KC Royals History: The outfielder and Tourette Syndrome

(Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
(Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /

For nothing more than a dollar, the KC Royals were able to acquire a player who made an impact on the franchise and helped two other teams make runs to the World Series.

Outfielder Jim Eisenreich grew up afflicted with eye blinking, jerks and tics that baffled him, his family, doctors and others. Fortunately, sports, especially baseball, helped Eisenreich fit in with other kids and his teammates.

Drafted in the 16th round of the 1980 amateur draft by the Minnesota Twins, Eisenreich breezed through his first two minor league seasons, hitting .307 in 1980 and .311 in 1981 in Rookie and Class A ball. Then came his chance at the big leagues.

Jim Eisenreich breaks in with Minnesota, begins journey to the KC Royals.

When Eisenreich debuted in the majors with the Twins in1982, they were steeped in young talent with the likes of first baseman Kent Hrbek, catcher Tim Laudner, outfielder Tom Brunansky and third baseman Gary Gaetti all 23 or under. The pitching was young as well with starters Frank Viola and Brad Havens, both 22. Gaetti had several productive years with the Royals in the 1990’s and is one of a number of players who wore No. 4 before Alex Gordon.

Eisenreich, 23, started in center field and was hitting .303 through 34 games, but his tics started to become worse and he eventually had to leave a game in the middle of an inning. His 1982 season was over and there still was no diagnosis for the issue. His 1983 season ended after two games in April and eight plate appearances; after a dozen games 1984 was over, too.

The KC Royals take a $1 offseason waiver gamble on Jim Eisenreich.

After years of testing, it was discovered that Tourette Syndrome was the root of Eisenreich’s struggles. Medication controlled the problem, and Eisenreich was ready to play baseball again.

The Royals claimed him off waivers for the bargain $1 waiver price in October 1986, and after a stint in the minors, Eisenreich was back in the majors by June. He finished the season hitting .238 in 44 games, then hit only .218 in 1988.

But Eisenreich came into his own in ’89, slashing .293/.341/.448 with nine home runs and a career high 27 stolen bases and winning KC’s Player of the Year award.

Jim Eisenreich made it to two World Series after leaving the KC Royals.

Eisenreich played three more seasons with the Royals before signing as a free agent with the Philadelphia Phillies after the 1993 campaign. His .318 average helped the Phillies win the ’93 National League East title and get to the World Series against the Toronto Blue Jays. Although the Phils lost the Series, Eisenreich homered and drove in seven runs in six games.

Following the 1996 season, Eisenreich became a free agent and signed with the Florida Marlins. Just like his first year with the Phillies, Eisenreich’s first season with Florida ended in the World Series, but this time his team won. He appeared in five games, had 11 plate appearances and came through with an important two-run homer in Florida’s 14-11 Game 3 win.

A big trade and then retirement for former KC Royals player Jim Eisenreich.

Eisenreich began 1998 with the Marlins, but in mid-May was moved to the Dodgers in a famous trade. Eisenreich, pitcher Manuel Barrios, third baseman Bobby Bonilla, catcher Charles Johnson and outfielder Gary Sheffield went to the Dodgers in exchange for catcher Mike Piazza and third baseman Todd Zeile. Piazza’s Marlins career didn’t last long: he was dealt to the New York Mets several days later.

Eisenreich finished the season with the Dodgers, hitting .197 in 70 games to end his big league career. In 15 seasons, he hit .290 with 52 home runs and 477 RBIs. That’s quite a finish when many thought his career was over after bits of three seasons.

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Since his playing days ended, Eisenreich has stayed in the public eye, speaking about Tourette Syndrome and supporting the Tourette Syndrome Association. The Jim Eisenreich Foundation for Children with Tourette Syndrome aims to help children growing up with Tourette Syndrome.