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Remembering Paul Schaal

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He had your back!

Before George Brett. Before Kevin Seitzer. Before Gary Gaetti, Joe Randa and Mike Moustakas, the Royals had a pretty decent third baseman. His name was Paul Schaal.

Schaal was an outstanding high school baseball player who led his team, the Compton Tarbabes, to a California State Championship. After going undrafted, Schaal thought his playing days might be over. When he found out that the California Angels were holding an open tryout, Schaal rode his bicycle 18 miles to the tryout. Schaal impressed the Angels enough that they signed him to a free agent contract prior to the 1962 season.

Schaal’s first stop was with the Class D Quad City Angels in Davenport, Iowa. He excelled in nearly every level of the minors and quickly moved through the Angels organization, making his major league debut on September 3rd, 1964. He got his first hit the next day against future Hall of Famer Robin Roberts. Schaal bounced between the parent club and their AAA team, the Hawaii Islanders before sticking with the Angels for good in 1965.

In his early days, Schaal was an underrated fielder. Many baseball people thought he might have won multiple Gold Gloves, had he not played in the same era as one Brooks Robinson. Hitting was always a struggle for Schaal. One season the Angels tried to ramp up Schaal’s power by turning him into a pull hitter. Schaal had some early success, until as he says “word got around the league. Then all I saw was pitches on the outside of the plate.”

Schaal hit the first home run in Anaheim Stadium history, in an exhibition game against the San Francisco Giants, but his forte as a hitter was to spray the ball to all fields. He struggled at the plate in 1967 and his career, and life, took a turn for the worse in 1968. On June 13, 1968, facing Jose Santiago of the Red Sox, Schaal took a fastball to the left temple. When Angels trainer Freddy Frederico reached Schaal, he though Schaal was dead.

Schaal was barely conscious and bleeding from the left ear. He was carried from the field on a stretcher and spent 12 days in the hospital. The beaning left him with hearing loss in his left ear and problems with his balance, especially when chasing pop-ups. After the injury, the previously sure handed Schaal would lunge and stagger after pop-ups, as he said, “like some sort of clown routine.” One thing about Paul Schaal, he had a terrific sense of humor and was always good for a quote.

Schaal only played in two more games in the 1968 season, before being sidelined permanently with dizziness. The Angels decided to move on and left him unprotected in the 1969 expansion draft. The Royals were stocking their roster with young players and took a chance on the 26-year-old Schaal, taking him in the 27th round, and he rewarded their faith.

In 1969, Schaal split time at third with Joe Foy. He got into 61 games and slashed .263/.346/.307. He also developed into a valuable utility player, able to play shortstop or second base. In the off-season, General Manager Cedric Tallis unloaded Foy on the Mets for Amos Otis, which opened the third base job for Schaal. Manager Charlie Metro did not believe Schaal could be an everyday player, so he had to fight for playing time with Bob Oliver, before the Royals came to their senses and moved Oliver to first.

Schaal had his best season as a pro in 1971, and what a season it was. He slashed .274/.387/.416 with 11 home runs, 63 RBI and 103 walks. Schaal got on base 255 times in 1971, which was second in the American League. He collected career highs in practically every offensive category. He also extracted some revenge on the Red Sox. On August 15th, 1971, Schaal went 3-for-4 with a triple and a three-run home run, driving in all five runs in a 5-1 Royals victory at Fenway.

On June 4th, 1972, Schaal hit the first grand slam of his career against the Red Sox, which helped the Royals to a 7-5 victory. The slam was also the last grand slam in Municipal Stadium history. Midway through the ’72 season, Schaal injured his thumb and then later suffered a bone bruise on his heel. The injuries caused him to miss about six weeks of play.

During the off-season, concerned about Schaal’s ability to stay healthy, the Royals pursued Graig Nettles, before making trades for Kurt Bevacqua and Hal McRae, in an attempt to add infield depth. Can you imagine if Tallis had been able to acquire Nettles? Nettles was a terrific fielder and a solid hitter. What would that have done for the development of George Brett?

Ah yes, Mr. Brett. In spring training 1973, a floppy haired Brett approached Schaal and asked, “Mr. Schaal, can I take some ground balls with you?” Schaal thought, “There he is, the kid who’s going to take my job some day.” Indeed. Brett made his debut August 2nd, 1973 and took over the third base job for good in 1974. Schaal was fond of saying, “It took a Hall of Famer to take my job from me.”

Brett said, “You couldn’t ask for a nicer guy. I was trying to take his job and he knew it.”

In April of 1974, the Royals brass decided they had to have Richie Scheinblum, again, so they traded Schaal back to the Angels for the switch-hitting Scheinblum. Schaal, always a fan favorite, played six seasons in Kansas City and slashed .263/.360/.368 with 32 home runs, 84 doubles and 300 walks against only 226 strike outs in 2,340 plate appearances. At the time of his departure, Schaal held the Royals record for consecutive games played and still holds the Royals record (and maybe the major league record) for being married nine times. That is not a misprint. Paul Schaal, he of the world class sideburns, was very popular with the ladies. Schaal could not pull the outside fastball, but he could pull the ladies. Schaal was also one of the few players whose first and last names rhymed with each other.

If there were to ever be a sports Mount Rushmore dedicated to ladies’ men, Wilt Chamberlain and his 20,000 conquests, would represent the NBA. Shawn Kemp would pick up some honorable mention votes. Antonio Cromartie, sire of 13 children, would represent the NFL. he NHL? That’s a tough one. Sean Avery? Alex Ovechkin? Maybe we go with a boxer? My personal choice would be Muhammad Ali, who reportedly had an intimate encounter with Diana Ross in the locker room after the first Frazier fight. In baseball, Schaal would be a strong candidate for the MLB bust, though Mickey Mantle deserves serious consideration.

Best pitcher he ever saw? “I played with Nolan Ryan.” End of discussion. “Dean Chance was really good, and Steve Busby was great. There’s no telling what Busby could have accomplished if he hadn’t torn his rotator cuff.”

Best he ever played against? In a somewhat surprising answer, “Tony Oliva. If his knees hadn’t given out, he would have been one of the all-time greats. He could hit for average, hit to all fields, had power, ran and threw with the best of them. The man had no weaknesses in his game.”

On Cookie Rojas: “He was the ultimate competitor. When Cookie was new to Kansas City, a pitcher threw at him and flipped him on his back. In those days, retaliation was mandatory. Our pitcher didn’t retaliate, and Cookie blew up. He slammed the clubhouse door and held a team meeting and laid down the law. He was a leader from the start. He would have made a great manager.”

Schaal played for 12 years, all with the Angels and Royals. He ended as a 15 WAR player at .244/.341/.344 with 869 hits. He drew 516 walks and only struck out 466 times.

After retiring, Schaal moved back to the Kansas City area. He first tried selling cars, upon which he said, “I only sold four cars in three months, and three of them were to relatives!”

Many Kansas Citians remember Schaal’s Pizza restaurant, which he claimed in typical Schaal fashion, had the best pizza in the city. The pizza business left Schaal overweight and one of his customers convinced him to go to Chiropractic College. Upon graduation, he opened the Schaal Health and Wellness Center in 1978 in Overland Park. Kansas City Kings coach, Cotton Fitzsimmons, sent many of his players to Schaal. The Royals did not. Many Royals had to come in the back door and tell Schaal to not tell the Royals that they had been there. Schaal used to treat Brett, and once told him (while Brett was facedown on the table) “I’d still be playing if it wasn’t for you! You took my job from me and now I’m going to get even!” General Manager John Schuerholz once called Schaal and told him to stop treating Brett. Schaal held his ground and told Schuerholz that decision was up to George.

Schaal closed the wellness center in 2010 and moved back to Hawaii. He died on September 1, 2017 in Waikoloa, Hawaii after a long battle with cancer. Paul Schaal was 74.