#30 Al Fitzmorris
70-48 3.46 ERA
1098 IP 391 K 35 CG
So I owe readers an apology for my long absence. I did not intend to have over eight months between entries. I knew the next player I was going to write about. Every entry I have had some sort of angle, or something interesting to write about. And as we've gotten higher up the list, it has gotten easier as we've gotten more well-known players with longer Royals careers.
And now we have Al Fitzmorris - the writer's block of Royals players.
Al Fitzmorris was a completely unremarkable pitcher in every way. Which is not to say he was bad. If he was bad, I'd have something interesting to write about (see the David Howard entry for example). No, Fitzie was just completely mediocre. He spent eight seasons in Kansas City, as a solid reliever, then as a solid starting pitcher. He had no remarkable moments that jump out to mind, and none of his statistics seem very noteworthy. The most remarkable thing I can think about him is that when I see him on the Royals post-game shows for Metro Sports, I can't help but think I am witnessing one of the worst haircuts for anyone in the post-1980s era.
I suppose the one thing that stands out about Al is he was so strikeout-averse. He holds the record for fewest strikeouts - one - in a twelve-inning game. He pitched during an offensively-depressed era in which pitchers did not need to strike out hitters as much because of a lack of power in baseball. So run totals fell as well as strikeouts. In 1098 innings with the Royals, Fitzmorris struck out just 391 hitters.
Lowest strikeouts/9 innings ratio in Royals history (min. 50 games)
1. Dan Quisenberry 1979-1988 - 3.14
2. Al Fitzmorris 1969-1976 - 3.20
3. Larry Gura 1976-1985 - 3.35
4. Paul Splittorfff 1970-1984 - 3.72
5. Don Hood 1982-1983 - 3.74
*-Brian Anderson, Jim Colborn and Chris George all were just a few games shy of qualifying, but would have been on, or nearly on this list
Al was born in Buffalo, but attended high school in San Diego. After high school, he signed with the Chicago White Sox in 1965 as a switch-hitting outfielder. In 1966, Fitz fiddled around on the pitching mound and made four appearances as a pitcher, with good results. The following season, the White Sox had him pitch full-time and he responded with a 2.28 ERA in twenty-four starts. He was promoted the following year and led the Carolina League in strikeouts with 214 while posting a 2.73 ERA. That winter, the White Sox left him unprotected in the expansion draft, where he was selected by the Kansas City Royals.
Hitting is really difficult, obviously, and being in kind of a hurry, I thought that pitching might be a better opportunity for me. I didn't have a lot of experience with it, but it was kind of either that, or maybe getting released.
There have been a few Royals pitchers that were converted position players. Joel Peralta was once a shortstop in the Athletics organization. Ron Mahay made it to the big leagues as a Red Sox outfielder. Bret Saberhagen and Zack Greinke were both talented enough at shortstop that some teams scouting them considered them for that position in the pros. The Royals were supposedly split on whether to make former first rounder Matt Smith a pitcher or first baseman (he sucked so badly as a first baseman I guess they never thought to convert him).
I am a bit surprised that no team has tried to develop a player to both pitch and hit. I am certain there is the worry that by not having him concentrate on one field, you would hurt his development. But if you take a more seasoned player that is perhaps a fringe player anyway, but it athletic enough to be effective as a hitter and pitcher, it would be a good advantage for a team needing an extra roster spot. The Brewers half-heartedly tried this a few years ago with Brooks Kieschnick, but abandoned it after one season. I have long thought teams like the Royals should at least have a position player who can pitch in blowouts and save the bullpen for a better day. Maybe this is what they had in mind for Tony Pena Jr., but he didn't stick around long enough for us to find out.
Al Fitzmorris spent most of the Royals inaugural season in Omaha, posting a 3.75 ERA in twenty-nine games before earning a cup of coffee with the big league club that September. He made the big league club to begin the 1970 season, pitching out of the pen. Fitz had a rough start, but was very good from May to July, earning eleven starts late in the year. He finished the year with a sub-par 4.44 ERA, but he did manage to toss two complete games late in the year.
Fitz improved his ERA in each of the next three seasons, lowering it from 4.17 to 3.74 to 2.83. In 1974, Manager Jack McKeon tabbed Fitzmorris for the rotation, and Al rewarded his faith by pitching back-to-back complete game shutouts, including a rare complete game shutout without any strikeouts or walks.
Complete Game Shutouts with No Strikeouts, No Walks
Jeff Ballard, Baltimore - August 21, 1989 vs. Milwaukee
Roger Clemens, Boston - July 21, 1987 vs. California
Neil Allen, Chicago White Sox - July 20, 1986 vs. New York Yankees
Mike Caldwell, Milwaukee - June 4, 1979 vs. Chicago White Sox
Dave Roberts, Chicago Cubs - May 26, 1978 vs. St. Louis
Jim Barr, San Francisco - July 23, 1976 vs. Houston
Al Fitzmorris, Kansas City - June 4, 1974 vs. Baltimore
*-as far back as Baseball-Reference has box score records!
In July he was demoted to the pen after faltering, but he bounced back with seven wins and a 2.03 ERA down the stretch in twelve starts over August and September.
By 1975, Fitz was a full-time starter, part of a young and talented Royals rotation that included Steve Busby, Dennis Leonard and Paul Splittorff. All under 30, the quartet combined to win 58 games for a Royals team that finished in second place with a club record 91 wins. Fitz was credited with sixteen of those wins, a career high for him. He completed eleven of his starts, and that's not even including an eleven inning 4-1 victory for him in September.
Fitzmorris was a fixture in the 1976 rotation for new manager Whitey Herzog, and his highlight was a ten-nning shutout 1-0 victory over the Twins. He finished second on the team in wins (15), second in innings pitched (220 1/3), second in complete games (8), and led all full-time starters in ERA (3.06).
Yet when it was time for the Royals to face the Yankees in the American League Championship, Whitey passed Fitz over.
Yeah, Whitey and I kind of got in a big argument. We were in Oakland and kind of got into it, and started screaming at each other. But what didn't make a lot of sense to me—and we had some good pitchers—is that Whitey said that if we get to the World Series, I'd be starting, because [the Reds] have a lot of right-handed hitters. The Yankees were loaded with left-handed hitters, so they had seen a lot of left-handers all year. And they hit well against them. Larry Gura pitched a pretty good ball game against them, but there was really no reason other than the personal thing between Whitey and me.
Fitz is far more gracious than I would have been. Gura had only started two games all year, and had basically no left/right split that season (lefties posted a .563 OPS, righties a .591 OPS against Gura in '76). Gura gave up four runs over eight plus innings in Game One, but in a critical Game Four, lasted just two innings.
The Royals lost a tough series with Fiztmorris spending the entire series watching from the bench. Whitey was known for getting his way when it came to personnel matters, so it was not too surprising when the Royals left their second best pitcher unprotected that winter in the expansion draft. The Toronto Blue Jays snatched him up, and dealt him to Cleveland for young catcher Alan Ashby and outfielder Doug Howard. Al posted a terrible 5.41 ERA in 1977, and was released in 1978. After nine games with the Angels, Fitz was done.
In 1979, Fitz served as a player-coach in Hawaii, the top minor league affilate of the Padres, but soon thereafter moved back to Kansas City and became an ambassador for the Royals. He can be heard on the Royals Radio Network on pre- and post-game shows as well as on Metro Sports in the Kansas City area.
It feels good to be back.