A tale of two shortstops who made KC Royals history

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

The KC Royals picked a California high school shortstop in the second round of the 1971amateur draft. The very next season, they took another California high school shortstop in the first round.

Given two high picks used on the same position in consecutive seasons, one might wonder how each turned out. Well, you might be surprised to know that the 1971 second-rounder ended up with a 21-year Hall of Fame career, albeit primarily as a third baseman until the wear and tear of the hot corner took its toll and he transitioned across the diamond to first base, then to designated hitter. That California shortstop was George Brett.

And the 1972 first rounder? You may be just as surprised to find out he ended up spending parts of 18 seasons in the big leagues, 11 of them with the Royals over three different stints with the club. The player turned out to be a good utility man early in his career and primarily a catcher later.

That second California shortstop was Jamie Quirk.

KC Royals Hall of Fame legend George Brett didn’t become a star right away.

Most fans know much of Brett’s amazing story, so we won’t dwell on it. But he didn’t hit above .291 during his minor league years; he reached the big league club for the first time in late 1973 and hit .125 in 40 at-bats. When the Royals traded third baseman Paul Schaal in early 1974, Brett was called up for good, and finished his remarkable career with a .305 career batting average, 3,154 hits, 665 doubles, 317 home runs and 1,596 RBIs.

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Jamie Quirk became a KC Royals role player and part of an important trade.

While Brett was coming into his own, Quirk steadily worked his way up through the minor league ranks before making his big league debut as an outfielder in September 1975. He spent the entire 1976 season with the Royals as a utility infielder and pinch hitter.

A December trade sent Quirk, outfielder Jim Wohlford and Bob McClure to Milwaukee for pitcher Jim Colborn and catcher Darrell Porter. Porter became an All-Star addition to the Royals over the next four seasons, despite substance abuse struggles that sidelined him for part of the 1980 season and were blamed for his early death at age 50 in 2001. Colborn tossed a no-hitter that helped propel the Royals to the 1977 American League West Division crown.

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After spending the first few months of the 1977 season with the Brewers, Quirk was sent back to Kansas City in August for cash and a minor leaguer. Over the next six seasons, Quirk served in a key utility role, playing in the infield and outfield and picking up more and more games each year as a catcher.

Quirk signed on as a free agent with St. Louis for the 1983 season, but was released the next spring. He signed as a free agent with the White Sox in May and got three plate appearances that resulted in a sacrifice fly and two strikeouts before he was sent to Denver to play out what he thought was the rest of his season. But Cleveland, in need of an emergency catcher, purchased him in late September.

The most important home run of Jamie Quirk’s career helped the KC Royals.

In a twist of fate, the Royals were battling Minnesota down to the wire for the 1984 American League West title, and the Twins happened to be closing out their season against Cleveland. On Sept. 27 in front of less than 4,000 fans, Cleveland and Minnesota played into the ninth inning tied 3-3. Quirk came in as a defensive replacement in the top of the ninth before Cleveland got a chance in the bottom of the inning.

Twins reliever Ron Davis struck out George Vukovich and future Royal Pat Tabler to start the frame, then Quirk came to the plate. Quirk drove a 1-1 fastball into the right field seats to give his team the win and his former team the boost it needed to claim the division title. It was the only plate appearance for Quirk with Cleveland, but it couldn’t have meant more to the Royals.

Following the season, Quirk returned to the Royals as a free agent and a series of one-year deals kept him in Kansas City through 1988. After stints with the Yankees, Orioles and A’s, Quirk retired following the 1992 season.

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Quirk ended his 18 major league seasons with 43 home runs—a full 274 fewer than that “other” shortstop from California. But of those 43 career homers, it’s likely none was more important to the Royals than the one he hit in his only plate appearance in front of a sparse crowd in Cleveland.