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Backdoor sliders

The numbers game

Kansas City Royals vs Chicago White Sox Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Allsport/Getty Images

To workers I’m just another drone, To Ma Bell I’m just another phone

I’m just another statistic on a sheet. To teachers I’m just another child

To IRS I’m another file, I’m just another consensus on the street

Gonna cruise outta this city, head down to the sea, Gonna shout out at the ocean, hey it’s me

And I feel like a number, feel like a number, Feel like a stranger

A stranger in this land, I feel like a number

Bob Seger, 1978

Baseball has always been a game loved by the numbers nerds. Most of us got our start by memorizing the stats on the back of baseball cards. Later in life, those skills came in handy, say in either a Statistics class or in something simple like calculating the tip at a restaurant.

Baseball is measured by numbers, never more so than today, as the moneyball quants now rule the game. Did you know that there were only 84 pitchers in American League history to throw a three-pitch inning? Five of those men played for the Kansas City Royals: Marty Pattin, Jerry Terrell, Floyd Bannister, Jay Witasick, and Jimmy Gobble. Terrell wasn’t even a pitcher. He was a utility infielder who would occasionally take one for the team during a blowout. Yet on August 20th, 1979, in a blowout loss to the Yankees, he got Fred Stanley, Bobby Brown, and Lenny Randle on three straight pitches. That one should probably come with an asterisk since the Yanks were probably just wanting to get off the field.

There have been 103 pitchers to throw an Immaculate inning: nine pitches, nine strikes, three outs. Two of them, Jeff Montgomery and Stan Belinda, accomplished the feat while playing for the Royals.

My favorite oddball pitching stat is the four-strikeout inning, made possible by either a wild pitch or a passed ball. This was a specialty of mine as a youth pitcher, as many of my third strikes skipped by my friend and catcher Dennis. The fact is, I was wild as hell, and he was better suited for shortstop. 98 pitchers have had a four-strikeout inning, including Kevin Appier, who pulled it off in a 1996 game against the Blue Jays. Appier got Ed Sprague, Carlos Delgado, Charlie O’Brien, and Alex Gonzalez, all swinging. Delgado was the base runner, legging out a strike three wild pitch. The only other Royal to perform this feat was Nate Karns, who in May of 2017 got the White Sox Matt Davidson, Tim Anderson, Yolmer Sanchez, and Jose Abreu all swinging with Sanchez getting the base on a wild pitch. Appier pulled his off while facing four batters. Karns upped the level of difficulty by issuing a walk to Melky Cabrera between the Sanchez and Abreu whiffs. Impressive stuff either way.

Did you know the Royals have never had a 30-30 player? Not Brett. Not Otis. Not Beltran. Kind of hard to believe. Carlos Beltran got close, with a 29-home run, 35 steal season in 2002. Brett’s top home run year was 1985, when he had 30. Alas, he only managed 9 steals that season. Do the 2022 Royals have a player who can break this jinx? Adalberto Mondesi has the tools, but it remains to be seen if he can put together a healthy, consistent full season. Perhaps Bobby Witt Jr.? Time will tell.

The Royals have also never had a player who hit a home run in his last official major league at-bat. That stat should be called a Ted, in honor of Ted Williams, who parked a Jack Fisher fastball deep into the right field seats at Fenway Park in his final career at-bat. Nothing could have been more fitting for Williams, arguably the greatest hitter who ever lived. The Red Sox marked the occasion by installing a red seat where the ball landed. The last time I was in Fenway, I made my way over to the seat and had a look. Holy smoke, it was a long way to home plate, 502 feet to be exact. Not a bad way to go out for a 41-year-old who missed nearly five years of his prime to serve in World War II AND Korea. Major respect.

Speaking of home runs, there have only been six men who have led off a game with a home run and ended the same game with a walk-off jack. The first to do it was the Kansas City Athletics’ Vic Power, who led off the game with a blast off Baltimore’s Hal Brown before walking it off against, you guessed it, Hal Brown, in the bottom of the 10th. The two long balls gave the Athletics a 3-to-2 win in front of 13,159 on May 7th, 1957, at Municipal. Power was a fine ballplayer, the first real star to play in Kansas City. He played for 12 years in the league, with six of those coming with Philadelphia/Kansas City. He ended his career with 1,716 hits and a .284 batting average while garnering six All-Star berths and seven Gold Gloves. The Athletics, never a club to hang onto their good players, shipped Power to Cleveland for Roger Maris, Dick Tomanek, and Preston Ward in June of 1958. We all know how that turned out.

Kansas City Athletics
Vic Power
Set Number: X4432

Staying on the long ball thread, who hit the first home run in Kansas City Athletics history? Who hit the first home run for the Royals? Who gave up George Brett’s first career home run?

The Royals have also never had a player hit what is called an Ultimate Grand Slam. An ultimate slam is when a batter comes to the plate with the bases loaded and his team trailing by three runs. It’s a surprisingly rare feat, with only 31 men having accomplished it.

Did you know that Kansas City has never had a player go straight from the draft to the big leagues? Pitcher Brandon Finnegan came close in the 2014 season. The Royals only gave him five games in Wilmington and eight in Northwest Arkansas before bringing him to the bigs, where he performed admirably in the Royals pennant drive.

In other oddball tidbits, did you know that Zach Greinke’s wife, Emily Kuchar, used to be a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader? Gotta love Zach. Clayton Kershaw’s great uncle, Clyde Tombaugh, discovered Pluto, which in my book is still a planet. Steve Yeager, former catcher for the Dodgers, also has some famous lineage. His uncle, Chuck Yeager, was a renowned flying ace and test pilot. If you want the full Yeager, watch the 1983 movie “The Right Stuff”. The movie was an underrated classic. I went into a Family Video store a few years ago and asked the young clerk if they had the movie. He looked at me for a few moments like I was from Mars. Once I determined that we both speaking the King’s English, I tried to explain the movie to him. You know, about the space race? Nominated for eight Oscars, winning four?? Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, Sam Shepherd??? ”Who was the best pilot you ever saw? You’re looking at him.” I gave him a couple of other quotes and re-enacted the enema scene to no avail. He went to his computer, punched in some numbers. After about 30 seconds, he punched in some more. Finally, he looked at me and said, nope, don’t have it. Family Video is now out of business. They didn’t have the right stuff.

Art Kusnyer
Art Kusnyer

With March Madness in the books, older Kansas State fans will recall the name of Ernie Kusnyer, a talented forward on the Cats’ 1971 and 1972 Big 8 championship teams. His older brother, Art Kusnyer, played for the 1978 Royals, appearing in nine games as a backup to Darrel Porter. Kusnyer only managed three hits, but one of them was a solo home run off Frank Tanana, back when Tanana could bring it.

Did you know that no fewer than eight players have been married to Playboy Playmates, including 1960s era party boy Bo Belinsky, who topped them all by marrying Jo Collins, Playmate of the Year for 1965. Belinsky had, shall we say a charismatic personality and at various times was linked romantically to Ann-Margaret, Connie Stevens, Mamie Van Doren and Tina Louise of Gilligan’s Island fame. Belinsky pitched a no-hitter in his fourth big league start and followed that up with a complete game 2-hit victory over Boston three starts later, which gave him a 6-1 record. Unfortunately, that was the high point of his career. He could never overcome the rigors of the nightlife, appearing in 146 games over the course of eight seasons, while sampling the seedier side of every city he visited.

You didn’t think I forgot the home run question, did you? Bill Wilson hit the first jack for the Athletics on April 12th, 1955. Mike Fiore holds the honors for the Royals with his April 13th, 1969, dinger. Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins, pitching for the Rangers, was the pitcher who gave up George’s first home run, which came on May 8th, 1974.