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Ed Kranepool is tall, dark and almost handsome, a 30-year-old son of the Bronx who possesses an indoor pool, a tennis court and a Mark IV automobile. He has acquired all this, along with a pretty wife and a 6-year-old son, while playing first base for the New York Mets—when the other team is pitching a righthander. Against lefthanders he mostly sits, because a long time ago someone decided Kranepool was no threat to their welfare. If he were, he might own two indoor pools, two tennis courts and two Mark IVs. As it is, he has only one of each, and a .336 batting average. That is nice part-time work for the nearly original Met, whose team is competing for the division lead in no small part because of his efforts.
Kranepool still grumbles now and then—teammate Joe Torre calls him "Bitch and Hit"—but he is not the "snotty kid" Manager Yogi Berra says he used to be. When Kranepool was a teenager the numbers were good (he got an $85,000 bonus) but the timing was awful, since 1962 marked his last year in high school and the Mets' first in baseball. He reasoned they were his quickest route to the majors, not realizing that he might be unprepared when he got there. On Opening Day, 1964, someone unfurled a banner at Shea Stadium that asked, "Is Ed Kranepool Over The Hill?" He was 19 years old at the time.
Looking back, he believes the club asked too much too soon. "A more established team wouldn't have force-fed me to the big leagues," he says. "I wasn't equipped or mature enough to handle it. Baseball was frustrating in those days. The Amazin' Mets weren't much fun for the players."
When the Mets finished last in 1965, Kranepool was the team's leading hitter, at a modest .253, and a National League All-Star. When they won the World Series four years later he batted .238. The following season he was shipped to the minors.
"It would have been easy to quit," Kranepool says, "but I wasn't ready to retire at 25. I worked my way back up later in the year and I haven't been the same player or person since. I've really had two careers with the Mets, and I'd like to forget the first one. It just took me longer to know myself than it does for most other people. I'm a little smarter now and a little more mature. Baseball is fun again."
But not much fun for the right-handed pitchers who have faced him the last two years. Through two spring trainings, a junket to Japan and almost a season and a half of play, Kranepool has been the toughest out on the team.
Last season, when he batted an even .300, he was particularly successful as a pinch hitter, producing 17 hits in 35 appearances for a major league-leading average of .486. "I stopped sulking about being a pinch hitter," he says. "Now I don't let things like that bother me."
Kranepool became a "regular" against righthanders seven weeks ago when John Milner was injured in an exhibition game. Milner had been slumping, and Kranepool had been above .300 all season. Since May 16, he has raised his average 30 points.
Despite his size (6'3", 210 pounds) and a fluid, mechanically perfect swing, Kranepool is not a power hitter. He uses his long, heavy bat to bounce hits into the corners, and he seldom strikes out.
Defensively, he is more than satisfactory. Though limited in range, he digs low throws out of the dirt well, and on the difficult first-to-second-to-first double play there are few better.