50th Anniversary: Jack Kralick tosses first no-hitter in Twins history
This season has featured no less than six no-hitters, three of them perfect games. Seattle has twirled two of them, a Felix Hernandez gem preceded by a combined record-tying, six-pitcher no-no. With about a month left in the regular season, who knows what other masterpieces lay ahead. Fifty years ago, however, pitching was just as dominant. By the end of the decade, that lack of offense would ultimately lead to a lowering of the mound and give rise to the designated hitter.
In 1962, there were five no-hitters. All of them interesting stories. On May 5, Bo Belinksy was the Halo’s playboy pitcher and darling of Los Angeles. On June 26, The Red Sox’ Earl Wilson became the first African-American in American League history to toss a no-hitter. Ironically, when he homered to help his own cause, his 400-foot shot was off none other than Belinksy.
On June 30, Sandy Koufax threw the first of his four career no-hitters, the second no-hitter tossed at Dodger Stadium in less than two months, and the first since the Bums left Flatbush in 1958. On August 1, Bill Momboquette followed Wilson with the second Red Sox no-hitter of the season.
Then, finally on August 26, there was Jack Kralick.
“Jittery” Jack Kralick made history that day a half a century ago by becoming the first Minnesota Twin to no-hit a team since owner Calvin Griffith moved his Washington Senators from D.C. to the North Star state. At old Metropolitan Stadium in Minneapolis, Kralick perhaps gave the best pitching performance of all the five no-hitters thrown in 1962. He defeated the Kansas City A’s by the slimmest of margins, 1-0, thanks to a seventh inning Lenny Green sacrifice fly. But more impressively, he came within two outs of throwing the first major league perfect game in nearly forty years (Charlie Robertson of the White Sox mowed down the Detroit Tigers, 2-0, on April 30, 1922).
“Jack was excited,” said his brother Bill. “He knew that anybody who threw a no-hitter (gets a mention) in the Hall of Fame.”
Kralick was nicknamed “Jittery Jack” for his constant fidgeting on the mound. He would play with practically everything, between his uniform, cap and the rosin bag. By several accounts, he seemed to like spending time by himself and wasn’t easy to get along with. A chain smoker, teammates and sportswriters described him as “a loner,” “reclusive,” and “abrasive.” Rich Rollins said, however, “While he was kind of a loner, I thought most of the guys got along with him when we were teammates in Minnesota.”
John Francis Kralick was born on June 1, 1935, in Youngstown, Ohio. The slender southpaw compiled a near .500 lifetime record of 67-65 between the Washington Senators, Minnesota Twins, and Cleveland Indians. An innings-eater in the prime of his career, Kralick pitched at least 223 innings between 1961 and 1963. During his nine-year major league career, he recorded 668 strikeouts and had a 3.56 ERA.
He signed as an amateur free agent with the White Sox after attending Michigan State University in 1954. He didn’t make the big league club with Chicago, and was released four years later. Picked up by the Washington Senators, Kralick began his career as a reliever, and was never thought to be particularly durable. Senators manager Cookie Lavagetto took a chance on the thin Kralick, however, to see if the 6’-1″ 25-year-old kid could take the load off an overworked staff. He exceeded expectations with a 10-inning, 5-2 complete-game victory over the Baltimore Orioles and a 4-0 shutout of the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.
The 1962 Twins were in contention all year, finishing in second place (91-71), five games back of the AL Pennant champion New York Yankees. Minnesota was loaded with sluggers like Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, and All-Stars Bob Allison, Zoilo Versalles, Earl Battey, Rich Rollins and Vic Power. The team finished third in the league in home runs with 185, third in hitting at .260, and first in on-base percentage at .338. Killebrew led the American League in both home runs (48) and RBI (126).
As for their pitching, the 1962 squad led the league in strikeouts (948), complete games (53), tied for second in complete game shut outs (11) and were sixth in team ERA (3.89). In addition to Kralick (12-11, 3.86 ERA), the team had legendary 283 career game winner Jim Kaat (18-14, 3.14), and 20-game winner Camilo Pascual (20-11, 3.32).
Kralick’s no-hitter on that Sunday afternoon in August was the first thrown at Metropolitan Stadium since it had been built seven years earlier. It was also the franchise’s first no-hitter since Bobby Burke did it for the Washington Senators in 1931. Kralick’s feat was all the more remarkable considering that, at the time, the A’s led the American League in hitting. Managed by Hank Bauer, Kansas City also had three of the league’s top hitters in All-Stars Norm Siebern and Jerry Lumpe, and Manny Jimenez. Siebern’s RBI total of 117 in 1962 was second only to Killebrew’s for the league lead.
Pitching for Kansas City was Bill Fischer. Fischer himself had a nine-year major league career between the White Sox, Tigers, Twins, Senators and Athletics. Although he did make 78 starts, he pitched out of the bullpen for the majority of his career. Record wise, 1962 was his worst season, going 4-12. However, his ERA was under four, at 3.95, and he did not make an error all season long, leading the league in fielding percentage. The big story of Kralick’s no-hitter was a walk to end his bid for a perfect game. Ironically, Fischer didn’t walk anybody and went on to throw a major league record streak of 84 consecutive innings without issuing a base-on-balls.
The contest went scoreless through six innings before Minnesota put the game’s only run on the board in the bottom of the seventh. Second baseman Bernie Allen led off the inning with a single to right. Shortstop Zoilo Versalles attempted a sacrifice bunt, placing the ball just in front of home plate. A’s catcher Billy Bryan tried to get Allen at second base, but his throw was too late. It was then that Kralick laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt. Fischer had no play on the ball and third baseman (as well as future ’69 Mets hero) Ed Charles had to come off the bag at third to retire Kralick at first. Center fielder Lenny Green followed with a fly ball to his A’s center field counterpart Bobby Del Greco, scoring Allen from third.
Kralick was well aware of what was taking place, but he said the “sixth, seventh, and eighth innings went by so fast I really wasn’t thinking much about it. … I knew I had a perfect game going in the ninth. … Tradition says a pitcher isn’t supposed to know when he has a no-hitter or perfect game going, but I knew I hadn’t pitched from the stretch all day.”
He retired A’s shortstop Wayne Causey to begin the ninth, getting him to ground out to Allen, who threw to first.
Two batters stood in the way of perfection when pinch-hitter George Alusik stepped up to the plate. The 23, 224 fans in attendance, who had been cheering loudly with each out, became quiet again. “Fidgety” Jack was more fidgety than ever, as he continued to play with the ball, his uniform and his cap.
The September 8th Sporting News described the moment, saying that, “Plate Umpire Jim Honochik, aware of the tension, was imperturbable behind catcher Earl Battey, allowing Kralick to take his time.” Kralick reached back and fired a high fastball that Alusik fouled off back to the screen. He had run the count to 3-2 on only one other hitter all game, right fielder Gino Cimoli in the second. Finally, on the seventh pitch of the at-bat, Kralick’s offering sailed high and outside. Alusik dropped his bat and headed to first, where he was promptly replaced by pinch-runner Dick Howser.
Although he had lost Alusik and his bid for a perfect game, the no-hitter was still intact when he faced pinch-hitter Billy Consolo. Consolo, who was pinch-hitting for Fischer, had been a teammate of Kralick’s just a year earlier with the Senators. On a 1-1 count, Battey threw the ball past first baseman Vic Power, trying to pick off Howser at first. Fortunately, the ball didn’t get far enough into foul territory for Howser to advance. On the very next pitch, Consolo popped up to Power. “Power one-handed it artfully– almost disdainfully-for the twenty-sixth out,” continued the Sporting News.
Next up was Del Greco. On the second pitch of his at-bat, he popped out to Power and Kralick was mobbed on the field by his teammates.
Looking back at that ninth inning, Kralick did not seem too upset about the Alusik base-on-balls. “Alusik usually hits me pretty good (he had a .294 lifetime average against Kralick) … I figure as it turned out it was better for me to walk him than have him hit a good pitch. The pitch barely missed, that’s all.”
Earl Battey, his battery mate, said of the pitch, “There was no question it was ball four.” As for Kralick’s performance, he said, “I’ve seen him with better stuff, but never better control. … In the second inning he came to me and said, ‘I can’t do anything with my curveball. I can’t grip it.’ So we just worked around it.”
Without his other pitches working, Twins Manager Sam Mele was impressed that Kralick pitched so well relying so much on his fastball. Mele also said that he had nothing to say to his 27-year-old lefty between innings because he “was pitching too good.”
In the end, Kralick needed only 97 pitches to dispose of the 28 Kansas City batters he faced. With Alusik’s walk, he was just one over the minimum. The game clocked in just shy of two hours to complete (1:57).
Kralick’s near-perfect game was not his first no-hit effort. In fact, he had previously pitched three between the minors and semi-pro ball. His first no-hitter came when he broke into organized baseball in 1955 with the Madisonville Miners against the Union City Dodgers in the Class D Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee league. While in the Class C Northern League in 1956, Kralick pitched a no-hitter for the Duluth-Superior White Sox over the Fargo-Moorhead Twins.
Finally, he had his third no-hitter for a semi-pro Grand Rapids, Michigan team after his release from the White Sox. His team competed in the National Baseball Congress tournament and when he pitched a no-hitter against the Slagboom Construction, he received offers from scouts. One of those scouts was the Washington Senators’ Dick Wiencick, who convinced owner Calvin Griffith to the sign the lefty.
Kralick said after the big game that all of his no-hitters, “Those first two were seven-inning games … (the Twins game) mean more, much more, to me than the others. The competition is a little better here.”
The Twins next no-hitter was five years later, almost to the exact same day as Kralick’s, on August 25, 1967. Dean Chance beat Sonny Siebert and the Indians, 2-1. The Twins have had six no-hitters in franchise history, one of which was a five-inning effort also by Chance.
On May 2, 1963, Kralick was traded by the Twins to the Cleveland Indians for Jim Perry. Justifying the trade, Indians general manager Gabe Paul said, “Jim just wasn’t pitching all that well. … Kralick had thrown a no-hitter [in 1962], and he got the ball over the plate. … Besides, we needed left-hand pitching.”
In 1963, he had a good first year with the Tribe, rebounding from a 1-4 start with the Twins to finish 13-9 overall, including an impressive 2.92 ERA, a career best. Kralick built on that season by becoming an All-Star in 1964; the only time he had such an honor in his nine-year major league career. He finished 12-7 with a 3.21 ERA and three shutouts.
The 1964 season would be his last good season. Over the next three years, he won just a total of eight games and lost seventeen. In June of 1965, he was pulled from the starting rotation after struggling and pitching ineffectively as a starter. He primarily pitched out of the bullpen as a reliever the rest of his career.
In August of 1965, Kralick infamously got into a fight with an Indians teammate, pitcher Gary Bell. In a D.C. hotel room, Bell socked Kralick in the mouth, breaking a tooth. Between Kralick’s mouth cuts, his “dental discomfort” as the Indians described it, and Bell’s bruised knuckles, it was obvious that something was amiss. Later, it was reported that “Jittery” Jack and Bell, nicknamed “Ding Dong,” went at it after arguing over what TV station to watch.
Kralick’s baseball career ended rather abruptly on May 1, 1967, following an automobile accident on Cleveland’s Memorial Shoreway. The crash occurred within hours of being informed by the Indians that he had been sold to the Mets for $25,000. He suffered a concussion and a cracked rib. “But the worst part of the accident,” he told the Akron, Ohio Beacon Journal in 1971, “was that I suffered from double vision.” He was scheduled to report to triple-A Jacksonville of the International League once his symptoms improved. However, even as he began to feel better, Kralick decided to quit and walk away from the game.
According to the ’71 article, he had moved to Watertown, South Dakota, enjoying a life of fishing and hunting, while working for a school supply company. He also lived in Alaska. As of May 7, 2012, his son Lee says that, “My father lives in Mexico as a resident, and has for many, many years.”
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Sporting News, March 15, 1959, p. 22. September 8, 1962, pp. 5-6.
“Twins Kralick pitches Majors’ 5th No-Hitter of Year,” Eugene Register-Guard, AP/UPI. August 27, 1962.
“Kralick hurls 1-0 no-hitter over A’s,” by Tom Briere, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, August 26, 1962.
The Curse of Rocky Colavito: A Loving Look at a Thirty-Year Slump, by Terry Pluto. Gray & Co. publishers, 2007.
Baseball in Minnesota: The Definitive History, by Stew Thornley. Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2006.
May 7, 2012, Misc. baseball blog, “Jack Kralick and His No-Hitter.”