June 23 – Happy Birthday Eddie Kuczek

photo_012420_2749454_1_photo1_cropped_20141009.jpgxIt wasn’t surprising that a future Major League ballplayer like Steve Kuczek could average .536 during Amsterdam High School’s 1941 varsity baseball season and help extend the team’s winning streak to 13 straight games. But the shortstop wasn’t even the best player on that squad. That honor went to his older brother and today’s Amsterdam Birthday celebrant, Eddie Kuczek. It was Eddie who led the team in batting average with a .620 mark while also leading Coach Jack Tracy’s outstanding ball club in runs scored. At the time, Tracy called the gifted second baseman “the best Major League prospect he’d ever coached” and the New York Yankees agreed. (Note: Eddie and Steve had four other brothers who played AHS baseball and all six Kuczek’s were incredibly good at the sport!)

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Steve (l) and Eddie Kuczek in 1946

During his junior season at AHS, Eddie had been invited to work out with the Amsterdam Rugmakers, the Yankees’ Class C affiliate in the CanAm League. Eddie Sawyer, who managed the Rugmakers during that 1940 season loved the kid and had recommended that the Bronx Bomber braintrust sign Kuczek right then and there. But the Yankees head scout at the time, the legendary Paul Krichell decided it was best to let the young infielder finish school. So Kuczek spent a second consecutive season playing with his high school team and practicing with the Rugmakers. He was then asked to ink a Rugmaker contract in January of 1942 and he would have become the first ever Amsterdam-born player to sign with the local team.

Unfortunately, the timing of the offer couldn’t have been any worse. Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor just a month earlier and the US was at war. Eddie decided to continue his education instead and that spring, he enrolled in the pre-dental program at Colgate University and also play collegiate baseball. All he did at the Hamilton, NY school in his freshman season was lead their varsity baseball team in hitting with a .365 batting average and get offered a tryout at the Polo Grounds by one of New York City’s other baseball teams, the Giants.

By 1943, Kuczek decided it was time to serve his country and he did so as a member of the Army Air Corp. He made it back home safely despite being involved in an airplane crash that injured his hand. He returned to Colgate in 1945 after being discharged from the service and earned his diploma that spring. But he still had some baseball eligibility left so he returned to the school in 1946, where he was reunited with his brother Steve. The siblings expected to form the Raiders starting middle infield. But Ed’s hand injury hindered his return to the sport he had once mastered. At the age of 25, he gave up the hope of playing in the big leagues and instead went to work for Sears for the next 38 years and ended up living in Pennsylvania. He died there in October of 2014 at the age of 91. His younger brother Steve had passed away four years earlier at the age of 85.

In addition to baseball, Eddie Kuczek was also a world-class speed skater in his younger days. He won regional and state championships skating for the Fort Johnson AAU Skating Club.

(This well-known Amsterdam physician also celebrated his birthday on June 23.)

 

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