Thursday, September 18, 2008

#103 Harvey Kuenn

Harvey Kuenn by you.
The next card from John features professional hitter and all-around badass Harvey Kuenn (pronounced "keen"). In keeping with our recent theme of award winners, he started his career in Detroit with a bang by winning A.L. Rookie of the Year honors in 1953. The twenty-two-year-old shortstop batted .308 for a dismal Tigers team and made the first of eight consecutive All-Star Teams. He would also top the .300 mark in eight different seasons, ranking in the top ten in batting average on seven occasions (including a league-leading .353 mark in 1959). He was an excellent contact hitter, known for hitting off of his front foot and spraying the ball to all fields. Kuenn didn't walk a lot, but struck out even less. In each of his first ten years in the majors, he placed in his league's top five for most at-bats between strikeouts. His other notable blank ink marks include four separate turns as league leader in hits, and three years as the top doubles hitter.

After seven excellent seasons in Detroit, Harvey was part of a controversial "challenge trade", heading to Cleveland for popular slugger Rocky Colavito. Many Tribe fans were incensed, and the more superstitious types point to this trade as the linchpin for the Indians' world championship drought (1949-present), bemoaning the Curse of Rocky Colavito. Thought the newest Indian hit .308 and was an All-Star in 1960, the club dealt him to the Giants after just one season. They received pitcher Johnny Antonelli and outfielder Willie Kirkland in return. Kuenn's decline began in San Francisco, as he batted .280 during his four-plus years by the Bay. However, he did exceed a .300 average for the final time in 1962, batting .304 and helping the Giants reach the World Series, where they fell to the Yankees in seven games. Harvey appeared in just three games and mustered only one hit in twelve at-bats.

After spending 1965 and 1966 as a part-time player, Harvey Kuenn called it a career. If Wikipedia is to be believed, he spent the final two weeks of the 1971 season on the Brewers' active roster in order to qualify for his pension. Obviously, he did not appear in any games. That was also the year he joined Milwaukee's coaching staff; he would serve as their interim manager for a few games in 1975. Over the next few years, he was stricken with myriad health problems, including heart and stomach surgeries and eventually an amputation of his right leg below the knee due to a blood clot. Remarkably, he returned to coaching just six months after the amputation.

His final moments in the limelight came in 1982, when he again took over at the helm of the Brewers following Buck Rodgers' firing. His powerful team, which became known as "Harvey's Wallbangers", won their games at a 63% clip (72-43) and held off the late-charging Orioles in a thrilling season-ending series in Baltimore. They then rallied from a two-game deficit in the ALCS to top the Angels and advance to the franchise's first (and to date, only) World Series. Playing without closer Rollie Fingers, the slugging Brew Crew dropped a seven-game series to the pesky Cardinals. After the team slid to fifth place in 1983, Kuenn was replaced by Rene Lachemann and settled into a scouting consultancy. He was only fifty-seven when he passed away in early 1988.

Fun fact: Kuenn was unfortunate enough to make the final out in two of Sandy Koufax's four no-hitters. In 1963, he hit a comebacker to the Dodger pitcher. In 1965, he struck out swinging, the last of six consecutive Cubs that Koufax punched out to secure a perfect game. Incidentally, the latter game was the last time that Chicago has been held hitless.
Harvey Kuenn (back) by you.

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