Baseball star John Kruk one of many fooled by bank robber
John Kruk and serial bank robber Roy Plummer went way back. Plummer was a couple of years older than Kruk, but they went to high school together in Keyser and knew each other through Kruk's older brothers.
"I'm sure some people back home thought that I would rob a bank before him," Kruk said by phone on Monday. "If he were alive today and you didn't know him or his story, I guarantee in less than a week he would be your best friend. He was a brute. He would foul people [playing basketball] but that was [Plummer]."
Toward the end of the 1987 baseball season, Plummer called Kruk in San Diego, where he was playing Major League Baseball with the San Diego Padres.
Plummer told Kruk he sold his business for $100,000 and asked if Kruk would mind if he came out to San Diego to visit. Jay Hafer, whom Plummer used as a getaway driver on many of his robberies, had received a $30,000 settlement from a lawsuit after being attacked by a dog. He asked if he could come out, too.
"It was great because I was 26 years old, by myself with no wife, no girlfriend," Kruk said. "It was great having people out there I knew. Everyone on my team was married."
At Plummer's suggestion the three of them rented a house that October. Plummer took out a yearlong lease. Kruk said at the time he was making about $60,000 a year, not a lot of money when you're living in San Diego.
"The thing that was surprising to me, where I should have picked up on something, was that he never let me pay for anything. He always had cash," Kruk said. "We'd go out to dinner and drink a bottle of wine, some beers, food, appetizers, desserts. And I'd ask, 'How much is it?' He'd say, 'I got it, don't worry about it.'"
Soon Kruk was hearing stories from Keyser about Plummer skipping town, owing people money, and robbing a local grocery store.
"I said, 'Man I'm out here almost every day. I don't see it.' There were rumors of them selling drugs out of the house, having wild parties," Kruk said. "I didn't see it. The house was immaculate. You'd think if a drug addict lived there, there would be evidence."
By November, Kruk decided to play winter ball in Mexico and moved out.
"We were going out a lot, drinking, having a good time," Kruk said. "And I thought, 'You know what? I've got to do something. I have yet to prepare for the following season.'"
In February 1988 he went to spring training.
"I kept hearing more from spring training. When I got back for the season, I don't know what excuse I made to him, but I said I needed to find my own place," Kruk said. "Then, of course, the FBI comes in right before batting practice and it's 'Holy crap.'"
The FBI questioned Kruk and showed him a picture of Plummer robbing a bank wearing a hat that read, "American by Birth. West Virginian by the Grace of God."
The FBI told Kruk that Plummer believed he was the one that turned him in.
"What I'm hearing from the FBI and other people is that he's a drug-possessed, gun-toting psychopath now. Everyone is telling me, 'He's coming after you,'" Kruk said. "Every knock on the door could be a teammate or it could be him. It scared the shit out of you."
Kruk admits the stress affected his play during the 1988 baseball season.
"Oh-for-four meant absolutely nothing to me at that time," Kruk said. "The only thing I wanted was to get the season over with."
The only teammate who knew about Plummer was Randy Ready, Kruk's best friend on the Padres.
"I never went out that year," Kruk said. "I stayed in my room. It was a scary thing. ... The FBI tells me he's armed and he's dangerous. And I know his abilities with weapons."
Plummer, a self-styled survivalist, boasted that he could survive in the wilderness with just a knife. He also liked his guns.
When the FBI finally arrested Plummer on Sept. 19, 1988, Kruk said he was relieved that it was over, but also saddened by his friend's problems.
"I was shocked that he robbed banks, but I was also shocked that he had a drug habit," Kruk said. "He was so physically fit and into taking care of his body and doing the right things. ... It was a mystery, the whole thing."
Kruk was relieved he didn't have to run anymore and could stay in his own house and stop living out of hotel rooms.
A few months into his prison sentence, Plummer called Kruk and apologized. It was the last time the two friends would talk.
"He said he had issues with drugs, whatever, and was actually glad he was in prison," Kruk said. "We talked for a long time. He apologized, said he was sorry and hoped he didn't ruin my career. I said, 'Man, I can figure out a way to hit again. You got to figure out how to straighten your life around. If I don't get another hit, I still have my sanity and freedom.'"
Kruk said Plummer promised that when he got out, the two would meet up and talk.
Kruk said his mom called from Keyser in January and told him Plummer killed himself.
While he never talked to Plummer after the prison phone call, Kruk had heard Plummer was out and working on his sister's farm. He had hoped to one day sit down and talk with him.
Kruk told management at ESPN, where he now works as a baseball analyst, about Plummer and that he might be connected to a story dealing with a bank robber, drugs and suicide.
"It's never over for us," he said about those who knew Plummer. "We have to live with it. You always have to answer those questions."
Reach Gary Harki at email@example.com or 348-5163.