U.L.’s Toothpick: The Year Of The Card–Jeff Montgomery, 1993

The Royals have had some really great closers in their history, but for the most part they have not been the prototypical hulking closer with a big beard and 98 mph fastball to match. Dan Quisenberry threw underhanded and might not have been able to break glass with his fastball. Joakim Soria threw hard in his prime, but his out pitch was that big curveball. Wade Davis is probably the closest to that stereotype, but something in his cyborg-ian manner made the intimidation factor less “I might throw this pitch through you, and I also might punch you” and more “You have no chance to get a hit here.” And Jeff Montgomery was the rarest of birds: a closer with a full repertoire of four pitches, something many starting pitchers can’t even claim.

Jeffrey Thomas Montgomery was born on January 7, 1962, in Wellston, Ohio, a small town in the southeast corner of the state. Montgomery grew up as a Reds fan, so he must have been thrilled when Cincinnati drafted him out of Marshall University in the ninth round of the 1983 draft. Montgomery dominated at the lower minor league levels, and pitched reasonably well at Class AAA Denver in 1986 and Class AAA Nashville in 1987, as the Reds tried to make him a starter those two seasons. He broke into the majors in August 1987. But that offseason, the Reds decided they wanted to look at some younger pitchers, even though Montgomery was just 26. In February 1988, the Royals traded minor-league outfielder Van Snider, who was considered a good prospect, for Montgomery.

It was a somewhat surprising trade, especially when Montgomery began the 1988 season at Triple-A Omaha. But the Royals’ bullpen was in a state of flux in 1988, with veterans like Quisenberry, Gene Garber, and Bud Black on their way out. The Royals called up Montgomery in early June, and he and Steve Farr combined to stabilize the back end of the bullpen. In 1989, the two paired for 36 saves, split evenly. Farr started the year as the closer, but when he slumped in July, Montgomery took over the role. Montgomery ended the season with 18 saves and a tiny 1.37 ERA in 92 innings.

Despite Montgomery’s emergence, the Royals felt compelled to sign the reigning National League Cy Young winner, closer Mark Davis of the San Diego Padres. It was a disaster for the Royals, as Davis posted a 5.11 ERA and an unsightly 1.791 WHIP, and was removed from the closer role in mid-May. Meanwhile, Montgomery led the team in saves with 24, and had a 2.39 ERA in 94 1/3 innings. It would be fair for Royals fans to wonder if the team could have spent the Davis money better on a bat to bolster the offense.

With Farr gone as a free agent, Montgomery entered the 1991 season as the established closer. He compiled 33 saves, and walked just 28 in 90 innings. He followed that with 39 saves and a 2.18 ERA in 1992. That was his second straight season with 2 WARP, after a 2.7 in 1989 and a 1.9 in 1990.

Montgomery would make it three in a row in 1993, once again picking up 2.0 WARP, although by some measures it was his best season. He led the league in saves with 45, had a 2.27 ERA, and a WHIP of 1.008 (for comparison, Wade Davis had a 1.131 WHIP this past season, after 0.847 and 0.787 the previous two years.

The Royals won just nine games in April; Montgomery saved six and got the win in another. The team woke up in May, going 16-9; Montgomery picked up 10 saves that month, including five in seven days at the end of the month. They weren’t cheap, either; he protected a one-run lead in three of them and a two-run lead in the others. The good times continued in June, as Montgomery earned saves in three of the first four games. So from May 25 through June 4, the Royals played 11 games. They won nine, and Montgomery had saves in eight of them. In that stretch, he allowed just two hits and four walks, for a batting line of .080/.207/.080 against. Not too shabby.

That streak put the Royals in first place in the division, where they would stay for most of June. Montgomery continued to pile up the saves, with seven in June and eight more in July. With four more to begin August, Montgomery ran his streak to 24 straight chances converted. It took a Friday the 13th to end the streak, as Frank Thomas homered off him in the eighth to give the White Sox a 5-4 win. It was a disappointing result, as the Royals could have been within 1.5 games of first with a win. But honestly the team probably wasn’t good enough to pull it off. Or the White Sox were too good; they went 55-32 over the last three months to win the division by eight games over Texas and 10 over Kansas City.

Montgomery picked up 10 saves over the last seven weeks of the season, tying Toronto’s Duane Ward for the league lead in saves (and Quisenberry for the franchise’s single-season mark, a record since broken by Greg Holland). He also had seven wins (against five losses), so he had a hand in 52 of the Royals’ 84 wins.

Montgomery would continue to rack up the saves, with 27 in the strike-shortened 1994 season (without the strike, he probably would have approached 40, and he was on pace for another year of a 2+ WARP). He added 31 more in 1995, 24 in 1996, and 14 in 1997. He rebounded from that to pick up 36 saves in 1998, and finished his career with 12 saves in 1999. That put him over 300 for his career; 304, to be precise. He ended his career as the Royals’ all-time saves leader, and in the top 10 in several other categories (including ERA and WHIP). Oh, and Van Snider? Thirty-six major league plate appearances. It was certainly one of the best trades in team history.

After his career ended, Montgomery remained in Kansas City, keeping busy with various business interests. Today, of course, Montgomery can be seen on Royals’ television broadcasts. This year will mark his eighth season with the Royals’ TV crew.

Jeff Montgomery’s best games of 1993:
6/12 vs. CHI: Pitched three innings, retiring all nine batters, in 2-1 loss.
8/8 vs. OAK: Entered game with tying run at second, worked 1 1/3 innings for save in 4-3 win.
7/16 @ TOR: Entered game in eighth to face tying run, retired four straight to seal 7-3 win.
4/28 @ TOR: Pitched two innings, striking out three for save in 5-3 win.

About the card:
Not much to say about this one. Action shots are always nice, in my opinion. As you can see on the back, Montgomery is not a big guy, so it’s no wonder he’s got quite the pitcher face going on here. Also, I like to see college athletes major in something challenging, so a hat tip to Montgomery for the computer science degree, even if he’s probably never had to use it.

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