The 88th Greatest Royals is Mike Hedlund.
Mike Hedlund was nicknamed "Booger Red" because of his red hair and freckles. I miss nicknames like that in baseball. Hedlund was signed as a bonus baby out of high school in Arlington, Texas. Baseball rules required bonus babies to spend a year on the MLB roster, so Hedlund made his MLB debut in 1965 at age 18 with the Cleveland Indians. He pitched just five innings that year, making his major league debut as an 18 year old facing Carl Yastrzemski. Why MLB instituted such a stupid rule is beyond me.
After his required season in the big leagues, the Indians shipped him to the minors where he pitched well. By 1968 he had matured and at Waterbury, he finished 11-8 with a 2.30 ERA and 149 strikeouts in 169 innings. The Royals were impressed with his performance and took him from the Indians as the 45th pick in the 1969 Expansion Draft.
Hedlund was a swingman for the Royals in their inaugural season making sixteen starts and twenty relief appearances. He posted a solid 3.24 ERA, although he was much more effective as a reliever that year, posting a 1.69 ERA in 32 innings out of the pen.
The Royals sent the twenty-three year old pitcher to Venezuela for winter ball. He pitched brilliantly, not allowing a run for his first fifty-three innings, and finishing with a 0.75 ERA. While in Venezuela, Hedlund would contract the "Hong Kong flu" and bronchitis. The illness caused him to lose thirty pounds and would wipe out nearly his entire 1970 season.
That's Mr. Booger Red to you!
He bounced back in a major way in 1971, earning a rotation spot right out of spring training. He finished April with a 3-0 record and a 2.10 ERA. Hedlund struggled a bit in the hot Kansas City summer, but finished strong with a 7-2 1.97 ERA in the last two months of the season. He ended the year with a 15-8 record and a 2.71 ERA, good for fourth in the league. His fifteen wins were the second most in franchise history, behind only 1971 teammate Dick Drago.
The Royals finished the year with a team record 85 wins and with a young rotation of under 30 pitchers like Hedlund, Drago, Paul Splittorff, and Bruce dal Canton, the Royals looked like they were an emerging contender in the American League.
After the season, Hedlund was chosen to travel to Vietnam with a group of Major League ballplayers on a tour of hospitals and military bases. I had no idea baseball did this during the Vietnam War and it begs the question - why isn't the league doing anything like that now in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Hedlund began the 1972 season as part of the Royals rotation. He lost his first five decisions, and the Royals lost six of the first seven games he started. Manager Bob Lemon demoted Hedlund and his 4.03 to the bullpen, using him as a spot starter when needed. He rejoined the rotation in August and rewarded Lemon with a complete game victory August 5th against the Angels. Hedlund pitched well his next two starts, earning a victory and throwing quality starts in each. He then collapsed in his next three starts, two against Boston and one against the Yankees. He failed to get through the fourth inning in each start, and was rocked for fourteen runs in seven innings in the three games combined. He finished the year with a 4.78 ERA, nearly one and a half runs higher than the league average.
The Royals had an up and coming right hander named Steve Busby in their minor league system they wanted to break into the rotation the following spring, so Hedlund became expendable. In November of 1972, Hedlund was dealt to the team that drafted him, the Cleveland Indians, for infielder Kurt Bevacqua.
Hedlund would bounce from the Indians to the White Sox to the Reds, but he would never pitch in the big leagues. He would, however, be dealt for a player named Ozzie Osborn.
No bats were harmed in the posting of this diary.