When reviewing the history of every batter who has played for the KC Royals, it all starts with their first game, first at bat, and first hitter.
Pitcher Wally Bunker threw the Royals’ first pitch in the opener on April 8, 1969, and right fielder Bob Oliver caught a fly ball into right field to record the first on a 1-2-3 top from the first round for Bunker. Then, when the Royals first came to home plate late in the inning, the team had its first plate appearance, first hit, first extra hit, and first run, all produced by the same player. .
This player was an unsuccessful man in the major leagues before 1969 and joined the team just a week before opening day. This same player ultimately broke the hearts of Royals fans in the playoffs with another team.
That player was Lou Piniella.
Lou Piniella of the KC Royals has come a long way to the majors.
By the time Piniella kicked off the first inning that April day, he was on his fifth team and eighth year of professional baseball. Piniella signed with Cleveland in 1962 as a free agent (the first amateur draft was not held until 1965) after his career at the University of Tampa.
In that year’s expansion draft, Piniella was selected by the Washington Senators (now the Texas Rangers). The Senators sent Piniella to Baltimore two years later as a later named player from a previous trade and he made his big league debut as a pinch hitter, scoring his only game at bat of the season.
After an undistinguished season in the minor leagues in 1965, Piniella was returned to Cleveland in March 1966. Three more minor league seasons and a six-game, 0-for-5 stint in the majors in 1968 later, Piniella was chosen in another expansion draft, this time by the Seattle Pilots (now the Milwaukee Brewers).
Lou Piniella started making his mark in his first game for the KC Royals.
Piniella never played for the Pilots – the Royals acquired him in exchange for John Gelnar and Steve Whitaker shortly before Opening Day. Undaunted by his role in the team’s history, Piniella led Kansas City’s inaugural round with a brace against future Royal Tom Hall of the Twins. Jerry Adair followed with a single to score Piniella, and the new team was on course for a 4-3 first win. Piniella finished the 12-inning win with four hits, one walk and one RBI.
At the end of the season, Piniella ranked third on the team in home runs (11), second in RBIs (68), and led the club with 21 doubles, 139 hits, and a .282 average. He also won the American League Rookie of the Year award.
In five seasons, Piniella posted a .286/.333/.409 slash for the Royals, putting his name among the leaders in most offensive categories early in team history.
A lopsided trade put Lou Piniella on the other side of the KC Royals.
After the 1973 season in which Piniella fell to a .250 average, the Royals sent him to the Yankees with pitcher Ken Wright for pitcher Lindy McDaniel.
Wright only pitched three games with the Yankees before they traded him to Philadelphia. McDaniel, already 38 before the 1974 season, spent two years in Kansas City, going 6-5 with a 3.75 ERA in 78 games.
Piniella, meanwhile, played 11 seasons with New York and became a fan favorite and a key cog in a team that beat the Royals in three of four American League Championship Series occasions en route to four. World Series appearances and two titles. .
Piniella hit .295 in 1,037 games as a Yankee and, for Baseball Reference, hit .280 with four home runs and 35 RBIs in 89 regular season games against Kansas City. Perhaps more importantly, he had 14 hits in all three ALCS when the Yankees eliminated the Royals, including seven hits in 1977.
Many younger fans remember Lou Piniella as an unstable but good manager with the Yankees, Reds, Mariners, Rays and Cubs who won a World Series title with Cincinnati. But for the Royals’ first five seasons of baseball, he was a top contributor and leading hitter in club history.