Ed Kranepool’s ceremonial first pitch on Monday might not have been the most impressive toss. Shoulder surgery, kidney failure and the loss of several toes have taken their toll on the 73-year-old former Met’s throwing.
But just the sight of Kranepool on the Citi Field mound was a heartwarming one, as the player who appeared in more games than any other Met in history — 1,853 over 18 years, including the inaugural 1962 season — found himself back in the good graces of a club with which he had developed a frosty relationship.
Kranepool had been on the outs with the organization since he had a verbal dispute with Jeff Wilpon, the Mets’ owner and chief operating officer, at a team banquet five or six years ago. But a thawing came two weeks ago, when Wilpon picked up the phone and invited Kranepool to Citi Field to throw out the first pitch before the Mets’ game against the Cincinnati Reds on Monday night.
“Jeff reached out and extended the invitation to my wife, and I would have been foolish not to extend it and go forward,” Kranepool said by telephone from his Long Island home. “I was on the outside looking in, and I’m glad I’m not anymore.”
Kranepool, slowed by diabetes and age, threw softly from the infield grass and slightly wide of home plate.
“My kidney didn’t bother me, but my arm did,” Kranepool said. “I had rotator cuff surgery a few years ago, and I can’t throw the ball 100 feet. I can’t throw the ball 60 feet anymore. And with no toes on my left foot, I can’t step up and follow through.”
Still, nothing could put a damper on Kranepool’s return. “It was a very nice night at the ballpark,” he said. “This was my second home for so many years, and for whatever time I’ve got left, I’d like to keep it that way.”
Of course, Kranepool played most of his home games at Shea Stadium, the site of which now serves as a parking lot for Citi Field, which opened in 2009. But although he grew up in the Bronx, Kranepool’s heart has long resided in Flushing. So when Wilpon called, Kranepool was more than receptive.
The invitation came amid a stretch of health struggles for Kranepool. A diabetic since his playing days, he had two toes on his left foot amputated in 2015, and he lost the remaining three last year. For the past year, he has also been in need of a kidney transplant.
Although Kranepool says his situation is not desperate, he is actively seeking a kidney donor, and Wilpon has offered to work with Stony Brook University Hospital to help him find one. The Mets have also have set up an email address, Kidney4kranepool@gmail.com, for prospective donors to volunteer to be tested for compatibility.
Wilpon declined to be interviewed for this article but issued the following statement: “We were thrilled to provide Ed and his family a special night. We wanted to help bring awareness to Ed’s need for a kidney transplant, and hopefully we reached someone who might be able to donate a kidney. Ed has a wealth of knowledge about our game and it was great to see him talking baseball with our players.”
The genesis of the dispute between the Mets and Kranepool is a bit murky; according to Jay Horwitz, the Mets’ longtime spokesman, a breaking point came at an annual team dinner during the period when Mets ownership was involved in the Bernard Madoff scandal. At the dinner, Horwitz said, Kranepool told Wilpon: “I hear you are selling shares in your team. I don’t want shares. I want to buy the whole team so I can run it better than you and your father.”
Kranepool’s version differed; he said Wilpon had made a disparaging remark about Kranepool’s failed attempt to buy the team with a group of investors.
In any case, a relationship that had spanned the eras of Casey Stengel, the Mets’ first manager, and of Joe Torre, who led the Mets to a 63-99 record in 1979, Kranepool’s final season, was badly fractured.
Kranepool, who had been occasionally employed by the Mets for meet-and-greets with their luxury-box owners, was persona non grata.
“They would always accommodate me if I called them for tickets, but the reception was cold,” Kranepool said.
That apparently changed this week. Though Omar Minaya, the Mets’ assistant general manager, had discussed the Kranepool situation with Wilpon at spring training, the decision to reach out to Kranepool was Wilpon’s alone.
And when Kranepool arrived at Citi Field on Monday night, he detected a definite thaw, even in the 89-degree heat. “For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was being received with a warm heart,” he said.
Kranepool and Wilpon spoke privately and shook hands afterward. “I told him, ‘If I said something in the past that offended you, I apologize,’” Kranepool said. “You do mature when you get older. When I was 23, I might have told him to get lost and not taken his call, but I’m 73 now, and it’s time to move on.
“So many things are trivial in the scope of things. I’m looking for a kidney now. Those other things are not important anymore.”
For the first time in years, Kranepool was allowed access to the Mets’ clubhouse, and he spent time in the dugout before the game talking hitting with Michael Conforto.
“This was the third or fourth time I spoke to Ed,” Conforto said. “Being a lefty like Ed, we have a lot in common. He played almost 20 years in the majors, and he really has a lot of interesting things to say.”
And Kranepool came away from the experience expecting more of them. He said Wilpon was amenable to using him as a celebrity greeter once again.
“I can’t stand for very long,” he said, “and if I walk 100 feet, I have to sit down. But if it’s just talking to fans, I can do plenty of that. My body may be tired, but my mouth isn’t.”