Erik Kratz hit .236/.280/.355 in 67 regular season games as a Milwaukee Brewer, and .125/.222/.188 in 18 plate appearances in the National League Championship Series.
He was, by just about any objective measure, merely a backup catcher with a below-average bat. He should have been a completely forgettable player, the type where you look up the 2018 Milwaukee Brewers on Baseball-Reference five years from now and say, “woah, Erik Kratz was on that team?”
But Erik Kratz won’t be a forgettable player in Brewers history, in the same way Nyjer Morgan isn’t. Like Morgan (or maybe more appropriately, Tony Plush), Kratz worked his way into Brewers lore with the help of a strong National League Division Series and his personality once he was exposed to a national audience for the first time in his career.
He went 5-for-8 in the NLDS, including a huge 2-run RBI single in the bottom of the 8th inning of Game 2 at Miller Park that gave the Brewers a 4-0 lead (and some much-needed breathing room with Jeremy Jeffress showing the early signs of cracking from his heavy workload during the season).
He followed that up with a 3-for-4 game in the series-clinching win in Game 3 in Colorado, including a double in the 6th inning that was one of the biggest plays in the game by WPA. The Brewers were only ahead 2-0 at that point, and his double put Mike Moustakas on third, who ended up scoring on a balk by Scott Oberg in the next at-bat. Kratz would also score later in that at-bat on a wild pitch.
That would have been enough to endear him to plenty of Brewers fans, but he was also just so damn likeable off the field, too. Kratz was experiencing the playoffs for the first time at 38 years old after a 17-year career that didn’t see him debut in the majors until he was 30, and he was having a blast.
He quickly became a popular guest on national TV broadcasts for his self-deprecating humor, and that only added to the legend.
David Ortiz tells Erik Kratz he was always a trooper when they were competitors. Kratz: "Papi, do you remember we were teammates? Two days, but I was there."— Jaymes L (@JaymesL) October 20, 2018
Kratz experienced last season and the postseason like his time was limited, likely because he knew it was. Aside from a career that proved to him that nothing was ever guaranteed, he knew the business enough to know it was going to be tough for a 39-year-old catcher to make a playoff team the next year -- a reality that got even more stark when the team unexpectedly signed Yasmani Grandal.
Kratz was on the outside looking in from the start of camp, and knew there likely wasn’t much he could do to change that in a month’s time. That didn’t stop him from trying, though, all while still poking fun at himself.
Erik Kratz, asked where his HR today ranks in his all-time HR distances: “I don’t know, I’ll have to pull out some VHSes to see.”— Jaymes L (@JaymesL) February 28, 2019
In the end, he put up a .749 OPS with a couple home runs in 29 at-bats. That, on top of his defensive prowess, showed he could still bring value to some other team, and it ended up landing him a job with the San Francisco Giants and their new analyticly-minded front office. It may not be coincendental that their newly-hired leader came from the Los Angeles Dodgers, which got a good look at Kratz in the NLCS.
Losing Erik Kratz won’t hurt the 2019 Brewers much on the field, and his time in Milwaukee wasn’t long. But it was lengthy enough and created enough memories to build some sentimental feelings and sadness in seeing him go, even if it’s the best for all involved.
Here’s to hoping he’ll be back in Milwaukee in a few years to throw out a first pitch during another playoff series.