KC Royals Flashback Friday: The short career of Steve Busby

KC Royals (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
KC Royals (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images) /

One KC Royals Hall of Fame pitcher had a short career but was able to make the most of his time, becoming a staple of team history.

In baseball, many often talk about the long and great careers that many players have. For the KC Royals, some may talk about George Brett who was around from 1973-1993, or Frank White, who was from 1973-1990. There are, however, some players who had great, short careers that made an impact on their organization.

One such player for the Royals was pitcher Steve Busby. Busby was originally drafted by the San Francisco Giants in 1967 out of Fullerton Union High School in California. Due to an injury, though, his offer was lowered and Busby decided to attend the University of Southern California. A few years later, in 1971, the Royals drafted Busby to Kansas City.

Busby showed up well in the minors. In 1971 he pitched 40.0 innings and held an ERA of 0.68 at Single-A. He was sent to AAA in 1972 and saw success again, pitching 217.0 innings with an ERA of 3.19.

It was enough for a call up, and on September 8, 1972, Busby pitched 9.0 innings, striking out 7, walking 2, and gave up only 2 runs for the win. Over the short time he saw in this season, he started 5 games and pitched 40.0 innings, struck out 31, held his ERA fo 1.58, FIP to 1.77, and threw 3 complete games.

In this same year, Busby hit a grand slam, but it was taken back as one of the umpires had called time before the pitch was thrown. While he didn’t get the slam, he did manage a hit and drove in 2 RBI’s once the game was back on.

Busby gave the Royals what they wanted, and there was plenty of hope surrounding his career. For a few years, he delivered.

In 1973, Busby started 37 games for the Royals, going 16-15. He saw a spike in his ERA at 4.23 but held a good FIP at 3.48. He provided the Royals with a good amount of innings, throwing 238.1 while also pitching 7 complete games and 1 no-hitter in April, Kansas City’s first. In this season, Busby started to see his strikeout rate decline, but that didn’t slow his success.

Busby finished 3rd in Rookie of the Year voting for 1973 and was ready to go for the next season.

1974 and 1975 brought similar success stories. He started 38 and 34 games respectively and went 22-14, and 18-12. Busby saw a better ERA, sitting gat 3.39 in ’74 and 3.08 in ’75, and continued to put together a mass of innings. Busby pitched 292.1 innings with 20 complete games in ’74 and 260.1 with 18 complete games in 1975.

Busby threw the Royals (and his) second no-hitter in June of 1974, and to no surprise was an All-Star in both ’74 and ’75.

1976 brought a different story. In the season before, while he had seen success, Busby had dealt with some pain. Injury was nothing new to the pitcher, and he worked through it during the season and offseason and felt ready to go in 1976. His season, though, was up and down.

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He pitched some games on a pitch count and was held back from some starts. He managed 71.2 innings over 13 starts but his effectiveness was gone. His strikeout percentage shot down, and his walk rate shot up. His ERA was at 4.40 for the season and his FIP a high of 5.27. Something was wrong and Busby eventually had to see a doctor.

It was found that Busby had a rotator cuff tear and that surgery was his only option if he wanted to continue pitching. He missed the 1977 season and took his time getting back to baseball.

Busby was able to pitch a few games in 1978, but struggled, pitching 21.1 innings and giving up 18 runs. He fared better in 1979, pitching 94.1 innings over both starts and reliefs. His ERA was back down to a decent 3.63, though his effectiveness was still not what it once was and he struggled with walks and strikeouts.

Then came 1980. Busby’s effectiveness was even further gone. He pitched 42.1 innings but gave up 29 earned runs and held an ERA of 6.14. Busby spent some time in the minors as well where he did well but was ultimately released in August. He was a non-roster invite to spring training the following season with the St. Louis Cardinals but failed to make the team. He retired shortly after.

Busby considered a come back to baseball a few years later, but instead continued to work in the sport as a broadcaster.

Busby’s career was unfortunately cut short by injury, but there are plenty of questions about what he could have done had he been able to come back healthy, or not have suffered the injury in the first place.

Busby was a workhorse for the Royals and provided the franchise’s first two no-hitters. He was a 2-time All-Star and can be found in the top 10 of multiple Royals career pitching records, including wins (70), win-loss percentage (.565), complete games (53), shutouts (7), and FIP (3.54),

Even with a short career, Busby made an impact on the Royals and was inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame in 1986.

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Steve Busby’s time in Kansas City may have been short-lived compared to some, but the impact he made was great. There may always be questions about what he could have done if given more time, but that won’t stop fans from remembering him as a Forever Royal.