I don’t care that he’s a San Francisco legend. Our first entry is a Cubs legend as well.
24. Mike Krukow. San Francisco Giants. WAR: 21.4
One of my earliest memories of Mike Krukow was when he was hit in the head with a line drive by Cardinals shortstop Garry Templeton in 1980. Krukow, unbelievably today, stayed in the game, finished the fourth inning and then pitched the fifth inning before finally exiting. He got the win. The next day, Krukow was on the WGN Lead-off Man show before the game with a glove taped to his head.
Krukow was drafted by the Cubs in the eighth round of the 1973 draft out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (where he was once also hit in the head by a line drive and stayed in a game). In the minor leagues, Cubs coach Fred Martin taught a split-fingered fastball to Krukow and his roommate, future Hall-of-Famer Bruce Sutter. Unlike Sutter, who took to the pitch immediately, Krukow took much longer to master it.
Nicknamed “The Polish Prince,” Krukow made his major league debut with the Cubs in September 1976 and of course, he’s got a funny story about that as well. Krukow spent the next five seasons in the Cubs starting rotation where he was a solid, mid-rotation starter. The strike-shortened 1981 season was his best year when he went 9-9 with a 3.68 ERA. That made him a valuable trade chip for new Cubs’ general manager Dallas Green, who traded Krukow to the Phillies for Keith Moreland and Dickie Noles before the 1982 season.
With Wrigley Field and the Cubs’ bad defense of the early-80s behind him, Krukow took another step forward with a strong 1982 season. The Phillies cashed out that strong 1982 year and traded the right-hander to San Francisco for future Hall-of-Famer Joe Morgan.
Krukow struggled his first two years with the Giants, but near the end of the 1985 season, the Giants hired a new manager, Roger Craig. Craig threw a splitter in his playing career and had taught it to several pitchers in Detroit when he was the Tigers pitching coach.
Craig helped Krukow finally master the pitch and he responded with the best year of his career in 1986. He won 20 games for the only time in his career, going 20-9 with a 3.05 ERA. Krukow was also named to his only All-Star Game in 1986 and finished third in Cy Young Award balloting.
Krukow also won the Giants “Willie Mac Award,” named after Willie McCovey and given to the “most inspirational” player on the team in both ’85 and ’86.
The affects of age started to take its toll on Krukow in 1987 as the then-35-year-old had the worst season of his career. He had a bounce-back year in 1988, but he missed two months of the season with injuries. In June 1989, Krukow was diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff and he missed the rest of the season after arthroscopic surgery. He retired in Spring Training of 1990 when it became clear that his shoulder had not returned to full strength.
Krukow finished with a career line of 124-117 with an ERA of 3.90 over 14 seasons.
Krukow’s goofball personality made him a natural for broadcasting and he was hired as a part-time announcer for the Giants in 1990. He moved into the Giants booth full-time in 1994 when Duane Kuiper left for Colorado for a season. Kuiper returned to San Francisco in 1995 and the two have been a broadcast team and Bay Area icons ever since.
Over the past few years, Krukow has dealt with a degenerative muscle disease and now only calls Giants home games and some NL West road games.
23. John Kruk. Philadelphia Phillies. WAR: 25.1
John Kruk summed up his career in one famous quote: “Lady, I’m not an athlete. I’m a professional baseball player.” (That served as the title of his autobiography.)
Kruk was well-known for being short (5’10”), heavy and a self-described slob. He was also a terrific left-handed hitter who was an on-base machine at a time when the public was first starting to realize the value of on-base percentage.
Kruk was drafted by the Padres in the third round of the 1981 June secondary draft out of a junior college in Maryland. He hit a ton in the minors, but he didn’t make his major-league debut until Opening Day in 1986 when he was already 25.
For the next three seasons, Kruk was a starting left fielder/first baseman for the Padres, although he was usually platooned so he rarely faced left-handed pitchers, whom he did not hit well against at that point in his career. On defense, Kruk was bad. But he was such a good hitter that the team would live with his glove.
Kruk got off to a bad start in 1989 and in a pretty boneheaded move, the Padres traded Kruk and Randy Ready to Philadelphia for outfielder Chris James. The move made little sense—the Padres were a contender that year and James was having just as bad a year as Kruk. Both Ready and Kruk were better ballplayers than James. The only explanation for the deal I’ve seen is that the Padres thought their lineup was too left-handed. They probably also didn’t understand the concept of on-base percentage, which is pretty inexcusable. But they may have been worried about Kruk’s conditioning.
But whereas Kruk’s “everyday slob” persona may or may not have flown in San Diego, it made him an absolute legend in Philadelphia. He was also a pretty darn good player there. He played the next 5½ seasons in Philadelphia and had an overall on-base percentage of .400 in that time. While his line drive hitting stroke didn’t generate great power, he did hit 62 home runs for the Phillies. He also played against left-handed pitchers in Philadelphia.
Kruk was an All-Star with the Phillies for three consecutive seasons from 1991 to 1993. His at-bat against the Mariners’ Randy Johnson in the 1993 All-Star Game is probably the most remembered moment of Kruk’s career.
In Spring Training of 1994, he was playing first base when an errant pickoff throw by Phillies pitcher Mitch Williams hit Kruk in the groin, shattering his protective cup. It was one of the rare times when getting hit there was a good thing, because when the doctors examined the injury, they discovered that Kruk was in the early stages of testicular cancer. Kruk returned to play a month later after surgery wearing a T-Shirt that said “If I can’t play in the game, I’ll take my ball and go home.”
While Kruk could beat cancer, he couldn’t beat his weight. His knee began to give out in the 1994 season and he was only able to play in 75 games. He signed with the White Sox as a DH for the 1995 season, but he was in constant knee pain. On July 30, Kruk singled in the first inning. When he got back to the dugout after the inning ended, he told manager Terry Bevington that as of that moment, he was retired.
Kruk played 10 years in the majors and hit .300/.397/.446 with 100 home runs over 1200 games. His career defensive WAR is -7.3.
Obviously a former player with an “everyday slob” reputation was going to be wanted by television. Kruk worked for Fox Sports shortly after retiring. He joined ESPN in 2004 and worked there until 2016, when he left to return to Philadelphia for the 2017 season.
22. Mike Bordick. Baltimore Orioles. WAR: 26.8
I was certainly surprised to see Bordick ranked this highly, but Baseball-reference’s WAR stats love his defense. For what it’s worth, Fangraphs’ version of WAR loves Bordick’s defense as well.
The Athletics signed Bordick as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Maine in 1986. The shortstop made his debut in Oakland in 1990 and he got into three games (but no at-bats) as a defensive substitute in the 1990 World Series.
He came up to Oakland for good in 1991 and was the A’s starting second baseman for the 1992 season. He moved to shortstop for the 1992 season and was the team’s starting shortstop through the 1996 season. He didn’t hit much, but his defense was strong.
The A’s of the mid-90s didn’t keep anyone around past their free agency and Bordick left for Baltimore before the 1997 season. There he became the starting shortstop for the Orioles as the team moved legend Cal Ripken Jr. to third base for Bordick.
The Orioles won the AL East in 1997 with Bordick as their starting shortstop. Bordick had a great year at the plate (for him) with Baltimore in 2000 and made his only All-Star Game that year. The Orioles then dealt him to the Mets for their stretch drive. (Baltimore got Melvin Mora back for Bordick, so it was a good deal for both teams.) Bordick played in his second World Series with the Mets in 2000. He even got some at-bats this time, although manager Bobby Valentine pinch-hit for him at the first opportunity so he only had nine trips to the plate in the five-game Series.
Bordick returned to the Orioles as a free agent in 2001 and played two more seasons there. After signing with the Blue Jays as a free agent for the 2003 season, he retired at age 38 when the season ended.
Bordick hit .260/.323/.362 over 1720 games over 14 seasons. As I mentioned earlier, most of his career value comes from his stellar defense.
The Blue Jays hired Bordick as a minor league instructor when he retired and served in that role until 2010, when he took a similar job with the Orioles. In 2012, he became a broadcaster for the Orioles and he’s been there ever since, splitting his time between radio and television.