On This Date in Royals History: The Glory of Tim Spehr

On this date ten years ago, May 12, 1999, the Royals defeated the Blue Jays 7-1, improving to 16-16 on the season.

Kevin Appier pitched a complete game, allowing just one run, on three hits and a walk. Appier had a sneaky near no-hitter that night: the only Blue Jay to get a hit all game was Shawn Green, whose homer produced the only Toronto run. With the win, Appier improved to 4-2 on the year, in what would be one of his final masterpieces as a Royal. On July 31, he would be traded to Oakland for Jeff D'Amico, Brad Rigby and Blake Stein.

Appier got the better of a young Blue Jay pitcher named Chris Carpenter.

The lineups that day were:

   Toronto Blue Jays                         Kansas City Royals                           
1. Shannon Stewart LF 1. Carlos Beltran CF
2. Alex Gonzalez SS 2. Joe Randa 3B
3. Shawn Green RF 3. Johnny Damon LF
4. Carlos Delgado 1B 4. Jeff King 1B
5. Tony Fernandez 3B 5. Mike Sweeney DH
6. Mark Dalesandro DH 6. Jermaine Dye RF
7. Jose Cruz CF 7. Tim Spehr C
8. Pat Kelly 2B 8. Carlos Febles 2B
9. Mike Matheny C 9. Rey Sanchez SS

 

The Royals had some decent offenses from 1997-2003, and the '99 squad had a number of guys who could hit. Against Carpenter and the Blue Jays, the Royals got big games on this day from Beltran & Randa (two hits each) and a three hit game (including a HR) from Jermaine Dye. Johnny Damon and Jeff King were also on-base two times. Ten years later, three players from this lineup are still starting in the Major Leagues, and a fourth, Mike Sweeney, is still an active player. One of the more forgotten heroes from this game is catcher Tim Spehr, whose two-run homer in the fourth gave the Royals a 2-1 lead.

Tim Spehr was acquired by the Royals in the 5th round of the 1988 Draft, and debuted as a 24 year old rookie in 1991. Spehr didn't hit at all during his rookie year, posting a .189/.282/.378 line (though this wasn't the "steroid era" so this was actually good for an OPS+ of 155, and no, I am not telling the truth). After the season, Spehr was traded to Montreal in a four player deal that shook baseball to its core in 1991-2. The Royals sent Spehr and Jeff Shaw to the Expos in exchange for Mark Gardner and Doug Piatt.

Spehr spent the next four season in Montreal, hitting .208/280/.351 in 233 PAs. Prior to the 1997 season, he signed with the Boston Red Sox as a free agent, but less than a month later he was acquired by the Royals a second time. For the first month of the season, Spehr shared the catching duties with Mike Sweeney and Mike Macfarlane, before being released in late May. Spehr hit .171/.237/.257 in 38 PAs in his second tour with the Royals.

Spehr spent the next two seasons in the Atlanta and New York (NL) farm systems, though he did see some ML time with each team.

In August of 1998 however, the Royals signed Spehr again, demonstrating that the bond between player and team, player and city, was too strong to be overcome. Spehr responded by giving the Royals one of the best 11-game runs of his career, hitting .240/.457/.440 at the end of 1998. (Though his best career year was probably 1995.) The Royals kept Spehr around for the opening of the 1999 season, which brings us to today's game, and Spehr's homer. Spehr's bomb was the 13th of his career and one of the highlights of his 1999 season. Spehr would stick around as a backup all season, setting a new career high for PAs with 187. Spehr also showed a little bit of pop, hitting .206/.324/.426 with nine home runs.

Spehr would never appear in the Majors again after the 1999 season, though he spent another two years in the minors. It really did seem like the Royals of this time were always bringing back ex-Royals, and Spehr's nearly entirely mysterious three-tour run with the Royals may take the cake. Thanks to his extended playing time with the '99 team, Spehr retired with more PAs as a Royal than any other team, though he played more games with the Expos, who hardly ever let him bat.

Spehr's strange little career is especially interesting considering that he got a little bit of burn with the 1991 Royals. In Spehr's debut, he caught Brett Saberhagen, and played alongside Kirk Gibson, Danny Tartabull and George Brett that day. Those 1991 Royals still had a number of players from the team's 1980s glory days. As mentioned above, when Spehr made his second return to the Royals in 1998-9, he ended up playing alongside the next great wave of Royals talent, albeit one that didn't produce a championship or a division title, thanks to a complete lack of pitching, mostly.

Despite the decent start, by the end of the day the Royals were already 7.5 games back in the AL Central, thanks to the 24-9 record of the Indians.

And that's the way we were, on this date in 1999.

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