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Forgotten players from the 1969 Royals: Dave Morehead and Mike Fiore

A look back at the inaugural Royals.

Dave Morehead

The prevailing theme of the 1968 expansion draft seemed to be that the Royals were set on taking younger players who hadn’t much Major League experience. The draft was loaded with scads of unproven rookies, journeymen, and sore armed pitchers. One of those sore-armed pitchers, Dave Morehead was selected by Royals with the fifteenth overall pick.

Morehead was a native of San Diego and graduated from the same high school, Herbert Hoover High, that produced Ted Williams and Ray Boone. In fact, it was Boone who signed Morehead to a free agent contract with the Boston Red Sox shortly after his high school graduation. Morehead also first met Williams during this time. Williams had grown up about three miles east of Morehead, in the city’s University Heights neighborhood. The Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Angels and Kansas City Athletics were also vying for Morehead’s services.

Morehead’s first assignment was to Johnstown of the Class A Eastern League. He went 4-8 with a 4.80 ERA as an 18-year-old. In 1962 he made the jump to the AAA Seattle Raniers and had a nice season, going 10-9 with a 3.72 ERA and 159 strikeouts.

He made the big-league club out of spring training in 1963 and made quite the splash. He threw a 10-strikeout shutout in his debut against the Washington Senators and later in May, threw a one-hitter against the Senators. He had a no-hitter going against Cleveland on July 2 only to lose it on a bad hop grounder in the eighth inning. For the year, he made 29 starts, finishing at 10-13 with a 3.81 ERA for an 85-loss Red Sox team.

The highlight of Morehead’s career occurred on September 16, 1965. The season was winding down and the Sox were playing out the string on what would become a 91-loss team. Morehead took the mound against future Red Sox star Luis Tiant, then pitching for Cleveland. Only 1,247 fans made their way to Fenway for the Thursday afternoon game. Too bad, because they missed two terrific pitching performances. Tiant held the Sox to two runs on six hits while striking out 11 and walking none, while Morehead only issued a second inning walk to Rocky Colavito. He retired the last 24 hitters he faced, throwing the no-hitter. It would be the last no-hitter thrown at Fenway until Hideo Nomo tossed one in 2001.

Morehead struggled with arm problems in 1966 and 1967, though he did pitch well down the stretch for the “Impossible dream” Sox. He made two relief appearances in the 1967 World Series. Morehead continued to struggle with arm issues, only appearing in 11 games for Boston in 1968. The Sox left him unprotected and Kansas City made him their eighth selection.

Morehead appeared in 21 games for the ’69 Royals. He made two starts in April, before being moved to the bullpen. He ended with a 2-3 record and a 5.73 ERA. He came back in 1970 and made 28 appearances which included 17 starts. His best game as a Royal came on May 25 against the White Sox in a game at Municipal. Morehead pitched a complete game five-hitter in which he struck out seven and didn’t walk a single batter. He also hit a double and drove in a run in leading the Royals to a 7-1 victory. It was the last complete game of Morehead’s career. He picked up his last victory on August 7, scattering seven hits over five innings to pick up the win over Milwaukee.

Morehead never made it out of spring training in 1971. The Royals released him on March 30 and he then retired.

Morehead went back to college and earned a marketing degree from San Diego State. His primary post-playing career was as a marketing rep, selling sporting goods to retail chains.

Mike Fiore

When the Royals made Mike Fiore the seventeenth pick of the expansion draft, he perfectly fit what General Manager Cedric Tallis was looking for: a young player, with solid potential who had not yet received a chance to play. Fiore fit that description to a T.

Despite being born in Brooklyn, Fiore grew up a Yankee fan. “I was a Mickey Mantle fan. He was my favorite.” After being unanimously selected as the All-NYC first baseman as a 17-year-old at Lafayette High School, he signed with the New York Mets, after a tryout at the Polo Grounds.

His first assignment was with the Class A Quincy Jets of the Midwest League where he hit .268 with seven home runs. After that season, the Baltimore Orioles claimed him in the first-year player draft. The first-year player draft was one of those failed baseball experiments that the owners used to cap the amount of bonus money paid to amateur free agents. Eventually they instituted the amateur draft. Before they did, a lot of young players who would soon be stars, such as Glenn Beckert, Paul Blair, Lou Piniella, Jim Wynn and Sparky Lyle were selected in the first-year draft.

Fiore went to spring training with the Orioles in 1964, but later was assigned to their Class A Aberdeen Pheasants affiliate. He had a terrific season, hitting .283 with 23 home runs. He spent 1965 with the Tri-City Atoms, another Class A team based in Pasco, Washington, where he was arguably the best player in the league with a .320 average as well as 24 home runs and 106 RBI.

Between a broken wrist suffered late in the 1966 season and six months of military service in 1967, Fiore lost nearly an entire year of playing time.

He finally made his Major League debut on September 21, 1968. He played in six games that fall for the Orioles, but only collected one hit in 17 at-bats. The Orioles were set at first base with Boog Powell, so they left Fiore unprotected.

Fiore made his Kansas City debut on April 9 and drew a walk in a pinch-hitting appearance. Manager Joe Gordon soon made Fiore his everyday first baseman and he responded with his best season as a pro.

In the Royals fifth game of the season, Fiore became the first Royal to hit a home run, a solo shot off Blue Moon Odom that helped lead the Royals to a 4-1 victory over the “old” Kansas City team. Fiore played in 107 games for the expansion Royals and slashed a very respectable .274/.420/.428 with 12 home runs and 84 walks. Fiore led the team in walks, OPS+ and his on base percentage of .420 led the team by a large margin. He finished second in batting average and slugging percentage.

The good times didn’t last. Charlie Metro took over as manager for the 1970 season and clashed with Fiore. In fact, Metro seemed to clash with a lot of players. Metro moved Bob Oliver from third base to first and regulated Fiore to the bench. After hitting only .181 in 25 games, the Royals sent Fiore to Boston in exchange for light hitting infielder Tommy Matchick. Some people have a weakness for ice cream. For others it’s cars or clothes or cocaine. For the Royals, their weakness is middle infielders who can’t hit their weight. The acquisition of Matchick was the first in a fifty-year love affair between the Royals and no-hit infielders.

For Fiore, there couldn’t have been a worse team to be traded to. The Sox already had George “Boomer” Scott and Carl “Bleeping” Yastrzemski splitting time at first. Fiore got into 92 games over parts of the 1970 and 1971 seasons, but never figured into Boston’s plans. In March of 1972, the Red Sox traded him to St. Louis for another first baseman, Bob Burda. He played 17 games in St. Louis before being shipped off to San Diego for a seven-game stint. He spent the rest of 1972 in AAA. Fiore continued to play through the end of the 1978 season, never again making a major league appearance. Over those seven seasons, he played for the AAA affiliates of St. Louis, Atlanta, the New York Yankees, Baltimore and finally Pittsburgh before calling it quits at the age of 33.

Baseball can be a cruel game. After Fiore’s 1969 season, you’d have thought that he would have had a solid career in front of him. It’s funny that managerial changes and trades can short-circuit a player’s career just as much as an injury can.

After his baseball career ended, Fiore embarked on a 20-year career with the Mineola, N.Y. school system. He spends his summers in New York (of which he says, “the taxes are ridiculous!”) and his winters in Florida. About baseball, Fiore says, “My wife’s a Yankee fan. I like the Red Sox.”

Fiore will always be remembered as a slick fielding first baseman who was an on-base machine and as the guy who hit the first home run in Royals history.