Last week we looked at the honorable mentions of great plays and moments in Royals history. Now we move to the top ten.
10. September 30, 1992 - George joins the 3,000 hit club
The 1992 season was a disappointment for the Royals. They finished at 72-90, fifth place in the A. L. West. As the season wound down the big question was, when would George Brett collect his 3,000th hit? The Royals started a four-game series in Anaheim on September 28 and Brett sat out the first two games, nursing a sore right shoulder.
Brett was in the lineup as the designated hitter for the third game. He came in with 2,996 hits. Brett, who grew up in nearby El Segundo, collected a double and two singles in his first three at-bats to bring him to the precipice of glory. With one out in the seventh, Brett stepped in against left-handed Tim Fortugno and stroked a single over the head of Angels second baseman Ken Oberkfell for his milestone hit. Brett’s teammates charged out of the dugout to congratulate him. Another cool thing about the hit was the first base umpire that night was Tim McClelland. The same Tim McClelland who tossed George from the Pine Tar game.
The hit came 20 years to the day that Roberto Clemente collected his 3,000th hit. After Gregg Jeffries hit a flyball for out number two, Fortugno made a nifty move and picked Brett off first. Brett says he was distracted by Angels first baseman Gary Gaetti, who was asking if his wife was in attendance. Shades of Clu Hayward asking “How’s your wife and my kids?”
The pickoff was kind of a low blow by Fortugno. I mean, seriously? The guy just got his 3,000th hit. Let him enjoy it a little. Brett collected his first hit, a single off Stan Bahnsen, way back on August 2nd, 1973. Brett would retire after the 1993 season with 3,154 hits on his way to Cooperstown.
9. Bo knows baseball
There are no dates on this one. This is a small compilation of three of the greatest moments of Bo Jackson’s brief Kansas City career. And there were so many to choose from. How about his batting practice home runs during his first visit to Kauffman Stadium? Buck O’Neil described the sound as something he’d only heard twice before. Maybe you enjoyed seeing Bo break bats over his legs? You ever try that? I did once and thought I broke my femur. How about his first hit, a routine groundball off Hall of Famer Steve Carlton to second base, which he beat out. Former Royals great John Mayberry said, “Nothing that big should move that fast.”
Maybe it was his first home run, which remains one of the longest ever hit at the K? Maybe it was his three-home run game at Yankee Stadium. I hauled my wife halfway across the state of Kansas in 1988 just to watch Bo play. He didn’t disappoint. He smashed a long home run to center field off Frank Viola, who at the time was one of the best pitchers in baseball. Here are three other majestic Bo moments.
· July 11, 1989 – Manager Tony LaRussa informed Bo that he would be batting leadoff in the All-Star game. Bo was a little surprised, he had after all never batted leadoff before. Not in Little League. Not in High School. No problem. Facing Rick Reuschel, Bo got all of an 0-2 pitch and sent the ball literally a country mile onto the tarp in straightaway centerfield. Fans jumped onto the tarp trying to secure the keepsake. Facing John Smoltz in the second, Bo hit what looked like a routine double play grounder to second, except he beat the throw, going from home to first in 3.81 seconds, one of the fastest times ever clocked for a right-handed hitter. He promptly stole second, becoming the first player to homer and steal a base in the All-Star Game since Willie Mays. Jackson won the MVP award as the American League triumphed by the score of 5-3.
· July 11, 1990 – In the third inning of a game against Baltimore at Memorial Stadium, the Orioles Joe Orsulak lifted a fly ball into the left-center gap. Jackson playing center field made a nice running backhand catch. Then in a move right out of Spiderman, Bo took six more strides and…ran right up the wall and jumped to the ground. Bo said he did it to protect his injured shoulder. I love the reaction of Willie Wilson after the catch. Wilson was the Royals standout centerfielder for many seasons but was in left this night. After witnessing the catch, Wilson just stood and looked at the wall, a bit like a child in time out stares at the wall. I can imagine the disbelief that was going through his mind at what he just witnessed.
· June 5, 1989 – With two outs in the bottom of the tenth inning, Seattle’s Harold Reynolds was on first after hitting a single. Scott Bradley, the next batter, ripped a double into the left field corner as Reynolds steamed around the bases with what he thought would be the winning run. Bo fielded the ball cleanly and in one motion unleashed a monster throw, over 316 feet on the fly to catcher Bob Boone. Reynolds, who had good speed, was running on the pitch. Bo uncorked the throw as Reynolds was passing third base. Boone stood by nonchalantly so as not to alert Reynolds that a missile was on its way in. Boone applied the tag to the sliding Reynolds, who threw his batting helmet in disgust and disbelief. The Mariners argued that the first base umpire, who was out of position, should have made the call, but replays show that Reynolds was clearly out. The Royals went on to win the game in 13 innings.
8. Buzz mows them down, twice
Steve Busby was drafted by the Royals in the second round of the June 1971 secondary draft. He was so impressive that the Royals brought him to Kansas City for the tail end of the 1972 season, where he started five games and posted a 3-1 record. Busby had made the team out of spring training but struggled early in 1973. On his previous start on April 20th, the White Sox had pounded him for four hits and five runs in just one inning of work and there was some serious discussion about sending him back to Omaha.
Manager Jack McKeon held Busby back a couple days due to soreness in his shoulder and gave the kid one more start, against the Detroit Tigers on a cold and blustery evening. Busby had his stuff working that night. Normally a power pitcher, Busby only struck out four Tigers that night, but did induce nine groundouts and twelve fly balls. The Royals defense aided him with two double plays, including a key twin killing in the bottom of the ninth. Busby said he had little control of his fastball and changed the grip partway through the game in an attempt to harness his wildness. He ended the night by giving up six walks. The no-hitter was the first in Royals history and the first-ever by a Kansas City pitcher. Busby stayed in Kansas City the remainder of the season and posted a 16-15 record.
June 19th, 1974 – Busby got off to a hot start in 1974. After beating California on May 21st, his record stood at 7 and 3. He’d already thrown five complete games and after Manager Jack McKeon allowed him to throw 11 innings against the White Sox on May 25th, he predictably cooled off a little. He had thrown almost 90 innings in his first 11 starts and his arm was probably about ready to fall off. Pitch counts were not a thing in those days and McKeon was known for squeezing every inning out of his starters. This would later, in no small part, come back to haunt Busby and the Royals, but on the night of June 19, in a game against the Brewers at County Stadium, Busby was as good as he’s ever been.
He stifled the Brew Crew for nine innings, with the only blemish being a second-inning leadoff walk to George Scott. Busby became the first player in major league history to throw no-hitters in his first two full seasons. Just as it happened the year before, Busby didn’t have his strikeout pitch working, he only fanned three Brewers, but he did induce 13 groundball outs and 11 flyballs. The only threat to the no-hitter came in the fourth when Scott yanked a hard drive to the right-center gap, but Al Cowens made a nice running grab to preserve the no-no. Busby continued his hot streak into his next start, holding the White Sox hitless for 5 1⁄3 innings, which ran his consecutive hitless innings streak to 17. During that streak Busby retired 33 consecutive batters, which was an American League record.
Busby would fashion a 22-14 record in 1974, flowed by an 18-12 mark in 1975 before arm troubles derailed his promising career. Busby would start 109 games between 1973 and 1975 and throw 791 innings in those three years before his arm gave out. He missed all of the 1977 season and valiantly tried to come back but would only start 36 more games over the next four seasons before retiring at the age of 30. It’s a shame that today’s advanced arm repair didn’t exist in Busby’s day, but it was something to see while it lasted.
7. July 24, 1983 - George loses it
When the Yankees and the Royals met on this hot, humid afternoon, the game itself was of minor consequence. The Royals came in at a disappointing 44-45 while the Yankees record stood at 52-40. Despite that record, the Yanks were mired in fifth place in the competitive American League East.
I imagine all Royal fans of every age know about the Pine Tar game. It’s a game whose story is passed from father to son, over the generations, backed up with YouTube video of the events. The Cliff notes version goes like this:
The Royals and the Yankees hated each other in those days. Even a seemingly meaningless late July game had some extra pizzazz. Going into the top of the ninth, the Yankees led 4-3. With two outs, U.L. Washington squeezed a single into centerfield, which brought George Brett to the plate. Yankee manager Billy Martin called on his fireballing closer, Goose Gossage, to face Brett. As you know, Brett and Gossage had some history. Brett always hit well at Yankee Stadium: a lifetime mark of .311/.390/.509 with 17 home runs. Many of those home runs came in the biggest games. In 1983, Gossage against Brett was mano a mano. Power vs. power. Hulk Hogan against Macho Man Savage. Neither player tried to trick the other. Gossage threw gas and Brett could hit anyone.
Gossage threw a fastball, out of the strike zone, high and inside. Brett turned on it and got all of it. According to Ted Berg, Brett said the bat was the best he ever had, a seven-grain bat. Most bats are 13 to 15 grains, so the seven grainer was really hard.
Yankee right fielder Steve Kemp ran to the wall at the 353 foot mark, but the ball landed a good dozen rows back. I was watching the game on TV with my father, at their home in Abilene, Kansas. It had been a boring game up to that point, but the home run invigorated both of us. My mom emerged from the kitchen to see what all the yelling was about and found dad and I doing a victory jig. We hated the Yankees too.
Brett took a leisurely 17-second trot around the bases, savoring the moment. Yankee manager Billy Martin had been waiting for this moment. He knew the rule book and he knew that Brett’s bat had too much pine tar on it. The Pine tar rule was an archaic rule that was originally written so cheapskate owners would not have to continually replace costly baseballs that were marred from getting hit with pine tar laden bats. Home plate umpire Tim McClelland called his crew together and after consulting and measuring the bat against home plate, took two steps toward the Royals dugout and raised his right hand and called Brett out. What happened next remains part of baseball lore. Brett shot out of the dugout as if fired from a rifle. He had homicide on his mind. McClelland, a solid 6’4 Iowan, stood his ground while second base ump Joe Brinkman intercepted the furious Brett.
The Yankees were awarded the win. The Royals filed a protest. League President Larry McPhail overturned the umpire’s verdict and ordered the two teams to play the remainder of the ninth inning. McPhail retroactively ejected Brett, Royals manager Dick Howser, coach Rocky Colavito and pitcher Gaylord Perry, who had tried to hide the bat, from the game.
The two teams met back in New York on August 18 to play out the string. With 1,200 fans in attendance, new Yankee pitcher George Frazier threw to first, claiming that Brett had missed first base. Crew chief Dave Phillips then pulled a notarized affidavit out, signed by the original umpiring crew, that said, yes, Brett had touched all of the bases. Dan Quisenberry retired the Yankees in order in the bottom of the ninth, and the Royals collected the win. Brett watched the game from an Italian restaurant near the Newark airport.
6. October 14, 1976 - George takes the Royals to the cusp of the World Series
1976 was a magical year for the Royals. George Brett won his first batting title. The Royals finally broke the Oakland A’s stranglehold on the American League West and advanced to the ALCS to face the powerful Yankees. Game Five will always be remembered for Chris Chambliss’s ninth inning walk-off home run, but that moment wouldn’t have happened without George Brett. The Royals jumped out to an early 2-0 lead on John Mayberry’s first inning home run. By the eighth inning, the Yankees were leading by a score of 6-3 and things looked bleak for Kansas City.
Al Cowens led off the Royals eighth with a single. Manager Billy Martin replaced started Ed Figueroa with lefty Grant Jackson. Jackson, who later played with the Royals just passed away on February 2 at the age of 78. Jim Wohlford greeted Jackson with another single, which brought George Brett to the plate. Martin had Royal-killer Sparky Lyle in the bullpen but elected to stay with Jackson. Jackson threw an eyeball high fastball on the inside part of the plate. Brett took a mighty cut and parked that cheese in the upper deck of Yankee Stadium. The three-run jack stunned the sellout crowd and tied the game at 6.
Of course, it all went for naught when Chambliss connected for his walk-off in the ninth, but the game marked Brett’s ascendance onto the national stage.
Next week: The top five