START WITH THIS: Baseball nut John Shiffert, a native Philadelphian, Society for American Baseball Research member and author of three baseball books, set about earlier this season to identify the best Phillie of all time at each position.

His conclusion: Ryan Howard by a nose over . . . John Kruk.

So this week's announcement that the Krukker will become the latest to have a plaque hung on the Wall of Honor in Ashburn Alley is clearly based on solid, on-the-field achievements. Dave Montgomery spoke yesterday about what a good clutch hitter he was.

That has been almost overshadowed, though, by Kruk's droll sense of humor. A wit that was on full display at a media availability before yesterday's game against the Marlins, a 10-minute lounge act, occasionally using the club president as his foil.

"Any time Dave Montgomery calls me, I've usually done something wrong. 'Hey, you shouldn't have said that.' Or, 'Can you watch your language?' " he said dryly.

He also twitted Montgomery for the team's disinclination to postpone games because of rain - "The window at the airport. When do we start playing there? Unbelievable" - and for how high the payroll has become. Asked to compare the current club to his 1993 World Series team, he allowed that today's team is better. Then, turning to his right, "If you'd have given us a hundred-and-how-much million, we could have been a little better," he said.

Kruk was popular in these parts for several reasons, not the least of which was a tendency to simply say what's on his mind. It's a trait that has served him well in his present job as an ESPN analyst and commentator.

The only question that left him speechless was when he was asked to describe that '93 cast of characters, a group that captured the region's imagination.

"It seemed like when we got together in February, it was one big party. The games just happened to be there. He made us play [gesturing toward Montgomery], so we had to dial it up for 162 games. But it was the most fun year," he finally offered.

"But to describe that team? When the most sane person on your team [Jim Eisenreich] has Tourette's syndrome, there are some issues. And it was all 25. There was no stone unturned. And we had the perfect coaching staff. They were more messed up than we were.

"We weren't fond of going home. So we were out with the people. Every night."

He also revealed his only regret about that season, and it wasn't that Joe Carter hit the walkoff home run for the Blue Jays that denied the Phillies a world championship. It was that, with Rickey Henderson on base, closer Mitch Williams tried to use a slide step for the first time in his career to keep the all-time basestealing champ close when he didn't have to.

"I wish I'd have went and told him not to slide step because [Henderson] already told me he wasn't running. He said he was getting too old. Of course, he told me last year he was still going to play," Kruk shrugged.

"I still think, and I'll say this to the day I die, that we were a better team than the Blue Jays. In a short series they won, that's all. Joe Carter disagrees, but we don't like him anyway."

Everybody has a Kruk story. Here's a personal favorite. During spring training in 1994, Kruk was diagnosed with testicular cancer. At the press conference called to make the announcement, club physician Phillip Marone was clearly trying to be delicate in his description.

Kruk, leaning against the wall of the conference room at Jack Russell Stadium, came to his rescue and defused the tension at the same time. "In case you don't understand," he said, "that's my nuts he's talking about."

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