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Remembering Marty Pattin

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If it walks like a duck....

When the Kansas City Royals announced that they had traded pitcher Dick Drago to the Red Sox straight up for pitcher Marty Pattin in the fall of 1973, the deal was met with some consternation by Royals fans. After all, Drago’s name was at the top of nearly every Kansas City pitching record. Drago was an original Royal and was immensely popular with the fans. But Drago feuded with Royals brass and by the end of the ‘73 season, all parties agreed a clean start would be best.

Being a Drago fan, I wasn’t happy about the trade, but it worked out for well for both parties. Drago played for eight more seasons and had a post-Kansas City record of 47-47 with 57 saves, good for 7 WAR. The Royals got seven years out of Pattin and a 43-39 record with 21 saves, good for 8.3 WAR. Over time I came to admire Pattin for his bulldog tenacity and as I learned more of his story, I developed a deep sense of respect for the man.

Marty Pattin was born April 6, 1943 in Charleston, Illinois. His mother and father separated when he was five and Marty was raised by his maternal grandparents. His grandfather died when he was a junior in high school, so Marty moved into a rooming house for the remainder of his high school life. He worked at a restaurant owned by a man named Walt Warmouth, who help provide young Marty with food, clothes and money. Marty often referred to Warmouth as a second father. When it came time to choose a college, Pattin turned down baseball power Arizona State and elected to stayed home, attending Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. He was a star on the baseball team, once striking out 22 batters in a game, and led the Panther’s to the 1964 NAIA World Series. His 278 career strikeouts are still a team record and his #19 was retired by the school. In 1972, he was named to the NAIA Hall of Fame.

Many scouts said Pattin was too small, but scouts should have learned by now that you can’t measure heart. The California Angels selected Pattin in the seventh round of the 1965 amateur draft. Pattin made quick work of the Angels minor league system with stops in El Paso, Quad Cities and AAA Seattle before making his major league debut on May 14t 1968 for the Angels. Former Royal pitcher Tom Burgmeier, who had made his debut with California about a month earlier, also pitched in that game. One of the early highlights of Pattin’s first year was striking out his boyhood idol, Mickey Mantle.

“I worked him to 3 and 2 and then my knees actually started shaking. I said to myself, Mick, it’s either you or me. My best pitch is a fastball, so here it comes. I reared back and threw him a high fastball as hard as I could throw it. He swung and missed it. Man, I could have floated off that mound. That was the greatest thrill. As a kid, I dreamed about that so many times and then to actually do it…”

Pattin appeared in 52 games for the ’68 Angels, getting four starts and finishing with a solid 2.79 ERA over 84 innings of work. Despite that, the team left him unprotected in the 1968 expansion draft and the Seattle Pilots selected him with the 18th overall pick. Pattin’s California teammates Paul Schaal and Tom Burgmeier were selected by the Royals.

The 1969 Seattle Pilots were a bit of a mess. They played in an antiquated ballpark and there were many times where management didn’t seem to know what they were doing. If you’ve read Jim Bouton’s book Ball Four you understand what it must have been like to be a Pilot.

Pattin did have some fine moments for Seattle. On April 8, he was their Opening Day starter, against his former team no less. Pattin scattered 8 hits and 2 runs over five innings and picked up the win. His best game came on April 29 at Sick’s Stadium again against the Angels. He held them hit less through 7 13 innings, before finishing with a complete game two-hitter, striking out 11, with a Game Score of 92.

After one disastrous season, the Pilots, and Pattin, moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers. Pattin pitched for the Brew Crew for two seasons before being shipped to Boston in a massive ten player trade in October of 1971. It was during these four seasons in Milwaukee and Boston, that Pattin hit his peak. Over that time frame, he pitched in 145 games, starting 130 of them. He posted a 60-54 record with a 3.49 ERA over 970 innings of work. He also made his only All-Star team as a member of the Brewers in 1971, the game at Tiger Stadium where Reggie Jackson hit his massive home run off Dock Ellis. Pattin played with three Hall of Famers in Boston: Carl “bleeping” Yastrzemski, Orlando Cepeda, and Carlton Fisk. On Fisk: “Pudge wouldn’t say a whole lot. He was a brash rookie. He’d come out to the mound just to get on me. He’d say, “when are you going to put the ball over the plate, Martha?” I’d say, “Bleep you! Quit calling me Martha!”

Former Pilots teammate Jim Bouton described Pattin in his book Ball Four as “straight overhand pitcher. Good rising fastball and hard overhand curve. He’s a little guy, but cocky with lots of guts. When I saw him throwing free and easy like that, it really made me want to find my old stuff.”

He nearly threw a no-hitter on July 11, 1972 against the Oakland A’s. Only a one-out ninth inning single by Reggie Jackson separated him from immortality. Pattin struck out seven and only walked three. Royals’ good luck charm Don Denkinger was working second base that night.

Then came the trade to KC. Pattin had won 15 games for Boston in 1973, while a slumping Drago had not won since August 2 of 1973. Pattin got off to a rough start in Kansas City, only going 3 and 7 with a 3.99 ERA in 1974. He steadied himself from 1975 to 1980, averaging 36 appearances per season and 118 innings pitched.

He helped the Royals to three Western Division championships and played in the 1980 World Series. In fact, he threw his final pitch in Game Six of the 1980 World Series. He got the last two batters he faced, Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski, on strikeouts. Not a bad way to end your career. Don Denkinger was working the left field line that night.

Pattin ended his seven-year Royal career with a 43-39 record. He appeared in 244 games and rang up a 3.48 ERA over 825 innings of work. Pattin was a valuable bullpen workhorse for Manager Whitey Herzog. Whitey nicknamed his bullpen crew Mungo, Hungo, Duck and Bird. Mungo being Steve Mingori, Hungo was Al Hrabosky, Duck was Pattin and Bird was Doug Bird. How did Pattin get the Duck moniker? Well, for one thing, he kind of looked and walked like a duck. He also had a spot-on impersonation of Donald Duck which he would break out to keep teammates loose. Bouton said Marty’s funniest Donald Duck routine was where Donald reaches orgasm. I imagine it might have gone something like this: “Quack! Oh Minnie! I mean Daisy! Oh God! Oh God! I’m coming! Quack, quack! No, I’m arriving! I’m arriving! Brace yourself Daisy!! Quuuaacckk!!”

You read that in Donald Ducks voice, didn’t you? No wonder Ball Four was controversial with players. Pattin’s other nickname was Bulldog, and that fit the man to a T.

I only saw Pattin pitch once in his career and it was not one of his better moments. I’ve written about this game before, Royals vs. White Sox on July 6, 1975. July can be brutally hot in Kansas City and it was hotter than blazes that day. Maybe hotter than hell itself. Maybe as hot as Elizabeth Hurley. Pattin got the start and gave up two singles and a walk in the first but got Bill Melton on a popup to escape the inning. The wheels came off in a long second inning: under the broiling sun, Pattin allowed two singles followed to consecutive doubles and another single, which gave the White Sox a 4-0 lead and ended Pattin’s day. It was his shortest starting appearance of the season. That game also marked the only time I got to see Harmon Killebrew play. He was playing on fumes by this point in his career, but he did stroke a single that day. Of Killebrew, Pattin said, “Just a great guy to be around. He loved his ice cream. He and Fran Healy were always going out for ice cream.”

Pattin could be a prankster and was well liked by his teammates. When he retired at the conclusion of the 1980 season, Marty was the last of the Seattle Pilots. Pattin shared a story of the first time he took his son, John, on a Royals road trip. George Brett, now a husband and father, was then a bachelor.

“John was 8 when the road trip started and when he came off it, after Jamie Quirk and George got done with him, he was 19,” Pattin said. “That fall, when we came back home to Charleston after the season, I get a call from John’s third-grade teacher, Mrs. James.”

Mrs. James had asked the children in the classroom what they had learned over the summer. John Pattin’s hand shot up.

“George Brett taught me how to take a girl’s bra off with one hand behind my back,” John said.

Marty and Vera went to the school to apologize to Mrs. James. Then everyone had a good laugh about it.

In retirement, Pattin and his wife Vera, settled in Lawrence, Kansas. Pattin coached the University of Kansas baseball team from 1982 to 1987 and was a fixture not only around town, but at his grandson’s baseball games. He lost his beloved Vera to cancer in 1996 after 37 years of marriage. He found love later in life, marrying Joy in 2001 but she too was taken by cancer in 2009. In retirement, Pattin was revered as one of Lawrence’s treasures. He was friendly and approachable and always ready to share stories of his time in the big leagues.

Tragically, Pattin died in his sleep while visiting Charleston on October 3, 2018 at the age of 75, another Royal gone too soon to the big stadium in the sky.