It’s fun to listen to a baseball card. I started collecting cards in earnest in the summer of 1978, I was going to build the entire 1978 Topps set from purchases made at the local Seven-Eleven. As I looked for that last elusive card, #123, Manny Trillo of the Cubs, the duplicates added up. I looked back at some of those cards recently, and really paid attention to an era since gone. (Incidentally, I never did get the Trillo card, even though I have been tempted to buy one on eBay recently just to say I finally did).
One card that recently grabbed my attention from the 1978 set was #137, Craig Kusick. There is an excellent picture of the right-handed Kusick batting, with one batting glove on, and the back tells a story of his career, including a note about hitting homeruns in three consecutive games in 1976. Living in Atlanta, I never had a chance to see an American League player, so this card was as close to Kusick as I would ever get.
But Kusick’s story it much richer than a baseball card could ever portray. A multi-sport athlete at Greenfield High School in Milwaukee, he was a quarterback and an all-star outfielder. His journey took him to the University of Wisconsin – LaCrosse where he continued his dual sport status. He was a quarterback his freshman year but was moved to wingback as a sophomore and flourished for the next three seasons.
Following his college career, he signed with the Minnesota Twins and started his career with the St. Cloud Rox in the Northern League for Manager Jim Merrick. This was followed with stops to Lynchburg, Virginia and Charlotte, North Carolina. His professional break out season was in 1973 with Tacoma, where he would hit .305 with 27 HRs and 104 RBI. With Harmon Killebrew’s career winding down, Kusick appeared to be the heir apparent to the middle-of-the-order slugger in the Twins line-up.
Kusick got the call to the show late in the 1973 season and got his first major league hit on September 10, 1973 against Charlie Hudson and the Texas Rangers He was disappointed to start to the 1974 back in Tacoma, but was called up in early June and connected on his first major league homerun on June 30, 1974 against Jim Kaat.
He did not end up becoming the next Killebrew, but he was far from a failure. He finished his major league career with 46 HR and 171 RBI. He even got to pitch once in 1979, 3 2/3 innings in mop up duty in a blow out against the California Angels where he twice retired perennial All-Star Don Baylor.
After professional baseball, he went into other phases of life. As a father, his son Craig, Jr followed in his footsteps and played QB for the Wisconsin – LaCrosse national championship team of 1995. As a high school baseball coach, Kusick was a legend at Rosemount High School in Minnesota, where he consistently led a championship program on and off the field.
Kusick passed away in 2006 of leukemia, but the legacy he left as a coach and a father will transcend into decades to come. As I put the Kusick 1978 Topps card back into its box, I thought of what this man meant to so many people, even to those who never met him and only knew him from that slick baseball photo. Thanks for being a hero, Mr. Kusick. He will live on in my collection, along with thousands of other untold stories waiting to be shared.