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The forgotten players from the 1968 expansion draft

Some made the Royals, others didn’t.

In the 1968 expansion draft, the Royals and the Pilots took very different approaches. Seattle went for veteran players who they thought could contribute immediately, guys like Don Mincher, Tommy Harper, Ray Oyler, Tommy Davis and Diego Segui. The Royals went with younger, more unproven guys that they believed could develop, such as Dick Drago, Bob Oliver, Jim Rooker, Al Fitzmorris, Mike Hedlund and Tom Burgmeier. The Royals’ approach paid off.

General Manager Cedric Tallis had a genius for recognizing developing talent. Of the 30 players Tallis drafted, he squeezed 5,553 games, 1,704 innings pitched and over 96 WAR out of them. 25 of his picks saw the field for the Royals. One of the five picks who never played a single game in Kansas City uniform, future Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm, was traded before the 1969 season for two players, Ed Kirkpatrick and Dennis Paepke, who saw action in 693 games for Kansas City.

There were some misses by Tallis: Marty Pattin, Mike Marshall and Lou Piniella were all grabbed by Seattle. Tallis rectified the Piniella miss by trading his #23 pick, Steve Whitaker and a pitcher he had acquired in a cash deal from the Pittsburgh Pirates, John Gelnar, for Piniella. The deal was consummated just a week before the ’69 season opened. Piniella was in the starting lineup for the Royals inaugural game and went on to win the 1969 American League Rookie of the Year. After a slow start to his career, Marshall went on to revolutionize the fireman role and won a Cy Young in 1974 as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Pattin had a steady and productive career, which ended coincidentally in Kansas City.

Of the 60 players drafted by Seattle and Kansas City, five had played at one time for the Kansas City Athletics: Diego Segui, Skip Lockwood, Jim Gosger, Jack Aker and Moe Drabowsky.

Of the 30 players drafted or acquired by Tallis that first year, eleven saw very little or no playing time for the Royals. Here are their stories.

Steve Jones - Jones, a left-handed pitcher, was the 10th pick in the draft. His brother Gary also pitched in the big leagues. Jones appeared in 20 games for the Royals in 1969, making four starts. He spent part of 1970 in Omaha. The Royals released him during the 1970 season, and he was picked up by Baltimore. He played for the Orioles and Indians farm systems, with his 1971 season as a Wichita Aero being his last. After retiring, Jones spent time coaching local youth teams in the Knoxville, Tennessee area.

Jon Warden – Warden, another left-handed pitcher, was taken with the 12th pick from the Detroit Tigers. Warden was a member of the Tigers 1968 World Series champs but did not play in the series. He also never saw the field for the Royals. He split the 1969 season between Omaha and High Point. He played in San Jose in 1970 and split 1971 between Evansville, Elmira and the Arkansas Travelers, the AA team of St. Louis, before calling it a career. Warden was known by one of the all-time great nicknames, Warbler.

Steve Whitaker – Whitaker helped create some unrealistic expectations when he slammed three home runs in his first three games after making his Yankee debut in August of 1966. He hit 11 in more extended duty in 1967 but struggled mightily in 1968 after which New York left him unprotected. Tallis scooped him up with the 23rd pick in the draft. Whitaker never played a single inning in a Royals uniform, but he did make a significant contribution to the franchise. A week before opening day, April 1, 1969, Tallis sent Whitaker and John Gelnar to Seattle for Lou Piniella, who went on to play 700 games in his Kansas City career and won the 1969 American League Rookie of the Year award. The trade was the second of many brilliant swaps made by Tallis.

Bill Haynes – Haynes was a right-handed hitting first baseman. He’s somewhat of a mystery, as very little data is left about his career. He was drafted in the first round (13th overall) of the 1967 baseball draft (as Dan Haynes) out of East Point, Georgia. He was selected ahead of such notables as Bobby Grich, Vida Blue, Dave Kingman, Jerry Reuss and Don Baylor, so he must have had some talent. The Royals took him with the 29th selection in the expansion draft. He spent 1970 at AA Elmira and split 1972 and 1973 between AA and AAA. He played at AA Jacksonville in 1973 and 1974 but could never make the jump to Kansas City. He retired after the 1974 season.

Billy Harris – Harris was selected by the Indians in the 27th round of the 1966 baseball draft. He showed promise in his brief stint in the minors, hitting .297 at A level in Reno and .270 at AA Pawtucket, before getting a 38-game stint with Cleveland in 1968. Kansas City selected him with the 36th pick of the expansion draft. He played five games in Kansas City, two in June and three in late September, collecting two its in seven at bats. He spent all of 1970 in Omaha but only hit .201. The Royals released him, and he hooked on with the Reds. He spent 1971 at the Red’s AAA affiliate in Indianapolis, but the hitting stroke never came back. His .200 average spelled the end of his career at the age of 27. He did get a nice-looking baseball card for the Royals in the 1970 set.

Don O’Riley – O’Riley was a big (6’3, 205 lb) right-handed pitcher from Topeka. His is one of the more tragic stories in Royals history. He was originally signed by the Kansas City Athletics as a free agent in 1965 by a scout named Whitey Herzog. Yes, that Whitey Herzog. He never took the field for Kansas City or Oakland and the Royals selected him with the 38th pick in the expansion draft. He pitched in 18 games for the Royals in 1969, all in relief. He made a nine-game appearance in 1970, getting two spot starts.

In October of 1970, the Royals sent O’Riley and Pat Kelly to the White Sox in exchange for Gail Hopkins and John Matias. The White Sox released O’Riley and he spent 1972 and 1973 with the Braves AAA team in Richmond. He injured his elbow in a 1973 motorcycle accident, which ended his career. He moved back to the Kansas City area and was working as a manager of a convenience store in May of 1997 when an armed robber entered the store. O’Riley got off a shot, wounding the would-be robber. The robber also fired, striking O’Riley in the head, killing him. O’Riley was only 52. The robber was sentenced to life in prison for the senseless killing.

Hoyt Wilhelm – Anyone worth their baseball salt knows of Hoyt Wilhelm. He was a World War II veteran who earned a Purple Heart at the Battle of the Bulge. Wilhelm got a late start to his professional career, making his debut when he was 29. The cliff notes are this: Eight time All-Star, played for nine teams over a 21-year career. He possessed a devastating knuckleball which gave him longevity. As a reliever, he won a record 124 games. He was the first pitcher to reach 200 saves and the first to appear in 1,000 games. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985. He won a World Series in 1954 with the New York Giants and pitched a no-hitter as a member of the Baltimore Orioles against the New York Yankees. His nickname was “Old Sarge”.

Kansas City selected him with the 49th pick in the expansion draft. Old Sarge never put on a Royals uniform. Instead, Tallis flipped Wilhelm to the California Angels for Ed Kirkpatrick and Dennis Paepke in the first really great trade of Tallis’ tenure. Ed “Spanky” Kirkpatrick played 613 games for the Royals over five seasons, becoming a bit of a fan favorite. Wilhelm played through the 1972 season before retiring at the age of 49.

MLB Photos Archive
Hoyt Wilhelm
Photo by Louis Requena/MLB via Getty Images

Dennis Paepke – Paepke was one of two players picked up in the Wilhelm trade. A native of Long Beach, California, Paepke hit over .700 as a high school senior, prompting the Los Angeles Angels to sign him after graduation. Paepke made a long and winding tour through the Angels minor league system: Idaho Falls, Quad Cities, San Jose, Seattle, El Paso before the Royals acquired him on December 12th, 1968. He started 1969 in Omaha, then was called up to Kansas City for the month of June but only hit .111.

His high-water mark was 1971 when he appeared in 60 games, picking up 152 at bats and hitting .204. He suffered a career ending injury in 1974 when an unnamed player slid into his left arm, reportedly with sharpened spikes, tearing the ligaments in the arm. Paepke attempted a comeback with AA Jacksonville in 1975 but retired after hitting only .189 in 63 games.

Jerry Cram – Cram, a right-handed pitcher is a name that may be familiar to many Royal fans. Cram was originally signed as a free agent by the Minnesota Twins. Cram was taken with the 54th pick of the expansion draft. He possessed a devastating curveball and in today’s game would have made an excellent situation pitcher, but back in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, relievers were expected to throw multiple innings.

Cram spent most of 1969 with Omaha, before getting a five game call up in September. He pitched well, a 3.24 ERA over 16 innings. He toiled in Omaha until Kansas City traded him to the Mets in February of 1973. He reappeared in the bigs in 1974, appearing in ten games for New York. His signature moment came on September 11, 1974 when he threw eight scoreless innings – the 17th through the 24th – of what was a 25-inning loss to St. Louis. He got another four games with the Mets in 1975, before being dealt back to Kansas City. He pitched in four games for the 1976 Royals but did not appear on their playoff roster. He continued to pitch for Omaha through the 1981 season before finally calling it a career. He immediately got into coaching, first with Omaha then later with the San Francisco Giants organization before retiring from the game after the 2017 season.

Scott Northey – Northey came from a baseball family. His father Ron played for five teams over a twelve-year career. Scott originally signed as a free agent by the White Sox in 1965. The Royals selected him with the 58th pick in the expansion draft. He played well enough for Omaha in 1969, a .327 batting average, to earn a 20 game callup to Kansas City in September and a spot alongside Al Fitzmorris as 1970 Royals Rookie stars in the 1970 Topps baseball set. Northey hit well in his brief Kansas City stay, .262 with one home run, a three-run shot off Gary Peters at Comiskey, but never got another day in the majors. He played in the Royals minor league system through the end of the 1972 season before retiring from the game.

Ike Brookens – Brookens was a right-handed pitcher that was selected by the Washington Senators in the 5th round of the 1967 baseball draft. Kansas City used the 60th and final pick of the expansion draft on Brookens. Brookens never made the show for the Royals, spending 1969 and 1970 in their minor league system. The Royals traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals in December of 1970. He played in the Cardinals system through the 1974 campaign. From 1975 to 1977, he played in the Detroit Tigers system, primarily at AAA Evansville. In one of the things that makes baseball such a great sport, Brookens perseverance was rewarded when the Tigers brought him up for three games in June of 1975. He pitched ten innings, striking out eight batters.