The 100 Greatest Royals of All-Time - #83 Mark Littell

The 83rd best Royal in franchise history is Mark  Littell

Mark is best known for serving off the walk-off, series ending home run to Chris Chambliss in Game Five of the 1976 American League Championship Series in the Royals first ever post-season series.

Mark was a twelfth round draft pick by the Royals in the 1971 Amateur Draft out of Gideon High School located in the boot heel of Missouri. Littell posted a 2.90 ERA in 87 innings in Rookie Ball in Billings, Montana and then posted a 3.47 ERA with 199 strikeouts in 153 innings in Waterloo, Iowa the next year. By 1973, at age 20, Littell was already in AAA Omaha posting a 2.51 ERA in 179 innings.

Mark Littell was Zack Greinke before Greinke was even born. Both were rushed to the big leagues and made their major league debuts by age twenty. Like Greinke, Littell was known for being a bit flaky and was given the name "Air Head" by his teammates.

On June 14, 1973 he made his Major League debut in Baltimore and gave up just one run in 6.1 innings. He was the youngest starting pitcher in Royals history, and only Bret Saberhagen has since made his first MLB start at a younger age. Littell's inexperience would show however and he would end the year with a 5.73 ERA in seven starts. He spent most of the next two seasons in Omaha, posting solid numbers. In 1976, the Royals made him a reliever and he stuck in the big leagues for good.

Littell got off to a great start in '76 out of the pen, not yielding an earned run until May 17, covering 17.2 innings. He did make one spot start in June, giving up seven runs in two innings, but as a reliever he was fantastic, posting a 1.50 ERA for the year in 102 innings out of the bullpen. He led the the teams in saves with sixteen and gave up just one home run all season, an ominous irony considering his post-season. For his effort, he was named Royals Pitcher of the Year.

In 1976, the Royals won their first ever Division Title setting up a battle against the New York Yankees. In Game One of the ALCS, Mark Littell came in to induce Thurman Munson into a ground out to end the ninth in a 4-1 loss. In Game Three, he pitched 2.2 innings of shutout ball in a 5-3 loss. The Royals managed to tie the series in New York to force a deciding Game Five. In the final game, the Royals trailed 6-3 going into the eighth, but stormed back with a huge three run home run by George Brett to tie the game.

The entire game had been marred by rowdiness by Yankees fans who were constantly throwing debris on the field. Littell came out in the bottom of the ninth, having retired all five Yankee hitters he had faced thus far. Leading off was the red-hot Chris Chambliss, who was 10 for 20 with a home run and seven RBI thus far in the series. Before facing Chambliss, the game had to be delayed ten minutes as debris had to be collected off the field.

"I didn't like that delay one bit," said Royals manager Whitey Herzog. "But I'm not going to claim that it made Mark throw that next pitch."

Chambliss took a high fastball from Littell and deposited it over the right field fence for a series ending home run. Fans streamed onto the field and swarmed the slugger, causing him to shove them aside so he could circle the bases (Chambliss actually never touched home, but the Royals were classy enough to not challenge the game). It would be the first of many epic battles between the Royals and Yankees in post-season play.

Littell put up pretty similar numbers in 1977 as he had the previous season, with his ERA scooting up to 3.61 in 104 innings. The Royals felt they needed to add a left-hander to the bullpen so in December that year they dealt Littell to St. Louis with a player to be named later (which became catcher Buck Martinez) for lefty Al "The Mad Hungarian" Hrabosky.

Littell was a solid pitcher for the Cardinals the next two seasons, finishing in the top ten in the league in appearances each year. Littell unraveled in 1980 however, and struggled in parts of the next three seasons. His claim to fame over those years was giving up a hit to Pete Rose, the 3,631 of Rose's career, breaking the National League hit record.

Littell was finally demoted to the minors in June of 1982 and never returned to the big leagues. In 1988 he began a career in coaching as the coach in-residence for Australia's Bicentennial. He then worked as a minor league pitching coach for several organizations, including the Royals from 1997-1998. He is currently the pitching coach for the Milwaukee Brewers Rookie League affiliate in Helena, Montana.

Mark has also won accolades for an invention that protects a special area for baseball players. His "Nutty Buddy" protective device won top honors from the Industrial Design Society of America. One of the funniest things you will ever see is this video of Littell standing confidently as he takes a baseball in the crotch to demonstrate how well his product works.

"It takes a very confident man to stand five feet from a pitching machine and take a 90 mph baseball to the cojones," reports Sports Illustrated. "Wearing both hats is former MLB pitcher Mark Littell, who put his fertility in the hands of the Nutty Buddy."

"The guy with the bullet-proof vest did it with his product," said Littell. "Well, I did too. I can literally say I stand behind my product."

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