KC Royals Rewind: Looking back at franchise firsts
Two former Kansas City A’s pitchers headline the list of pitching firsts for the KC Royals.
KC Royals pitchers wasted no time collecting the club’s first pitching firsts–most of them came in the club’s first-ever game. And a couple of old friends from the Kansas City Athletics accounted for three of them.
First win. The Royals selected Moe Drabowsky in the expansion draft and brought him back to Kansas City–the veteran hurler spent parts of four seasons with the old A’s, compiling a 14-32 record from 1962-65 for bad teams. He was popular with the fans, a trait that likely figured in the Royals’ decision to draft him.
Drabowsky didn’t make it into the club’s inaugural game until late; Wally Bunker started and pitched five innings, Tom Burgmeier threw an inning, and former Athletic Dave Wickersham pitched five, leaving the 12th frame to Drabowsky.
Moe was perfect, retiring former Dodger star catcher John Roseboro on a fly to left, future World Series champion manager Charlie Manuel on a grounder to second, and Ted Uhlaender on an infield fly. His scoreless inning earned him the first KC win when Joe Keough knocked in the winning run in the Royals’ half of the inning.
Drabowsky finished 11-9 (the most wins in his 17-year career) with a 2.94 ERA. The club traded him to Baltimore the next season and he also pitched for St. Louis before finishing up with the White Sox in 1972.
First save. Major league baseball introduced the save as an official statistic in 1969–the Royals’ first season–and it was Dave Wickersham, who pitched the five innings preceding Drabowsky’s perfect 12th in the opener, who notched the club’s first save four games later.
A former KC A’s pitcher like Drawbowsky, Wickersham entered the game to protect a 9-3 lead with two on and one out in the ninth. He quickly retired Bert Campaneris on a fly and Reggie Jackson on a grounder to preserve the first road win for Steve Jones and the Royals.
So how did Wickersham earn a save when he took over for Jones with a six-run lead? The game was played under the original save rule, one far more generous than today’s — a 1969 pitcher received credit for a save if he took over with his team in the lead, finished the game without losing the lead, and wasn’t the winning pitcher.
Wickersham saved four more games in 33 more appearances that campaign and finished 2-3 with a 3.96 ERA. It was his last season.
First strikeout. Wickersham also recorded the Royals’ first strikeout. He fanned the Twins’ John Roseboro in the seventh inning of the team’s inaugural game. He also fanned Ted Uhlaender in the 10th and Rich Reese in the 11th before giving way to eventual winning pitcher Drabowsky for the 12th and final frame.
First loss. Dave Morehead came to the KC Royals via the expansion draft and became the first of the new team’s pitchers to lose a game. He started the Royals’ first road contest and gave up a one-run double to Dick Green and a two-run single to Dave Duncan with one out in the second, then gave way to Dick Drago after issuing a walk to Reggie Jackson and a single to Sal Bando in the third. Danny Cater promptly doubled off Drago to score Jackson and Bando–both runs were charged to Morehead.
For the day, Morehead gave up five runs, three hits and four walks and struck out three in 2.1 innings. He finished the season 2-3 with a 5.73 ERA in 21 games, then wrapped up his major league career in 1970 with 3-5 record and 3.62 ERA.
First hit, first walk, first home run. Wally Bunker, who staked his claim to fame as part of fine Baltimore rotations (he won 19 games in 1964 and 10 in both ’65 and ’66), joined the Royals as another expansion draft choice and started their first game.
He pitched reasonably well, allowing two runs in five innings. But he gave up three KC pitching firsts: after retiring the side in the first (the Royals’ first 1-2-3 frame), he surrendered the club’s first hit and home run to Graig Nettles in the second and its first walk to Leo Cardenas in the fifth.
Bunker ended the season 12-11 with a 3.23 ERA, went 2-11 the next season, and finished his career with a 2-3 record in 1971.
First no-hitter(s). The Royals have four no-hitters in their history and Steve Busby threw half of them.
Busby’s first–and the team’s first–gem came on April 27, 1973 against the Tigers in Detroit. Although he walked five, he struck out four and worked out of a jam in the fourth, his shakiest inning of the game. He issued successive one-out walks to Rich Reese and Bill Freehan but got Gates Brown to hit into an inning-ending double play.
A sparkling defensive play saved Busby, and his no-hitter, in the ninth. After Duke Sims led off with a walk, Reese hit a liner toward first; John Mayberry snared it and doubled Reese off. Freehan flied out and Busby had his no-no and a 3-0 win.
Busby threw his second (and last) no-hitter the next season against Milwaukee. Jim Colborn (1977) and Bret Saberhagen (1991) have KC’s other two.
Busby won 16 games for the Royals in 1973, 22 in ’74 and 18 in ’75 before a rotator cuff injury was discovered in ’76. He was never the same again; the 1980 campaign with the Royals was his last in the big leagues.
We hope you enjoyed this installment of KC Royals Rewind. The next is coming soon.