The 74th Greatest Royal is Tom Poquette
He'll leave the light on for you at Motel 6
Tom was a contact-hitting part-time outfielder for three division title champion Kansas City Royals ball clubs in the 1970s. He was selected in the fourth round of the 1970 June draft out of high school in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. By 1973 he was in the big leagues with a cup of coffee with the Royals at age 21. Poquette would spend two more full seasons in the minor leagues for some seasoning, but in 1976 he made the big league ball club for good.
The American League in the mid-70s was still dominated by pitching, which suited the light-hitting Royals. The team hit just 65 home runs, but their .269 team batting average was good enough for second in the league, and their measly 713 runs scored were good enough for fourth. Poquette was an ideal player for this era as a contact hitter who rarely struck out, and didn't hit for much power. With Al Cowens and Amos Otis as cornerstones in the outfield, Poquette split time in left field with Jim Wohlford. Both were light hitters, but while Wohlford could steal more bases than Poquette, Poquette hit for a much higher average.
By June, Poquette was among the league leaders in hitting when his season was nearly cut short. In a game against the White Sox, Chicago third baseman Kevin Bell laced a shot towards left field. Poquette, running full tilt, caught his cleat in the warning track and slammed head-first into the concrete wall of Royals Stadium. He was carried off on a stretcher with a concussion, a fractured cheekbone, and twelve stitches to repair a gash over his left eye. The next week, the Royals installed padding along the outfield wall.
Poquette would recover and his .302 average topped all rookies. For his efforts, he was named Royals Rookie of the Year. Poquette started every game of the 1976 ALCS for the division winning Royals, and was 2-3 with a walk in Game Two with the RBI that put the Royals on top for good in a 7-4 victory. Unfortunately, that would be his sole contribution as the Yankees eliminated the Royals in five games.
Poquette would maintain his high average again in 1977 as again the Royals were AL West Division Title winners. He split time in left field with Hal McRae on days when McRae was not DH, as well as rookie Joe Zdeb. Poquette hit .291 and lived up to his reputation as a contact hitter with just 21 strikeouts in 372 plate appearances. In the 1977 ALCS, he would start just two games, going 1-6.
Poquette was not exactly a feared hitter. In Game Three he was up in the sixth inning with runners at second and third and a 3-1 lead. Yankees manager Billy Martin decided it was time to pull starter Mike Torrez in favor of left-hander Sparky Lyle. Royals manager Whitey Herzog countered with a right-handed Amos Otis, who doubled home both runners. Angry at having been pulled from the game, Torrez remarked, "If I can't get Tom Poquette out," he said, "I should quit this game."
Poquette got off to a great start in 1978, and by May he was hitting .400. He then went on a 13-101 slide that dropped his average below .200. By the end of July he was benched in favor of a pair of rookies - Clint Hurdle and Willie Wilson. He finished the season at a disappointing .216 average, although he struck out just nine times in 226 plate appearances.
In 1979, the writing was on the wall. Clint Hurdle won the starting left-field job out of spring training, and when Al Cowens went down with a broken jaw in May, the team gave starting time to Willie Wilson over Poquette. In mid-June, Poquette was hitting .192 and the team dealt him to the Boston Red Sox for veteran first baseman George Scott. Poquette would catch fire with the Red Sox, hitting .331 in 63 games.
With his career jump-started, Poquette looked forward to his role with Boston in 1980. Unfortunately a torn rotator cuff would keep him out the entire season. He went into 1981 battling for a roster spot. Ultimately he would not be a part of the team, and in August he was placed on waivers and picked up by Texas. He hit just .156 in 30 games as a pinch hitter and was let go at the end of the year. The Royals picked him up in 1982, but he played just a handful of games with the team and hit .145 before they let him go. They offered the 30 year old a coaching job, but Poquette instead went back home to Eau Claire to open a fitness center.
''When I look at it, I blew out at 30 because I played hard...But I played hard because I had to. ... I had to work for everything because it didn't come easy.''
Six years later, Poquette decided to get back in baseball. For the last twenty years he has served as a coach or manager in the Royals organization, serving primarily as a minor league hitting instructor. From 1997-1998 he was the hitting coach for the big league club, and was credited with helping Mike Sweeney and Jermaine Dye. After serving as hitting instructor for the Royals Rookie League team in Arizona in 2006, Poquette was let go at the end of the season.
''I talked to about 12 other clubs ... but Kansas City's been my organization for many years....I have quite a bit of loyalty to them.''