October 25, 1955: Jeff Schattinger
A happy 64th birthday to Jeff Schattinger, who made his only big-league appearance on September 21, 1981. To only appear in one game was a disappointment for someone of Schattinger's pedigree, though. After dominating at USC, he was selected in the 12th round of the 1978 Amateur Draft by the California Angels. He decided to go back for another year of college.
That turned out to be the right decision as the following year, he was selected with the 21st overall pick by the Kansas City Royals. He signed with Kansas City and figured to be on the fast track to the majors. The big 6' 5" righty got off to a good start in his first year of pro ball, posting a 13-7 record with a 3.26 ERA.
By his second professional season in 1980, he was already in Triple-A Omaha, one step away from the big leagues. In his first taste of Triple-A competition, he went 8-4 with a 3.89 ERA, still very respectable for a second-year player. Once again, he reported to Omaha in 1981 and again went 8-4 with a much lower 2.65 ERA. He was 25 now and Kansas City had seen enough. He had earned a September call up.
Just a month before his call up, the players and owners had finally reached an agreement to end a strike that had lasted seven weeks and had forced the cancellations of nearly 40 percent of the league's games. It was just the second work stoppage in MLB history, but games were back on as neither the Twins nor the Royals had yet played their 100th game by September 21. Minnesota limped in at 37-60 while the Royals were only marginally better at 42-48.
Despite the fact it wasn't a marquee matchup, almost 25,000 people moved through the turnstiles at Royals Stadium for the night game, perhaps hungry for baseball and desperate to make up for the time they'd lost from mid-June to July 31. On a beautiful, clear 77-degree night, the Twins struck first for two in the opening half inning on an RBI triple from John Castino. Quickly, the game got away from Kansas City as the Royals trailed 7-2 going into the sixth.
That's when the red-hot Schattinger finally had his name called. He would get the ball to open the sixth frame, down five runs. Though his big-league career began with a bit of nonsense, he wasn't fazed by the pressure. Dave Engle, the first batter he faced, reached on an error by future Hall of Famer George Brett. The Royals third baseman was coming off a season in which he hit .390, the closest any player has gotten to .400 since Ted Williams last pulled it off in 1941.
Schattinger then hit Mickey Hatcher to put runners on first and second with nobody out. Kent Hrbek was up next and flew out, but Schattinger hit yet another batter, this time Castino, which loaded the bases. Bearing down, he struck out Gary Gaetti and got Butch Wynegar to fly out to center.
Surely, Schattinger had flirted with disaster, but in his first major-league inning, he got away with it.
Back out for the seventh he came and he appeared much calmer on the mound. He allowed a single to future MLB manager Ron Washington and walked Gary Ward, but with one out, he got Engle to ground into an inning-ending double play to once again avoid a huge inning. Hatcher led off with a single against him in the eighth and stole second base, but by now Schattinger was turning into an escape artist. A fly out and ground out later and he was through three clean frames. He had pitched into trouble, but had stranded six Twins runners (four in scoring position).
For as well as he was pitching, manager Dick Howser didn't want to overuse his reliever and summoned Bill Paschall to get through the final inning. He did just that, but the Royals still fell 7-2. It was a rocky, but ultimately very solid debut for Schattinger who figured to get a few more chances as the season wound to a close, perhaps in even more high-leverage situations. In baseball, though, he was getting to be an old man. He would turn 26 the following season and so, the Royals cut bait.
After signing with the White Sox, he saw himself pitching split between Double-A and Triple-A in 1982, just one year removed from his one moment in the sun. Possibly disturbed by the lack of a shot he had received with the Royals, Schattinger, like many one-game players in the season following their debut, struggled. The reliever went 1-1 with a 7.23 ERA in 37 appearances between Double-A and Triple-A. Though he recovered in 1983 with the Double-A Birmingham Barons, the Detroit Tigers' farm team, he barely pitched. His 1.23 ERA was impressive, but came in just 7.1 innings of work.
Within two years of his debut, Schattinger was out of organized baseball at the same age someone is typically wrapping up a law degree. Still well short of 30, he had some work to do. Schattinger, who is celebrating his 64th birthday today is listed as a Project Executive at Balfour Beatty Campus Solutions, LLC on LikedIn.