Baseball and Royals Nation lost one of the last trailblazers when George Spriggs passed away on December 22nd at the age of 83, according to his family. Spriggs was on the inaugural Royals team in 1969 and is the only player in club history who once played in the Negro Leagues.
George Spriggs was born on May 22, 1937 in Jewell, Maryland and spent all his early life in the Jewell-Tracy’s Landing section of Maryland. The area is the last piece of open rural space between Washington D.C. and the Chesapeake Bay. A terrific high school athlete, George graduated from Wiley Bates High School in Annapolis and signed a professional contract with the Kansas City Monarchs, who were one of the premier Negro League teams of the day.
Before he could make his mark with the Monarchs, he was called away for a two-year hitch in the United States Army, which was spent in Germany. Once discharged from Uncle Sam, Spriggs signed and played with the Detroit Stars, with his last appearance coming in 1962.
A scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates signed the then 25-year-old Spriggs and assigned him to their Class A squad in Reno, Nevada. George was 26 when the 1963 season began and truthfully, had no right to be in Class A. Based on his talent and service in the Negro Leagues, George should have been at least in AAA. Regardless, he went to work on Class A pitching, putting up an outstanding slash line of .319/.452/.435, collecting 145 hits and 107 walks, while stealing 44 bases. His on-base percentage of .452 is just outstanding at any level of play.
In 1964, the Pirates bumped him to AA Ashville (N.C.) and it was more of the same: .322/.404/.483 with 164 hits, 70 walks, and a league leading 33 stolen bases.
George started the 1965 season at AAA Columbus and got a late-season callup to the Pirates. He made his debut on September 15, 1965 in a game against St. Louis Cardinals at Forbes Field. He entered the game in the seventh inning as a pinch runner for Del Crandall, who had singled. The next batter, Jim Pagliaroni stroked a double as George blazed around the bases, scoring the Pirates’ first run of the game.
George collected his first hit as a Pirate on September 20 in a game against the New York Mets at Forbes. He came on as a defensive replacement in the eighth inning, and in the bottom of the inning, stroked a Carl Willey pitch into left field for a single.
George once again spent most of 1966 in Columbus. It certainly wasn’t due to his talent. Unfortunately for George, Pittsburgh had two Hall of Famers, Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell in front of George. Their third outfielder was Matty Alou, who hit .342 in 1966. Their fourth outfielder was Many Mota, who in 116 games hit a robust .332. The 1966 Pirates went on to a 92-70 record and were loaded with excellent outfielders. Once again, George got a late-season call up, getting into nine games for the Pirates.
George continued to excel at Columbus, using his speed to swipe a league-leading 66 bases in 1965 and 46 more in 1968.
Opportunity knocked in October of 1968 when the expansion Kansas City Royals purchased Spriggs’ contract from the Pirates. Royals manager Joe Gordon said of George: “He definitely can help us. He slaps the ball around, plays the outfield all right and learns quickly. He’s a good guy to have on the club.”
By the time George played his first game in a Royals uniform, he was almost 32, an age when most players are ending their careers. Not George. He got the start in left field and collected his first hit as a Royal in a game at Oakland on April 13 with a sixth inning single against John “Blue Moon” Odom, another alum of the Negro Leagues. After hitting just .158 in limited duty, the Royals optioned George to AAA Omaha, where once again he put up sparkling numbers, hitting .311 with an on-base percentage of .382.
Spriggs, now 33, again made the Royals opening day roster in 1970. George had his best game as a Royal on April 17 in a game at California. Batting leadoff and playing right field, Spriggs stroked four hits in five at bats. He also scored three runs and recorded five putouts in leading the Royals to a 7-5 victory. Spriggs was hitting .261 in limited action when Kansas City optioned him to Omaha on April 25. He once again produced terrific numbers at the AAA level: .301/.374/.500 which were good enough to be named the American Association Most Valuable Player.
The Royals brought him back on August 15 and he stroked his first and only big-league home run on September 21 against the White Sox Joe Horlen in a game played in Chicago at Comiskey Park. His last hit as a Royal, and in the big leagues, came on September 29, 1970, when he slashed a first inning single against the Minnesota Twins Jim Perry in a game at Municipal Stadium in Kansas City.
By 1971, the Royals were flush with young outfielders and sold George’s contract to the New York Mets. He suffered a knee injury which ended his 1971 season but rehabbed and came back to play 41 games for Tidewater in 1972, before retiring at the age of 35.
In retirement, George returned to his home in Maryland. He built a baseball field behind his house, named Geno’s Field, for his son Geno, who was playing in the Pirates organization when he was tragically killed in an auto accident.
George Spriggs. A proud man and a terrific baseball player who overcame many obstacles to succeed in the sport he loved. One of the last pioneers, George was among the last five men to make the jump from the Negro Leagues to the Major Leagues. George Spriggs was the only alumni of the Negro Leagues to play for the Kansas City Royals. George left a lasting legacy as he moves onto that Field of Dreams in the sky.