Hand Over the Batting Crown and Nobody Gets Hurt

John Kruk batted an even .300 for his career, famously retiring after legging out a single to preserve his batting line. He batted .291 or higher in all but one season. That off-year was 1988, when his average fell a full 72 points from the previous season. If that one year was omitted, Kruk’s career average would be .307, higher than Hank Aaron, George Brett, and Joe Mauer.

What I find most interesting about Kruk is the reason why his average fell so precipitously. It all goes back to Kruk’s childhood in Keyser, West Virginia. Keyser is a small place with a population of only a few thousand. When Kruk began finding baseball success as a member of the San Diego Padres, he was approached by Roy Plummer, a fellow high school classmate from Keyser. Plummer was traveling in the west and invited Kruk to room with him and a friend. The trio spent a good deal of time enjoying life as new arrivals in Southern California. Two months later, Kruk moved out in order to travel for a winter baseball league in Mexico.

When Kruk returned for Spring Training in 1988 he was approached by the FBI. Plummer and his buddy turned out to be serial bank robbers and authorities wanted to ask their temporary roommate about their activities. Plummer went on the run and Kruk, who had known him long enough to get some insight into his line of thought, immediately thought the thief would come after him. It’s hard to hide from someone when your employer publishes your travel schedule a year in advance. Kruk spent the year looking over his shoulder rather than at incoming pitches, resulting in a .241 batting average. Plummer was arrested near the end of the season, and Kruk’s average rebounded to .272 for the few remaining games.

Plummer would go on to serve more than 8 years in prison for 14 bank robberies. He returned to this less than ideal career choice, eventually killing himself in a standoff on a railroad bridge when authorities closed in on him in 2008.

Kruk looks nervous in this 1988 photo appearing on his 1989 Fleer card.