It was only three months, but for that long in 1993 Chad Kreuter was hitting as well as any Detroit catcher ever had. It didn’t (if it had we’d all remember Kreuter more than we do), but Kreuter was still a fine catcher and a favorite of Tiger manager Sparky Anderson.
Krueter was a rarity — a switch-hitting catcher. For that reason he never had a hard time finding a job. The Pepperdine alum signed as a free agent eight different times, three times with the Chicago White Sox.
Drafted by the Texas Rangers in 1985, Kreuter spent seven seasons in the minor leagues with that organization. He earned four callups to the big leagues during that development phase, only once for more than a few weeks. That was in 1989 and he didn’t exactly terrify opposing pitchers. Kreuter hit .152 in ’89 for the Rangers. Texas never gave Kreuter a chance and when he became a free agent the Tigers signed him in January of 1992. But the 27-year old was an unknown commodity.
Kreuter’s status changed pretty quickly during his first spring training with Detroit in Lakeland. A veteran of professional baseball by now, Kreuter worked hard and impressed his new manager. “He seems like he’s been here for years,” Sparky said of Kreuter, “he doesn;t need to be coached or told what to do, he just [comes to the ballpark] ready to play.”
In his first season as a Tiger, Kreuter served as a second catcher behind Mickey Tettleton, another switch-hitter who had far more offensive punch. But Kreuter was a better defender behind the dish and that fact didn’t go unnoticed. Starting pitcher Bill Gullickson preferred throwing to Krueter and the two paired up as a battery frequently throughout the year. For the ’92 season, Kreuter hit .253 with a pair of homers. He was sterling at halting the running game – 49 baserunners tried to steal on Kreuter and he threw out 23 of them, a sparkling 47% rate.
The ’93 season was Kreueter’s best in Motown and the would also prove to be the best of his career. For the first half of the season he was the best-hitting catcher in the league. That season Sparky decided to play Tettleton primarily at DH. The eager Kreuter didn’t miss his chance to finally play regularly in the majors. In April he hit a blistering .431 with three homers and 10 runs batted in. He followed it up with a fine May and by the end of June he was still hitting well over .300 and probably deserved to be an All-Star. The only problem was that Kreuter’s name wasn’t even on the All-Star Game ballot. He had to settle with the satisfaction of knowing that his teammates appreciated his performance. In the last week of June the Tigers were the surprise team of baseball, sitting in first place in the AL East. The team was bashing their way to the top, outscoring opponents by an alarming margin behind an offense fueled by the power bats of Cecil Fielder, Tettleton, Rob Deer, Travis Fryman, and Kirk Gibson. Sparkplugs Tony Phillips, Lou Whitaker, and Alan Trammell also were having good years with the bat.
“When he’s behind the plate you know he’s going to battle back there, and he’s had some big hits for us,” Trammell said of Kreuter in May of 1993.
Kreueter’s bat didn’t stay Ted Williams-hot all season and the Tigers fell out of first place, but the season was still a success as the team won 85 games and finished in third place. Kreuter ended up at .285 with 15 homers and 51 RBIs in 119 games. He had a .484 slugging percentage and showed patience at the plate, drawing enough walks to post an impressive .371 on-base percentage.
Kreuter was back in 1994, having earned a hefty one-year, $1 million contract, but he struggled all season with the bat. When the season was halted due to a players’ strike in August Kreuter’s average was only .224 with a single homer. He never played for the Tigers again, leaving via free agency for the Mariners.
After his good showing with the glove and the bat in Detroit, the switch-hitting Kreuter found it easy to stay in the big leagues. He was a mature, professional catcher who could step in and play when asked. He could hit for power from both sides of the plate and he also did a fine job throwing out baserunners. Pitchers liked Kreuter because he took charge behind the plate. He played for six more teams after leaving the Tigers, ending his career where it began, with Texas in 2003. By that time he was 38 and had crouched behind the plate for nearly 900 games in the majors and another 500 in the minors. After a late start, Kreuter was able to spend 16 seasons in the major leagues. He earned a lot of respect for his professional approach to the game. After he retired he wanted to stay in baseball but he had a hard time getting an opportunity. He spent a few years as head coach at USC and a couple more in the Diamondbacks organization as an instructor, but a big league coaching or managerial job has eluded him.