The 34th Greatest Royal of All-Time was a third baseman, but not THAT third baseman. It was Paul Schaal.
Tim Johnson. Sixto Lezcano. Darrell Brown. Bill Almon. Ken Reitz.* Paul Schaal. What do these players have in common? They were all replaced by Hall of Famers** - Robin Yount, Tony Gwynn, Kirby Puckett, Ozzie Smith and Ryne Sandberg, respectively. While it must be an enormous burden to be the player that follows up a Hall of Famer, there is far less pressure to be the guy that precedes one. You always have a handy excuse for why you lost your job.
*-Reitz preceded Ryne Sandberg, who I was completely unaware was a third baseman in his rookie season. Second base was occupied by Bump Wills in Ryno's rookie season. The previous year it had been filled most of the time by Pat Tabler, who I was completely unaware (a) ever played for the Cubs or (b) ever played second base. Also, did you know Gary Carter was a right-fielder his rookie season?
**-Don Money, a pretty good player in his own right, was replaced by two Hall of Famers - Mike Schmidt and Paul Molitor.
Still, having a hot prospect breathing down your neck while you try to maintain your grip on your position is no picnic. Paul Schaal was in the unenviable position of trying to hold onto his job with George Brett rising through the ranks in the minor leagues. Schaal was by most accounts a terrific fielder with a light bat, but could draw walks without striking out. He was no George Brett, but he was a much better placeholder than those other names mentioned.
Paul Schaal was a southern California kid who signed with his hometown Angels out of high school for a bonus of $4,000. In his second full season in the minors, he hit .328. In his third season, he hit .271 for AAA Hawaii and found himself in the big leagues for a cup of coffee. In 1965, at the age of 22, Paul Schaal was the everyday third baseman for the California Angels. He struggled with the bat, hitting just .224, but he did draw 61 walks and was renowned for his glove.
Schaal would have a solid season his sophomore season, with a .362 on-base percentage, but would slump the next season with a batting average under the Mendoza Line. In 1968, he was struck in the head with a fastball from Red Sox pitcher Jose Santiago, fracturing his skull and damaging his eye and basically ending his season. It would leave him with inner ear problems that would affect his balance the remainder of his career.
That winter, the Kansas City Royals made Schaal the 27th pick in the 1969 Expansion Draft. Schaal began the year in Omaha to regain his confidence following the beaning. He was leading the league in hitting at .374 when he was finally summoned back to the big leagues in July. He hit .263 with a respectable .346 on-base percentage in 61 games, mostly at third base. That winter, the Royals dealt veteran third baseman Joe Foy to the New York Mets in exchange for young outfielder Amos Otis, seemingly opening up the hot corner for Schaal. Schaal saw himself as a starting third baseman, but new manager Charlie Metro disagreed.
"Charlie said to the press that I'd never be an every-day player. It ticked me off but it also inspired me."
Schaal began the 1970 season on the bench with Metro moving slugger Bob Oliver from first base to third. When Metro moved Oliver back to first base in June, Schaal got a two week try-out, but failed to hit. The Royals then tried journeyman Bill Sorrell at third, with few results. Finally, Schaal got his chance in August. He hit .309 and was named Royals Player of the Month. He would start fifty of the last sixty-two games, and finish the year with a .268 average.
Schaal began 1971 firmly entrenched as the Royals slick-fielding third baseman. He hit .338 in April, erasing doubts about his bat. On July 9, Schaal was given a scare when Jim Perry brushed him back high and tight after a Fred Patek home run, bringing back memories of Schaal's painful beaning several years earlier. On the next pitch, Schaal dug in and homered off the Twins right hander.
"I somehow got out of the way; went down on my back. Even their catcher didn't know how I got out of the way. I hit the next pitch out of the park. Because of my injury a couple years earlier, it was such a great feeling to hit that homer after Perry about nailed me."
Schaal had the best season of his career that year, hitting .274 with eleven home runs, the only time in his career he would reach double digits. He finished third in the league in walks with 103, second in doubles with 31 and tenth in extra-base hits with 48. He would post a .387 on-base percentage and strike out just 51 times. He was one of just two players in the Majors that year who would play in every single game.
Most Walks in a Single Season, Royals History
1. John Mayberry 1973 - 122
2. Darrell Porter 1979 - 121
3. John Mayberry 1975 - 119
4. George Brett 1985 - 103
4. Paul Schaal 1971 - 103
*-only one other player in Royals history has drawn 100 walks in a season - Kevin Seitzer with 102 in 1989
Schaal got off to a slow start in 1972 and was never really able to get his bat going. He was barely able to keep his average about the Mendoza Line much of the year, although he did rally in September to hit .287 with 19 walks for the month. He would finish the year with a disappointing .228 average.
Schaal would rebound nicely in 1973 with a .288 average. His .389 on-base percentage would finish second on the club and his .399 slugging percentage would finish fourth on the club. In late July, Schaal would go down with an injury. A week later, the Royals would promote a young floppy-haired California kid named George Brett. He would go 1-for-4 that day against the White Sox, the first of 3,154 career hits.
Schaal would return just two weeks later, but the writing was on the wall. Paul was the starter at third for the first month of 1974, but hit just .176 to begin the year. In early May, the Royals promoted Brett and dealt Schaal back to the Angels for outfielder Richie Scheinblum.
"I've often told people that it took a Hall of Famer to take my job from me."
Schaal would just just .248 for the Angels, and was released at the end of the year. He retired from baseball at the age of 32. Upon retiring, Schaal returned to Kansas City and enrolled in the Cleveland Chiropractic Clinic. For the last thirty years he has run the Schaal Chiropractic Health Center in Overland Park.