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Forgotten players from the 1969 Royals: Ed Kirkpatrick

We remember “Spanky”.

Kirkpatrick, affectionately known to Kansas City fans by his nickname “Spanky”, was a bonus baby signed by the Angels out of Glendora, California. Kirkpatrick was a hot commodity. There were representatives for 11 teams that attended his high school graduation. Ed signed with the Angels for $20,000 and used some of that money to purchase a cherry red 1963 Corvette - typical stuff for a newly rich 17 year old.

The Angels started him out at Quad Cities of the Class D league, and in the first 45 games of his career, Kirkpatrick slashed .381/.442/.685 with 9 home runs and 62 RBI. Did I mention he was 17 years old? The kid could hit, so the Angels bumped him to Class C San Jose. The results? In 19 games, Spanky ripped a solid line of: .354/.415/.604.

That convinced the Angels to give the youngster a late season cup of coffee in the bigs, so on September 13, 1962, Ed Kirkpatrick made his major league debut, just four months after his high school graduation, in a game played at Dodger Stadium against the Kansas City Athletics. Spanky got a ninth inning pinch hitting call for his first at bat. He hit a ground ball that deflected off the pitcher, John Wyatt, to shortstop Billy Consolo, who threw him out. He got five more at bats before the season ended but did not record a hit. Pretty amazing stuff for a 17-year old.

Kirkpatrick broke camp with the Angels in 1963. He collected his first hit on April 13 with a pinch hit, fifteenth inning single off Gary Peters that gave the Angels a 2-1 walk-off victory over the White Sox. He got his first Major League home run on July 15 off Boston’s Bill Monouquette, also at Dodger Stadium. On July 24, with Kirkpatrick only hitting .105, the Angels rightly sent him down to AA Nashville. He found his hitting stroke almost immediately, banging out a .303 average in 47 games. The Angels then sent him to AAA Hawaii, where in 49 games, Spanky ripped AAA pitching to the tune of .352/.450/.585. Kirkpatrick was still just 18.

That earned him another late season call-up, where in the last 13 games of the 1963 season, Ed hit .282 and even added a home run at Yankee Stadium off Jim Bouton. Imagine being 18 and your first two big league home runs were hit at Dodger Stadium and Yankee Stadium. Athletic prodigies never cease to fascinate me.

I love this early picture of Ed Kirkpatrick in his Angels uniform. Kirkpatrick in this shot is 18. He has a look of confidence. You can see the determination in his eyes. He’s strong and he knows nothing is going to stop him. He was a phenom and he knew it.

But baseball has a way of cooling off phenoms and Kirkpatrick was no exception. For the next four seasons, Kirkpatrick split time between the big-league club and their AAA affiliate. I’m not sure what happened but he never again put up the big batting average numbers that he did in his first two seasons.

Kirkpatrick came to the attention of Kansas City fans late in the 1965 season, when at a play to the plate, he bowled over the Athletics Bert Campaneris, injuring Campy in the 9th inning of a game where Campaneris was attempting to play all nine positions. That was Kirkpatrick’s style - full tilt, balls to the wall. It endeared him to fans and teammates alike.

1968 was the first season that he spent the entire year in the majors. He was still only 23 but his star dimmed, after only hitting .230 in 161 at bats. In December of 1968, the expansion Royals made the first trade in their short history, flipping one of their expansion draft choices, future Hall of Fame pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm, to the Angels for Kirkpatrick and Dennis Paepke.

Spanky was playing left field and batting third when the Royals took the field for the first time on April 8, 1969. He went hitless in six at-bats and got off to a slow start that season, collecting only 3 hits in his first 34 at-bats. On May 3, his batting average was an anemic .088. The Royals stuck with him and he rebounded to hit .278 over the final 103 games of the season. In the last three games of the 1969 season, Spanky put on a hitting clinic, collecting 9 hits, scoring 6 times while driving in 11. During this streak he collected 7 consecutive hits, and he was on base 10 out of 12 at-bats.

He clubbed his first home run as a Royal on May 3 of 1969 against his former teammate, Jim McGlothin and the Angels, in a game at the new Anaheim Stadium. Hoyt Wilhelm pitched two innings for California to pick up a save in what was a 3-2 Angel victory.

Kirkpatrick did a bit of everything for the Royals. He caught. He played all three outfield positions, plus first, second and third. Kirkpatrick’s best power year came in 1970, when he clubbed 18 home runs and drove home 62, both career highs.

His best season in Royal uniform came in 1972. Over 113 games and 364 at-bats, Kirkpatrick hit .275 including sitting a then Royals record by homering in three consecutive games. He also recorded the final Royal base hit at Municipal Stadium with an eighth inning single on October 4, 1972. Fellow Californian Roger Nelson threw a two-hit shutout that night for the Royals to close out the old ballpark.

In the 1973 season opener, Ed was the first ever designated hitter in club history, facing Nolan Ryan. He went hitless but drew a walk. The next night, Kurt Bevacqua assumed the DH role and collected the Royals first DH hit and RBI.

In December of 1973, after 613 games with the Royals, Kansas City bid adieu to the kid, shipping him and another fan favorite, Dirty Kurt Bevacqua, to the Pittsburgh Pirates for pitcher Nelson Briles and infielder Fernando Gonzalez.

Kirkpatrick played for four more seasons, three of those with Pittsburgh, where he contributed to the Bucs winning the Eastern Division crown in 1974 and 1975. He split the 1977 season between Pittsburgh, Texas and Milwaukee, before being released by the Brewers at the conclusion of the season.

He hooked back up with California but didn’t make their Major League roster in 1978. He did have a bit of a resurgence at the Angels AAA affiliate in Salt Lake City, hitting .325, but his power was pretty much gone and his young family in California beckoned, so at the age of 33, Ed called it a career. Later in life, Ed said he enjoyed his time in Kansas City the best, but that the Pirates had the rowdiest clubhouse.

In 1981, Kirkpatrick was leaving a charity event in La Habra, California and was involved in a seemingly minor car accident. He was taken to a local hospital for an examination and a blood clot traveled from his neck to his brain. He subsequently suffered a heart attack while having brain surgery and was left in a coma for nearly six months and permanently paralyzed. Kirkpatrick was confined to a wheelchair, which he named Sparky, for the remainder of his life. Spanky and Sparky. There’s some synergy there.

“At parties and other functions, Ed never lost his sense of humor and uplifting personality,” said baseball writer Ross Newhan. “He was always willing to send a bet to the track or challenge friends to a football wager, a glint in his eye, and he never lost the love and support of his wife, Judy, who was beside him through all the often difficult years.”

The city of Glendora presents the annual Ed Kirkpatrick Award to an outstanding member of the community who has provided exemplary and extraordinary service to youth sports in the city.

Kirkpatrick died on November 15, 2010 at the age of 66, after a long battle with throat cancer. He was survived by his wife Judy and sons Steve, Jeff and David.