Born: July 27, 1933
Died: October 31, 2013
John Charles Kucks was born July 27, 1933 in Hoboken. Fair-haired, friendly and unusually strong for a teenager, Johnny attributed his rock-solid build to a steady diet of steaks, which were supplied by his father, who worked at a Hoboken meat-packing plant. Johnny was a big baseball fan. He rooted for the Giants, whose farm club played in Jersey City.
Johnny is often listed as having attended Dickinson High, but it was at Lincoln High—about a mile south—that he made headlines as a pitcher. Dickinson was a diverse school with good programs in sports and the arts. Among Johnny classmates were comedian Flip Wilson and actress Phyllis Newman.
Johnny stood 6–3 and had command of a good fastball to go along with a sinker and curve. He struck out 18 batters in a game his senior year and also threw a one-hitter. In the summers, Johnny pitched amateur ball for clubs made up mostly of college-aged players. While pitching for Burlington, one of his teammates was fellow teenager Johnny Podres—who, like Johnny, was destined for Game 7 immortality.
Johnny came to the attention of the Yankees while pitching for a club in Upstate New York. After working out for pitching coach Jim Turner, he was signed by New York couple of months before his 19th birthday. He spent one spectacular season in the Class-B Piedmont League under Mayo Smith, helping the Norfolk Tars run away with the pennant by winning 19 games against 6 losses. Following his first pro season, Johnny was called up for military duty. He was stationed in West Germany, and kept in shape pitching in a lot of games on the base.
After two years in the service, Johnny rejoined the team for Spring Training in 1955. Turner worked with him to develop a change-up and refined his sidearm delivery. He made the club as a swingman, starting 13 games and finishing 5 for Casey Stengel as the Yankees reclaimed the American League pennant. Johnny went 8–7 and saw action in two games against the Dodgers in the World Series.
Johnny had his best season in 1956. He went 18–9 with 12 complete games and was named to the All-Star team as New York won another pennant. He made relief appearances in the first two games of the World Series, and then was the surprise pick to start Game 7. Johnny dazzled the Dodgers for nine innings, hurling a complete-game shutout to deliver the championship to the Bronx Bombers, who supported him with 9 runs.
On this day, Johnny became the last pitcher to face Jackie Robinson, and the last player to take the mound in a World Series game at Ebbets Field. He would also become the only pitcher with a career losing record to author a Game 7 shutout.
Johnny was a contributor to Yankee pennants in 1957 and 1958, but was less effective. He did manage to make headlines in 1957, when he and his wife were one of the couples at Billy Martin’s 29th birthday party at the Copa Cabana. The famous brawl that occurred that evening ended up in court. Johnny had to testify.
The Yankees, feeling they had gotten the best out of Johnny, included him in a trade with the Kansas City A’s in 1959. The deal brought back Ralph Terry and Hector Lopez. Like most of the transactions between these two teams during that era, it worked out better for the Yankees. Johnny went 12–21 for KC over the next two seasons.
The A’s parted ways with Johnny after the 1960 season, trading him to Baltimore. He tried to work his way back to the big leagues with the Orioles and Cardinals. From 1961 to 1963, he won 38 games for their top farm teams, but he never got the call and retired at age 30 in 1964.
In the years that followed, Johnny supplemented his income as a stockbroker with appearances at fundraisers, business events and autograph shows. He also worked as a motivational speaker. He remained a New Jersey resident after his playing days, and lived in Hillsdale until he death at age 80 from cancer in 2013.