Dave Wickersham, who pitched for both the Kansas City Athletics and the Kansas City Royals, died over the weekend at the age of 86. Wickersham was the oldest living member of the Kansas City Royals, part of the inaugural team that began play in 1969.
Wickersham was born in Erie, Pennsylvania and attended high school at nearby East Springfield, where he was a multi-sport star. He played college baseball at Ohio University in Athens, and was signed by Branch Rickey and the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1955. In 1959, the Kansas City Athletics selected him in the minor league Rule 5 draft, and by 1960 he was in the big leagues.
The right-hander was up and down in 1961, and broken ribs caused him to miss two months of the 1962 season. Despite the injury, he finished second on the A’s pitching staff with 11 wins and the top winning percentage in the American League, with a 4.17 ERA as a swingman.
In 1963, Wickersham got a full-time shot at starting, and led the team with 237 2⁄3 innings pitched, while tying for the team lead in wins with 12. The lackluster A’s were looking for a big star to acquire, and used the 27-year old pitcher to entice the Detroit Tigers to trade 30-year old slugger Rocky Colavito.
Wickersham would enjoy his best season in 1964 with the Tigers, winning 19 games, finishing sixth in an inning pitched with 254, with 11 complete games. He had a chance to win his 20th game in his final start, but was ejected in the seventh inning of a 1-1 tie for trying to call time out to keep a base runner from advancing as teammate Norm Cash argued with a call from umpire Bill Valentine in a game the Tigers would go on to win. Wickersham was a born-again Christian who had never been ejected from a game, and Valentine deeply regretted depriving him of his shot at 20 wins for year. In 2004, Wickersham would write Valentine a letter excusing the ejection.
“You had called the play correctly as I saw it...I hope you’ve had a good life and are in good healthy. You were certainly a good umpire.”
He earned a pair of MVP votes as the top pitcher on the 85-win Tigers, but would never put up the same numbers with Detroit after that. He won nine games with a 3.78 ERA the next season, but was between the rotation and bullpen the next two seasons, although he pitched very effectively. The Tigers traded him to the Pirates for the 1968 season, but he spent much of that year in the minors.
The 33-year old might have ended his career there, but the league added four more teams in 1969, giving Wickersham an opportunity where his big league career had begun - in Kansas City. The new Royals ballclub purchased his contract from the Pirates and gave him a chance to make the club as the oldest pitcher on the team. He would make 34 appearances for the original Royals club in 1969, pitching 50 innings with a 3.96 ERA. He is one of just four players to play for both the Kansas City Athletics and Kansas City Royals, joining Aurelio Monteagudo, Moe Drabowsky and Ken Sanders. In a ten-year career, he won 68 games and appeared in 283 Major League contests.
Wickersham hung up his cleats after that season and began a career in the insurance business. He settled down in the Kansas City area, and his daughter Carey Wickersham has been a long-time TV reporter for Fox 4 Kansas City. Despite playing just one season for the Royals, he was a huge fan of the team, attending several post-season games in 2014 and 2015. Nico Van Thyn of the blog Once A Knight ... found out the extent of Wickersham’s devotion to the team in a conversation with him several years ago
His gravestone, he tells me, will be inscribed on one side with his favorite Bible scripture — Colossians 3:17, which as has been noted in several references I saw, he always included when he signed his baseball card.
The other side of the gravestone? A Royals logo.
Rest in peace, Dave Wickersham.