Joseph David Vitiello was born on April 11th, 1970, three days before the once-OK Steve Avery was brought into the world. On December of that year Paul Byrd would be born. I wish I was around back in 1970, it seems awesome. And I haven't even brought up Dave Berg. Or Denny Hocking. He was a former Royal once.
But history will primarily remember Vitiello.
Vitiello, perhaps the first person born in Cambridge Mass. to attend the University of Alabama, was a 1B/DH/COF mountain of a man that defined Kansas City life in the mid-90s. A Royal from 1995-99, Vitiello was the heart and soul of the 1996 Royals, a team that went 77-84, the second-most wins the franchise has reached in the post-strike era.
A transitional year that featured the last vestiges last great talent boon from the late 1980s and future high profile Royals in the last 1990s and early 00s, the '96 team featured a lot of still familiar names: Johnny Damon, Michael Tucker (tour of duty I), Joe Randa (also tour of duty I), Kevin Appier, Mark Gubicza and Jeff Montgomery. In 1996 some guy named Mike Sweeney was still a catcher, and Independence Day, Twister and Jerry Maguire ruled the screens.
Vitiello was the 7th overall pick of the 1991 Amateur Draft. The '91 draft is famed for #1 overall pick Brien Taylor's flameout in the Yankee organization (Taylor received a then-insane $1.5 million dollar signing bonus, then never reached the majors), and included former Royal David McCarty (3rd), Dmitri Young (4th), Cliff Floyd (14th), Shawn Green (16th) and Pokey Reese (20th).
All told, Vitiello played in 205 games with the Royals, far too few for such a transcendent talent. Those 205 games saw 548 at bats, 92nd on the all time list. Sometime during the second week of the 2007 season, Mark Grudzielanek (95th,548) will pass Joe. As you would expect, Royals Review will mark the occasion.
Joe Vitiello's Place in Royals History
-At Bats: 565; Rank: 94th (he's been passed by German
-Runs: 57; Rank: 109th (tied with Gerald Perry, three behind T-Long)
-Hits: 133; Rank: 104th (6 ahead of T-Long, already passed by Gordon)
-Doubles: 26; Rank: 97th (tied with Rudy Law, one ahead of lost-prospect Dave McCarty)
-Home Runs: 21; Rank: 57th (tied with Jay Bell)
-RsBI: 83; Rank: 76th (tied with Tony Solaita)
-Stolen Bases: 2; Rank: 145th (tied with about 40 other players, including Balboni and Stairs)
On September 25th, 1999, Vitiello played his final game with the Royals, going 0-3 with two strikeouts, before being pinch-hit for by another classic Royal, Larry Sutton. How dare you Tony Muser, how dare you! 1999 was a tough year for Joe, as he hit .146/.222/.244 in 43 late-season PAs. The series was part of a late-season Tiger surge which saw the Michiganders prevail over the Royals and Twins for "third" in the AL Central. No one finished within 21 games of the Tribe that season.
1999 was the beginning of the sad conclusion to the Vitiello Era in American Life. A free agent, Vitiello signed with the Padres in November of 1999, and at the age of 30, played in 39 games, mainly as a reserve, with the 2000 Pads. After an unknown 2001, Vitiello resurfaced with the Expos in 2002, after an International League stint. Vitiello hit .342/.407/.539 in 83 PAs with the 2003 Expos, the best rate stat year of his career and the only time he hit over .300, had an OBP over .400 or slugged over .500. The Expos brought him back as a NRI in 2004, but he didn't make the team. He spent 2004 in the minors, made the PCL All-Stars with the Toledo Mud Hens, then announced his retirement in March of 2005.
The Royals showed absolutely no class in not letting him retire as a Royal.
Vitiello as a Royal
1995: .254/.317/.446 (138 PAs)
1996: .241/.342/.401 (295 PAs as the Heart and Soul of the team)
1997: .238/.322/.400 (144 PAs)
1998: .143/.250/.143 (8 PAs, last game: April 5th)
1999: .146/.222/.244 (43 PAs, last game as a Royal, 0-3 with 2 Ks)
In 2005 and 2006 Vitiello was a sometimes listed player on the mythical Team Italy Roster for the World Baseball Classic. If he had made the final cut, Italy would have won the WBC, gone undefeated and had a run differential of +100.
Vitiello made around $1.5 million as a baseball player over 14 years.