#55 on our countdown of greatness is gritty right-handed pitcher Tim Belcher.
Tim Belcher is a pretty overlooked pitcher in Royals history, but for three seasons he was a pretty solid, although not spectacular frontline starting pitcher. His numbers may look pretty pedestrian, but this was the dawn of the steroid era, when offensive numbers were beginning to explode and league ERAs hovered around 5.00. He threw at least 230 innings in two of his three seasons in Kansas City, a feat no Royals pitcher has since matched.
In America, many times we seem to adopt the attitude of Ricky Bobby - "If you're not first, you're last." You're either number one, or you're a nobody. We strive and strive and strive to be the best, and are not satisfied until we've reached that pinnacle.
The thing is though, you can do a very effective job, and be very happy, simply being very, very good at what you do. "60 Minutes" ran a piece a few months ago about how Denmark is the happiest country in the world. What's the key to their happiness? Being content with what they have and what they are. Only one person can be "number one", leaving the rest of us to wallow in bitter agony. Maybe we should be satisfied merely being really good?
What does this have to do with Tim Belcher? Well I don't think anyone would confuse Tim Belcher for being an ace. He never made an All-Star Game, never earned any votes for Cy Young and never won more than fifteen games in a season. But he had a pretty darn good Major League career and was a key member of three post-season ballclubs, including one Championship team. He was not the best, but he was very, very good at what he did.
Tim Belcher was a star at Mount Vernon Nazarene College in Ohio, with a 95 mph fastball. In June of 1983 he was selected first overall in the Amateur Draft by the Minnesota Twins. Negotiations with the Twins soured, with the ballclub upset that Belcher was represented by legal counsel in negotiations, a rare step in that day. His legal counsel was a little known agent by the name of Scott Boras. In those days, there was a draft in January for unsigned players, and with Belcher still unsigned by the Twins, the Yankees made him the first overall selection.
Baseball also had a free agent compensatory draft to compensate teams that had lost a free agent. Each team submitted a list of protected players, and those players unprotected were free to be selected by teams losing free agents. In January, the Yankees submitted their protected list, but failed to protect Belcher, who had still not signed. On January 31, Belcher signed with the Yankees. On February 6, former A's pitcher Tom Underwood signed with the Baltimore Orioles, meaning the A's were entitled to select a player from the free agent compensation pool. They chose Belcher, infuriating the Yankees, and causing Major League Baseball to re-examine free agent compensation.
Doesn't bode well for Luke Hochevar , does it?
The A's developed Belcher, but before he had a chance to pitch for the parent club, they dealt him to the Dodgers in 1987 for left-handed pitcher Rick Honeycutt. In his rookie season the following year, Belcher finished 12-6 with a 2.91 ERA and was third in Rookie of the Year balloting as the Dodgers won the World Series. In 1989, he won fifteen games and hurled 230 innings, striking out a career high 200 batters. He would pitch four full seasons in L.A. before being dealt to the Reds in the Eric Davis deal.
Belcher spent one and a half seasons in Cincinnati before being acquired by the White Sox in a pennant push. He then signed with the Tigers only to have a horrific season, losing 15 games and posting a 5.89 ERA. He resurrected his career with a decent season in Seattle, although he angered some after shoving a camera man after a lousy outing in the 1995 American League Divisional Series.
In January of 1996, the Royals were looking for a durable arm to replace departing free agent pitcher Tom Gordon, and turned to Belcher for a one year deal worth $900,000, plus incentives. Belcher exceeded expectations and provided solid innings for the Royals. In June, he won his 100th career game. In his next start, he showed off his fiery temper again by getting ejected in the first inning of his start against the Angels, then rushing home plate umpire Joe Brinkman. Belcher left a statement after the game questioning Brinkman's professionalism.
I was baited, I was ejected and I apologize to our team and fans. No apology ever to umpire Brinkman. I have my entire career had a good relationship with nearly all umpires. I respect the very difficult job they have. Umpire Brinkman's on-field attitude is an embarassment to his profession, paying little attention to his ability, his mechanics, or lack thereof. His demeanor is what drives most AL players into confrontations with him.
Belcher went on to have a fine season, culminating in a four hit shutout of the Blue Jays in September. He led the team in wins and innings pitched. He finished with a 15-11 record and a 3.92 ERA, 27 percent better than the league average and tenth in the league. He was named Royals Pitcher of the Year and was rewarded with a two year $4 million deal.
Belcher got off to an excellent start in 1997, giving up just one run in 7 1/3 innings in his first start against the Twins. He had back-to-back complete games against the A's and Yankees, then threw twenty consecutive shutout innings, including a complete game shutout against the Red Sox. Combined with Kevin Appier and Jose Rosado, the Royals looked like they had one of the best pitching trios in the league. By May 13, the three combined for an 11-6 record and a 2.16 ERA for the second place Royals.
Nobody believes in Tim Belcher . Nobody. Everybody believes he's an optical illusion. Maybe that's because he has played more cities than the Stones. His career has been filled with ups and downs and more downs and Hugh Downs. He's been traded, traded, traded, signed, signed, traded, and the Royals are his sixth team in seven years, but maybe he's got it figured out. He won 15 games for Kansas City last year. And this year he has been indomitable. He keeps coming at hitters. He throws 115 pitches a game. He mixes them. He spots them. He wins.
Belcher then gave up twenty runs over his next three starts, raising his ERA by two runs. In mid-July he would go through another atrocious stretch, giving up twenty-four runs in three starts. He ended the year with a 5.02 ERA, which for those days, was only slightly below average.
Belcher would get off to a good start again in 1998, giving up just one run in his first two starts. He would pitch effectively most of the year, leading to rumors the Royals would trade him to a contender for prospects. The Royals had three impending free agents who were in demand at the trade deadline - Belcher, closer Jeff Montgomery and third baseman Dean Palmer. General Manager Herk Robinson failed to trade any of them.
"There's still a third of the season left. We're playing better. We can still win some games. Who knows, right? Who knows. ''
Belcher would pitch well down the stretch and end with a 4.27 ERA and a team high fourteen wins. That winter, he would leave the Royals for the Angels. He would spend two seasons in Anaheim, with one notable game in which he engaged Dodgers pitcher Chan Ho Park in a kung-fu match.
Belcher retired after 2000, with 146 career victories in a very respectable Major League career.