Art Kusnyer has explored nearly every theory as to why his eyes so suddenly failed him. “I got hit with plenty of foul tips, but they were in my (catcher’s) mask,” Kusnyer said. “I got hit a few times while I was throwing batting practice in the cages. I didn’t think that was it. So one day I said to the doctor, ‘Hey, doc, is it from all that Viagra I’ve been taking?’ ”
Art Kusnyer has explored nearly every theory as to why his eyes so suddenly failed him.
“I got hit with plenty of foul tips, but they were in my (catcher’s) mask,” Kusnyer said. “I got hit a few times while I was throwing batting practice in the cages. I didn’t think that was it. So one day I said to the doctor, ‘Hey, doc, is it from all that Viagra I’ve been taking?’ ”
Kusnyer laughs at his situation with the detachment that accompanies being a “good baseball guy,” a life spent with tough men who have no desire for sympathy. The former big-league catcher and longtime bullpen coach has had a run of tough luck recently. Detached retinas in both eyes have taken his sight.
“I can’t read, I can’t drive and I’m not allowed to fly,” Kusnyer said. “I run into stuff once in awhile. My left eye does let in a little light. I tell people it’s like trying to look through soapy water.”
Kusnyer had worked as a bullpen coach for 25 years through last summer, 19 of them with the Chicago White Sox. He had to give up that job midway through the 2007 season when his eyes became too big an obstacle to overcome. He has had eight operations since last August.
Those who knew Kusnyer in Chicago still love him. Last week, he came from his home in Sarasota, Fla., to Tampa Bay for a visit with the White Sox. It was one of the most anticipated days of the season for many members of the team.
“We’ve been talking about it for two or three weeks,” Chicago pitching coach Don Cooper told Sun-Times beat writer Joe Cowley. “Hey, Tampa, Tampa. He’s coming, he’s coming.”
Kusnyer is 62 now, but there are those who remember when he was one of the most feared hitters in Ohio amateur baseball, one whose summer average generally sat around .400.
He still remembers the names of some teams he played for as a teenager and a young man -- Airmatic Valve, Krispy Kreme, Triner Sports, Tiny’s Orphans, the Akron Blues.
“All the teams I played on traveled a lot,” Kusnyer said. “We played in Canton a lot. Hoover always had a good team there. We referred to the Class A League as the ‘Beer League.’ That was where I first met Thurman Munson.”
Kusnyer graduated from Buchtel High and went to Kent State. He got to know Munson a little more there but was never able to play on the same field in a varsity game. Munson was a freshman during a time the NCAA did not allow freshmen to play in varsity contests.
“We spent a lot of time talking baseball,” Kusnyer said. “Then I got drafted by Chicago after my sophomore year at Kent in 1966. I signed right away, and Thurman didn’t play varsity until the next year.”
The two continued to cross paths in the big leagues. Kusnyer caught for the White Sox, Angels, Brewers and Royals and worked Nolan Ryan’s second career no-hitter in 1973. Munson made his big-league debut in 1969, one year before Kusnyer, and became the starting catcher and captain of the New York Yankees.
“We were two hometown guys, so we’d talk for five or 10 minutes when we’d see each other at the ballpark,” Kusnyer said. “It never got much beyond that, though. At that time, players from different teams didn’t socialize as much. One of the old-time coaches would walk by while you were talking and they’d growl at you, ‘Hey, take him out to dinner.’ ”
Kusnyer retired in 1978 with 313 at-bats in the big leagues. He then became bullpen coach for Chicago (1980-87), Oakland (1989-1995) and Chicago again (1996-2007).
That’s a lot of time in baseball and a lot of knowledge gained from working with hundreds of pitchers. Kusnyer said he would like to return to the game some day and work exclusively with relievers.
“Being a relief pitcher, maybe more than any other position, comes down to how mentally strong you are,” Kusnyer said. “I’ve always taken time to jot down things pitchers have told me. I’ve got notes from Dennis Eckersley, Bobby Thigpen, Lee Smith, Rick Honeycutt, Goose Gossage. A lot of stuff they’ve told me over the years would still come into play today.”
Kusnyer’s first order of business, however, is to regain his sight. He will know within the next few weeks whether his left retina has healed completely from the most recent operation. If so, that would allow him to be fitted for a lens that would permit Kusnyer to see clearly out of that eye. If all goes well, he could return to a relatively normal life as soon as June.
“Things are going to be getting a lot better,” Kusnyer said.
Contact Andy Call at (330) 580-8346 or email@example.com.