KANSAS CITY, Mo. Bud Daley is the footnote of a footnote, a man lost in the margins, teetering precariously between trivia and minutiae. His sin was doing his best work for Kansas City Athletics, who get talked about these days the way Beatles fans talk about Pete Best. First they were bad, then they were gone, a crummy first marriage, as if the city had gotten hitched far too young and to the wrong girl.
We had pretty bad ball clubs, says Daley, who was an All-Star in Kansas City in 1959 and 1960, and now divides his time in Wyoming between retirement and golf. But the fans never blamed the players. It was always the front offices fault.
And so we began All-Star Weekend, the unofficial five-day festival that kicks off today and culminates in Major League Baseballs midsummer classic Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium, with where it all began. Which brings us back to Bud, 79 years young, Kansas Citys forgotten All-Star.
The 6-foot-1 lefty was the only Kansas City player to appear in the first All-Star Game ever held here, back at old Municipal Stadium on July 11, 1960. He was the first Kansas City pitcher to win at least 16 games, turning the trick twice in consecutive years 1959 and 1960. Trouble is, other than Ray Herbert, he was also about the only reliable arm in the rotation. Daley born Leavitt Leo Daley had piled up 12 wins before the 1960 midsummer break, including nine in a row at one point.
There were two All-Star games to be played Kansas City got the first; in those days, the contests were used to raise money for big leaguers pensions so A.L. manager Al Lopez approached Daley and offered him a choice:
Buddy, I know you pitched Sunday, Lopez said. Would you rather start in New York City (for the second game) or pitch the last inning in Kansas City?
Oh, Id much rather pitch in Kansas City, Daley replied.
The game itself wasnt much to write home about. It was a sweltering afternoon, hotter than sin, sticky as a cinnamon bun, same as now, a day game played in 100-degree temps. Chicago Cubs shortstop Ernie Banks homered in the first, and the National League had built a 5-0 lead by the top of the third.
But as the day wore on and the shadows fell over Brooklyn Avenue, Lopez kept his word. In the top of the ninth, with the host American League squad trailing by two, out came Daley from the bullpen in center.
When I stepped onto the field, I walked all the way to the mound, recalls the pitcher, who would retire after the 1964 campaign. And I got a standing ovation the whole way. And it was one of the biggest thrills I ever had. It was just amazing.
Amazing and quick. Daley fanned Cincinnatis Vada Pinson and San Franciscos Orlando Cepeda to open the frame, then walked St. Louis Ken Boyer. Daleys errant pickoff attempt sent Boyer to second with two out, but the Athletics ace got Roberto Clemente to line out to left to end the threat.
I remember I had really good control; that was one of the reasons I struck the guys out, I hit the corners pretty good, Daley says. Because I definitely was not a strikeout pitcher.
With that, Daley chuckles. He was a slop artist, even on his good days, a finesse type who needed to nibble around the corners of the strike zone to be effective, never striking out more than 126 batters in a given season.
Most curveballs come in and they kind of quit, Ted Williams said of his breaking stuff. Your curveball keeps going and going and going.
An innings-eater who completed 25 games combined in 1959 and 60, Daley also tossed a knuckleball on occasion, which might explain why he was among the top 10 in the American League in batters hit by pitch five different times over a 10-year career, as well as sixth in the AL in wild pitches in 1959 (seven) and 60 (eight). But the curveball, thrown from a three-quarters arm slot, was his bread-and-butter. The out pitch. The hammer.
With the curveball you have, if you pitched today, youd win 20 games every year, ex-Yankees great Yogi Berra recently told Daley, a teammate in the Bronx from 1961 through 63. They dont see the kind of curve like you had.
Alas, Kansas City wouldnt see much more of it, either. The All-Star appearance in front of the home crowd was the beginning of the end of the salad days; the California native went 4-12 after the break, finishing 16-16. The Athletics shipped him to the New York Yankees in June 1961.
I had bought a home (in Kansas City) the day before (the Athletics) named Frank Lane general manager, Daley says. He was at Cleveland (when I was there) and hed traded me to Baltimore. I put my house up for sale.
Daley was used primarily in relief in New York, where he was part of two world championship clubs and four pennant winners. Meanwhile, divorce proceedings between Kansas City and the Athletics started to build up steam. Insurance magnate Charles Finley had bought the team before the 1961 season, feuding with the local media almost immediately while driving executives, managers and players crazy with his micromanaging zeal.
Before long, Charlie O was shopping the franchise all over the country, much to the chagrin of the long-suffering faithful back home. By the time a weary American League finally threw up its hands and green-lit a move to Oakland for the 1968 campaign, the locals were happy to see Finleys backside, even if meant taking the seeds of a 70s dynasty with him.
The Royals came soon after that, promising class and substance over Finleys garish, carnivalesque style. They won quickly and consistently, becoming baseballs model franchise of the late 70s and early 80s. The As and Daleys heroics were largely lost, a relic cherished only by a select few of a certain generation, now in the winter of their days.
I didnt mind the heat, Daley says. I always thought Kansas City was one of the best towns Ive ever played in.
And Daley was one of the towns best pitchers, given the benefit of hindsight. Over the past 57 years, just two Kansas City hurlers have struck out at least half of the batters theyve faced in an All-Star competition. Zack Grienke (2009, fanning two of three) was one. Bud Daley (1959 and 60, fanning three of six) was the other. Of the six batters Daley retired in All-Star play, half Cepeda, Banks and Clemente are enshrined in Cooperstown. Not bad for a footnote. Not bad at all.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org