1B ∙ 1969—70
Mike Fiore came to the Royals via the Orioles in the 1968 expansion draft, played 107 games in their inaugural season, and hit the first home run in team history. The solo shot came in the team’s fifth game, and broke a 0-0 tie in Oakland with Blue Moon Odom on the hill. Fiore ended the season with 12 homers.
But his time with the Royals is most remarkable for his walk rate and on base percentage in 1969. At .420, his OBP was .066 points higher than the next guy on the team. His OBP in the minors had been around .400, so it appears to have been a real skill for Fiore. Out of players with 400 PAs in team history, Fiore’s walk rate of 19% remains by far the highest. Few people, if any, were taking note of such a useful skill in 1969 however, and after Fiore started 1970 with a poor average and no power—but still taking his walks—he was sent to the Red Sox in exchange for Tommy Matchick after playing just 25 games.
Bill James had this to say about Fiore’s short stint with the Royals:
There was NO understanding or appreciation whatsoever of the value of his walks. On the contrary, he took a lot of static for failing to drive in runs. He was a first baseman and hit third/fourth; he was supposed to drive in runs, not take walks. When he started slowly in 1970 they gave up on him in two weeks. I think it is unlikely that Fiore was really as good as his 1969 stats. I think it is likely that, given more playing time, he would have hit .250 with a .390 on base percentage, not .274 with a .420 on base percentage, as he did in 1969. But I also think it was foolish for the Royals to give up on him when he had a little slump early in the 1970 season.*
Fiore was never given a chance to play on a semi-regular basis in the majors other than in ’69. In very limited time with the Red Sox, Cardinals, and finally the Padres, he did not do well. But he kept piling up walks in Class AAA through 1978. His 1969 season remains one of the strangest and most under-appreciated by a Royal. I’d love to hear from Fiore about his approach, what he thought about the value of walks at the time, and what feedback he got from his hitting coaches and managers. He may not have ever been a star, but in today’s era, he probably would be better appreciated at least to the point where he could have gotten more of a shot.
*James, Bill. “Hey Bill.” http://www.billjamesonline.com/hey_bill/?Year=2011&Month=6#29226 (June 20, 2011).