From first pitch to final home run — 70 years of base hits

Posted February 27, 2020 at 6:00 am

*j Hank Krause with cards.tif

By Julie Ann Madden

In 1948, the Major League Baseball World Series champion was the Cleveland Indians. They were also the year’s American League Pennant Winner.

The National League Pennant Winner was the Boston Braves.

Most Valuable Players were Stan Musial in the National League and Lou Boudreau in the American League.

It was the year Akron retired baseball scout Hank Krause of Akron began collecting baseball memorabilia — cards, bats, baseballs, gloves, figurines.

Although Hank doesn’t remember which player was the first baseball card he bought, he knows it was a Topps card.

In addition to collecting, Hank played the game through high school. After attending college, he went to work for Boeing Aircraft in Seattle, Wash., before returning to the Midwest, working for an insurance company.

“I collected for awhile, then quit,” Hank told The Akron Hometowner as he parted with his collection recently. “When I got married in 1964, I said I should go back and fill in what I didn’t have and I did.”

Hank filled in the 1953-1954 baseball cards and continued until 2019.

“I would just pick up star players like Mickey Mantle (1951-1968 New York Yankees) and Roger Maris (best known for setting a new Major League Baseball single-season home run record with 61 home runs in 1961),” said Hank. “All the guys who were players when I grew up and was starting to scout.”

One of his baseballs was signed by Babe Ruth in 1927 in Sioux City.

Some may remember Wheaties cereal boxes, Cracker Jack tins and magazines featuring players. There are plenty of these in Hank’s collection, too.

There are some other unique items. Hank loved having celebrities and well-known personalities autograph pictures and baseballs. Billionaire investor Warren Buffett, actor James Earl Jones, President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton, Olympic figure skater Peggy Flemming and gymnast Nadia Comăneci, and area politicians including U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley, John Thune, and Joni Ernst plus Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds to name a few.

“(My collecting) is something that got out of hand,” laughed Hank as he viewed his collection which contained about 500,000 baseball cards, about 400 autographed baseballs and another 400 or so wooden bats — mostly signature bats but there are about 50 autographed bats, including Sandy Koufax, Stan Musial, Ernie Banks and Harmon Killebrew.

“Seventy-five percent of the autographed baseballs were signed in my presence,” said Hank, adding he was also real lucky as his fellow scouts knew he was “nuts about collecting,” and would get baseballs signed for him. “That was absolutely great.”

“There is always something you’re looking for,” he said. “It seems like as a kid you just bought stuff any time you had an extra quarter — baseball cards. If there was anything I really wanted to work after, it was anything with (Boston Red Sox’ left fielder) Ted Williams — the greatest hitter of all times.”

“I was umpiring at college games in 1974 when Bill Clark from the Cincinnati Reds asked if I’d be interested in being what is affectionately called a birddog,” said Hank. “I said yeah.”

After the Cincinnati Reds, Hank went to the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, San Diego Padres and retired from the Miami Marlins in 2019.

“I met a lot of great players, great people,” said Hank about scouting. “I always went and enjoyed the kids. When they showed up, some were so scared — about peed their pants.”

“Sometimes they watched me more than the game, thinking I was the one who’d put them in the Big League,” said Hank, who drove 25,000 to 30,000 miles a year looking for the next great player. “We were treated like kings at ball fields. They thought we were the best people on earth. Boy, did we have them fooled.”

“I’ve watched games in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, western Minnesota, and Saskatchewan, Canada,” said Hank.

“Between scouting baseball and collecting it’s been a real ride,” said the 80-year-old. “It’s been a great ride. It’s been fun.”

“We’ve had some crazy things happen in tryout camps,” said Hank, noting the smallest camp he ever held was six kids at Huron, S.D., and the most was 215 players at Ida Grove. “Every kid got the same (tryout). We never shorted anybody — a kid got to show his stuff.”

“Some of the kids wanted to play so bad,” said Hank, “and you really felt for them because they really didn’t have any ability.”

“What really upsets you is you have some kids who really have the ability,” he said, “and they were too lazy to play. In the mid-1990s there were a couple who had tremendous ability as pitchers. They started to climb the ladder, then quit.”

“We gave them the opportunity that most kids would give their right arm for,” he said, shaking his head. “Both could be making millions of dollars but they are happy with what they are doing.”

“The thing I’m most proud of is the fact I sent over 370 kids to college,” said Hank. “All the way from Oregon State to Vanderbilt to North Carolina State and from Minnesota to Texas.”

One player Hank will never forget was a kid he’d heard could play pretty good. Hank invited him to a tryout camp.

The young South Dakotan came quite far to show his skills at an Akron tryout camp. Hank’s first impression of him wasn’t great, especially the young man’s long, greasy hair.

“(But) he went to the mound and he pitched really well,” said Hank, noting when he asked him if he’d like to go to college, he responded affirmative.

After the camp ended, the young man came up and said, “Mr. Krause, I never graduated from high school.”

Hank immediately searched for a junior college with a General Equivalency Diploma (GED) program. Later that fall, at a college game, the young man was on the mound.

“The nice part about it — he got his GED, two years of college and got signed by the Minnesota Twins,” said Hank, noting the player later hurt his shoulder. “He’s done real well since — married with a couple kids and maintains a good job.”

“Of all the kids I’ve signed, five guys got to the Big Leagues — one actually got to the Japanese Big League, the other four to the National League,” said Hank.

What’s nice is the kids who still call once in awhile or stop to chat when they see me, he said. Sometimes I can remember their face but not their name — “but what do you expect when you look at 2,000 kids a year,” laughed Hank.

As Hank surveyed his collection one more time, he said, “I’m ready to let it go. I’m sure some day I’ll see something and wish I had that.”

He paused.

“I’m sure I’ll miss some of it but I’m 80 years old…let somebody else enjoy it and hopefully somebody will,” said Hank. “It’s been a lot of fun — collecting and scouting baseball…auctioning a few sales off over the years…it’s been a riot.”

This summer Hank said he plans to continue going to area high school games and to those college games where some of “his” kids signed are still playing…

One can just hear that kids’ song playing…

“Take me out to the ball game, Take me out with the crowd…All I need is just one chance, I could hit a home run, There isn’t anyone else like me, Maybe I’ll go down in history…”

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