I was a little too tall, could’ve used a few pounds
Tight pants points hardly renown
She was a black haired beauty with big dark eyes
And points all her own sitting way up high
Way up firm and high
Out past the cornfields where the woods got heavy
Out in the back seat of my ‘60 Chevy
Workin’ on mysteries without any clues
Workin’ on our night moves
Trying’ to make some front page drive-in news
Workin’ on our night moves in the summertime
In the sweet summertime
When I think back to that magical summer of 1977, all I can think is what a great time to be alive. The Vietnam War was over, and anything seemed possible. Fleetwood Mac was dominating the airwaves with their Rumours album and an interesting space movie called Star Wars hit the theaters in late May. The song Night Moves by Bob Seger was my song of the summer of ’77. Takes me back every time I hear it. Oh, the sweet summertime.
The Royals had finally pushed aside the hated Oakland A’s the summer before and over the winter had shored up their lineup by acquiring catcher Darrell Porter and pitcher Jim Colburn from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for Jim Wohlford, Bob McClure and George Brett’s running buddy Jamie Quirk. The deal ended up being a heist for the Royals as Porter put together four outstanding seasons. The trio of Porter, George Brett and Hal McRae became a three-headed, hard charging monster for the Royals. Colborn, despite only playing one full season in Kansas City, solidified an already strong starting rotation.
Colborn made his debut in the 1969 season with the Chicago Cubs, and had been something of a middling pitcher prior to his arrival in Kansas City. Up to that point he’d had a career record of 61-62 with a 3.67 ERA. He’d had exactly one season of note and that was 1973, when he became the first Milwaukee Brewer pitcher to win 20 games. He also made his only All-Star team that summer. In that 1973 season he had thrown a one-hitter at the Texas Rangers.
After being dealt to Kansas City, Colborn was only 4-3 when he took the mound against Texas on the Saturday evening of May 14. The Rangers had a formidable lineup of big bats, guys like Claudell Washington, Bert Campaneris, Mike Hargrove, Willie Horton, Toby Harrah, Jim Sundberg and Juan Beniquez. The Royals came into the game with a record of 16-15, four games back of the division lead. Despite their slow start, 29,978 fans came out to Royals Stadium that night.
The Royals started an eclectic lineup that evening: Hal McRae in left, Tom Poquette in right and Al Cowens manning centerfield while Amos Otis was out with an injury. Pete LaCock was playing first while John Mayberry had the night off. George Brett was also injured, which meant that 38-year-old warhorse Cookie Rojas started at third base.
Colborn got off to a hot start, retiring the first 14 Rangers in a row, before he hit Toby Harrah with a pitch in the fifth inning. Poquette made two sparkling plays, back-to-back in right field. With two outs in the first, he sprinted deep into the right-center gap to rob Mike Hargrove of a hit. Leading off the second, former Detroit Tiger Willie Horton laced a ball to deep right that drove Poquette against the wall before he made the catch.
By the third inning it was looking like the Tom Poquette show. In the bottom of the inning, Poquette hit a two-out RBI triple off Texas starter Tommy Boggs, before scoring the game’s second run on an RBI single from Hal McRae. Colburn walked Jim Sundberg leading off the sixth but got an assist from his infield teammates as Juan Beniquez grounded into a sweet 6-4-3 double play.
After the Sundberg walk, it was all Colborn. He got some late help from Al Cowens, who robbed Campaneris of a hit in the seventh on a short fly ball to center and again in the eighth when Cowens went deep into the right-center gap to snag a drive off the bat of Tom Grieve. The Royals tacked on two runs in the sixth and two more in the eighth to give Colborn a comfortable margin of victory. He retired the last 11 Rangers in a row to complete the first no-hitter by a Royals pitcher in the new stadium and only the second no-hitter thrown in Royals Stadium history, with Nolan Ryan having thrown one in 1973. The game only lasted 2:10 and registered a Game Score of 92.
Of course the summer of 1977 will long be remembered for the late season surge, a 38-9 run after August 17, which included winning streaks of 16, 10 and 8 games, which propelled the Royals to a team record of 102 wins against only 60 losses. Colborn did his part, finishing the year at 18-14 with a 3.62 ERA while throwing 239 innings.
Strangely enough, Manager Whitey Herzog did not pitch Colborn in the 1977 Championship Series. Herzog went with a four-man rotation of Paul Splittorff, Andy Hassler, Dennis Leonard and Larry Gura. Whitey thought the Yankees were vulnerable to left-handed pitching (Splitt, Hassler and Gura) but the reality was very different. The Yankees lacerated Gura and Hassler for 12 hits and 8 runs in just 7 2⁄3 innings of work, while winning both games they started. This does not even consider Herzog’s Game Five meltdown, when he went through five pitchers in the final two innings of a gut-wrenching loss that sent the Yankees to the World Series. Through it all, Colborn sat quietly in the bullpen. In fact, the highlight of that series for Royals fans, was George Brett’s game five dustup with Graig Nettles. The thing that still moves me about that fight is watching the Yankees Thurman Munson fight his way into the pile to get on top of and protect Brett from the melee. Munson will always have my respect for that move.
Colborn started the 1978 season in Kansas City but after the disrespect of the previous years’ playoffs, he had to know he did not figure into the Royals plans. He appeared in eight early season games, including two starts, before the Royals shipped him to Seattle for outfielder Steve Braun.
Colborn appeared in 20 games for the Mariners that summer, making 19 starts, but only put up a 3-10 record. Understand too, that was a putrid Seattle team that finished the season with a 56-104 record.
The Mariners released Colborn prior to the 1979 season and he never pitched in the majors again. In retirement, Colborn spent nine seasons on the coaching staffs of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates and the Texas Rangers.
He ended his career with a record of 83-88 and an ERA of 3.80 in nearly 1,600 innings of work. He also earned a place in Royals history on the night of May 14, 1977. Colburn is one of just three Royal pitchers to throw no-hitters, joining Steve Busby (1973 and 1974) and Bret Saberhagen (1991).