Eddie Kasko is not a name that many are aware of. Even many die hard Cincinnati and Boston fans don't recognize the name. Even though his playing career lasted only ten years, and managed for even less, Kasko left a strong impact on the game. Here we will pay homage to the recent loss of Eddie Kasko by recounting his career in baseball.
Kasko had signed with and had been on a handful of teams over eight years before he finally played a major league game with St. Louis in 1957. This was due in part to his service in the Korean War, but also because of the instability of the specific franchises he was apart of. He began with the New York Giants in 1949, but was released shortly after signing. Kasko was then signed by a scout for the Orioles that same year, and played in Triple-A.
In 1950 Kasko played in his first full season with the Virginia League’s Suffolk Goobers. He hit .251 in 117 games at Class D while leading second basemen in fielding percentage as an All-Star. The following year he had progressed to another level, playing for the Phillies Class A affiliate while still batting around the .250 mark. As was previously mentioned, Kasko served in the Korean War. Specifically, he served from 1952-1954, while actually still playing baseball on the team where he was stationed.
While still in service, Eddie's contract, among 13 others, was bought by Richmond for $50,000. He made a very strong impact, and played the next two years for their Triple-A team. In 1956, when Kasko was only 24, he was once again sold, this time to St. Louis. He spent one year in Triple-A while batting over .300, earning a call up to the majors for the next season.
Kasko's Call to the Majors
Kasko spent two years with St. Louis, having mixed results. He came into the league with a great .273 batting average, and his defensive potential was clear. But he slowed down the following year, batting only .220 while his defensive impact remained unchanged. For one reason or another, St. Louis gave up on him after that. He was traded in a six player deal, which did not result in any significant exchange.
Eddie Kasko found himself in Cincinnati. Over the five years with the club, he batted .277 with 17 total homers. He was one of the best fielders in the league as well, possibly even being snubbed for a gold glove on two occasions. Kasko earned his sole All-Star selection in 1961, and was top 30 in MVP voting the following year.
Cincinnati was not a very impressive team during his time there. There was one outlying year in which they made it all the way to the World Series in 1961, only to lose to the Yankees in five games. That was their first appearance in over 20 years, since they had won it in 1940. They would not return for another nine years.
Kasko would be traded to Houston in 1964, in return for two pitchers and cash. One of the pitchers would only play one year in Cincinnati, while the other never played for them at all. At this point the 33-year-old Kasko's bat was not very impressive, but his defense was still on point. He played just over 200 game for Houston over two years, before being traded to the Red Sox in a one-for-one swap. Both players would only play one year in their new home with limited success, but Kasko would revive his baseball life in a new role.
Even though Kasko was released by the Sox following that one injury-riddled year, Boston saw the clear leadership he possessed. They offered him a job as their Triple-A Toronto Maple Leafs team's manager the year following his retirement, despite him having never managed before.
The first season was not very impressive, due in part to the majority of the team’s talent being sucked into the majors. But the next two years, after the team relocating to Louisville, saw much improvement. He went from sixth place to second in only one year, and was rewarded with a promotion to Red Sox manager following the firing of Williams.
In the Majors
In Kasko's first year he made a huge impact on the younger players. 21-year-old reliever Ken Brett improved under him in his first year, but didn't play enough the second year and was traded away shortly after. New starting catcher Jerry Moses was an All Star for the first time, but he was traded away and failed to reach that same level away from Kasko. George Scott transformed from a solid player into an All Star as well, but also was traded away shortly after.
Eddie Kasko helped Tony Conigliaro progress from his injury, which had caused his development to stagnate at that point. His younger brother Billy was transformed into a great starter as well, but BOTH of them were also traded away. It's no surprise the team failed to improve in his first couple of years, with the team being a revolving door for young talent.
In Eddie's second year, he mentored second baseman Doug Griffin, who won a golden glove that year. He also found the right usage for closer Sparky Lyle, which allowed for Lyle to post his best season to date. Though like all good players at this time, he was traded away. This one hurt more though, as he was traded to the Yankees and became a Cy Young winner in 1977. Reliever Bill Lee also became a talented member of the bullpen, and remained long after Kasko left.
Impressive Player Development In Final Seasons
By Kasko's third year in 1972 the team had not really improved as a whole. But he stayed on, and continued his terrific player development. Future hall of famer Carlton Fisk, who would also become Boston's greatest catcher ever, started for the first time this year. He would make the All Star team for the first of seven times with the Sox, while also coming in top five for MVP voting.
Eddie's affect on the pitchers were even greater. Don Newhauser, John Curtis, and Lynn McGlothen became prominent pieces of the pitching core, with all three being 24 and under. But the biggest story was with 31-year-old Luis Tiant. He was a solid pitcher up until that point, but nothing special. Tiant blossomed under Kasko, and was sixth in Cy Young voting that year. Tiant would become a top 25 player in Red Sox history, and a top five pitcher as well.
Young pitching continued to develop nicely with Kasko, even in his final season. Roger Moret, Craig Skok, and Mike Garman all were solid pieces of the bullpen. The team finished second in the AL, and was moved from his managerial role and became a scout.
Scouting and Post-Retirement
It was clear Eddie Kasko was great at recognizing talent and developing players, so GM Dick O'Connell made him an executive scout. He held the role for four years, until the team came under new ownership in 1977. Kasko was promoted to director of scouting, and would serve all the way until 1992. From there, he became Vice President of Player Personnel until 1994, where he finally retired at the age of 63.
Kasko's name would not be mentioned again until he was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2010. In retirement, he would stay active with golfing, fishing, and running. But as he aged, he had to adapt his lifestyle due to a condition called peripheral neuropathy, which makes you lose feeling in your hands and feet. But he still swam, exercised, and read all the way up until his passing. And his love of baseball never changed.