This past Saturday, Binghamton Mets official scorer Steve Kraly strolled into the press box about an hour before game time, raised his arms above his head and triumphantly announced, "I'm here!" As if on cue, the assorted reporters, broadcasters and front-office staff who were gathered therein immediately broke into a round of heartfelt applause.
Steve Kraly is not your typical Minor League official scorer, and Saturday was far from a typical night. On this special evening, Kraly achieved one of the truest measures of baseball immortality: he was given his own bobblehead doll.
With all due respect to official scorers, it should be obvious that Kraly did not achieve this honor due to his ability to accurately discern the difference between a hit and an error. His current gig is merely an extension of his longtime association with the Binghamton area, which dates back to 1953. Pitching that season as a member of the Eastern League's Binghamton Triplets, the Indiana native went a staggering 19-2 over 22 starts before receiving a promotion to the New York Yankees. In the Bronx, he went 0-2 with a 3.24 ERA in five appearances and earned himself a World Series ring.
Saturday's bobblehead honor came about after Kraly beat out a slew of other Binghamton icons in a fan vote. Decked out in a "Binghamton Triplets Historical Society" polo shirt, the 79-year-old left-hander gave a brief speech to the fans before taking the mound to throw out a ceremonial first pitch. Not surprisingly, it was a strike.
"I didn't even know I was being considered for a bobblehead," said Kraly. "I had been out of town, and when I got back home people were calling me 'bobblehead.' I said, 'What are you talking about?' No one had told me anything.
"But this is really neat. I have a World Series ring, but to be on a figurine is the ultimate. I'm especially honored that this came from the fans."
Unfortunately, Kraly's spectacular 1953 season was not a harbinger of things to come. During the rest of the decade, his ability to perform was severely hindered by illness and injury. In fact, he would never pitch in the Major Leagues again.
"In 1954 and 1955, I would pitch five innings or so, and then my arm would tighten up between the tendons and the muscles," he recalled. "They said I had a blood clot, which in modern days is an aneurysm."
This negative situation was offset by something far more positive, however.
"I came back to Binghamton on a rehab assignment, and that's when I met my wife," said Kraly. "I've been here ever since. We were married for 49 years, and I just lost her a year and a half ago. But my kids are here, and I know she's still here, too."
It was Kraly's strong relationship with his wife that led him to turn down his last chance at baseball stardom, this time with the fledgling New York Mets.
"In 1961, Casey Stengel bought my contract, and I had to make a tough decision," he said. "My wife thought I should sign the contract, but I said 'No, you and our two kids are more important to me. Baseball is secondary.'"
Instead, Kraly obtained a position with the IBM Corporation, where he worked for the next 30 years. Upon retiring, he took the job as the B-Mets' official scorer. He's been with the franchise since their inaugural season in 1992, and as such serves as a link between two distinct eras of Binghamton baseball history (the Triplets played their last season in 1968, and the city was without professional baseball for the next 23 years).
"I want people to know the baseball history of the Eastern League, and Binghamton in particular," he said. "Between the Triplets and the modern days of the Binghamton Mets, there are a lot of Minor Leaguers who went on to become stars."
Kraly continues to find joy in watching Minor Leaguers fulfill their potential. He once shared a locker room with the likes of Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra and now gets paid to watch future stars such as Fernando Martinez and Mike Carp on a nightly basis. But the more things change, the more they stay the same.
"It all comes down to the fans," he said. "Players need to understand that none of this would exist if it wasn't for the fans, because they are the ones who make you who you are as a ballplayer."