s Park, Kryhoski enjoyed his first two-homer game as a major-leaguer. But Browns manager Rogers Hornsby forced him to share time with Gordon Goldsberry and Hank Arft, two other left-handed swingers. “The only way I could get [Hornsby] to play Kryhoski was to tell him I wanted to show him off for a possible deal,” remarked Veeck.34
After player-manager Marty Marion replaced Hornsby in early June, however, the ex-Tiger started 45 of the next 46 contests.
“The Big Fellow [sic] is my number-one first baseman and I believe he’s going to come into his own this summer and have a big year,” Marion told reporters. “He doesn’t make the same mistake twice. I like his fine competitive spirit. Every time he steps up to the plate with that big bat of his, he represents a tremendous threat.”35
On June 29, Kryhoski’s three-run homer with two out in the bottom of the ninth against Virgil Trucks gave St. Louis a walk-off victory over Detroit. A deep slump followed in July, though, which cost him his starting job. However, his .368 batting average as a pinch-hitter in 1952 was the AL’s best for anyone with at least a dozen at-bats off the bench.36
Kryhoski reportedly required the biggest cap size in the majors.37 What’s more, the rest of him was 20 pounds heavier than usual in 1952.38 That winter, he shed the excess weight while serving as an instructor at the American Baseball Academy in Manhattan, a program for 1,500 kids aimed at combating juvenile delinquency.39 He also progressed towards his degree in political science and history from Upsala College in East Orange, New Jersey. “I have hopes of teaching when my baseball days are over,” he said.40 The Sporting News described spirited political debates in the Browns’ clubhouse between Kryhoski, a staunch Republican, and his Dixie Democrat teammate, Clint Courtney.41
Despite being in better shape, Kryhoski began 1953 on the bench as injury-plagued Roy Sievers converted from the outfield to first base. “I was terribly discouraged when I was unable to break into the lineup,” he confessed that summer.42 After a pinch-hit grand slam in his third at-bat of the season, though, he started platooning with Sievers. Despite yearning to play every day for years, Kryhoski was pleased with the arrangement. “What left-handed hitter wouldn’t rather bat only against right-handers?” he asked. “Take a look at my record. It speaks for itself.”43
Sportsman’s Park had a new name, Busch Stadium, that season, and Kryhoski finally began taking advantage of the inviting right-field dimensions. “I’ve changed from a 35-ounce bat to a 32-ounce bat and I’ve been pulling the ball better,” he explained.44 He told another reporter he’d moved closer to the plate and begun crouching in his stance.45 In 338 at-bats in 1953, he hit a career-high 16 home runs, nine of them at Busch, where he batted .323 and slugged .584 in 52 games (versus .237 with a .418 slugging mark in an equal number of road contests).
His home highlights included a pair of round-trippers against the Red Sox on May 3. Along with two teammates, he tied a league record on July 16:Courtney, Kryhoski, and Jim Dyck homered consecutively off New York’s Johnny Sain.46
A 5-for-6 performance in Washington on September 9 proved that Kryhoski could still hit away from Busch, too. That would be more important than ever because, two nights before Thanksgiving, he was one of 1,400 guests at a testimonial dinner honoring Clarence W. Miles at Baltimore’s Emerson Hotel.47 Miles was the attorney who would engineer the Browns’ move to that city to become the Orioles in 1954.
“Dick Kryhoski looks awkward, particularly when he’s throwing, but he’s faster than he looks and he hits the long ball,” remarked incoming Orioles manager Jimmy Dykes in January.48 In February, the skipper insisted, “Kryhoski will be in there not only against right-handed pitchers, but left-handers as well.”49
At spring training in Yuma, Arizona, on March 15, however, Kryhoski was hit on the left wrist by a pitch. Initially he said, “It doesn’t hurt that much. I’ll probably be back in there tomorrow.” However, X-rays revealed a fracture.50
While recuperating, Kryhoski told reporters he’d learned that his injury had disrupted Baltimore’s plan to send him to Cleveland in a six-player deal.51 Shortly before his X-ray results were revealed, the Birds had purchased another left-handed-hitting first baseman, 34-year-old Eddie Waitkus. Orioles GM Arthur Ehlers dismissed the rumor, however, saying, “Kryhoski’s name never came up in any of our trade talks.”52
By April 27, his wrist was almost ready for game action, but he suffered a cracked rib when hit by a ball during practice.53 Finally, on May 6, Kryhoski pronounced himself ready to play. He became the first Baltimore major leaguer to wear uniform number 8 — since retired in honor of Cal Ripken, Jr.
With Waitkus struggling, Kryhoski started every game for three weeks. He hit .289, including a homer off Early Wynn in Cleveland. On May 30, however, he confessed to Orioles trainer Eddie Weidner that his wrist felt tired. When Dykes heard, he put Waitkus back in the lineup that afternoon. The veteran wrested the job back by hitting .400 over a 15-game stretch.54
Kryhoski had another chance when Waitkus twisted an ankle. Beginning on June 11, he hit safely in 18 straight starts to extend his hitting streak to 19 — an AL-best in 1954.55
The ’54 Orioles lost 100 games, but Kryhoski was integral to their season-best five-game winning streak during a home stand at Memorial Stadium. On June 23, he ended a 17-inning marathon with a bases-loaded fielder’s choice. After tying a contest against Philadelphia three days later with a hit in the 10th, he scored the winning run on a wild pitch.
In the next day’s doubleheader, his RBI liner decided the opener with two down in the 11th. He won the second contest as well with another two-out, bases-loaded single, this time in the ninth.56 No other Baltimore player had sudden-death winning hits in consecutive games until 1983, when John Stefero did it.57
Kryhoski’s defense helped save the first game too. With runners at second and third and one out in the fourth inning, he made a leaping backhanded grab of a smash and fired to shortstop Billy Hunter to double the runner off second. “You saw Dick make the greatest double play he will ever make,” raved Dykes. “If he plays ’til he’s 90 years old, he’ll never make a better play.”58
In the winning locker room, Kryhoski said, “I’m so excited I can hardly put my clothes on.” Sure enough, when he stood up, his pants were on backwards.59
By the end of the summer, however, he’d slumped badly and lost the starting job again. Despite batting .329 in a career-high 85 at-bats versus lefties, Kryhoski finished the season hitting just .260 with just the single home run. On December 1, the Orioles sent him back to the Yankees as one of the players to be named later in the massive 17-player trade that brought Don Larsen and Bob Turley to New York.
Kryhoski was a panelist at the American Association of College Baseball Coaches’ strategy discussion in New York City on January 3.60 However, he was not in the Yankees’ plans that season. Two weeks before Opening Day, they sold him to the Athletics, who’d moved to Kansas City.
With the A’s, Kryhoski started only eight times, batting just .213 in 47 at-bats. Demoted to the Triple-A Columbus Jets in mid-June, he walloped 16 homers to rank second on his team. At the end of the season walked away from professional baseball after 10 years. In 569 major-league games, he had batted .265 with 45 home runs.
After baseball, he became a district sales manager for Keuffel & Esser, manufacturers of engineering supplies, in Englewood, New Jersey. Through job transfers, he moved to Cleveland and eventually settled in Detroit. In 1963, he married for a second time, to the former Sue Watson. They had two daughters, Laura and Kim.61
As long as he lived, Kryhoski actively attended reunions and autograph events, particularly for the St. Louis Browns and Detroit Tigers. In addition to gardening and classic movies, his wife said he enjoyed all sports except hockey. On April 10, 2007, Kryhoski died in his Beverly Hills, Michigan, home from esophageal cancer.62 He was 82.
This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Alan Cohen.
1 “Edward Stagg Dies Suddenly at Leonia Home,” Record (Bergen County, New Jersey), June 21, 1934: 2.
2 Jay Levin, “Dick Kryhoski, 82, Leonia’s Man in Pinstripes,” Record, April 19, 2007: L08.
3 Kryhoski’s TCMA 50’s baseball card.
4 “Best of the Century High School Baseball: Bergen County,” Record, March 3, 2000: S11.
5 1943 Leonia High School yearbook.
6 Lyall Smith, “A Great Day for Dick Kryhoski,” The Sporting News, December 28, 1949: 6.
7 Bob Kurland, “Where’s What’s His Name?” Record, March 26, 1994: S02.
8 “Junior College Student Hopes to Be Yankees’ First Baseman,” Pittsburgh Press, February 18, 1949: 32.
9 “Dick Krykoski,” Gary Bodingfield’s Baseball in Wartime, https://www.baseballinwartime.com/player_biographies/kryhoski_dick.htm (last accessed October 10, 2020).
10 “World War II Database,” https://ww2db.com/ship_spec.php?ship_id=438#:~:text=USS%20Ticonderoga%20launched%20Air%20Group,men%20and%20injuring%20202%20others. (last accessed October 10, 2020).
11 Mike Klingaman, “Opening Act,” Baltimore Sun, April 15, 2004: 1C.
12 “Lincoln Fliers to Meet House of David Here Monday,” News (Paterson, New Jersey), May 18, 1946: 17.
13 “Junior College Student Hopes to Be Yankees’ First Baseman.”
14 “Kryhoski Hits 3 Homers in Return After Beaning,” The Sporting News, September 11, 1946: 13.
15 “No Flying for Oaks,” The Sporting News, February 25, 1948: 25.
16 Ernest Mehl, “Long Clouter Kryhoski Gets Chance to Connect with Yank First Base Job,” The Sporting News, February 2, 1949: 15.
17 “Kansas City,” The Sporting News, May 19, 1948: 22.
18 Dan Daniel, “Yankees Start Rebuilding with Purchase of Gene Woodling, Coast Batting Champ.” The Sporting News, October 6, 1948: 16.
19 Kurland, “Where’s What’s His Name?”
20 Richard Kowen, “Former Yank from Leonia Owes Career to Joltin’ Joe,” Record, March 9, 1999: D07.
24 Lyall Smith, “Kryhoski Can’t Hit Southpaws? Dick and Rival Lefties Disagree,” The Sporting News, March 29, 1950: 10.
25 Watson Spoelstra, “New Tiger Kryhoski Moves into No. 1 Spot at First Base,” The Sporting News, December 28, 1949: 6.
26 Smith, “A Great Day for Dick Kryhoski.”
27 Watson Spoelstra, “Kryhoski to Get First Crack at Detroit First Base Job,” The Sporting News, March 8, 1950: 6.
28 Watson Spoelstra, “Fewer Fish for Trout This Year — Maybe Different Uniform, Too,” The Sporting News, February 15, 1950: 6.
29 Smith, “Kryhoski Can’t Hit Southpaws? Dick and Rival Lefties Disagree.”
30 “12-Game Batting Streak Lifts Kryhoski Into Lead,” The Sporting News, May 23, 1951: 19.
31 Chuck O’Donnell, “No Small Feat Midget Part of a Giant Moment,” Record, August 19, 2001: S01
32 Watson Spoelstra, “Lefties of Righties, Kryhoski Wil Get Full-Time Tiger Job,” The Sporting News, January 23, 1952: 15.
33 Ray Gillespie, “7-Player Deal Cost Veeck $3,500 Phone Bill,” The Sporting News, February 20, 1952: 17.
34 Ray Gillespie, “Prevented Revolt Over Rog –Veeck,” The Sporting News, June 18, 1952: 8.
35 Ray Gillespie, “Marion to Groom DeMaestri as His Successor at Short,” The Sporting News, July 9, 1952: 21.
36 Ford Sawyer, “Card Lowrey, Browns’ Kryhoski Top Pinch-Hitters of ’52 Season,” The Sporting News, December 3, 1952: 25.
37 Oscar Ruhl, “Lowdown on Players’ Skypieces,” The Sporting News, March 19,1952: 16.
38 Neal Russo, “Bench Saves Browns from Complete Flop,” The Sporting News, May 20, 1953: 14.
39 “Rizzuto Resigns, But Kid Diamond Academy Grows,” The Sporting News, November 19, 1952: 13.
40 Ray Gillespie, “Home Clouts Aid Kryhoski Fatten Mark,” The Sporting News, September 9, 1953: 8.
41 “Publications,” The Sporting News, April 29, 1953: 28.
42 Gillespie, “Home Clouts Aid Kryhoski Fatten Mark.”
44 Russo, “Bench Saves Browns from Complete Flop.”
45 Neal Russo, “One-Run Setbacks Set Back Brownies’ First-Division Hope,” The Sporting News, May 27, 1953: 15.
46 “Brownies Homer Binge Knots Two Major Marks,” The Sporting News, July 29, 1953: 14.
47 “1,400 at Testimonial Dinner Hail Oriole President Miles,” The Sporting News, December 2, 1953: 37.
48 Hugh Trader Jr., “Oriole Ducat Sale Given New Speed by Spieler Dykes,” The Sporting News, January 20, 1954: 17.
49 Hugh Trader Jr., “Ehlers Trimming Brownie Graybeards from Orioles,” The Sporting News, February 10, 1954: 20.
50 Hugh Trader Jr., “Kryhoski Rips Tape, Orioles Rip Bat Slump,” The Sporting News, May 19, 1954: 6.
51 “New Light on Waitkus Deal — Indians Sought Kryhoski,” The Sporting News, March 31, 1954: 26.
52 “Kryhoski Never on Block Says Orioles’ Arthur Ehlers,” The Sporting News, April 7,1954: 17.
53 “Krykoski Back on Sidelines,” The Sporting News, May 5, 1954: 21.
54 Hugh Trader Jr., “Bat Barred on Clint’s Third Trip,” The Sporting News, June 16, 1954: 11.
55 Chris Roewe, “Moon Only ’54 Player with Two 5-Hit Feats,” The Sporting News, October 27, 1954: 17.
56 Hugh Trader Jr., “‘Rain Check’ Kryhoski Turns on Steady Hit Shower for Orioles,” The Sporting News, July 7, 1954: 14.
57 1986 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide: 157.
58 Lou Hatter, “Dick Kryhoski Draws Praise,” Baltimore Sun, June 28, 1954: 15.
59 “Excitement Gets Kryhoski; Pulls on Pants Backwards,” The Sporting News, July 7, 1954: 14.
60 “A Panel Discussion,” The Sporting News, January 12, 1955: 20.
61 Levin, “Dick Kryhoski, 82, Leonia’s Man in Pinstripes.”
62 Joe Menard, “Richard ‘Dick’ Kryhoski, Beverly Hills: Joe DiMaggio Gave Former Tiger His First Big Shot,” Detroit News, April 30, 2007: B3.