The amazin’ Ed Kranepool is a New York sports legend and an iconic member of the first-ever New York Mets baseball team. The lefty first baseman and outfielder was born in the Bronx, but now calls Long Island home. Making his Major League Baseball debut in September of 1962, Kranepool brings new meaning to “lifelong” New York Met, as he remains involved in the franchise’s public efforts, giving back to the game that made him a household name.
Kranepool is well known for many reasons, most notably because of his role on the 1969 New York Mets World Series championship team. The roster was that of legend, featuring names like Hall-of-Famer Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Art Shamsky, Ron Darling, Cleon Jones, Jerry Koosman, Ron Swaboda, and fellow Long Islander Buddy Harrelson, playing alongside “Steady Eddie.”
“We were a young ball club, all joining the year before — 1967, 1968 and 1969. We saw improvement the previous year, but before the 1969 year, Gil (Hodges) said to us that we all should improve a little bit to become a very good ball club. Up until June, we didn’t perform that well, but after a trip to California — where we won all three series, facing pitchers like (Sandy) Koufax, which we had never done before — coming back 10-0, we played the Chicago Cubs, who were leading us by 10 games, we wound up sweeping them, and that really turned the season around,” says Kranepool.
He played in 112 games in 1969, batting 0.238 with 49 RBI and 11 home runs. He recalls that legendary coach Hodges platooned all of the positions, impacting the player’s stats, but it was a winning strategy.
“Chicago was the best lineup in baseball, but they tired themselves out by July. That’s when the Mets went from 10 games back to the lead,” Kranepool says. “First of all, it was all under the tutelage of Gil Hodges. He’s going into the Hall of Fame this year. Without him, the ball club would have never made it. We needed someone to change the culture of the ball club, and that he certainly did.”
In the seventh year of the new baseball team’s existence, Kranepool and the Mets earned a World Series ring in the city in which their cross-town rivals, the New York Yankees, already had 16 World Championships.
“We were the first expansion club to win a pennant. We got there in seven years, which is pretty fast. For the first seven years, they stood by us with a losing ball club. And in 1969, we all realized that nothing is better than winning, for the players and for the fans. I think that the 1969 team is a reason why the Mets have a nationwide fan base.”
Kranepool, who has been eternalized with that team in Major League Baseball and New York sports history, fondly remembers the championship year, playing alongside his legendary teammates and manager. He recalls that day, October 16, 1969, rushing the mound in celebration in the now-iconic image that will live on in the hearts of Mets fans forever.
“I was on cloud nine and we are still living the dream today — people still want to talk about it 50 years later, and it will stay in everyone’s mind. People don’t remember who won the World Series three years ago, and nobody remembers you when you lose, but everybody remembers the 1969 Mets,” he says.
Kranepool has made it his mission to give back to the game of baseball. He can often be found speaking with little leaguers, throwing out the first pitch at local baseball games. He and many of his teammates returned to Flushing, Queens in 2019 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the team that shocked the baseball universe.
“It was a lot of fun, the stadium was packed, they made you feel young again,” he says. “We go back for Old Timers day, but it’s nothing like the 50th anniversary. We have had so many reunions over the years, and New York’s the world’s greatest sports town — and has the greatest fans, who remember things that even we forget.”
While Kranepool will always be a symbol of overcoming adversity and emerging victorious with the New York Mets, he has also, more recently, been seen as a symbol of a different cause: organ donation. In 2018, it became public that Kranepool was in need of a kidney transplant, as a result of years of diabetes. At age 74, he then sat on a waitlist — like thousands of others do — for over a year until it was his turn to find a match.
In 2019, thankfully, he found a match and underwent a kidney transplant at Stony Brook Hospital — rather serendipitously, in 2019, the same year as the World Series’ 50th anniversary.
“I had a great team with me in Stony Brook, led by Dr. Frank Darras. He did a great job and put together a great team. The doctors worked overtime to make my kidney transplant happen, and now I feel great,” he says.
He has since made a full recovery, but has been an outspoken advocate and supporter of organ donation, which saved his life and thousands of others every year.
Now 77, Kranepool spends the cooler months in Nassau County and now Florida, but can often be found summering in the Hamptons with his wife, Monica. The Kranepools reside in East Hampton.
He says that while it may be 85 miles from Flushing, he still feels like he’s in the heart of New York Mets country when spending time on the South Fork.
“I’ll be on the beach or in the town, and people will stop me to say hello. I’ll tell you what, it’s a good feeling. I’ve found the fans to be very courteous and very polite — there are good people here in the Hamptons,” Kranepool says. He enjoys the beautiful beach and waterfront, like all of us, and can often be found at Halsey’s Marina, where he docks his boat.
“I’ve been going out east for 20 years — I now am happy to say that I know the backroads,” he says, with a chuckle. “It’s been a great place to visit and spend my summers. So much has changed names but the Hamptons have largely remained the same. You might be only 90 miles from the city, but it’s a new world when you get out there.”
And as for the Mets this year? He says he likes their chances for this season, with their home opener slated for this Friday, April 15.
“They made some great trades, they spent a lot of money. I hope everybody stays healthy. The ownership has put the product on the field — now it’s all about putting it all together. I expect the Mets to be in the playoffs and, with the backing of the fans, it’s going to be a great year.”
Todd Shapiro is an award-winning publicist and associate publisher of Dan’s Papers.