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The worst plays and moments in Royals history, part one

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(Dis)honorable mention.

MLB: MAY 31 Royals at Blue Jays Photo by Keith Hamilton/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A few weeks ago, I covered the best moments in Royals history. It was an enjoyable ride back in time to relive those epic moments. This new series is about the all-time worst moments in Royals history. You’d have thought that a lot of these moments might have been from the 1969-70 team. After all, they were an expansion team, having to make do with other teams’ leftovers. The discouraging thing I found is how many of these head-scratching, bungling moments occurred in the ten years between 2000 and 2010. Those ten years were a special kind of bad. The Royals lost over 100 games four times. They lost more than 90 games in three other seasons. The 2003 season was the only one in the decade where they turned in a winning record as Tony Pena somehow coaxed and encouraged that team to an 83-79 mark. Kansas City went 672-948 in that decade, a .414-win percentage. It takes widespread incompetence to achieve results like that.

As with the best plays in history, the worst will be broken into three parts – all ugly. This week is the honorable mention. Some of the honorable mentions are not even bad plays, they’re just funny things that happened. Week two will be number 10 through 6, followed by the top five in week three.

Honorable Mention in chronological order

April 16th, 1970 - Sweet Lou gets lost on the bases

Sweet Lou Piniella was a terrific ballplayer – 1969 American League Rookie of the Year, a career .291 batting average and over 1,700 hits in an 18-year career. He holds the distinction of being one of Cedric Tallis’ best trade acquisitions. He was also a party in what was arguably Tallis’ worst trade, when in December of 1973, Tallis sent Lou to the Yankees in exchange for the last 78 games of Lindy McDaniel’s career. McDaniel was a fine pitcher in his day, but he was 38 when he arrived in Kansas City. Piniella was only 29 and would play in 1,037 more games for the Yankees before retiring.

Kansas City Royals v Cleveland Indians
Sweet Lou
Photo by: Diamond Images/Getty Images

On this night in 1970, it was only the sixth game of the season, and Lou had gotten off to a hot start, hitting .389. The Royals were in Milwaukee, playing the new Brewers, who the year before had joined the American League with KC as the Seattle Pilots. Batting fifth, Lou reached first base on an error in the first inning to load the bases. The next batter, Luis Alcarez, stroked a double into the left field corner. Ed Kirkpatrick and Amos Otis scored easily. Brewer left fielder Danny Walton made a nice throw to shortstop Ted Kubiak who relayed to catcher Jerry McNertney, who put the tag on Piniella at home.

In the third, Piniella crashed a home run to deep centerfield, with Kirkpatrick and Otis aboard to give Kansas City a 6-to-1 lead. Things were looking good for the Royals. The Brew Crew chipped into the lead in their half of the third on a Steve Hovley RBI double.

In the fifth, Piniella led off with a single. Alcarez then hit a bouncer back to pitcher George Lauzerique who retired Piniella at second.

In the seventh, Piniella hit a one-out single and moved to third on an Alcarez single. Lou got a little careless and Brewer pitcher John O’Donohue picked him off third with a nifty move.

Finally, in the ninth, Piniella hit a grounder to second and was retired at first.

The Royals held on to win by a score of 8-to-6. Piniella went 3-for-5 with 3 RBI and raised his batting average to .435. He also became the first player in major league history to get thrown out at all four bases in one game. Despite his fine day at the plate, with six total bases, he only scored once – on his home run. There were six former Kansas City A’s who played in this game: Russ Snyder, Ted Kubiak, Lew Krausse, George Lauzerique and John O’Donohue for Milwaukee and Moe Drabowsky for the Royals.

June 12th, 1977- Who dat?

What is it with Milwaukee? After beating the Brewers 6-0 on Saturday the 11th, thieves broke into the Royals clubhouse at County Stadium and stole 52 of the Royals 60 jerseys, 20 caps, 20 gloves, 15 jackets, and 10 pairs of shoes. The estimated value of the loot was around $3,500. The Royals were in the middle of an eight-game road trip and had to scramble for jerseys for their June 12 afternoon game with the Brewers.

The game itself was forgettable, a 4-0 Milwaukee victory. The Brewers loaned the Royals several jerseys as well as gloves and the results were, shall we say, interesting. George Brett and Hal McRae both wore number 5. McRae’s was a Brewers jersey. The thieves, for some reason, didn’t steal George’s Royal uniform, even though it would have been the most valuable. Amos Otis wore a Brewers #2 jersey, which belonged to manager Alex Grammas. Otis had requested #44, the number of Henry Aaron, but was turned down. Royals’ manager Whitey Herzog wore no jersey at all, just a Royals jacket. The loss (the game, not the theft) dropped the Royals to 27-29. The theft must have lit a fire under the Royals. They played .707 ball the rest of the way, going 75-31 on their way to a club-record 102 wins.

July 17th, 1979 – An All-Star kisser

This bit is not really qualified for the worst plays, but it’s funny and has such a strange turn, that I felt compelled to include it. By 1979 George Brett was a household name. Morganna Roberts was a buxom 31-year-old quasi-celebrity who made a name for herself crashing sporting events and stealing kisses from players. She became known as “Morganna, the Kissing Bandit.” She scored her first kiss in 1969, when a friend dared her to run on the field at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field. Her first “victim” was Pete Rose, who swore at her for the intrusion, then being the gentleman he was, called her back the next day, apologized, and sent her roses. Over her career, she laid the smooch on about two dozen big league players and hundreds of other athletes and celebrities.

In the first inning of the 1979 All-Star Game in Seattle, George stepped into the box to face Steve Carlton and Morganna made her move. Clad in a tight white T-shirt and short red shorts, Morganna bounded onto the field and gave the surprised Brett a hug and a kiss. Security guards gave chase while Morganna flitted and bounced into short left field. She blew kisses to the crowd while being led off. Brett stepped out of the box to compose himself before drawing a walk from Carlton. There was some talk that the Mariners front office had set up the entire episode to drum up publicity, which they coyly denied.

Nolan Ryan About To Hug Woman On Field
Morganna and Nolan Ryan

The National League won by a score of 7-6, their eighth straight victory in the midsummer classic, which was a bit of an afterthought. Dave Parker made two terrific throws to nail base runners, including a rocket throw from right field to home plate to nail Brian Downing. That’s all I remember about the game. From this kiss on, Morganna and Brett developed a strange sort of love affair. Morganna got him a second time during a game with the Orioles in Kansas City. Brett paid her back three weeks later, when he bounded on stage during one of her exotic dance “performances” and gave her a kiss. Brett later sent her a poster of his 1977 playoff fight with the New York Yankees, with the inscription, “Look Morganna, I’m still defending your honor.”

Writer Hank Davis described Morganna as “making Dolly Parton look developmentally delayed.” Cal Ripken, Nolan Ryan and Steve Garvey were among her victims. Garvey tried to run away, saying “I thought it was the start of a paternity suit.” Based on Garvey’s reputation with the ladies, it could have been. Ryan was a good sport and got down on one knee for his kiss. Morganna said basketball star Charles Barkley “kept talking to my cleavage while I kissed him.” She gave her measurements as 60-23-39, which she referred to as her baseball stats. Known as “The Grand Dame of baseball” she eventually got her own bubblegum card and later became part owner of the Utica Blue Sox. She even got her own exhibit in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Morganna, now 73, retired from the kissing game in 1999 and now lives a quiet life in Columbus, Ohio.

August 30, 2001 - Quinny takes a walk

When Mark Quinn made his debut with the Royals in 1999, the city and the franchise had rarely seen another player quite like him. The Royals had taken Quinn in the 11th round of the 1995 draft out of Rice. Quinn was a star at Rice, hitting .380 with 18 home runs as a junior. He then proceeded to tear up the Royals minor league system: he hit .324 in 1997 between A and AA ball, he cranked out a .349 season in 1998 at AA Wichita followed by a .360 season in 1999 at AAA Omaha before Kansas City finally gave him a chance. He didn’t even flinch, hitting .333 in a 17-game stint at the end of the 1999 season. He slammed two home runs in his debut, becoming just the third major league player to accomplish that feat.

He spent most of the 2000 season in Kansas City and stroked .294/.342/.488 with 20 home runs. That production was good for a third-place finish in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. It looked like the Royals had another young star on their hands.

Quinn was a good-looking guy and a bit on the cocky side. For a time, he dated a Playboy model named Teri Harrison. His walk-up song was “Quinn the Eskimo (the mighty Quinn)” by Manfred Mann. Fans ate it up, singing along with the song every time Quinn came to the plate.

Mark Quinn #14

Quinn’s production dropped off a bit in 2001 as he clocked in with a .269/.298/.459 year with 17 home runs over 118 games. Pitchers, usually smarter than batters, quickly figured out that Quinn was a free swinger, and they exploited that loophole. The Royals have never been known as a team to take a walk, but Quinn took that to another level in 2001. Quinn took a walk in a May 8 game against Cleveland and decided he was done with walking. His walkless streak went on for more than three months. I’ll repeat that in case you think it’s a misprint. More than three months. The streak became the talk of Kansas City. When would the mighty Quinn take another walk?

Finally, on August 30 in a game against the Angels, pitcher Jarrod Washburn threw Quinn a slider on a 3-and-2 count. The pitch was about two feet off the plate. Quinn later admitted, he thought about swinging at it, but he didn’t think he could reach it. As Quinn jogged towards first, the stadium sound system blared the “Hallelujah” chorus and the Royals set off fireworks, which were normally reserved for rare wins and home runs. Fans, players, and coaches broke into laughter. 60 games and 242 plate appearances without an intentional walk. Simply amazing. The walk soon became known as the “walk heard ‘round the world” a perverse takeoff of Bobby Thomson’s famous home run moniker. The streak, somewhat unbelievably, was later broken by Tony Peña, Jr. who went 244 plate appearances without a walk in the 2007 season.

Quinn and stardom? Unfortunately, that didn’t happen either. Quinn fought various injuries in 2002 and 2003, including a broken rib and a torn hamstring, which limited him to just 23 games. The Royals unceremoniously released Quinn in March of 2003. He bounced around the San Diego, Tampa Bay, St. Louis, and White Sox organizations for the next three seasons but never played another game in the majors, finally calling it quits at the age of 32.

May 30, 2014 - Nori takes one in the kogans

Nori Aoki. After typing those words, I’m not even sure where to begin. The Royals acquired the Japanese outfielder from the Brewers in December of 2013 for a young pitcher named Will Smith. Aoki only played one year in Kansas City while Smith has pitched in 342 more games (and counting) as a pretty solid left-handed middle reliever. On the surface you can sum this up by saying: Not a good trade by Dayton Moore.

What Aoki did though in his short time patrolling rightfield was provide unexpected thrills. There were times when he appeared to be a competent major league player. There were other times when it appeared the Royals had plucked some unsuspecting fan from the stands, given him a uniform and glove, and penciled him in the lineup. His at-bats were must-watch TV.

Aoki was a traditional Japanese slasher at the plate. The real fun was watching him trying to avoid getting hit by a pitch. The man could bend and contort and fly through the air like no one else in an effort to avoid the HBP. Some players, like Alex Gordon, just turn their back and take the pitch off their arm or back. Like a man. Not Nori. He jumped and twisted like someone who’d stepped on a snake. It didn’t always work. In a game against the Cardinals, he got hit in the head…on the throw from the catcher back to the pitcher. Once in a game against the Angels, he got picked off first. He dove back in headfirst but came up about two feet short of the bag. Albert Pujols had to step off the bag to make the tag. In the playoffs against the Angels, he took what could charitably be called a circuitous route on a long fly ball off the bat of C.J. Cron and still made the diving circus catch! In the 2014 World Series, he attempted to catch a sinking liner, misjudged it, made a wild backhanded stab at the ball while falling on his keister, and slid about five feet on the damp grass. The man was wildly entertaining.

Aoki’s Oscar moment with the Royals came during a May 30 game at Toronto. In the third inning, Edwin Encarnacion lofted a high foul popup down the right field line. Eric Hosmer and Aoki converged on the ball with Aoki giving it the old college try, sliding rump first and extending the glove in an effort to catch the ball. Problem was, Nori closed his eyes. Kids never take your eyes off the ball. Aoki missed of course, and the ball clanked off his groin. Aoki gave one of those faces that only he could give. After a brief respite, he was able to stand. Hosmer patted him on the butt and sent him back to right field. Ouch.

Aoki was brought in to be the leadoff hitter and he performed just as you would expect from a Royals leadoff hitter: not much power (one home run, six triples) and he didn’t walk much. Who can forget his only home run though? A grand slam against the Diamondbacks. Nori! God, I miss that crazy little bastard. Aoki left the Royals after the season as a free agent. He spent the next three seasons bouncing around with San Francisco, Seattle, Houston, Toronto and the New York Mets, before returning to Japan. He’s spent the last three seasons playing for the Yakult Swallows.

Next week: The worst plays 6 through 10