The end of the year allows us some time to reflect and remember. Baseball lost many major figures this year, seven of them Hall of Famers - second baseman Joe Morgan, outfielder Al Kaline, Lou Brock, and pitchers Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Phil Niekro, and Tom Seaver. The game also lost other big figures such as Dick Allen, Tony Fernandez, Jim Wynn, Jay Johnstone, Claudell Washington, Matt Keough, Ed Farmer, Roger Moret, Tony Taylor. and Ron Perranoski. We also lost some Kansas City Athletics, including Jay Hankins, Jack McMahan, Dan Pfister, Bobby Prescott, Hal Raether, Hal Smith, and most notably, Don Larsen, who is the only pitcher to ever throw a perfect game in the World Series.
We also lost some Royals that I would like to take the chance to remember. May they all rest in peace.
Billy Harris was an infielder on the inaugural Royals club in 1969, appearing in five games. The North Carolina native won a National Junior College title in 1963 with the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, and was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 27th round of the 1966 draft. Just two years later, he was in the big leagues. He appeared in 38 games for the Indians that year, hitting .213. He was left unprotected in the expansion draft, and the Royals selected him with the 36th pick.
After hitting .282 for Triple-A Omaha, he was promoted to the big leagues in June and doubled in his first at-bat with the Royals. In his next game, he tripped over first base trying to beat out a game-ending grounder and severely sprained his ankle. He wouldn’t return until September, appearing in three games at the end of the year. He returned to Omaha and hit just .201 in 1970 and was let go. After another year in Triple-A with the Reds, Harris retired to work out a bait and tackle shop in North Carolina. In December, he died in his home at Hampstead, North Carolina at the age of 77.
Lyndall “Lindy” McDaniel enjoyed a long 21-year MLB career as a right-handed pitcher, included two seasons in Kansas. Lindy, who was given his nickname for famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, was from the small town of Hollis, Oklahoma. After a brief stint at the University of Oklahoma, he signed with the St. Louis Cardinals, and as a “bonus baby”, was in the big leagues by age 19.
He won 15 games at the age of 21 before converting to a fireman reliever. McDaniel took to relieving well, leading the league in saves in 1959, 1960, and 1963, and earning an All-Star nod. After stints with the Cardinals, Cubs, and Giants, McDaniel enjoyed one of his best seasons with the Yankees in 1970, posting a 2.01 ERA and earning MVP votes.
McDaniel was an ordained minister of the Church of Christ, and preached for congregations in Oklahoma and Texas. He requested a trade from the Yankees to be closer to the midwest, and was shipped to Kansas City before the 1974 season for outfielder Lou Piniella and pitcher Ken Wright. He pitched two solid seasons out of the Royals’ pen, posting a 3.75 ERA in 184 2⁄3 innings before retiring. At the time of his retirement, he was second in baseball history in relief appearances.
McDaniel was honored for his humanitarian efforts as a ballplayer, winning the Ken Hubbs Memorial Award in Chicago in 1970. After his playing career, he continued to serve as a preacher and was an elder at the Lavon Church of Christ. McDaniel died in November of COVID-19 at the age of 84.
McCormick was a long-time Giants pitcher who won the 1967 Cy Young Award. He hailed from Southern California and signed with the then-New York Giants, making his first big league start two weeks shy of his 18th birthday. The Giants moved to San Francisco in 1958, which would be McCormick’s first season as a regular starting pitcher. Two years later, he led the National League in ERA at 2.70 as a 21-year old.
McCormick was a workhorse, compiling 1,000 innings by his 23rd birthday, the second-most any pitcher had worked by that age since 1920. Unsurprisingly, he lost velocity on his fastball, so the Giants shipped him to Baltimore, where he discovered he had a rotator cuff tear. McCormick was traded to the expansion Washington Senators, where he reinvented himself as a crafty lefty. He was traded back to San Francisco in 1967 and surprised everyone by leading the league with 22 wins. He outshone his two Hall of Fame teammates in the rotation - Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry - and won the Cy Young with a 2.85 ERA in 262 1⁄3 innings of work.
After two more solid seasons, McCormick began to lose his stuff. After a slow start in 1970, he was traded to the Yankees, where he pitched in just nine games. The Yankees released him in spring training in 1971, and the Royals, needing more left-handed pitching, scooped him up. He quickly developed back issues, and left his first start with a blister problem. The Royals released him at the end of May after just 9 2⁄3 innings. McCormick would finally call it a career. He was just 32.
McCormick became a fixture in the San Francisco area as a Giants ambassador. He died in June in North Carolina at the age of 81 after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease.
Oliver was born in Louisiana but grew up in Sacramento, California where he excelled as a three-sport athlete in high school. He played baseball and basketball at local American River Junior College and attracted the attention of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who signed him.
As a Black minor leaguer, Kelly faced racial discrimination in the South, but he persevered, earning a cup of coffee with the Pirates in 1965. He was traded to the Twins, and in 1968, the newly created Royals selected him in the expansion draft. Kelly won the starting right field job and played in the first game in Royals history. He is just one of three players in club history to collect six hits in a game, and he smacked the first grand slam in club history.
We are saddened to hear of the passing of Bob Oliver, an original Royal in 1969, who recorded the franchise’s first 6-hit game during that first season. Prayers to his family, including son, Darren, who pitched for 20 years in the Majors.#AlwaysRoyal pic.twitter.com/2mQJhbtSSG— Kansas City Royals (@Royals) April 21, 2020
The Royals moved him to third base the next season, but the experiment didn’t last long, and he settled in at first base. He became the first power hitter in club history, smacking 27 home runs, the ninth-most in the league in 1970. He drove home 99 runs and earned MVP votes for his performance. Oliver regressed in 1971 and was demoted to the bench, and in 1972 he was traded to the Angels for pitcher Tom Murphy.
Oliver rebounded to hit 37 home runs for the Angels over the next two seasons. He spent some time with the Orioles and Yankees before his career ended in 1975. He would manage a bit in the independent leagues, run baseball academies, and watch his son, Darren, who spent 20 years in the big leagues as a left-handed pitcher. Bob Oliver passed away in April at the age of 77.
Patterson was a corner infielder who was a journeyman minor leaguer that spent 13 games with the Royals in 2003. The Alabama native was a 20th round pick by the Mets out of junior college, but after stalling out, he was released and played a year in the independent Prairie League. The Arizona Diamondbacks gave him a second chance at affiliated baseball and he responded with his best offensive season. He continued to mash in the upper levels of the minors leagues, bouncing around with the Pirates and Expos before landing with the Detroit Tigers.
Patterson earned a ticket to the big leagues, spending 13 games with the Tigers in 2001. His first MLB home run came off Curt Schilling. For a player whose career seemed dead, it was a dream come true.
“I had to sit back and pinch myself. This is something I have been working so hard for for the part seven years.”
In 2003, he signed with the Royals to play third base for Triple-A Omaha. The Royals were in an unexpected pennant race and he was called up in July to replace the injured Joe Randa. He spent a few weeks with the club, then returned with rosters expanded in September, but by 2004 he was back in the minors for good. He spent a few years playing in Mexico and in some independent leagues before retiring after the 2006 season. Patterson died in March in a two-car crash in Alabama at the age of 46.
Spriggs was part of the inaugural Royals club in 1969 and is the only player in club history that once played in the Negro Leagues. You can read Bradford Lee’s excellent memorial of Spriggs. Born in Maryland, Spriggs signed a pro contract with the Kansas City Monarchs, but never got a chance to play for them once the he was called away for a stint in the Army. When he returned, he played for the Detroit Stars in the Negro Leagues, which were pretty much a barnstorming league at this point.
The Pittsburgh Pirates signed Spriggs at age 25 to play outfield, and he spent three years in the minors before earning a cup of coffee in 1965. He spent most of the next three years in the minors, appearing in 56 games with the Pirates, before he was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the expansion draft. Spriggs was in his early 30s by the time he reached Kansas City, and he served as a reserve outfielder and bench bat. He appeared in 23 games with the 1969 Royals before they shipped him back to Omaha. He was named American Association Most Valuable Player for Omaha in 1970, but he also spent 51 games with the Royals and hit his first and only Major League home run.
Spriggs played two more seasons in the minors for the Mets after that, and retired at the age of 35. He died in December at the age of 83.
Ezell was a longtime coach, minor league manager, and executive, who served as a coach for the Royals from 1989 to 1994. You can listen to a Clubhouse Conversation interview with Ezell here. Ezell grew up in Tucson, Arizona and joined the Mets organization as a catcher in 1966. He got as high as Triple-A, bouncing around from the Mets to the Twins to the Giants. He decided to get into managing in 1975, getting a gig in the Pirates organization. In 1977, he took over Reno in the Padres organization, even getting in the lineup for 11 games.
Ezell moved on to the Rangers before joining the Royals to manage Triple-A Omaha in 1988. He led the O-Royals to an 81-61 record and a playoff appearance that year. He joined John Wathan’s staff as a bullpen coach in 1989, and stayed on staff when Hal McRae took over as manager. Ezell moved to bench coach in 1992, but left the staff when McRae was fired after the 1994 season. He would manage in the minors for the Tigers and Devil Rays for many years before becoming a minor league field coordinator for the Tigers, then serving as director of player development. Ezell died in November at the age of 76.
Frey managed the Royals from 1980 to 1981, leading them to their first pennant in club history. Frey grew up in Cleveland and was childhood friends with future MLB manager Don Zimmer. He signed with the Boston Braves out of high school and was a minor league journeyman for several seasons before becoming a minor league manager with the Baltimore Orioles. In 1970, he joined the big league coaching staff as a hitting coach, working with legendary manager Earl Weaver. The Orioles would win three pennants and a championship with Frey on the coaching staff.
After the Royals fired manager Whitey Herzog in 1979, they turned to Frey to instill some discipline on the team. Frey’s Royals won 97 games, coasting to the Western Division title. He was also able to finally defeat the New York Yankees in the playoffs, giving the Royals their first American League title. However, the Royals would fall in six games in a close series with the Phillies. After a slow 20-30 start when the strike hit in 1981, the Royals surprised many by firing Frey and replacing him with former Yankees skipper Dick Howser.
Frey would get another managerial job with the Cubs in 1984, winning 96 games and leading them to their first playoff appearances in four decades. After he was fired as manager in 1986, the Cubs made him their general manager in 1987, and he won a division title in 1989. Frey retired in Florida following his baseball career. In April, he died at the age of 88.
David Glass owned the Royals from 2000 to 2019, winning a championship and two pennants. A native Missourian from Mountain View, Glass served in the Army and graduated from Missouri State University. He became a savvy businessman and in 1976 he joined Wal Mart to become the chief financial officer. He was later promoted to president and CEO as the company became one of the largest retailers on the planet.
In 1993, Glass became the interim CEO of the Royals following the death of longtime owner Ewing Kauffman. He led a board that sought to find a long-time buyer for the club that would keep them in Kansas City. After a years-long search that led to underwhelming bids, Glass purchased the club himself for $96 million in 2000.
Early on, Glass was known for being penny-pinching and interfering with baseball operations. The club floundered through some of its worst seasons, causing him to fire General Manager Allard Baird in 2006. However, he successfully convinced Braves executive Dayton Moore to run the team, with a promise to invest more in player development. The process was slow, but by 2014, the Royals were American League champions, falling just one win short of a title. The next year, they won the second championship in club history, defeating the New York Mets in six games.
In 2019, Glass quietly began looking for a buyer for the club, and that fall he agreed to sell to Kansas City businessman John Sherman for $1 billion. In early January, David Glass died of complications from pneumonia at the age of 84.