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Local Baseball Legend Kraly dies at 86

Former World Series Champion, Steve Kraly passed away Monday at the age of 86. Kraly was a member of the 1953 World Series Champion Yankees, the 1953 Eastern League Champion Binghamton Triplets, and the official scorer for the Binghamton Mets from 1992-2014 when his age and health prevented him from continuing the job.

Kraly was born April 18,1929 in Whiting, Indiana. He began his professional baseball career with the Yankees organization in 1949 with stops in Independence, Kansas and Joplin, Missouri before coming to the Triple-A Binghamton Triplets. He posted a 19-2 record with the Triplets in 1953 before being called up to the Yankees in August. That win-loss percentage is the best in Eastern League history for as many decisions. He led the league in shutouts (7) and ERA (2.08) with 19 complete games in 22 starts. He made just three starts with the Yankees going 0-2 with a 3.24 ERA before injuries limited him in later seasons. While he did not pitch in the 1953 World Series he still earned a ring when the Yankees beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in six games.

His big league career was cut short by injuries, but not because he was not good enough. In an era with only 16 major league teams and a Yankees pitching rotation with five players that all won 13 or more games including Hall of Famer Whitey Ford, it was more an issue of the Yankees not having room for him. Had he grown up today, with 30 teams, 25-man rosters, and pitching at a premium, it's very possible he'd be a front of the rotation starter capable of winning 15-20 games a year.

After his playing career ended, he took a job with IBM in Owego even turning down an offer from his former Yankees manager, Casey Stengel, to play for the 1962 expansion New York Mets. Perhaps a blessing in disguise, Kraly's decision not to play for the Mets ultimately saved him from being a footnote in the history books being a part of a team that holds the record for most losses in a single season with 120.

In 1992 with the Eastern League returning to its home in Binghamton, Kraly took the job as official scorer of the Binghamton Mets. It was in that role that he showcased his knowledge of the game. Almost a requirement of the job, he always had the official rule book on hand, but rarely needed to consult it.

"He's forgotten more about the game than most people have ever known," says B-Mets General Manager Jim Weed. "Not only did he play the game, but there wasn't anything he didnt know. It was a joy not only to be around him to hear his analysis of the game but hear the way he told the stories. He was a fun positive person to be around. So that was a joy."

"Working in the press box with him for a number of years it was like getting a masters degree every day in baseball," says Roger Neel who served as full-time B-Mets PA Announcer from 1992-2003. "Not only was he a great official scorer but just the stories he would tell, but just the different circumstances he was in in playing pro baseball and being around it were pretty remarkable. When you're talking to someone who played with Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, his manager was Casey Stengel, some of the legends of baseball and he was a part of that. I think it's so important for people to understand that he played with the giants, he played with the greats of the game and was a part of that. So it's a loss that you can't even comprehend as far as what it means for the baseball world and the sports world here."

But it wasn't just his knowledge of scoring a game that was impressive. If he had been inclined to take the job, would have made a great scout. Neel recalls one time when New York Mets pitcher Paul Wilson was working back from an injury and, on rehab in Binghamton was having issues of control.

"Steve's doing the game, official scorer watching Wilson and says 'he's got to move to the other side of the rubber, that'll take care of it.' No one with the Mets at the time made that move," Neel says. "Wilson gets back to the major leagues, pitches a very strong outing, I happen to pick up a New York Times article and it says 'I want to thank my pitching coach here with the Mets because he moved me from one side of the rubber to the other and my control came back.' Steve Kraly saw that a month before in Binghamton. That was the kind of knowledge he had. He could spot it, he played it so much, he was around it, but he could see it at first glance. That was just the kind of mind he had."

Having worked for the Binghamton Mets and spent a hand full of games in the press box myself, I recall one time when Mets pitching prospect Carlos Muniz came out of the bullpen and the opposing team questioned the legality of his glove because it was a very light gray color or leather. The umpiring crew made Muniz use a different glove and without looking at the rule book, Kraly rattled off Rule 1.15 almost verbatim to an astonished press box. That rule, for those curious is as follows:
(a) The pitcher's glove may not, exclusive of piping, be white, gray, nor, in the judgment of an umpire, distracting in any manner.
(b) No pitcher shall attach to his glove any foreign material of a color different from the glove.
(c) The umpire-in-chief shall cause a glove that violates Rules 1.15(a) or 1.15(b) to be removed from the game, either on his own initiative, at the recommendation of another umpire or upon complaint of the opposing manager that the umpire-in-chief agrees has merit."

While my interactions with Kraly were limited in number, he was always quick with a smile and easy to talk to. Others thought of him as a genuinely nice person, always willing to carry on a conversation. While he didn't demand respect from everyone, he certainly earned it. As a result, it seemed that more often than not, people that knew him addressed him always as "Mr. Kraly."

"I think if he were here right now he'd say 'you can call me Steve.' It was a respect, thing," Weed says. "There'd be times he'd score a play and the players and managers might not agree with it, but he was right and they knew that, they respected that. Respect is the key word there."

Kraly was inducted into the Binghamton Baseball Shrine in 1997. He was chosen to join the second induction class into the Greater Binghamton Sports Hall of Fame on April 18th, what would have been his 87th birthday.

I'm ecstatic that he knew he was entering but certainly sad that he won't be here for that," Neel says. "Just shows, the future is now. Honor people while you can. My theory has always been to honor people while they're alive and he's more than well deserving of that. At least if he can't be there, I know in spirit he will be and I'm glad he learned of it because he was a tremendous and wonderful man."