When I met Jack Kralick, he was sitting on a barstool next to his teammate Lee Stange.
Kralick and Stange were drinking beer. I was drinking what I always drank in bars at the time: Squirt soda pop. Kralick and Stange were in their late 20s. I was just a kid, not yet 10 years old.
There’s a lot about my meeting Kralick and Stange that I just don’t remember. I know that it had to have happened between 1963 and 1966, because those were the years when both men played for the Indians. And I don’t remember whether the meeting took place in the off-season or during the baseball season.
I do remember that my parents got a call one afternoon from somebody at the bar, their favorite suburban hangout, to inform them that Kralick and Stange were there. Knowing that I would be thrilled to meet two members of the Indians pitching staff, they told me about it, and told me to get ready to go if I wanted to meet them.
Within minutes I found myself sitting on a barstool between the two men. I was awestruck upon being in the presence of actual big league ballplayers, and I was shy. I didn’t have a lot to say to them and they didn’t have a lot to say to me. They probably hadn’t counted on seeing a kid in a bar. I don’t think I asked them for autographs or anything, and no one took a Polaroid photo to commemorate the occasion.
I hadn’t known it at the time, or else I’d have been even more awestruck, but on Sunday, August 26, 1962, as a member of the Minnesota Twins, Kralick pitched a no-hitter against the Kansas City Athletics. He retired the first 25 hitters he faced before giving up a one-out walk to the A’s pinch-hitter George Alusik on a 3-2 count. Kralick then retired the next two hitters without incident to record the first no-hitter in the history of the franchise.
In dire need of another left-handed starting pitcher, the Indians traded Jim Perry, brother of Gaylord, to the Twins in exchange for Kralick in May of 1963. Kralick pitched well for the Tribe in 1963 and 1964, going 25-16 over that span with a 3.06 ERA. But he floundered in 1965, going 5-11 with an ERA of 4.92, and losing his spot in the starting rotation. The Indians used Kralick mostly as a reliever in 1966; he pitched in 27 games, starting only four of them.
In 1967, Kralick pitched in only two games. On Sunday, April 23, he was used as a reliever in both games of a doubleheader against the California Angels, and was tagged with the loss in both games.
No one could have known it at the time, but Kralick would never again pitch in a regular-season ballgame.
On May 1, the Indians sold Kralick’s contract to the New York Mets, who instructed him to report to their minor league affiliate in Jacksonville, Florida. Kralick was as happy to leave Cleveland as the Indians were to be rid of him. “I’ll never understand how [the Indians] could look right at me and never tell me anything,” he told the Plain Dealer’s Russ Schneider that day. Kralick said he was relieved to have the opportunity to get a new start with a different organization.
Later that night Kralick celebrated his release from the Indians. Although the local newspapers of the time didn’t say so, as was the customary practice back then, it’s safe to assume that Kralick had been drinking heavily that night. He crashed his car into a retaining wall on the Shoreway at East 9th St. at 3:35 AM, giving himself a cerebral contusion and requiring more than 20 stitches in his forehead.
The Mets weren’t thrilled to learn that their latest acquisition went the way it did, but they tried to put a brave face on things for the public. Mets president Bing Devine was quoted as saying “As far as we’re concerned, we purchased a baseball player and 12 hours later he got hurt. That’s our tough luck, if you want to say it that way. We just hope he’ll come out of it okay.”
But he never did. After the accident, Kralick had problems with blurred vision. The Mets invited him to spring training the following year, but on April of 1968, Kralick ruled out a future in baseball, and took a job selling insurance. He shunned all contact with the baseball world, eventually moving to Alaska, living in a house with no phone.
Later still he moved to Mexico. A 2009 blog post written by members of the Hawkwind Charter Service has this passage, written while staying at San Blas, Mexico: “We have spent 3 days here and today while in a local watering hole met a former Major League pitcher who threw a no hitter and was an All Star in the ’60′s. His name is Jack Kralick.”
On September 18 of this year, Kralick died in San Blas, with members of his family by his side. He was 77.