The 39th Greatest Royal of All-Time is Ed Kirkpatrick.
613 Games .248/.334/.390
56 HR 245 RBI
This one surprised me as I'm sure it surprised you. How many current Royals fans have heard of Ed Kirkpatrick? Maybe ten percent?
The internet has become so integrated in our lives that it is difficult to imagine life without it. But there was a time when information was not available at our fingertips. Without the internet, I think a guy like Ed Kirkpatrick would have been completely forgotten. He was a versatile player who only sometimes started, but was pretty valuable when he did. He was one of the more integral performers in the early days of this franchise. He has largely been forgotten, but thanks to sites like Baseball-Reference, we can pay him the respect he deserves. That is part of what this series is all about as well.
Ed Kirkpatrick was the starting left-fielder in the very first Royals game and spent five seasons in Kansas City as an outfielder and catcher. He put up good numbers, but was dealt before the team rose to prominence in the 1970s. He had decent power for his era, and generally drew a fair amount of walks. In his Royals career, he posted a 104 OPS+, which means he was slightly better than the league average, which is quite valuable for a guy who can squat behind the plate.
Kirkpatrick signed with the Los Angeles Angels out of Glendora High School in 1962, lured by a $20,000 bonus. After hitting .381 in forty-five games in A ball, he was promoted to the big leagues for six at-bats at the tender age of seventeen. He bounced between the minors and the majors for the next five seasons, drawing a fair amount of walks despite being very young. He finally stuck with the Angels in 1968 and hit .230 as a spare outfielder and broke the club record with fourteen pinch-hits.
In the 1969 Expansion Draft, the Royals took future Hall of Fame reliever Hoyt Wilhelm from the White Sox. The Royals had a strategy of fielding a much younger team than the other expansion clubs, so they dealt Wilhelm to the Angels for catcher Dennis Paepke and the twenty-four year old Kirkpatrick.
Nicknamed "Spanky", Kirkpatrick started left-field in that inaugural Royals game, but he played everywhere on the field for manager Joe Gordon that season. The super-sub would appear at every position but pitcher and shortstop. Kirkpatrick provided some good power in an era in which power was scarce. Late in the year, he had back-to-back two-home run games, the first Royal to accomplish that feat. Despite appearing in just 315 at-bats, he led the team with fourteen home runs. He also hit .257 with 49 RBI and drew 43 walks.
"Ed will play anyplace we ask, and he'll do a good job. When he's hitting, it doesn't matter if he faces left or right-handers. A guy like that is valuable to any club, especially a young one."
-Manager Joe Gordon
Kirkpatrick upped his home run total to eighteen the next season, second on the club. But his average suffered as he hit just .229. On August 13, he hit the second grand slam in Royals history. He spent most of his time behind the plate, catching eighty games, and led all American League catchers with 62 RBI.
Ed would suffer his worst season in a Royals uniform in 1971 as his average continued to slide down to .219. He still drew 48 walks, but hit just nine home runs. He split his time evenly between the outfield and catcher position.
He rebounded in 1972 to get off to a fast start. Despite missing much of April, he went on a tear in May, hitting home runs in three consecutive games. His hot hitting kept his batting average over .300 well into July. He went on a fifteen game tear in July going 22-57 (.386). He ended the year hitting .275 with a .365 on-base percentage and 51 walks. He put up solid numbers for a catcher, hitting nine home runs with 43 RBI.
Best On-Base Percentage as a Catcher, Royals History
Darrell Porter 1976-1980 - .372
Bob Boone 1989-1990 - .348
Ed Kirkpatrick 1969-1973 - .338
Fran Healy 1969, 1973-1976 - .337
Mike MacFarlane 1987-1994, 1996-1998 - .326
In 1973, the club re-acquired Fran Healy to be their backstop, so Kirkpatrick was sent back to the outfield. Kirkpatrick went on a tear to begin the season, going on an eighteen game hitting streak, the second longest in team history at that point. Overall, his numbers tailed off a bit, as he hit .263 with six home runs and 45 RBI as the Royals finished second in the division.
That winter, the Royals dealt Kirkpatrick in a five player deal that netted them pitcher Nellie Briles. Kirkpatrick spent the next few seasons as a bench player for some competitive Pirates ballclubs before retiring in 1978.
In 1981, Kirkpatrick was involved in a minor car accident. A blood clot lodged in his brain leading to a six month coma. He emerged from the coma paralyzed. Despite the set-back, he became a representative for Rawlings, the Sporting Goods company, and retired in California.
Kirkpatrick has not worn a Royals uniform in over twenty-five years, but he will be remembered as a valuable member of the early days of this franchise. We salute you Ed Kirkpatrick.