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  • Budd Bailey

Book Review: The Last Miracle

Updated: Jun 11

Review by Budd Bailey

Most fans of the New York Mets of a certain age have a soft spot in their heart for Ed Kranepool.

After all, he was part of the original Mets in 1962. Kranepool was signed right out of high school, and had some at-bats for those lovable losers who lost 120 of 160 games in that initial season. The difference was that while everyone else from that team soon moved on, Kranepool hung around.

And hung around, and hung around. He stayed through 1979, which means he spent 18 seasons wearing the orange and blue of the Mets. Kranepool was part of the furniture for a long time, and you can build up a lot of good will that way.

Therefore, it was a bit of a surprise to read "The Last Miracle." It turns out that Kranepool was always something of an angry young man during his playing days. Billy Joel would have been proud of him.

Ed grew up in New York City and was a good-sized prospect out of high school. In those days, players could sign with any team - a decision that often came down to money. The fact that Kranepool had ties to New York City made it easy to want to stay home and play baseball. Besides, the Yankees were rather loaded with talent then, while the Mets were running on empty. The National League team offered the quickest path to the majors possible.

In fact, it was probably too quick. Kranepool did play in three games for the '62 Mets before he had even turned 18. He also spent time in Triple-A, Class A, and Class C. But realistically, Kranepool should have gone to the low minors and learned how to be a pro ballplayer. It was the same story a year later, when the first baseman/outfielder split his time between New York and Buffalo (AAA). For a guy who hit .209 with the Mets in 1963, he seemed to carry a grudge over the assignment to the minors. He seemed to take it out on the city of Buffalo, even turning down a chance to work on the movie "The Natural" in the 1980s after retirement.

From there, Kranepool became a regular through 1967, and usually hit around .260 in that span. Eventually the Mets figured out that Kranepool was better off platooning. That was his role on the 1969 Miracle Mets, who ended several years of frustration with a surprise World Series championship. Those players will walk together forever, and Kranepool has some stories about that amazin' season in the book.

But the magic soon wore off, which usually happens in baseball as players age or get shuffled. New York did get back to the World Series in 1973 despite a mediocre regular season. Soon Kranepool was left filling a pinch-hitting role that kept him employed in the big leagues but apparently wasn't too satisfying. He finally retired after the 1979 season.

The possibilities for a good book seem obvious enough, but Kranepool's attitude drags things down quite a bit. It's interesting how Ed didn't seem to appreciate manager Gil Hodges much until Hodges took Kranepool's side in an argument with Tim Foli. Suddenly Hodges could do no wrong. In the meantime, Kranepool didn't think much of the managerial abilities of Hodges' successor, Yogi Berra. Ed is still angry over the fact that George Stone wasn't picked to start Game Six of the 1973 World Series over a less than fully rested Tom Seaver. To be fair, he might have a point, especially since Berra's plan didn't work out.

The anger comes out in other places. Kranepool thought he deserved more consideration for a Gold Glove at first base, even though perennial winner Wes Parker of the Dodgers played a lot more games. Ed thought he could be a player-coach once Joe Torre took over as manager. When Torre had other plans, his stock dropped with Kranepool. At the end of his career, Ed thought he was ready to move into a front office job - perhaps general manager. That didn't come true either, although considering the way the Mets handled things in the late 1970s, Kranepool couldn't do any worse than those on the job.

Oddly, Kranepool sticks to the old belief that winning the close games is the sign of a champion. According to most of the research, the good teams usually have a one-sided record in the blowouts ... because you are only doing bad opponents a favor by letting them hang around. Luck has a lot more to do winning the close ones. The '69 Mets went 41-23 in one-run games, even better than the 21-12 in blowouts. A year later, the Mets were under .500 in close games, and the team turned mediocre. Everything went right, including the breaks for the Mets in 1969.

Adding to some bad feelings about the book was that the fact that there were some typos and other mistakes along the way, and sometimes the story jumped in some odd directions. One more read of the manuscript by an outside source probably would have helped a lot.

Autobiographies often rise and fall on how the person at the middle of them come across. "The Last Miracle" suffers because of that. If you carry warm feelings about the Mets of that era, maybe you'd better go elsewhere.

(Follow Budd on via @WDX2BB)

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