Obituary: Lew Krausse (1943-2021)

RIP to Lew Krausse, a second-generation pitcher who had the distinction of being the first pitcher in Milwaukee Brewers history. He died on February 16 at the age of 77. Krausse, who was living in Holt, Mo., died in hospice care in Kansas City from cancer. Krausse pitched for the Kansas City/Oakland Athletics (1961, 1964-69), Milwaukee Brewers (1970-71), Boston Red Sox (1972), St. Louis Cardinals (1973) and Atlanta Braves (1974).

Lewis Bernard Krausse Jr. was born in Media, Pa., on April 25, 1943. His father, Lew Krausse Sr., became a major-league pitcher in his teens — something his son would do about 30 years later. Krausse the Elder pitched for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1931-32 before launching a long baseball career as a minor-league player, manager and scout. He was playing independent ball and working in the defense industry at the time his son was born. Lew Sr. signed with the Lancaster Red Roses later that year in what was just about the end of his playing career. Father and son’s baseball career would intersect again, though.

Krausse Sr. was working in the Philadelphia Athletics organization as a minor-league manager and scout by the time that Krausse Jr. began attending Chester High School in Pennsylvania. He was an extremely advanced pitcher for his age, as you might expect from the son of a pitcher. His early exploits were the stuff of legend in Delaware County, Pa. Childhood friend and catcher Ron Towson told the Delco Daily Times that he caught 18 no-hitters that Krausse pitched, from little league up to high school. He once struck out 23 of 27 batters in a game against Northeast High.

Lew Krausse signs his $125,000 deal with the Kansas City Athletics. Top row are General Manager Frank Lane, Lew Krausse Sr., and manager Joe Gordon. Bottom row are owner Charlie Finley and Lew Krausse Jr. Source: Clarion Ledger, June 9, 1961.

In 1960, Krausse was named the MVP of the All-East American Legion All-Star Game, held at Connie Mack Stadium on July 29. He pitched 3 scoreless innings and struck out 8 batters. Scouts from all over baseball were looking at him, but none more so than Lew Krausse Sr. of the Philadelphia (and later Kansas City) A’s.. When asked by Delaware County Daily Times columnist Matt Zabitka about any interesting prospects, Krausse Sr. lamented the fact that a game between Chester and Bartram was canceled. “I wanted to look over this pitching prospect Jess Brewster has. His name is Lew Krausse Jr. I’ll keep you informed.”

Krausse fanned 12 batters and allowed just 2 hits in a 4-0 shutout of Saint James to lead Chester High to the city’s league championship. That game was on May 30, 1961. On June 8, he signed a contract with the Kansas City A’s that came with a $125,000 bonus, moving the 18-year-old straight to the major leagues. On June 16, he made his debut against the Los Angeles Angels. And what a debut it was. Krausse allowed 3 hits in a 4-0 shutout, walking 5 and striking out 6. He also laid down a sacrifice bunt and singled twice to cap a stellar debut.

“I pitched just like Dad told me to pitch before the game,” he said later. “He told me to throw strikes. That’s all he told me.”

Krausse Sr. watched the game from the owner’s box. He frequently called his wife, Lil, to update her. At one point A’s owner Charlie Finley broke into the conversation. “Don’t worry about your son, Mrs. Krausse,” he said. “It’s your husband who’s nervous. But don’t worry, I’m holding his hand.”

Krausse jumped from high school to the major leagues within about three weeks, which is an amazing accomplishment. Of course, any 18-year-old pitcher is going to struggle against major-league hitters, and that’s what happened. Krausse walked 8 batters in his next start against Boston, the runs began to pile up, and he was eventually sent to the bullpen. He won his last appearance of the year, a 3-2 complete game victory over the Washington Senators, to leave him with a 2-5 record and 4.85 ERA in 12 games, including 8 starts. He struck out 32 batters but walked 46 more. Unsurprisingly, he spent all of 1962 and ’63 in the minor leagues, gaining some much-needed experience. He also had surgery on his right elbow in 1962. He recovered from the operation but later said he pitched through pain for much of his career.

Krausse in action in his first MLB game. Source: La Crosse Tribune, June 17, 1961.

The A’s protected their investment, bringing him along steadily. The first attempt to get him to stick in the majors came in 1964, when he had a good spring. Then he had a long layoff until he made his first start of the regular season against Washington on April 26. Don Zimmer greeted him with a leadoff home run, and he also gave up RBI singles to Jim King and Don Lock before getting chased out of the game, having retired just one batter. He was promptly sent to the Dallas Rangers of the Pacific Coast League, where he had a 7-19 record but a fair 3.94 ERA. He returned to the Athletics in September and was knocked around, finishing with an 0-2 record and 7.36 ERA in 5 games. The 1965 season was about the same — he started the season in the minors and came back to Kansas City late in the year. This time, there was a noticeable change. The 2-4 record and 5.04 ERA in 7 games don’t look impressive, but Krausse struck out 22 batters in 25 innings. Even better, he walked 8, showing better control than he’d ever had in the big leagues. Kansas City had to keep Krausse on the roster at that point or risk losing him in the winter draft, but it didn’t matter. Lew Krausse had earned his roster spot and was ready for the big leagues.

Working as a swingman with 22 starts and 14 relief appearances, Krausse win 14 and lost 9 in 1966 with a 2.99 ERA — silencing the critics who thought that he was a $125,000 flop. He had 87 strikeouts and 63 walks in 177.2 innings, and he was particularly stingy with the home runs. He allowed 8 for a league-best 0.4 per 9 innings. His turnaround was the age-old story in baseball: Krausse learned to be a pitcher and not a thrower. “Being stubborn didn’t help me,” he said. “I thought I could get by with just a fastball. I’d get wild and then try to throw the ball past everybody.” He credited his winter ball manager in Venezuela, Reggie Otero, for teaching him about changing speeds. He also thanked A’s manager Al Dark for giving him confidence in his changeup.

Krausse’s breakthrough season wasn’t without its sadness. His mother, Lil, died in Baltimore on September 28, 1966. She and Krausse Sr. had come to town to watch their son pitch when she suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 53.

For the rest of his time with the Athletics, Krausse never got out of that swingman role. He appeared in a career-high 48 games in 1967 but started only 19 of them. He picked up 6 saves, but his record dropped to 7-17, and his ERA rose to 4.28. Krausse had bigger problems than a sub-.500 winning percentage, though.

Early in the year, there was a shooting at the Hotel Bellerive in Kansas City, where Krausse lived. He was questioned about the shooting, and while the investigation was dropped for a lack of evidence, his name was brought up, as were reports that he was “high.” Then on August 3, the A’s flew on a TWA flight from Boston to Kansas City. Krausse did something — it was never mentioned exactly what — and Finley fined him $500 and suspended him for “conduct unbecoming a major-league ballplayer.” He also banned alcoholic beverages from A’s flights. Manager Dark stood up for Krausse and was fired. First baseman Ken Harrelson supported Dark and was released. Krausse was reinstated in late August, but Finley had badly damaged team morale. It was the team’s final season in Kansas City, and they stumbled to a 99-loss, 10th-place finish.

Krausse acknowledged how hard the season was for him. “For about one month I didn’t get more than four hours sleep. Every time I turned around my name was in the papers or on television,” he said. “But I wasn’t drunk on that plane ride from Boston to Kansas City. I know that.”

Despite the season, Krausse didn’t want to be traded, and he eventually patched up his relationship with Finley. Krausse moved to Oakland with the rest of the Athletics in 1968 and rebounded with a solid season. He went 10-11 with a 3.11 ERA and made 25 starts in 36 appearances. He had 105 strikeouts in 185 innings, both of which represented his best numbers with the A’s to that point. Though he was initially upset about being taken out of the starting rotation in the middle of the year, he quickly adapted to life as a reliever. It didn’t hurt that he recorded 2 wins and 3 saves in his first five relief outings. “Forget starting,” Krausse said. “You’ve got to go too long to get a win.”

The nucleus of the A’s teams that would win three straight World Series was starting to form, but Krausse wouldn’t get to be a part of it. He had by his standards an ineffective season in 1969 (7-7 record, 4.44 ERA, 7 saves). He was removed from his role as the right-handed stopper and plugged back into the starting rotation, and he threw a couple of shutouts. But in January of 1970, he was traded, along with Mike Hershberger, Phil Roof and Ken Sanders, to the Seattle Pilots for Ron Clark and Don Mincher. The Pilots, of course, would become the Milwaukee Brewers before Opening Day.

With the A’s, Krausse really didn’t have a defined role beyond the nebulous “swingman” job. For Milwaukee, it was much easier. The Brewers needed him in the rotation, and Krausse became the first pitcher in Brewers history (at least the history of the modern franchise — there was a Milwaukee Brewers in the American League in 1901, which became the St. Louis Browns and then the Baltimore Orioles). His Opening Day start didn’t go so well, as he was knocked out of the game after three innings, having allowed 4 runs in a 12-0 loss. That game aside, Krausse became the Brewers’ second-best starter after Marty Pattin, turning in a 13-18 record for a team that won 65 games. He threw the first shutout in Brewers history, beating the White Sox 1-0 on July 7. At one point, he was 11-11 and on pace to win 15 to 17 games. The grind of the season wore him down — he threw a career-high 216 innings — and he dropped 7 of his last 9 decisions and finished with an ERA of 4.75.

“I had a break down in concentration,” Krausse admitted after the season. “I was letting the bottom of the batting orders beat me. In fact, I gave up two home runs to pitchers this season.

“Toward the end of the season when we were on the road was when it got tough,” he added. “I missed my family and I thought about them a lot. I know most all the players have families, but for a guy who hasn’t been married a year yet, I think it’s tougher to be away from them.” (He married the former Susan Wickersham in November of 1970, and they had a young son, Kurt.)

Krausse spent most of 1972 in the bullpen, making just 7 starts in 43 games. However, he was a much improved pitcher, despite the 8-12 record. He had a 2.94 ERA and allowed just 164 hits in 180-1/3 innings. After the season, the Brewers traded him to the Red Sox along with Pattin, Tommy Harper and minor-leaguer Pat Skrable for Ken Brett, Billy Conigliaro, Joe Lahoud, Jim Lonborg, Don Pavletich and George Scott. Krausse was happy to go to a pennant contender, but he had his worst season, with a 1-3 record and 6.38 ERA in 24 games. He started the year in the rotation and threw a 2-hit shutout against Texas on April 30. After a rough outing against the Royals in early June, he was moved to the bullpen and largely forgotten. By the end of the season, Krausse was throwing batting practice just to get work.

“I can’t believe what’s happened,” Krausse told The Boston Globe. “I go from ninth in the league in earned run averages to a guy who never pitches.” Having fallen out of favor with manager Eddie Kasko, Krausse was released by Boston in March of 1973. He signed with Oakland and spent almost all of ’73 with the A’s AAA team in Tucson. Working as a reliever, he changed his delivery to more of a sidearm motion. It worked, and he saved 12 games and won 6 more. The Toros finished first in the Pacific Coast League’s Eastern Division. Krausse didn’t join the team for the playoffs, as he was purchased by the St. Louis Cardinals as bullpen help for the pennant race. He pitched in 1 game for St. Louis, throwing 2 scoreless innings against the Cubs. The Cards finished in second place, and he was released after the season.

Krausse signed with the Atlanta Braves for 1974. He was loaned to the Oakland A’s AAA affiliate in Tucson to start the season, but when Ron Reed went down with an injury, the Braves brought him back to the major leagues in mid-May. He threw 2 scoreless innings on May 17 against the Dodgers, earning his first National League win. He got his first NL loss in the very next game, as he allowed a walk-off RBI single to Steve Garvey in the 13th inning for a 1-0 defeat. As a whole, Krausse had an effective season for the Braves, with a 4-3 record and a 4.19 ERA in 29 games. He started 4 times, with a couple of good outings, but his best performances came out of the bullpen.

Krausse retired after that season for a job in real estate, but after several months of not selling anything, he contacted A’s owner Finley for a job. Finley wouldn’t give him a coaching role but instead invited him to make the team as a pitcher. Krausse dutifully reported to spring training in 1975 with the team that launched his career. This time around, he was a bit older and much wiser about his off-the-field habits. In an interview with the San Francisco Examiner, Krausse reflected about some of his early choices, including breaking a hotel door with his foot while under the influence and spending most of his $125,000 signing bonus.

“When you’re young and have that much money, it doesn’t take long to fritter it away. The only wise thing I did was buy a house for my parents,” he said.

Krausse didn’t make the majors with the A’s, but he pitched for the Tucson Toros for two more seasons. He retired in 1975 at the age of 32.

Krausse ran a successful metals business before his retirement in 2009. Source: Kansas City Times, February 4, 1985.

In 12 MLB seasons, Krausse had a record of 68-91 and a 4.00 ERA. He had 321 appearances and made 167 starts, throwing 21 complete games and 5 shutouts. He also earned 21 saves. He struck out 721 batters while walking 493. He had a .133 batting average as a hitter but did hit 6 home runs, including 4 with Oakland in 1969.

During his baseball career, Krausse frequently worked in the customer service departments of his teams. He was very good with people and went into sales in his retirement. He joined American Metals Corp., of Kansas City, as a salesman in 1977. He and some partners started their own business, Professional Metals, in 1983. The business was sold in 1997, and Krausse retired from the business in 2009. He became an avid golfer, acknowledging in a 1985 interview that he was in better condition then than he was in his playing days. In that ’85 interview, he remarked that he had the talent of Catfish Hunter, but Hunter was better able to harness his talent that he did.

“Since I have been out of baseball, I have watched people and seen the struggles that many have to go through. The ones who have dedicated themselves and worked hard have usually come out ahead. Unfortunately for me, I sometimes think that if I had that attitude then, I would have been a better ballplayer,” he said.

Krausse is survived by his wife, Susan, and his sons, Kurt and Chad.

For more information: Delaware County Daily Times

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