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Rewind Yourself: The time Mark Quinn wouldn’t walk

Quinn had a short, wild ride in Kansas City.

Mark Quinn #62

“Rewind Yourself” is an anthology of stories of the stupidest moments in Royals history. See episode one for an explanation of the name of the series.

The Royals have never been a team to take a free pass. Since their first year in 1969, they have a 7.8% walk rate as a franchise, the lowest out of all 30 teams during that time. They have been a franchise of free-swingers, with a history of hacking. But perhaps one player took that aggressiveness to a new level during the summer of 2001, the summer that Mark Quinn would not walk.

In the late 90s, the Royals were trying to rebuild with a stable full of promising young hitters. By 2000, many of them were blooming and the team set a franchise-record for runs scored. The team had boppers up and down the lineup - Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran, Jermaine Dye, Mike Sweeney, Joe Randa, Raul Ibanez. Those players all went on to have lengthy, productive Major League careers. But there was one young slugger who did not - Mark Quinn.

Quinn grew up just outside of Houston, in Sugar Land. He attended nearby Rice University, a college baseball powerhouse, and in his junior year he was on fire, batting .380 with 18 HR. The Royals took him in the 11th round of the 1995 draft, and he opened eyes a few years later by smashing 16 home runs in 87 games in the notoriously difficult hitting environment in Wilmington, batting .308.

He destroyed the Texas League the next year, hitting a league-leading .349 with 16 home runs in 100 games for Wichita. He won another batting title the next year for Omaha, hitting .360 with 25 home runs. He was even named Defensive Outfielder of the Year. He was called up for a cup of coffee in September that year, and became the third big leaguer ever to hit two home runs in his Major League debut.

Up to that point, there was absolutely no indication Quinn would be a hacker at the big league level. Quite the contrary, his minor league walk rate through his 1999 season at Omaha was a very healthy 9.1%.

“He’s a big swinger, but he doesn’t strike out a lot. He has the ability to drive in runs. There’re a lot of things he doesn’t do, but he’s very aggressive.”

-Royals manager Tony Muser

Quinn made the team in 2000, and by May was hitting cleanup due to a strong start. But manager Muser benched him due to defensive misplays, baserunning gaffes, and a perception that he just wasn’t focused on baseball. Quinn would retort that he couldn’t improve by sitting on the bench.

“I’m cocky,” he told Sports Illustrated that summer. “You have to be cocky - think you’re better than the pitcher, that the next pitch is yours - to do well here.”

By June, he was shipped to Omaha despite leading all rookies in home runs. The demotion prompted a heated conversation with manager Tony Muser. Quinn told the Kansas City Star that he probably wouldn’t be in Kansas City in a few years anyway. That proved to be fairly prophetic.

The demotion was brief, and soon Quinn was mashing for the Royals again. He finished the season hitting .294/.342/.488 with 20 home runs, and he finished third in Rookie of the Year voting. Despite trading star outfielder Johnny Damon away that off-season, the outfield still seemed loaded with Quinn, Beltran, Dye, and Ibanez, with former first-round pick Dee Brown knocking on the door.

“I’m not one of those guys who likes to sit in there and take a lot of pitches and figure out what’s going on. I like to go in there and the first pitch that’s in my zone, I like to hack at, get out of there, and get on base and do some things.”

-Mark Quinn

Quinn got off to a sizzling start in April of 2001, batting .324/.345/.657 by the end of the month. On May 8, he drew a walk against Indians starter Dave Burba. But that summer would become the summer that Mark Quinn WOULD NOT WALK.

May passed. Then June. It was hot in July, but the Royals were ice-cold, dropping 18 of 27. Still, Mark Quinn would not walk.

Quinn would not draw another unintentional walk until kids were back in school. On August 30 against Angels starter Jarrod Washburn, Quinn led off the fifth inning, and on a 3-2 pitch, he took ball four, his first unintentional walk in 244 plate appearances. In a bit of humor, the stadium operator for the Royals set off fireworks to celebrate the occasion.

As he trotted to first with the first unintentional walk in 242 consecutive plate appearances, the crowd cheered, stadium fireworks went off and even the scoreboard flashed, “WALK!! WALK!!”

Even Quinn had to grin.

“I looked over at the pitcher and he was laughing, too,” the free-swinging outfielder said. “I’m just glad to get that monkey off my back so people can find something else to blow up and make a big deal out of.”

Mark Quinn went without an unintentional walk for 60 games, covering 244 plate appearances (the Tigers gave him an intentional walk in the fifth inning of a game on August 12, after 198 walkless plate appearances). Over his streak, Quinn hit .264/.282/.417 with six home runs, five hit-by-pitches, and 39 strikeouts. His batting average dropped 20 points over the streak. Just 19 times during that streak did he even draw as many as three balls (once was during the intentional walk).

“It was a very strange streak. Pitchers weren’t throwing strikes and I was in that rut of swinging, and swinging, and swinging. I’ve always been an aggressive hitter, and those pitchers went right after that and used it against me.”

Quinn was right in that he did like swinging at the first pitch. He put the ball in play on the first pitch 79 times that year, hitting .295. His hacking ways drew laughter and infamy, but it is not even the longest walkless streak in club history. Quinn’s record would fall a few years later, to a free-swinging friend.

Longest unintentional walk streaks in Royals history

Player Walked on Next walk PA without a walk
Player Walked on Next walk PA without a walk
Tony Pena, Jr. May 5, 2007 July 26, 2007 244
Mark Quinn May 8, 2001 August 30, 2001 242
Angel Salazar August 7, 1986 May 31, 1987 201
Frank White June 11, 1983 August 5, 1983 185
Al Cowens August 16, 1976 April 10, 1977 181
Angel Berroa July 20, 2005 September 9, 2005 173
Paulo Orlando July 18, 2015 May 18, 2016 164
Jose Guillen May 15, 2008 June 24, 2008 160
Miguel Olivo July 8, 2008 April 27, 2009 156
Frank White August 5, 1983 September 22, 1983 148

*Keep in mind that Baseball-Reference only allows you to search for games played in a row without a walk, and that they include intentional walks in the search. So it is possible someone drew a few intentional walks and didn’t come up in a search. I tried to be thorough and investigate all long streaks, but if you see an omission, let me know.

That’s right, good ol’ Tony Pena, Jr. failed to draw a free pass for longer than Quinn. Where were his fireworks?

Quinn slumped in the second half as hamstring and back issues and more defensive lapses took their toll. Still, he figured to be in the Royals’ plans after hitting .269/.298/.459 with 17 home runs that year (and just 12 walks in 473 plate appearances). Just before the following spring training, Quinn fractured a rib while practicing kung-fu with his brother. He returned to action in May, before injuring his hamstring. An ankle injury in August ended his season for good, with Quinn having played just 23 games for the Royals.

The Royals tendered Quinn a contract, but when he injured his hamstring the following spring training, they decided to cut their losses, outright releasing Quinn.

“Two weeks ago, the guy was the Royals starting right fielder. Now, he’s unemployed. Two weeks ago, he was, in the words of every Royals official, “the key to the season.” Now, he’s on the scrap heap. Nobody’s quite sure how he pulled that off. A career hasn’t died this fast since the Dell dude.”

-Joe Posnanski

Quinn bounced around the minors for a few years, but by age 33 his professional career was completely over. What might have been. Mark Quinn never became the All-Star or batting champ he envisioned becoming one day. But at least we’ll always have that strange, stupid streak.