No one had to tell John Kruk to make himself at home. It's been 17 years since he wore a Phillies uniform, but he said it feels like he never took it off.
Before the Fightin's played the Mets on ESPN Sunday night, the Baseball Tonight analyst - who's also doing new segments for the network called "Best Seat in the House" and "Top Ballpark Food" - gripped and grinned with various people all over Citizens Bank Park. Some he knew. Others, such as the ticket staff, he met for the first time.
"Why are you selling tickets?" he asked. "I thought all the games were sold out."
Someone said the club still has standing-room-only tickets to move.
"Standing-room-only tickets," he repeated. "Why would anyone want to stand for an entire game? That tells you right there how hot this team is."
Kruk, who is 50 years old now, talked to Page 2 about being back in town, the current Phils club and, among other things, why the Fightin's offense troubles him.
Question: People here still go crazy for you. Is that why you have a personal security detail to escort you around the park?
Kruk: ESPN does that everywhere we go - Boston, New York, L.A.
[Philadelphians] are probably the only people I actually trust not to have anything happen. Once you're in with them, you're family. It doesn't matter if you played one year here or 20 years. They don't forget.
People could relate to [the 1993 team]. We weren't high draft picks. We weren't bonus babies. Most came from other organizations that didn't want us. For that one year, we all found a home.
Q: Have you spoken with Lenny Dykstra lately? What do you make of his troubles?
Kruk: I haven't talked to him. It's sad. People go through issues and that's his business, but we were such a close group.
It's, what, 18 years later? He's still taking shots at Mitch [Williams]. I don't like that. He was always eccentric. He had to have different batting gloves for batting practice and the game. And if he went 0 for 2 or something, he'd get rid of his whole uniform. He had to have a whole new uniform, down to the socks and stirrups. He was always eccentric, but I'd never predict him being homeless and penniless. I feel more bad for his family than him. He made these decisions.
Q: What about Schilling? You weren't all that close, right?
Kruk: He and I didn't have a great relationship. I did some stuff with him recently and . . . [long pause] . . . it's all right. It's better. I don't think we'll ever go out to dinner or hang out.
Q: I was looking at some old photos of that team. Did you call a team mullet meeting or something?
Kruk: We got off to such a good start that Dave Hollins threatened me that I could never get my hair cut. I took that literally. That's the only reason I never cut it. On this Twitter thing, at least five people a day say "bring back the mullet." My wife told me I'm not allowed. Troy Tulowitzki wants me to grow a rat-tail for his charity. I was like, "What the heck is a rat-tail?"
Q: This Phils team had a tremendous April, but some people are still worried about the offense. Should they be?
Kruk: Absolutely they should be worried. When one or two of these guys struggle, they're not very good at the plate. If one of these guys gets hurt - not just [Chase] Utley - but, God forbid, what if [Placido] Polanco gets hurt? What are you going to do?
People say, "We'll just win 2-1." OK. Good luck. None of these [pitchers] have ERAs under 2 for their career. [The Phillies are] going to have to score runs.
Q: Some people have criticized Charlie Manuel for allowing his starters to regularly pitch deep into games so early in the season. What do you think of how he's handled the staff?
Kruk: It's been great. I talked to [Roy] Halladay this morning. He was here at 11:30 for an 8 o'clock game. He said his family is in Florida and he was bored. [Rolls eyes and laughs.] He said he feels like he hasn't really pitched yet.
That's what these guys do. You know why? Because they're not pansy asses. They've trained their minds and bodies. It's these guys who say, "I've already thrown my seven innings and need to come out" - those are the ones you need to worry about.
Q: Jimmy Rollins' contract is up at the end of the year. If you were Ruben Amaro, what would you do with him?
Kruk: He's playing better lately, but if he keeps hitting like he's hitting, he might be a one-year-deal guy to prove he can play again. The last couple of years have not been fantastic. He's still a great shortstop, but offensively he doesn't match up.
I'd like to tell ESPN to pay me $5 million a year. That's what I want, but they have to want it for me. If [Rollins] hits .250, is he worth a big money deal? No.
Q: Raul Ibanez has had a rough start. Manuel said he's not ready to go to a platoon yet. Would you?
Kruk: I think right now, with Utley out, you have to find any offense you can. You can't have Utley out, no [Jayson] Werth, and one or two guys who don't produce. Thing is, Ibanez last year had a good second half. But do you have the patience to live with him struggling to hope he finds it in the second half again?
Now, despite the offense, they're still the favorites. They have four great pitchers. They should never lose three or four in a row. They just shouldn't. But are they going to score? When they face teams in the playoffs with good pitching, like the Giants last year - that's a problem. If they think they're going to win if a pitcher struggles, they're not.
Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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