Well after this rough stretch of games, maybe the continuation of this series will pick Royals fans back up. #59 on the list of the Greatest Royals of All-Time is Hipolito Pichardo. Just say his name. Hipolito. Its fun to say, whether you pronounce it "Hip-pall-it-oh" or "Hippo-leeto". I'm still not even sure which is right.
I was a bit surprised to see Hipolito this high on the list, because he was never a guy you really took notice of. He was a useful swingman for the Royals in the mid 90s, moving from the rotation to the bullpen as a long reliever depending on team needs. He never won more than nine games in a season, and never collected more than eleven saves in a season for the Royals, but threw over six hundred innings of league-average pitching in Kansas City. I guess his testament to greatness was that he was there.
Hipolito had a good sinker and induced a lot of ground balls, but was never a big strike out pitcher. He was kind of a happy-go-lucky guy who filled in at every thankless role the Royals asked of him, but never excelling at any of them.
Behind that game-face facade, though, is a man with what catcher Mike Macfarlane calls ``a very dry sense of humor. '' Pichardo likes to race through the outfield during batting practice trying for spectacular catches and humming the ``SportsCenter'' theme.
-Kansas City Star, March 27, 1998
Hipolito was signed by the Royals at age eighteen out of the Dominican Republic. He fared well as a starter his first two minor league seasons, but injuries limited his starts. In 1991 at AA Memphis, Pichardo's ERA climbed to 4.27, he posted a 3-11 record and he shuttled between the rotation and the bullpen.
Despite the setback, the twenty-two year old Pichardo was promoted to the big leagues the next season after just fourteen innings at AA. Pichardo struggled in his first few relief appearances, but with the back of the rotation struggling, the Royals turned to Hipolito to start in late May. He turned in five shutout innings against the White Sox, allowing just three hits.
"He's extremely hard to catch because his fastball moves so much...He's around the (strike) zone, but I don't know if he knows exactly what spin it's taking. "
-Royals catcher Brent Mayne
Pichardo was most effective when keeping the ball low. Pitching coach Guy Hansen nicknamed Pichardo "Double D" as in "Debajo, Dinero" or "Down, Money", meaning that if Pichardo could keep the ball down, he would get paid. Hippo was all about the Benjamins baby.
Pichardo did a great job keeping the ball low on July 21 against Boston when he went the distance, throwing the fourteenth one-hitter in franchise history. Only a sixth inning Luis Rivera double kept Pichardo from a perfect game. Pichardo's performance kept utility infielder Rico Rossy busy, as he not only played defense behind Hipolito, but he also served as an interpreter.
"Maybe I'll get a raise from Herk next year...I'll say, 'Hey, you're going to need me around for Hipolito ."
-Royals infielder Rico Rossy
Pichardo ended the year with a solid ERA of 3.95, although he struck out just 59, while walking 49. He began the 1993 season firmly in the Royals rotation and was solid, although not spectacular. He did end the season on a high note with eight innings yielding just two runs against a young Indians ballclub that included Albert Belle, Jim Thome and Kenny Lofton. Hipolito made a career high twenty-five starts, posting a 7-8 record with a 4.04 ERA. He still struggled with his strikeout-to-walk numbers, with 70 strikeouts to 53 walks.
With Chris Haney joining the rotation in 1994, the Royals bumped Pichardo to the bullpen. He struggled much of the year, ending with a 4.92 ERA with 24 walks and seven hit batters in just 67 innings. He pitched exclusively out of the pen the next three seasons, improving slightly in 1995, but falling back in 1996 with a career worst 5.43 ERA. In 1997 he filled in as closer while Jeff Montgomery recuperated from injury. He also managed to show off his bat, becoming the first American League pitcher to bat twice in a game, when he was forced to hit twice in a sixteen inning marathon against Detroit.
In 1998, Pichardo edged out Jose Rosado for the fifth spot in the rotation. He got off to a good start, throwing six shutout innings against a good Oakland lineup and by May 5 he had a solid ERA of 3.74.
"He's making starter money because he's got a good arm, so I'd like to get as much use out of that arm as I can without hurting him,''
-Royals manager Tony Muser
Hipolito then landed on the disabled list with blister problems. Upon returning, Pichardo was eased back into action by pitching in relief, but he was lit up in that role. Muser moved him back in the rotation where he was adequate before missing the final month with an elbow injury. That injury would keep him out all of the 1999 season, and after that season, the Royals would let him explore free agency.
Pichardo spent the next two seasons as a reliever with the Red Sox, then retired after just one outing in 2002 with the Houston Astros.
"My last two days I have had a lot more pain in my elbow,...I've taken too much medication, too many pills for a long time. Taking so much medicine isn't good. After I pitch, I can't sleep because of the pain in my elbow. You have to thank God for letting me pitch this long..."
Long enough to make the 100 Greatest Royals of All-Time, Hipolito!