With bad knees, Kruk walks away from game


John Kruk always has done things a little differently from everyone else, right up to his unexpected retirement from baseball yesterday at Oriole Park.

His first-inning single off Orioles starter Scott Erickson not only ended an 0-for-15 slump for the White Sox designated hitter, but it also marked the end of his 10-year major-league career.

Kruk, 34, a three-time All-Star, was removed from the game after the first inning.

After being given the ball from his final hit, Kruk shook hands with his teammates in the dugout and departed through the runway.

Kruk, who has been hampered by injuries to both knees and underwent surgery for the removal of a cancerous testicle last year, left the stadium before the end of the game and drove back to his West Virginia residence.

There were no tearful farewell speeches or news conferences, just a news release that was distributed to the media after the game.

"The desire to compete at this level is gone. When that happens, it's time to go," Kruk said in the statement.

"I want to thank San Diego for giving me my first opportunity to play professional baseball and Philadelphia for the chance to play in the World Series. I thank the Chicago White Sox for the opportunity to come back and to walk away from the game on my own terms."

Kruk's terms were to leave the game after getting one last hit.

White Sox manager Terry Bevington said that Kruk approached him Friday with his retirement plans.

That led to a well-orchestrated ruse in which Bevington scratched Frank Thomas from yesterday's lineup, supposedly because of a sore foot, and inserted Kruk as the designated hitter. Thomas replaced Kruk as the DH after the first inning.

"He talked to me about it Friday night," Bevington said. "I just asked him to make sure and sleep on it and on Saturday he confirmed it and we laid out this plan.

"If he got a hit, he was going to come out. If he wouldn't have gotten a hit, he would have waited until he did. He was geared up. He was playing that first at-bat like it was the seventh game of the World Series. Frank's foot is not that bad."

Said Thomas: "He went out in style his own way. You have to respect a man that's going to do it that way."

Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, who said that one of the White Sox players had told him about Kruk's plans before the game, encouraged Kruk to reconsider while Kruk stood at first base.

"I tried to talk him out of it," Palmeiro said. "I said, 'You can still swing the bat. Don't leave this game yet. You're too good of a player.' He said, 'Raffy, I can't run. My legs hurt too much.' "

Orioles reliever Doug Jones, who played with Kruk on the Phillies last season, called him in the clubhouse after he left the game. Kruk had asked Jones before the game to talk to Erickson about giving up the ball if Kruk had gotten a hit.

Said White Sox shortstop Ozzie Guillen: "He was complaining every night about his knees. He can hardly walk. He told me he had a lot of respect for the game and he didn't want to play the game he loved the way he was playing."

Kruk (.308, two HRs, 23 RBIs) concluded his career with a lifetime .300 average. He has hit .300 or better seven times in his career, including the past four seasons.

With the Phillies in 1993, he batted .348 against the Toronto Blue Jays in the World Series.

His long hair, stocky build and unusual sense of humor made Kruk somewhat of a cult hero.

"You wish everyone could be like John Kruk," said Bevington. "As far as his approach to the game, I can't imagine anyone being better."

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