1975 will always be remembered as the summer that everyone was afraid to go swimming because of the movie Jaws. Right? Might as well go to the ballpark then.
1975 was another classic year. The Vietnam war drew to a close. Two young guys named Bill Gates and Paul Allen formed a company in their garage and called it Microsoft. Jimmy Hoffa disappeared, some say under the concrete in the end zone at Giants Stadium. The Dow Jones Average closed the year at 858. Patty Hearst was arrested for her part in the Symbionese Liberation Army. New York City narrowly avoided bankruptcy when President Gerald Ford signed a $2.3 billion-dollar loan package. Muhammad Ali beat Joe Frazier in the Thrilla in Manilla. The music scene was dominated by two huge albums: “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen and “One of these Nights” by the Eagles.
In the baseball world, Fred Lynn exploded on the scene, becoming the first player in baseball history to win Rookie of the Year and League MVP in his first season. Joe Morgan won the National League MVP while Nolan Ryan of the Angels threw his fourth no-hitter. Catfish Hunter threw thirty complete games and Frank Robinson was named manager of the Cleveland Indians, becoming the first black manager in Major League history.
The Boston Red Sox, led by Lynn and Jim Rice, ended Oakland’s reign atop the American League. Cincinnati dominated the National League and won the World Series by beating Boston in a classic seven game series best remembered for two dramatic home runs in the classic game six by Bernie Carbo and Carlton Fisk.
The Royals, in their seventh season, posted the best win total of any team in Kansas City history, going 91-71, which was good for second place in the American League West, but still seven games back of powerful Oakland. The 91 wins were the fifth highest total in baseball, behind the four division winners, but in those pre-wildcard days, meant nothing other than pride.
Jack McKeon started the season as manager, but after a 50-46 start, was fired and replaced by Dorrel “Whitey” Herzog. The easy going Herzog, nicknamed the White Rat, had played for the Kansas City Athletics from 1958 to 1960 and lived in Independence in the off-season. Press releases indicate that McKeon was fired because of “his inability to relate to his players.” Much of this stemmed from what was called The New York Incident in which Steve Busby threatened to leave the team due to differences with McKeon. There was also friction with several players when McKeon asked owner Ewing Kauffman to fire popular hitting coach, Charlie Lau, in the final weeks of the 1974 season. Lau was reassigned to the Royals minor league system as a coach at the Royals Single A team in Waterloo, Iowa. Upon his hiring, Herzog retained all of McKeon’s coaches and immediately recalled Lau back to the big-league club. Herzog became the fifth manager in the Royals seven-year history. His hiring lit a fire under the Royals and they finished the season on a 41-25 tear.
The Royals were led by their Big Three: Brett, McRae and Mayberry. George Brett blossomed into a bona fide star in 1975 by hitting .308 with 11 home runs and 90 RBI and led the American League with 195 hits. The .308 average was sixth best in the league.
McRae chipped in with a .306 average, five home runs and 71 RBI. Brett and McRae changed the culture of those Royal teams, infusing them with a hard charging style of play. Shortstops and second basemen learned to be quick when those two were bearing down on them.
Big John Mayberry was the hitter who really had a terrific season, going for a .291 average with 34 home runs, 106 RBI and 119 walks, which was good for a .416 OBP. Mayberry finished second in the A.L. MVP race behind Boston’s Lynn. I can only imagine what Mayberry’s power stats would have looked like in a hitter friendly park such as Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium or Atlanta’s Fulton County stadium.
Tony Solaita and Harmon Killebrew chipped in with 16 and 14 home runs respectively. The Royals, as a team, only hit 118 home runs with Mayberry, Brett, Killebrew and Solaita accounting for 75 of them. For the Hall of Famer Killebrew, it was his one and only season in Kansas City, ending a twenty-two-year reign of terror against American League pitchers which saw him slug 573 home runs.
The 1975 team broke nearly every team batting record, including the season marks for home runs (118), doubles (263), triples (58), total bases (2,164) and stolen bases (155). All of these records have since been broken, the only exception being John Mayberry’s record of hitting 23 road home runs.
The young pitching staff started to gel in 1975. Steve Busby went 18-12, Al Fitzmorris had another terrific year winning 16 and losing 12, while rookie Dennis Leonard went 15-7, including a streak of seven consecutive wins from July 21st to September 3rd.
There were several significant games during the 1975 season. The first came on Tuesday May 27th in a game at Royals Stadium as Al Fitzmorris outdueled Catfish Hunter and the New York Yankees, winning 3 – 0. Fitzmorris held the Yankees to three harmless singles and improved his record to seven and three. The Royals got a two out first inning double from Hal McRae followed by a Harmon Killebrew single to take an early lead. They iced the game in the sixth, when with two outs, George Brett singled, followed by a Vada Pinson triple and a Fran Healy single to give the Royals the final margin.
On July 1st at Arlington Stadium, The Royals lost to the Rangers, 5 – 4, despite three home runs from John Mayberry and one from Harmon Killebrew, all solo shots off Ferguson Jenkins. With his power surge, Mayberry became the first Royal to hit three home runs in a game. Don Denkinger, who always seemed to pop up in significant games for the Royals, was umpiring first base.
I was only able to attend one game that summer, on a scorching Sunday, July 6th against the White Sox. We had fantastic seats, right behind the White Sox dugout, which worked great when asking for autographs. I was able to score Jesse Jefferson, Cecil Upshaw, Terry Forster and Bucky Dent. Who remembers Dent coming up with the White Sox?
The game itself was a dud as the Sox pounded four Royals pitchers for seventeen hits. The Sox lit up starter Marty Pattin for four runs on seven hits as Pattin only lasted one and two thirds innings. The top of the White Sox order, Pat Kelly, Dent, Carlos May and Deron Johnson lashed the Royals for eleven hits and seven RBI, in leading the Pale Hose to a nine to three win. The White Sox had been on a hot streak and this game marked their twelfth win in their last fifteen contests. Frank White played shortstop for the Royals and John Mayberry continued his power surge by pounding his sixteenth home run. Veteran pitcher Claude Osteen, who was a workhorse for the Los Angeles Dodgers during the 60’s and early 70’s, went the distance in picking up the win, in what would be the final season of his eighteen-year career. One memory that sticks out after all these years centered around Royals catcher Fran Healy. Royals manager Jack McKeon was convinced that Healy had the tools to become a star catcher. Healy did have a nine-year career, but stardom never called as he ended his career with a pedestrian .250 batting average with little power, only twenty career home runs in 1,326 at bats. In the middle innings of this game, one of the Sox batters hit a high pop foul to the third base side of the field. Healy threw off his mask, looking up into the bright sky located the ball, ran into position, made an awkward twist and whiffed, as the ball bounced off the artificial turf. The crowd groaned and fell quiet. It was at least a hundred degrees and the Royals were getting manhandled. A man directly behind us stood up and roared, “Healy, you SUCK!”
I was kind of startled by the whole scene. I glanced into the next section where the wives and girlfriends sat and noticed that Healy’s wife had covered her face, and some of the other wives were glaring at the man. It was the first time in my life that I saw the players as real people. Before, they had always been these mythical figures but seeing Fran Healy’s wife’s face made me realize that these were people with feelings. It was a good lesson for a young man. I tried to be more judicious with my booing, at least until Kyle Farnsworth started gascanning games for the Royals. Once with Farnsworth, I actually bought a ticket on the rail above the Royals bullpen just so I could trash talk him. Probably not an especially smart thing to do, as Farnsworth stood 6’4 and went 230 and could probably crush me like a bug.
The 1975 game program was also a classic. I’m always amazed at seeing the tobacco and booze ads, which were prominent. I love the Camel ad copy: “One of a kind. He does more than survive. He lives. Because he knows.” All I can say is: Wow! He does more than survive?? Seriously? What’s the alternative?
Check out the Rojas Buck. Good for $1.00 off a pair of shoes. Only one Rojas Buck per customer.
And who can ever forget “Halter Day”? Again, the classic ad copy, “Both the guys and the gals will enjoy the Royals Halter Top Day.” You better believe it. I would imagine there were more than a few brave ladies who changed into their halters in the stadium. Gotta love the seventies!
The off-season was uneventful. New General Manager Joe Burke leaned for a more conservative approach as compared to the standout horse trading of his predecessor, Cedric Tallis. His big off-season move was signing an aging Harmon Killebrew as a free agent, with the hopes that the water spectacular at Royals Stadium would be the Fountain of Youth for the 39-year-old slugger. Killebrew did slam fourteen home runs but hit only .199 in 312 at bats and his career ended with his November release by the Royals. The Royals did sign an unheralded pitcher named Dan Quisenberry as an amateur free agent in June of 1975. In November, the Royals traded reliable starter Nelson Briles to the Rangers for second baseman Dave Nelson.
The 1975 amateur draft brought Clint Hurdle with pick number nine in the first round. The Royals also scored in the fifth round, getting pitcher Rich Gale with pick #105. The draft was not especially deep but did produce stars like Lou Whitaker (#99), Mike Boddiker (#178) and Andre Dawson (#250). The Royals had pick #249 and used it on an outfielder named Danny Garcia. Andre Dawson would naturally have a Hall of Fame career, spanning twenty-one seasons, 2,774 hits and 438 home runs. Sigh.