My first favorite player was Duane Kuiper, and he continues to hold a special part of my baseball heart. It’s a Cleveland thing only somebody like Joe Posnanski would truly understand.
Many people know by now that Duane Kuiper, in 3,754 PAs (including 3,379 ABs) hit a total of ONE home run. So great was this feat that the game is listed in his IMDb entry. Of course, it was a nationally televised Monday Night game. So, at least Kuiper could rise to big moments. This would prove critical after his playing days were over. Since Kuiper did hit his home run at home, when he was traded the Indians gave him part of the seat where the ball landed. Last I heard, he still had in proudly in his attic.
Captain Kuip was, on his best day, a slightly above-average ballplayer. He was a .271 hitter, with an average that bounced between .255 and .288. Typically, he was caught stealing more times than he was successful. To go with his home run, his career also featured a game when he hit two bases-loaded triples; he managed 29 triples in his career. He didn’t walk or strike out much.
But his jersey always seemed to be dirty. This was, of course, because he dove for nearly every ball, regardless of the need to do so. He was, however, an above-average fielder, managing to land in the top 10 for fielding percentage for a second baseman a few times and he currently sits at 66th for career fielding percentage.
But, like many impressionable young baseball fans that followed the Indians, he was actually the type of baseball player you wanted to be. You didn’t have to be great, but you did have to play hard. Dive for balls. Get the jersey dirty. Bunt. Sacrifice. Swing at the ball and hit a chopper over the shortstop. Everything your little league coaches screamed at you, Duane Kuiper did. He had to.
He was drafted seven times and eventually turned out to be good enough to make the bigs. Talent alone wasn’t going to keep him there. Only his hard work, a bit of luck, the lack of a viable replacement in the farm system, and lack of injury kept him in The Show. In 1980, he missed part of the season with a knee injury. The Indians signed Alan Bannister to finish the season. Bannister and Kuiper platooned for the 1981 season. Kuiper was traded that offseason to the Giants.
Duane Kuiper was our father. He was the spunky kid that had to work really hard to play ball. His was us. I collected his baseball card even when he was traded to the Giants. Cool note.
Kuiper stuck around the Giants when he retired in 1985. Well, he was released, but still. No hard feelings. He became a broadcaster and now sits in the booth with Mike Krukow. And oh the sweet irony—the man with one home run called many of Barry Bonds‘ home runs, including No. 715 and record-breaking No. 756.
A few other feats of Kuiper playing and announcing career:
- He called Matt Cain‘s perfect game.
- He played second base in Lenny Barker‘s perfect game.
- He played second base in Dennis Eckersley‘s no-hitter. The score was 1-0, with Kuiper scoring the only run.
I met Kuiper once when the Giants were playing the Indians. I had a 1976 Replica, Kuiper 18 jersey on. Bright Red. When I met him, I said, “Mr. Kuiper, you were my first favorite player. Thanks for that.” He replied, “So, you’re a football fan now?” He saw the jersey and added, “I’m really sorry!” We talked for a few minutes and I yielded to the next person that just wanted to say hi and thanked to him. When the Indians played highlights of him at Progressive Field—a field he never played on, in a town he had not played in over 30 years—the hometown fans cheered. They didn’t cheer for the achievements, they cheered for the Duane Kuiper!
I love Duane Kuiper because his stats and achievements are quirky and funny. I love Duane Kuiper because the was the first sports role model I had that reminded me of my dad. I love Duane Kuiper because he played baseball like me. I love Duane Kuiper because he was the type of player where you rooted for the name on the back of the jersey.
I love Duane Kuiper and am I not the only one.
Great read! I really enjoyed it and agree with you about hard word and tenacity – The Kuiper Way! Thanks Mat