By Phil Ellenbecker
If you were a Kansas City baseball fan in 1969 starving for real baseball after a one-year hiatus — and you’d had to put up with the Kansas City’s A’s previously — then you had to have been sated after the Kansas City Royals began playing for real.
The Royals broke in with back-to-back extra-inning victories over the Minnesota Twins at Municipal Stadium — both by 4-3 margins. K.C. won in 12 innings before 17,688 on Tuesday, April 8. The next night the Royals went five innings better, winning in 17 innings before 13,171.
Moe Drabowsky was the winning pitcher in the season opener, but probably the biggest hero for the Royals was Dave Wickersham, who pitched five scoreless innings of four-hit ball, walking none, before giving way to Drabowsky in the 12th.
Joe Keough brought home the winning run when he singled off Dick Woodson, making his major league debut, to bring in Joe Foy. Foy and Chuck Harrison had singled with one out and advanced to second and third on Joe Grzenda’s wild pitch. Grzenda came on to start the12th for Ron Perranoski, who’d matched Wickersham’s yeoman relief with his own 5 1/3-inning stint of one-hit, shutout ball.
Lou Piniella went 4 for 5 for the Royals, kick-starting a season in which he won American League Rookie of the Year honors. Piniella, batting leadoff, scored the first run in Royals history when he doubled to start the first and came home on Jerry Adair’s single.
The Twins tied the game in the second on Graig Nettles’ homer off Royals starter Wally Bunker. They went ahead 3-1 in the sixth when Rod Carew scored on Harmon Killebrew’s ground out and John Roseboro doubled in Cesar Tovar.
The Royals knotted the game at 3 in their half of the sixth on back-to-back singles by Jim Campanis and Piniella that plated Ellie Rodriguez and Jackie Hernandez. Rodriguez triggered the rally with a two-out double, and Hernandez reached on an error by Killebrew at third.
After that Wickersham and Perranoski took over. Wickersham, who was beginning the last season of a nine-year major league career, allowed only one runner to reach scoring position in his five-inning stint. Perranoski, meanwhile, retired the Royals in order in the seventh through ninth and three of four batters the next two frames.
Hawk Taylor pinch hit for Wickersham in the bottom of the 11th and grounded out. Chuck Manuel, future manager of the Indians and 2009 World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies, pinch hit for Perranoski in the 12th and grounded out. Manuel was also making his major league debut.
As in the opener, the Royals’ second-night win was keyed by stellar relief, which they needed all of. First, Steve Jones shut out the Twins for two innings after starter Roger Nelson had been pinch hit for in the fifth. Next, Bill Butler allowed only one hit, one walk and no runs over the eighth through 12th innings. Drabowsky followed with 4 2/3 innings of shutout ball on three hits before yielding to Tom Burgmeier with two out in the 17th.
The Royals made a winner of Burgmeier when Piniella singled in Hernandez with two outs in the bottom of the 17th. Hernandez walked and advanced to second on Burgmeier’s ground out to second before scoring on Piniella’s hit to left field.
The Twins took a 2-0 lead in the second. Carew singled in George Mitterwald, and Ted Uhlaender scored on an error by Hernandez. The Royals answered in the fourth. Consecutive singles by Ed Kirkpatrick, Foy and Harrison off starter off Jim Kaat scored the first run. Foy, after stealing third, tied the game on Campanis’ sacrifice fly.
Minnesota retook the lead in the fifth when Carew doubled, advanced to third on Tony Oliva’s ground out and stole home, taking advantage of Royalers pitcher “Spider” Nelson’s long windup.
(Spurred by new manager Billy Martin, it was the first of seven home swipes on the season by Carew, tied for second most in a season all time all time behind Ty Cobb’s eight in 1912. Carew had stolen 19 bases total his first two seasons and only once before had stolen home, in the minor leagues).
Foy singled in Adair with two out in the eighth, which sent the game into extra innings for a second straight night after both teams went out in order in the ninth.
K.C. advanced runners to scoring position in the 11th, 12th and 16th innings but could get no farther than second base.
Butler and Drabowsky kept the Twins out of scoring position until the 17th, when Mitterwald reached on a fielder’s choice and moved to second on a walk to Roseboro. Burgmeier was then summoned and got the third out when Uhlaender popped out to catcher Campanis.
Notes from first two games
• Here was the Royals’ opening-day lineup and batting order: 1. Lou Piniella, center field; 2. Jerry Adair, second base; 3. Ed Kirkpatrick, LF; 4. Joe Foy, 3B; 5. Chuck Harrison, 1B; 6. Bob Oliver, RF; 7. Ellie Rodriguez, C; 8. Jackie Hernandez, SS; 9. Wally Bunker, P.
Oliver, Piniella, Hernandez and Rodriguez were in the 1970 opening-day lineup. Adair and Kirkpatrick were back with the club while Foy and Harrison were gone. Harrison had one last season in his five-year major league career, with K.C. in 71.
• After starting the season in center field, Piniella was back in center the next two games and in the ninth game, but those four were the only in Piniella’s career he started at that position.
• Campanis’ father was Al Campanis, the Dodgers’ executive whose racially charged comments on ABC’s “Nightline” in 1987 led to the end of his career.
• Don Denkinger, the umpire whose blown call in the 1985 World Series helped the Royals capture the title, was the third-base ump for the Royals’ opening game in 1969 and was at second the following day.
• The Royals’ attendance their first two home games couldn’t compare to what the Athletics drew in the first two games at Municipal in 1955, Kansas City’s American League debut. The A’s drew 32,147 on opening day (17,688 better than the Royals) and 21,168 the second game (plus 7,997 over the Royals).
• After sweeping the Twins in their first series ever, the Royals traveled to Oakland to meet the former team from K.C. and split four games with the A’s.
First Kansas City Royals game: http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1969/B04080KCA1969.htm
Second Kansas City Royals game: http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1969/B04090KCA1969.htm
Chuck Manuel managerial record: http://www.baseball-reference.com/managers/manuech01.shtml
Rod Carew’s steals of home, steals of home records: https://miscbaseball.wordpress.com/2010/02/22/rod-carews-seven-steals-of-home-in-1969/; “Steals of Home: The Millennium So Far,” Shane Tourtellotte, 2016, http://www.hardballtimes.com/steals-of-home-the-millennium-so-far/
Royals’ opening day lineup, 1970: http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1970/B04070KCA1970.htm
Royals’ attendance, 1969, Kansas City A’s attendance, 1955: http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/KCR/1969-schedule-scores.shtml; http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/KCA/1955-schedule-scores.shtml
Al Campanis: “The legacy of Al Campanis,” William Weinbaum, 2012, http://www.espn.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/7751398/how-al-campanis-controversial-racial-remarks-cost-career-highlighted-mlb-hiring-practices