Kevin Seitzer burst upon the league looking like the next Royals star. He had a trademark hunched-over batting stance that produced sensational batting averages in the minor leagues and in his rookie big league campaign. He is one of the few Royals hitters in history with a patient eye and a penchant for walks. He was average or below-average in most other aspects of the game - not much power, slow-footed, and a poor defender. He also had a temper, and came off as abrasive in the clubhouse, particularly with his managers. He had big shoes to fill, replacing future Hall of Famer George Brett, and he never quite filled them. Still, for a few seasons, he was a wizard with the bat.
I am a Kansas City Royals fan, and, at the time, we all had visions of Seitzer being better than that Brett fellow who used to play third. This didn’t work out; Seitzer was a good player, but his rookie season was his best effort.
-author Bill James
After a standout career at Eastern Illinois University where he majored in industrial electronics, the Royals selected Seitzer in the 11th round of the 1983 round. Seitzer immediately showed what kind of player he would be, hitting .345 in the rookie Pioneer League. The next season he moved up to A ball and hit .297, the only minor league season he would fail to crack the .300 mark. After 90 games in Fort Myers in 1985, he was promoted to AA Memphis where he hit .348/.438/.417. After he hit .319/.438/.507 with 13 HR 74 RBI in a full season at AAA Omaha, Seitzer got a cup of coffee with the big league club in 1986.
By 1987, it was clear Seitzer was big league ready, the only question was where to play him. He was blocked at third base by All-Star George Brett. The plan in spring training was to have Seitzer as the starting left fielder. However, the impressive performance of another rookie named Bo Jackson shelved those plans, and Seitzer began the season at first base with slugger Steve Balboni at designated hitter. When George Brett went down with an injury in late April, Seitzer was filling in at third base. His defense was still an issue, in part due to an arm injury he suffered as a youth, and he made blooper reels that year when he tried to blow a slow-rolling bunt foul.
What was not an issue was his bat. Seitzer spent the entire season among the league's leaders in batting average. The rookie was rewarded by being named to the American League All-Star team. By July, Seitzer was playing third base full-time with Brett moving to first permanently to protect him from injury. On August 2 against the Red Sox, Seitzer had a game for the ages, going 6-for-6 with two home runs and seven RBI, tying the American League record for most hits in a nine-inning game.
"The thing I really admire about him is that he's not a guy who says what he's going to do, or boasts about his value ot the team, he just does it. He doesn't put on an act. You won't see Seitzer strut and stride, and say 'Look at me.' To me, that's very refreshing."
-General Manager John Schuerholz
Seitzer would end the year by breaking most Royals rookie records, finishing with a league-leading 207 hits, ten shy of the rookie record. He hit .323/.399/.470 with 15 HR 83 RBI and finished second in Rookie of the Year voting to Mark McGwire.
"Hey, who would have believed this? It still seems like a crazy dream. Sometimes I find myself still wondering if it's real."
But what the world did not know, was that Kevin Seitzer was battling demons. He had developed an alcohol problem and was "miserable", even to the point of contemplating suicide. He admits to erupting on his wife, pushing her up against the wall. All, despite being one of the rising stars in the game.
"I had everything -- all the reasons in the world to be the happiest man on the face of the earth. And instead I was probably the most miserable."
Seitzer would find relief at the Pro Athletes Outreach Conference the next year and became a born-again Christian, a turn of fate that possibly saved his life.
Going into 1988, Seitzer was part of a new era of Royals stars, along with Bo Jackson and Danny Tartabull. He didn't make quite the splash he did his rookie season, but he became the first Royals hitter ever to hit .300 in his first two seasons, finishing at .304/.388/.406 with 5 HR 60 RBI. Despite his hot stock, he was involved in hot trade rumors that winter as the Royals were linked to Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs. Boston was looking to move the All-Star after an embarrassing extra-marital affair, and Seitzer was to be the centerpiece of the return. Ultimately, both third basemen stayed put.
Seitzer's numbers continued to decline in 1989, although he drew a career high 102 walks, the last Royals hitter to top triple digits in that category. He was hitting .301 at the All-Star break in 1990, but had a second half swoon where he hit just .248 to put his final numbers at .275/.346/.370, the fourth consecutive season his OPS had declined since his remarkable rookie season.
Seitzer struggled mightily to begin the 1991 season, then missed a month after he broke a hamate bone in his hand after being plunked by a pitch. In July, new manager Hal McRae decided to shake things up, benching Seitzer, shortstop Kurt Stilwell, and first baseman Jim Eisenreich in favor of reserves Bill Pecota, David Howard, and Warren Cromartie. McRae wanted to emphasize defense, and Seitzer's erratic arm was no fit, particularly when he no longer hitting. The move did not sit well with Seitzer, who had always had a bit of a temper. Before long, Seitzer wanted out.
"I feel like they'd be doing me and the team a favor if they (made a trade).....I'm sick of sitting."
Following the disappointing season, Seitzer had arthroscopic surgery on his knees. The Royals made a big trade that winter, shipping ace pitcher Bret Saberhagen to the Mets for three players, including third baseman Gregg Jefferies. It seemed clear that Seitzer would not be in the Royals' plans. In spring training, they released him on his 30th birthday.
Seitzer spent the next few seasons bouncing between the Brewers and Athletics. In 1994, he revived his career in Milwaukee, hitting .314, then hitting .311 the next season as an All-Star. In 1996, he hit over .300 again, and was acquired by the Cleveland Indians for their pennant run. The next season, he got his only post-season experience serving as a designated hitter. After appearing in the World Series, Seitzer decided to call it quits.
Seitzer ran a popular baseball facility in the Kansas City area before being named hitting coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2006. In 2009, he was named hitting coach for the Royals, where he served until the end of the 2012 season. Seitzer stresses a patient approach, with a goal of hitting the ball to all fields. He is currently the hitting coach for the Atlanta Braves. His stepson Nick Graffeo was once a Royals minor league, and his son Cameron plays in the Tampa Bay Rays organization.