LF ∙ 1973, 1976—79, 1982
Tom Poquette was drafted by the Royals out of his Eau Claire, WI high school in 1970. It was the beginning of a long, winding association with the club and its minor league system as a player and a coach. He steadily climbed through the minor league ranks before making his MLB debut as a September call-up in 1973. Defense and a mean throwing arm were Poquette’s biggest strengths, but it was questioned whether he could hit enough to stick in the bigs. 21 games in 1973 were not enough to answer that question, but it was looking good for Poquette to at least get a shot to find out in the near future.
He could not crack the major league roster early in ’74, and then suffered torn ligaments in his knee that finished his season and cut harshly into ’75 as well. Two surgeries were required before he was finally ready to break back into the majors to kick off ’76. Things started off great with Poquette hitting like gangbusters and playing aggressive defense in both outfield corners. But in late June, Poquette tore after a line drive in left. As he neared the wall, a spike caught in the Royals Stadium turf, and his head smashed against an unpadded portion of the barrier. “It was just the way I played the game,” Poquette later recalled. “I remember seeing the pool of blood on the ground. I tried to get up, but I couldn’t. I saw the blood and I went back down. Then I drifted in and out.”[i] His cheekbone was broken in four places and he was concussed. He somehow returned after just three weeks missed, and the Royals made sure to pad the entire outfield wall ever since. At the time, Poquette said, “The fans have been absolutely unbelievable. When I was in the hospital for the operation and later on when I was home the cards and letters kept pouring in. I wish I had some way of thanking the fans.”[ii] The fans were no doubt content with Poquette’s play in ’76 as thanks. The injury and the fact that he was rarely allowed to play against a lefty starter limited his games to 104, but his unexpected .792 OPS was a boon for the club as they clinched their first-ever playoff appearance. Poquette’s bat did not show up as big in the ALCS loss to the Yankees though.
He spent 1977 in a left field platoon with Joe Zdeb, but his hitting fell back to right around league average. He only got into two ALCS games in ’77 and managed just a single. His hitting was considerably worse than average in ’78, and his playing time was diminished. “I don’t know what happened to Tommy Poquette,” manager Whitey Herzog said after the season. “I hope he can come back. I think he was over-trying.”[iii] But the Royals outfield was getting crowded, and Poquette still was not hitting, so he was traded to Boston in exchange for George Scott mid-way through ’79. “I wasn’t playing,” Poquette said of the trade, “and sometimes a change of scenery is good. I was losing my concentration. I was shocked at first, but now I’m happy.”[iv]
Poquette came back to the Royals as a free agent in 1982, but he just did not have it anymore. A shoulder surgery had wiped out his entire 1980 season, and he had only played 96 games since being traded away three years earlier. He was released in July of ’82, ending his playing career at the age of 30. The Royals offered him a minor league coaching position, which he said he would consider. He ended up accepting six years later and began an 18 year stretch in which he coached or managed in the Royals system. From Eugene to Appleton to Memphis to Omaha to Charleston to Spokane to Arizona, Poquette was all over between 1988—2006. He spent one and a half of those years, 1997—98, as hitting coach in KC.
[i] Doug Tucker, “Tom Poquette returns to Royals as bat coach,” The Nevada Daily Mail, July 20, 1997.
[ii] Sid Bordman, “Nothing Slow in Poquette’s Rise as Royal,” The Sporting News, August 14, 1976.
[iii] Sid Bordman, “Deciding Royals Outfield To Be Herzog’s Spring Job,” The Sporting News, November 11, 1978.
[iv] Larry Whiteside, “Red Sox Expect Watson to Furnish Wallop,” The Sporting News, June 30, 1979.