KC Royals Rewind: Looking back at franchise firsts
An up-and-coming outfielder who would later become an outstanding manager quickly collected several individual Royal firsts.
For the first few years of his professional career, Lou Piniella may have felt like an unwanted man. The player who eventually became an All-Star outfielder and excellent manager was always on the move.
Cleveland signed Piniella in 1962 but his stay with the Indians didn’t last long–he was lost to Washington later that year in the “first-year player draft,” a complicated (and fortunately long gone) process designed ostensibly to control signing bonuses. He played a year in the Senators’ minor league system, then found himself traded to Baltimore in August 1964, where he played in four games and batted once. That was the last he’d see of Baltimore–he played the next season in the minors, then was traded back to the Indians.
Piniella toiled for three more seasons in the minors before making his way to Cleveland for six 1968 games and going hitless in five at-bats. The Indians lost him again when the expansion Pilots took him in October’s special draft.
But Piniella still hadn’t found a big-league home–before the Pilots played a regular season game, they traded him to the Royals on April 1, 1969, a week before the new season opened, for Steve Whitaker and John Gelnar.
On April 8, Piniella established his big league roots in Kansas City. He started the club’s first game (and first home opener) in center field and went 4-for-5, the first Royal to get four hits in a game. Before the day ended with a KC win, “Sweet Lou” bagged even more Royal firsts.
First batter, first hit, first double, first extra-base hit, first run. Piniella led off for the Royals in their first game, becoming the first KC leadoff hitter. Facing Minnesota’s Tom Hall, he doubled to left for the club’s first hit, first double and first extra-base hit. He scored Kansas City’s first-ever run moments later when Jerry Adair singled him home. With Piniella clearly leading the way, the Royals won 5-1 in 12 innings.
First Royal hit by a pitch. Although the club’s first game provided several firsts, no Royal was hit by a pitch until the fourth game when Oakland’s John Wyatt plunked Piniella in the seventh inning of a 9-3 road win over the A’s. (Ironically, Wyatt was a mainstay on the A’s staff before they left Kansas City).
First triple. Piniella bagged another first a week later when he tripled at home against Oakland. Another former Kansas City A’s hurler, Blue Moon Odom, was the victim; Piniella, hitless in two previous at-bats against Odom, lashed a one-out three-bagger to left that scored Joe Foy. It was the only run in KC’s 2-1 loss.
Piniella went on to win Rookie of the Year (obviously the first Royal to do so), and played five seasons for the club with a .286 average. In an infamously lopsided deal, the Royals traded him (and Ken Wright) to the Yankees for Lindy McDaniel in the winter of 1973; Piniella played 11 seasons in New York before retiring after the ’84 campaign with a .291 career average.
He also found managing to his liking–he managed five clubs, won a World Series title with Cincinnati, and finished with a .517 winning percentage in 23 seasons (1,835-1,713).
For all the “firsts” he collected for the KC Royals, Piniella is definitely the King of Royal Firsts.