This article was written by Joseph Wancho
On August 30, 1977, there were two numbers that headlined the baseball sections of the Cleveland dailies. Those numbers were 1 and 893, each representing baseball records at opposite ends of the spectrum.
The evening before, the Cleveland Indians hosted the Chicago White Sox in a regionally-televised broadcast of ABC’s “Monday Night Baseball.” The White Sox trailed Kansas City by three games in the American League West, and every game was important for them. The Indians were playing out the string, on their way to a 71–90 record. A paltry crowd of 6,236 trudged into Cleveland Stadium for the game. White Sox starter Steve Stone struck out Paul Dade to lead off the bottom of the first inning, and then faced Duane Kuiper. Cleveland’s second baseman deposited Stone’s 1-0 pitch into the right field seats, two rows into the stands. It was Kuiper’s first home run in the majors, in his 1,382nd at-bat, and his teammates ran to home plate to greet him. The homer ignited a three-run frame for the Tribe, who went on to win 9–2.
“Me and Sadaharu Oh,” Kuiper quipped. “Actually I didn’t think of anything rounding the bases. I think I hit a slider. When I got back to the dugout, I tried to think back. Did I touch all the bases? I knew it would happen. Eventually, it has to happen. It was a big thrill. You lose perspective sometimes, it makes for a lot of laughs and I might like to have kept my homerless streak alive. But a home run has to happen, even by accident.”1
A few weeks earlier, Kuiper had surpassed Milwaukee’s Tim Johnson in home-run futility among active players. The home run would be his only one in 3,379 at bats, spanning a twelve-year career in the major leagues. The regional telecast was blacked out in the greater Cleveland area, but it was beamed back to Kuiper’s hometown of Racine, Wisconsin. No doubt it was an event for the locals to cherish as well as Kuiper’s family . . . if they were watching.
Oh, and the other number of note, 893? Lou Brock of the St. Louis Cardinals tied and then broke the major leagues’ career stolen-base mark in San Diego. In the first inning he tied the record set by Ty Cobb, and then broke it in the seventh inning. Brock ran his way to Cooperstown. Kuiper, meanwhile, trotted around the bases.
Duane Eugene Kuiper was born June 19, 1950, in Racine, Wisconsin. He grew up on his family’s dairy farm, and attended Racine Jerome I. Case High School. “Our high school team played only a 15-game schedule. But I went to Centerville (Iowa) Junior College and we played a lot of games there. Then I was lucky to play on a real fine Southern Illinois team at Carbondale. In 1971, our entire starting lineup was drafted and signed professional contracts.”2 Indeed the Salukis were a special team, losing to USC in the College World Series final in 1971, 7–2. He was drafted five times (1968–1971) after high school and through college, by the Yankees, Seattle Pilots, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati, and Boston. But he spurned all of their offers.
He was the number one pick by Cleveland (and twenty-first overall) in the January 1972 amateur draft (secondary phase). “They gave me an $8,000 signing bonus, which was about half as much as the Yankees had offered earlier, but my dad and I figured I better take it because the word might get around that I didn’t want to play pro baseball,” Kuiper said.3
Kuiper reported to Reno of the California League in 1972, and made his way through the Indians farm system with future stars Rick Manning, Jim Kern, and Dennis Eckersley. Kuiper points to the 1973 season as a turning point in his career, when he hit .286 for San Antonio, mostly because of the help he received at the plate from manager Tony Pacheco. “All Tony made me do was just become a confident hitter. He’s very precise, too. A real technician,” Kuip says. “He would show me something and then say ‘And this is the way you’re gonna do it.’ I know he really made me a better hitter.”4
After hitting .310 at Oklahoma City in 1974, Kuiper was named to the American Association All-Star Team. He was called up to Cleveland in September, and saw his first action on September 9, 1974. He replaced Jack Brohamer at second base, and was on the field when the Indians beat the Tigers 7–1. Getting the win was Dick Bosman, Kuiper’s second cousin.
He made his first start on September 24, and Kuiper got his first taste of how rough the major leagues could be. “When I joined the team, one of the captains was John Ellis. I was starting at second base instead of Brohamer. Ellis said to me ‘Jack Brohamer is a friend of mine. Until you can prove to me that you can play, I’m not going to talk to you.’ That was it. Then my first big-league start was with Gaylord (Perry) pitching. I believe he was going for his twentieth win. As I was getting ready to step out of the dugout for the first inning, Gaylord leaned over to me and said, ‘You make any errors, and you’ll never play behind me when I’m pitching again.’ I remember running out to my position and thinking that major league baseball was not a whole lot of fun.”5
Frank Robinson replaced Ken Aspromonte as the Indians manager after the 1974 season, becoming the first Black manager in the major leagues. Robby met with some resistance from some of the veteran players on the ballclub. As a result, he knew it would be difficult to win with a destructive attitude in the clubhouse. He favored the young players, who were hungry to play and whom he could mold into the kind of players he knew it would take to be successful.
However, Kuiper was unable to unseat Brohamer at second base. As both players were left-handed batters, it was decided that Kuiper would be sent down to Oklahoma City at the beginning of the season. On May 25, Brohamer was injured trying to break up a double play against Oakland. He suffered a bruised hip, but then an infection ensued, and Kuiper was recalled to take his place. Kuiper hit .292 in 90 games in 1975. The Indians had a new second baseman.
Brohamer was dealt to the White Sox in the offseason, and Kuiper took over at the keystone position for the next several years. Defense was his calling card, leading American League second basemen in fielding in 1976 (.987) and 1979 (.988). He may not have packed much of a wallop with the bat, but he did get timely hits. On May 30, 1977, Kuiper tripled in the first inning and scored on a squeeze bunt by Jim Norris. It was the only run Dennis Eckersley needed as he threw a no-hitter against the Angels.
Frank Robinson called him the best second basemen in the league. “Kuiper has done everything anybody could ask of him. I like everything about him, especially his attitude. . . . He went to a strange position for the good of the team [on a couple occasions] and did his best. I put Kuiper on first base because I didn’t want to disturb the infield too much and because he has good hands. I knew he could handle the job. But I never said anything to him in advance, and he never said anything to me after I wrote out the lineup. I just put his name down and we went out and played.”6
Robinson’s assessment is a good reason why Kuiper served as the team captain during his stay in Cleveland, and why he was elected the “Indians Man of the Year” by the Cleveland media in 1977.
Kuiper put his name in the record books on July 27, 1978, at Yankee Stadium. In the second game of a doubleheader, Kuiper connected for two bases-loaded triples, tying a major-league record. The feat had been accomplished twice before: by Elmo Valo of the Philadelphia Athletics on May 1, 1949, and by Billy Bruton of the Milwaukee Braves on August 2, 1959. The six runs driven in were a career high. “That’s my most productive game ever,” Kuip said. “I never drove in that many runs in Little League. That’s as much power as you’ll see out of me.”7
Like many second basemen, Kuiper took his licks in the field. In 1980, he was knocked unconscious after a collision with Boston’s Butch Hobson at Fenway Park. He was carried off the diamond via a stretcher. One week later he leaped to avoid the sliding Tom Paciorek at second base. Kuiper came down on his right leg and it gave out. He knew right away it was serious, and surgery was required to repair cartilage and ligament damage. He was out for the season and did not return until a month into the 1981 season.
When he did return, Kuiper wore a bulky brace on his right knee. It limited his range and speed, although it would have been difficult to tell anything was wrong with his ability on May 15, 1981. Pitcher Len Barker was working on a perfect game against visiting Toronto. Barker was in total control, but still needed help from his defense to pull of the gem. Kuiper ranged to his right to throw out Rick Bosetti in the sixth inning, and then went to his left to nip the speedy Alfredo Griffin in the seventh inning. Third baseman Toby Harrah lunged into the stands to nab a pop foul off the bat of Willie Upshaw in the fifth inning. “Kuiper made an outstanding play behind him and Harrah made an unbelievable catch of a foul ball above our dugout. Everything went his way. That is what it takes for a no-hitter,” said the Blue Jays’ Danny Ainge.8
On November 14, 1981, Kuiper was traded to San Francisco in exchange for pitcher Ed Whitson. The Giants second baseman was thirty-seven-year old Joe Morgan, who was still productive, and like Kuiper, was a left-handed batter. But the move to the Bay reunited Kuiper with Frank Robinson, now the head man in Frisco.
Kuiper hit .280 in a backup role to Morgan. His real value was as a pinch-hitter, as he set a then-San Francisco Giants record with 14 pinch hits in 1982. “I had no way of knowing Duane would rattle off so many pinch hits,” Robby said. “It’s hard to believe he’s so effective off the bench because he never had to do it before.”9
Something else that was new for Kuiper was a playoff chase. The Giants were in a battle with Atlanta and Los Angeles in the National League West. They posted a 20–7 record in September to pull within one game of Atlanta, tied with the Dodgers for second place. But with three games to play, they lost two and had to be satisfied with a third place finish.
Over the next two seasons, Kuiper backed up Brad Wellman and Manny Trillo at second. At the beginning of the 1985 season Kuiper was thirty days shy of being a ten-year player. The Giants put him on the disabled list to make up the time. He retired during the season; his final game played was on June 27, 1985. Kuiper had a lifetime batting average of .271 and fielded at a clip of .983 from his second base position.
During his playing days, Kuiper was already making the move to the broadcasting booth, hosting his own radio show on KNBR from 1982 to 1985. In 2014, he began his twenty-ninth year as a major league announcer. He handled the broadcasting duties for the expansion Colorado Rockies in 1993, returned to San Francisco in 1994 and has been paired with former major-league pitcher Mike Krukow for twenty years. “People respond to them because they’re totally natural on the air,” broadcast partner Jon Miller said. “A lot of former players can’t do that.” Miller described Kuiper as having “that booming John Wayne voice.”10
Kuiper has won seven Emmy Awards for his excellence in broadcasting. As of 2014, his younger brother Glen is in his tenth season as a broadcaster with the Oakland Athletics. Kuiper and his wife, Michelle, who were wed in 1985, reside in Danville, California. They have two children, Cole and Dannon.
While managing in Cleveland, Frank Robinson said of Duane Kuiper, “There were times I stood up in the dugout and applauded plays he made.”11
You were not the only one to do so, Frank.
Published on June 17, 2014
1 Bob Sudyk, “Kuiper hits 1st homer,” Cleveland Press, August 30, 1977, C-2.
2 J. Carl Guymon, “Kuiper Cutting New Path With Hit Spree,” The Sporting News, June 8, 1974, 33.
3 Russell Schneider, Whatever Happened to “Super Joe”? (Cleveland, Ohio: Gray & Company, 2006), 136.
4 Guymon, “Kuiper Cutting New Path,” 33.
55 Terry Pluto, The Curse of Rocky Colavito (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994), 133.
6 Russell Schneider, “No. 1 at Keystone? It’s Kuiper Indians Declare,” The Sporting News, September 4, 1976, 14.
7 Bob Sudyk, “Reggie’s back; Kuip goes wild,” Cleveland Press, July 28, 1978, C-1.
8 Dennis Lustig, “Blue Jays Befuddled by Barker,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 16, 1981, 1-C.
9 Nick Peters, “Morgan ‘N’ Kuiper A Twin Pleasure,” The Sporting News, August 2, 1982, 37.
11 Russell Schneider, “Grubb Purring Over Two-Year Tribe Pact,” The Sporting News, February 19, 1977, 45.