Former Padres outfielder and first baseman John Kruk turns the big double-nickel today. Better known for his time with the Phillies, Kruk was drafted by the Padres in 1981 and made his major league debut with them in 1986. He hit over .300 with an on-base percentage above .400 each of his first two seasons before suffering through the worst season of his career in 1988. And when I say "suffering", I mean there was literal suffering involved. Turns out that living an entire season in fear for your life affects the way you play baseball.
Kruk details the saga in his autobiography, but since I don't feel like going down to my (not my mom's!) basement to find it and then type out quotes word-for-word, I'll instead refer to a 2008 newspaper article from our home state's Charleston Gazette.
It all began at the end of the 1987 season when Roy Plummer and Jay Hafer, two acquaintances from Kruk's hometown of Keyser, WV, invited themselves to visit him in San Diego. Each of them had recently come into large sums of money, which they had explanations for, and eventually the three rented a house together after the baseball season ended. The three spent a lot of time on the town, with Plummer picking up the tab every time, until Kruk went to Mexico to play winter ball in order to get in shape (I know, right?!) for the upcoming season. When he returned, rumors about his roommates using drugs and being out of control, which he had previously dismissed, were more prevalent than ever.
"I kept hearing more from spring training. When I got back for the season, I don't know what excuse I made to him, but I said I needed to find my own place," Kruk said. "Then, of course, the FBI comes in right before batting practice and it's 'Holy crap.'"
The FBI questioned Kruk and showed him a picture of Plummer robbing a bank wearing a hat that read, "American by Birth. West Virginian by the Grace of God."
The FBI told Kruk that Plummer believed he was the one that turned him in.
"What I'm hearing from the FBI and other people is that he's a drug-possessed, gun-toting psychopath now. Everyone is telling me, 'He's coming after you,'" Kruk said. "Every knock on the door could be a teammate or it could be him. It scared the shit out of you."
That fear remained with Kruk all season long, as Plummer stayed on the lam until he was apprehended in late September. He didn't go out with his teammates or anyone else, opting to stay in his hotel room out of fear of retribution for snitching he didn't even do. He confided what he was going through with just one teammate, Randy Ready. As he told the Gazette two decades after that season of terror, "Oh-for-four meant absolutely nothing to me at that time. The only thing I wanted was to get the season over with." It showed in his numbers, as he hit a career-low .241, a full .050 below the next-worse mark of his ten-year career, .291. He was also treated as a pariah by manager Jack McKeon, who took over for Larry Bowa early in the year. McKeon, also the team's general manager, barely utilized Kruk at all the following season, eventually trading him - along with Ready - to Philadelphia, where he developed into a three-time All-Star and cult hero.