Then and Now: RC Q&A with Steve Busby

Royals Hall of Famer Steve Busby pitched for the Royals from 1972-1980, compiling a career record of 70-54 while tossing two no-hitters. The 6'2" righty was also a two-time All-Star during his career, and despite injuries cutting his playing days short, he is still considered one of the top starting pitchers in Royals history. Busby agreed to be the first guest for our new feature, "Then & Now."

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Royals Corner: Thanks for taking the time to join us. Do you still follow the Royals very much?

Steve Busby: Yeah, sure. I'm still a big baseball fan period. Its been difficult seeing what they've gone through the last 10 or 15 years, but I certainly am still a big Royals fan and I'd like for things to get turned around so they can have some fun in Kansas City again.

RC: The Royals are giving away a Steve Busby Bobblehead on July 28th. Have you gotten one yet?

SB: I've seen one. I did a little TV spot for it a couple of weeks ago, and that's the first time I'd seen it. I'm flattered – very, very flattered. It's a great deal and I'm glad they're doing all the Hall of Fame guys, and I think the fans will really like it.

RC: You entered the Royals organization in 1971 after being a 2nd round pick out of USC. Before we talk about that, what made you choose to attend USC and college after being drafted in the 4th round of the 1967 draft?

SB: A couple things. First of all, I wanted to play football, too, so I originally went there with the idea of playing both. As it turned out, my knee had other ideas, so I never did play football. As you said, the Giants picked me in 1967, and I hurt my knee for the second time that summer, so that put on the backburner on any thought of signing right there. It all turned out for the best, but I still wish I could have played football.

RC: Before we get into specifics of your career, refresh our readers on what you threw and what mentality you had when you were on the mound?

SB: Basically Dave, I was a fastball-slider pitcher. I threw a couple of different grips of fastballs, and I tried to throw both at different speeds. I guess you would say off the fastball was a changeup, and maybe the slider turned into a curveball. Hopefully at any count when I was pitching well, I felt like I could throw them equally consistently in the strike zone, and I think that's what enabled me to pitch effectively when I did pitch effectively.

I'm a big believer in trying to make things simple; I wasn't trying to stand out there and choose between five pitches, so I tried to make it real basic and throw a lot of strikes.

RC: After joining the Royals organization in 1971, you found yourself in the big leagues by the end of 1972, and made your debut on September 8th of that year against the Minnesota Twins, earning the victory after throwing a complete game. How good did that feel, and what do you remember about it?

SB: It was a dream come true. It kind of all happened in a hurry. As I came to find out, I wasn't slated to come up that year, but Dick Drago got hit by a line drive and broke his jaw, so I got the call. It turned out to be a great deal, but I guess like anyone's debut, it was a dream come true, and I don't remember all the specifics about it, other than being kind of overwhelmed from time to time. Before the ball game, I felt pretty comfortable pitching, and it was a great thrill throwing against guys like (Rod) Carew, (Tony) Oliva, and (Harmon) Killebrew.

RC: Another fun moment for you in 1972 was getting three base hits in a game against California, which ended up being the only three hits of your career. Do you remember who the pitchers were?

SB: The first one was Lloyd Allen because I should have had a home run. The other two I really can't remember.

RC: (Laughs) Is it true that it was Paul Splittorff who cost you that grand slam home run off of Allen, and has he fessed up yet?

SB: (Laughs) Yeah, he fessed up, but it took him about six years and a big surgery for me later, and then he finally decided it was okay to tell me. So he finally did fess up. All along I thought it was somebody else, but Splitt came clean. I don't know if I've forgiven yet or not, but I don't think he cares either way.

RC: (Laughs) Did any of your immediate success in the big leagues come from gaining advice from your cousin Jim Busby, who played 13 seasons in the bigs and was an All-Star in 1951?

SB: No, to be quite honest, I never talked to Jim until he was coaching with the White Sox in 1976, and that was the first time I ever talked to him. And after I pitched against the White Sox one game that year, gave up a bunch of runs and got smoked, I don't think he was real happy to count me as a relative after (Laughs). But my Dad was an ex-pro football player and my brother was a very good college baseball player, so we were always doing something sports related. I think that really helped.

RC: The next season was 1973 and Jack McKeon took over the reins after also managing you back when you played in Omaha. What was it like playing for him again, and was that an exciting thing?

SB: Yeah, it was very exciting. Other than your major league debut, your rookie year is the thing that you remember most because it's getting over the hump and trying to settle down and become a competent major league pitcher. It was an awful lot of learning to do, and it helped having Jack there since he had me before. He kind of knew how to kick me in the hiney and when to pat me on the back, and that certainly helped.

RC: Speaking of 1973, you went 16-15 and the team finished in second place (88-74, behind Oakland). You also threw the first no-hitter in Royals history that year against Detroit on April 28th. How powerful of a feeling was that and what did it mean to you?

SB: Well, to be quite honest, I'm not trying to downplay what it means to anyone, but getting wins was more important than any other outcome of a ballgame. I always felt as if I was raised to feel that your job as a starting pitcher is to throw nine innings and have your club come out on top by at least one run. So that was how I approached everything.

The no hitter, I never considered myself to have the kind of stuff to do that, and to say the first one was a shock is an understatement by quite a bit. I always kid around that it kind of exemplifies that even a blind squirrel does throw an acorn every once in awhile. Don't get me wrong, it was a great thrill, but the highlights to my career centered on wining ball games and division titles.

RC: 1973 was also a key year in Royals history in that it was the debut of George Brett and Frank White in major league uniforms. What do you remember about both as rookies, and did you have any idea they'd go onto stardom at that point?

SB: In Frank's case, no. He was really raw at that time and I don't think it was until 1975 that he came up and got it going. In George's case, I think you could see the making there, even though he hit a buck fifty or so when he first got there. You could see in his attitude and how he competed that he wasn't very far away from being a major league player, and it didn't take long for him to become established at third base.

RC: 1974 was a disappointing season for the team, as you guys finished in 5th place at at 77-85. However, you enjoyed your best season, earning your first All-Star game appearance after going 22-14 with 20 CG, a 3.39 ERA and 292.3 IP. We'll talk more about being overworked later, but did you feel that way at the time, or did you want to finish each game you pitched no matter what?

SB: No, I didn't feel I was overworked at all. That was just the way that we worked and pitched. My job as the starter was to throw nine innings and give us a chance to win. I didn't give it a second thought. That time was the second year of the DH, so there were quite a few guys throwing over 300 innings and I didn't think much of 292.

RC: Your second no-hitter was also in 1974 on June 9th at Milwaukee. Do either of the two stand out more than the other, and talk about the great play that Cookie Rojas made to save the no-no?

SB: Yeah, I think that one stands out more than the first one against Detroit, probably because I felt like I pitched better, in that I threw more strikes. I think I walked six against Detroit and George Scott was the only one I walked in Milwaukee leading off the second inning. There were a lot more balls hit hard in that Milwaukee game, though, and the defense was outstanding.

Cookie's play that you mentioned at the end of the 8th, I'd never seen anyone, much less a 35-year old second baseman, jump that far in the outfield grass and dive and throw like that. And George Brett also made one of the best plays I've ever seen from behind third base to end the sixth inning in getting Don Money by a half step. Those two plays were really game savers, as far as the no-hitter goes.

RC: You were an All-Star again in 1975, and the team went 91-71 (2nd place behind Oakland) while you went 18-12 with a 3.08 ERA, 18 CG and 260.3 IP. How frustrating was it battling with the A's time and time again and just missing out on the playoffs, especially with a new skipper mid-year in Whitey Herzog?

SB: Yeah, that was the third year that we'd got within sniffing distance but just couldn't get over the hump. Also, when Whitey took over as manager that year, I think everyone felt like there was a rededication to get over the hump. We had kind of gotten mired in down times, but when Whitey took over in late July, it got us going again. He wouldn't allow us to stay down; you had to stay up and positive, and I think that's what carried over to the next year when we finally did win the division.

RC: 1976 is obviously a bad memory for you, as you were diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff after just 13 games and underwent experimental surgery. Was it in the game against California in 1975 where you went 12 innings when the pain first happened, or do you not remember the specific moment?

SB: It wasn't a specific game. The game in 1975 that I pitched against the Angels wasn't when it happened. The next start against the Rangers here in Texas four days later was when I first noticed something that was a little bit different feeling. I just didn't have quite as much strength, and from there on, the middle of 1975 and on, it just got worse and worse until I couldn't throw in the middle of 1976.

RC: Talk about how risky and new of a surgery the rotator cuff surgery was at that time?

SB: Considering it hadn't been done on a baseball pitcher before, I guess it was fairly risky (Laughs). You know, Dr. Frank Jobe and Dr. Sterling, the Dodgers doctors, were really innovators in sports medicine, and Jobe's comment to me was, "It's probably not real good, but you need to throw until you just can't throw anymore and then we'll figure out something to do. Until we're sure you can't throw through it, we're not going to take the risk on surgery."

And then in 1976, when I couldn't throw anymore, the diagnosis was made, and there was no other choice; if I wanted to pitch again, I had to have surgery, but even if I had it, it didn't mean I'd pitch again.

RC: How tough was it for you missing the majority of that year, especially with the team outlasting Oakland by 2.5 games (90-72) and making the playoffs?

SB: Well it was awful for me personally, but I'd never had a better moment in professional baseball than sitting in the press box in late September and getting the news that Oakland had lost and we were Division Champions for the fist time. So it was terrible, but I've never been happier about any single occurrence in my professional career.

RC: Following your surgery, your doctor recommended a pitch count for you to help in the recovery of your arm, which according to many, was really the first time that had been totally implemented. What was that transition like for you from a guy who would just go out there and throw and throw and throw, and then all of a sudden going into a game and knowing you probably couldn't finish it?

SB: Actually, that's not true about me being the first to be on a pitch count. That's actually about the time that pitch counts came in for guys who had been recovering from injuries, so that's a myth.

RC: Interesting. What about those who say you often threw close to 200 pitches in a game? Is that true or overblown as well?

SB: No, that's overblown as well. The most I know that I ever threw was 1975 in that game in Anaheim, that 12-inning game, but I would be surprised if I ever threw more. We didn't keep pitch counts then, but I'd be surprised if I very often went over 130.

RC: 1977 and 1978 were recovery years for you, as you pitched in just seven big league games. Do you feel like had their been the medical advances of today, you'd have been able to fully recover after the surgery?

SB: A couple of things. First of all, it would have been diagnosed much more quickly. No longer did guys let it get near as far as that, so major surgery on the rotator cuff isn't nearly often necessary now as it was then. But yeah, rehabilitation techniques are much improved because they've gone through trial and error process, and they've defined what has to be done in rehab when it does occur, and chances from coming back now, even a total tear, are much improved.

RC: You finished up 1979 and 1980 with the Royals and then signed with St. Louis prior to the 1981 season. However, you retired and never played for any other team. What does that mean to you knowing you played your entire career with the Royals?

SB: Considering how things are today, it means a lot. It's just unheard of anymore (Laughs). It means that having only been a Royal in my regular season career is very important. They (the Royals) are very, very important to me in my life. They're the only organization that I've ever known to any extent, so from that standpoint, it's like asking somebody how important your parents are to you (Laughs). My professional career was born, flourished, and died all with the Royals, so I'm really thankful for that.

RC: When you look back, what are your favorite memories of Kansas City, both on and off the field?

SB: Oh boy. First of all, the fans. Greatest fans ever. When we started winning, people went crazy. They were always supportive, and once we showed them we could be a perennial contender, they really came out in droves and were great to us.

The people in KC just outside of the fans are great, too. I love the pace of life and quality of life in KC. I also loved playing with the guys I did. They were great ballplayers and quality people in guys like George (Brett), Splitt, (Dennis) Leonard, White, and people like that. Even if we would have never won, just getting the chance to know those guys and understand that I could depend on them in competition and they could depend on me was a great experience

RC: Who were some of your favorite teammates, and how many do you still keep in touch with today?

SB: I see Splitt a lot, he and I were roommates while I played. So Splitt I still see a lot. I saw Dennis out in Arizona just a few weeks ago. Saw him and Willie Wilson and Brian McRae. But John Wathan and probably Dennis and Splitt are the only three I see on a consistent basis anymore.

RC: What does it mean to you being in the Royals Hall of Fame?

SB: It's a tremendous honor. That really to me was the exclamation by the fans, by the writers and the people that follow the ballclub all the time that my career was worthwhile. And it gave something back to the people of Kansas City. It finalized the whole deal for me, and to have that honor given to me, just means the world to me.

RC: Finally, what is Steve Busby up to today, and what has he been doing the last 25 years?

SB: I've been broadcasting; I did some for the Royals right before and right after I retired. Came down to Texas and did Ranger games on television for 15 years, and then moved down here to the North Texas area in 1992. Before that I lived in Blue Springs. I've been down here ever since, still doing a little broadcasting, doing some radio play by play for the Rangers from time to time, and I'm going to do some pre- and post-game analysis for Fox Sports Southwest this year, so I keep my finger in that.

And nine years ago, I started teaching baseball, both pitching and hitting, and I've gotten heavily involved in that, and I wish I'd done it sooner, because its great. The last several years it has become really important to me to start giving back some of the things given to me in growing up being a player. I don't know how many my experience can help, but I'm going to try and find out, because it's a very important part of my life now to pass on my experiences and little tricks of the trade to guys who might benefit to them.

RC: Denny Matthews has always said you're a great golfer. You still do that?

SB: I haven't played in awhile. I guess I got too frustrated with it - I was finding other sources of frustration (Laughs). But I'll start playing again this summer.

RC: Thanks so much for your time in this interview, Steve, and for all that you did for the organization. Anything else you'd like to add?

SB: I'm really looking forward to coming up there in July and getting back to the ballpark. I had a chance to meet with the Lancers in Arizona a couple weeks ago and saw some people I hadn't seen in a long time, and that sure was great. Can't wait to get back. And thank you for the time Dave, you take care.

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