U.L.’s Toothpick: The Year Of The Card–Marty Pattin, 1976

Those of us who grew up with a little bit less money than our peers know: if you want to play ball, lots of things can become a good substitute for a baseball. A rolled-up pair of socks, a ball of tape, even an apple. Yes, an apple. There’s nothing wrong with being able to afford all the equipment, but perhaps one has a little more appreciation for the game when there’s a bit of imagination involved.

Martin William Pattin was born on April 6, 1943 in Charleston, Illinois. Growing up in somewhat impoverished conditions, Pattin honed his pitching skills by throwing old apples at the side of his grandparents’ shed, pretending to face Mickey Mantle. Despite the humble beginnings, Pattin became a star at his hometown school, Eastern Illinois University, leading them to an NAIA World Series appearance. After graduating, Pattin was drafted in the seventh round of the 1965 draft by the California Angels. That was in spite of being told by a scout that he was too small (Pattin is listed as 5’10” and 180 pounds on this card, which is a bit small for a pitcher but hardly too small) to make it in the majors.

Less than three years later, there he was in the big leagues. Although he wasn’t the hardest thrower, Pattin was a smart pitcher with good control, a good combination. He went 4-4 in 52 games for the Angels in 1968, but California left him available in the 1968 expansion draft. The Seattle Pilots picked him in the 18th round of that draft; given the draft slot, it may have been their shrewdest pick of the draft.

Pattin went 7-12 for the Pilots with a 5.62 ERA, but after the team moved to Milwaukee for the 1970 season, he became the Brewers’ best starter. He won 14 games in 1970 and again in 1971, a pretty good feat for teams that won 65 and 69 games respectively.

But the Brewers included him in a huge 10-player trade with the Red Sox following that 1971 season. Pattin continued to be successful as a Red Sox starter, winning 17 games in 1972 and 15 more in 1973. Overall, his 1973 numbers weren’t great: a 4.31 ERA that was over a full run higher than his 1972 mark, and 31 home runs allowed against 19 the previous year.

Meanwhile, Royals starter Dick Drago, who had been a mainstay of the rotation since the team’s inaugural 1969 season, had suffered through a similarly disappointing 1972 season. So the Royals and Red Sox made a classic “change of scenery” trade, acquiring each other’s disappointment. Funny thing is, it worked pretty well for both sides. Both men would become decent relievers/spot starters for the rest of the decade. Judging by WARP, the Royals got the better of the deal, as Pattin was worth 7.4 after the trade while Drago came in at 3.5 for the Red Sox.

Pattin started the year in the rotation and struggled, but he was quite good as a reliever. In 1975, he was good at both, posting a 3.66 ERA in 15 starts and a 2.69 ERA as a reliever. Overall, he was 10-10 with a 3.25 ERA and a nice complement to the trio of Steve Busby, Al Fitzmorris, and Dennis Leonard.

The plan for the 1976 season was for Pattin to anchor the back of the bullpen. Things were a bit bumpy at the start of the year; Pattin ended April with a 4.50 ERA and two losses. And despite a 2.08 ERA in May, he ended the month with three more losses. Pattin enjoyed a solid June, picking up two saves and a win with a 2.41 ERA in 11 appearances. The last one of those was his first start of the year, and he pitched into the eighth to lead the Royals to a 3-0 win over California. Pattin made two more relief appearances in early July, but with injuries hitting the rotation hard, manager Whitey Herzog went back to Pattin. He pitched exclusively in the rotation the rest of the way, going 6-6 despite a very nice 2.37 ERA in 98 2/3 innings. With Pattin helping stabilize the rotation, the Royals pulled away from the pack and cruised to the first division title in franchise history.

It was perhaps a little odd, then, that Pattin only faced two batters in the ALCS against the Yankees. Herzog obviously felt left-handers were a better matchup against New York, starting Larry Gura twice and Andy Hassler once in the five-game series.

Overall, 1976 was likely Pattin’s finest year as a Royal. Despite the subpar win-loss record, he finished with a career-best 2.49 ERA, 142 ERA+, and his best WARP as a Royal at 2.6.

Although he returned to the bullpen for the most part, Pattin was a big part of the Royals’ division winners in 1977 and 1978, combining for a 13-6 record and 3.48 ERA over 207 innings combined in those two seasons. Like many Kansas City pitchers, he struggled through the 1979 season, posting a 4.58 ERA. But he rebounded for a 4-0 record and four saves with a 3.64 ERA in 1980 as the Royals returned to the top of the AL West. Pattin didn’t appear in the ALCS, but did get to pitch in relief in Game Six of the World Series. He struck out Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski, which is a pretty good appearance.

Pattin obviously felt that was a good way to end his career, even though the Royals didn’t win the Series. Pattin retired after the season. Wisely, he had spent his offseasons working on a master’s degree at Eastern Illinois, and he eventually took the head coaching job at the University of Kansas (I hope K-State and Missouri fans won’t judge him too harshly for this). Although he was only the coach from 1982-87, Pattin decided he liked Lawrence, and made it his home. He still lives there, and can be seen around town and at many Royals Alumni events.

All of this info and I haven’t mentioned that Pattin was one of those guys that every team needs: the cutup. A baseball season is long. A baseball season is often stressful. Somebody’s got to cut the tension. On his Baseball Reference page, Pattin’s nickname is “Bulldog,” for his tenacious attitude. But his Royals teammates knew him better as “Duck.” As in Donald. Pattin became famous in the Royals clubhouse for his spot-on impersonation of Donald Duck (you can hear it in the video on this story), going so far as to sing the national anthem in that voice. Also, Dan Quisenberry mentioned in Sports Illustrated once that Pattin would bring his grill to Royals Stadium and prepare steaks and chicken for his teammates—in the bullpen! Now that’s a good teammate.

Thirteen seasons and more than 2,000 innings is a pretty nice career. Not bad for a guy who honed his skills throwing apples at the side of a shed.

Marty Pattin’s best games of 1976:
9/16 @ CAL: Pitched five-hit shutout, striking out five, in 2-0 win.
8/16 vs. CLE: Tossed nine innings, allowing just three hits in 6-1 win.
6/26 vs. CAL: Worked 7 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out four and allowing just one hit, in 3-0 win.
9/28 @ OAK: Struck out five and allowed two hits over eight innings in tough-luck 1-0 loss.
8/3 vs. MIN: Pitched eight innings, giving up six hits and one unearned run, in 7-1 win.

About the card:
Usually it’s a bit of a guessing game to figure out where the picture on the front of the card was taken. Not so with this card, as the familiar Royals Stadium scoreboard and lights are easily seen behind Pattin. I find it interesting that Pattin’s and Busby’s card photos were taken in Kansas City, but no other Royals cards in the 1976 Topps set seem to have been photographed at Royals Stadium. I wonder what the story is there. The back is pretty unremarkable, except for the sentence where the first clause has little relation to the second one. So it goes.

Related Articles