Catching up with Freddy Patek

Catching up with Freddy Patek

Freddy Patek was caught short -- only in height, not on the field. Patek was the shortest Major Leaguer of his time, which also happened to be a glorious time for the Royals. He was right in the middle -- literally, as the shortstop -- of the glory years of 1976-77-78.

"Being small was something I always had to overcome," he said. "Even when I was really, really young I heard that all the time. Well, you're too little, you can't play, you're not going to be good enough."

When he got to the Major Leagues with the Pirates, they thought his size measured up to a utility player. However, after being traded to the Royals, he was their regular shortstop for nine years.

In his first Kansas City season, 1971, he played so superbly that he was a leading candidate to be American League Most Valuable Player.

"Had I not choked, I might have won the MVP," he said. "The last month I had too many reporters coming up to me and saying, 'You know what? You're going to win the MVP' and I went from about .300 to about .260 or .270. And I thought, 'You idiot.' "

Patek hit .241 in his Royals years. His ability to go deep in the hole and turn double plays with second baseman Cookie Rojas was exceptional. His speed enabled him to steal 336 bases in his nine KC seasons, including a league-leading 53 in 1977.

After the Royals clinched the title in 1976, he and Rojas decided to jump for joy into the right-field fountains. They tried to keep it a secret but Dean Vogelaar, the public relations director, found out and took quick action.

"And he had them turn off the fountains right away. He must have thought, 'Oh, my God, these guys are going to fry themselves,' " Patek said.

"We jumped in there with our cleats and everything on. If he hadn't had the electricity in the fountains turned off, we could've been swimming out there like a couple of dead goldfish."

Patek came up big in the playoff series against the Yankees. In both 1976 and 1977, he hit .389 (7 for 18). He had just one hit in 1978, but it was a home run in the Royals' only win.

"I guess my approach to that - and I don't know why I didn't have the same approach all year - was, you know, I may not get another chance," he said. "This is a boyhood dream that you think about to get to the World Series and you just go all out for those games against the Yankees."

The World Series never came his way, but in 1992 he was inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame for doing his best to get them there.

These days, at 60, Patek and wife Jerri live not far from Kauffman Stadium in Lee's Summit, Mo. He does some radio and TV work before and after Royals games. But there is a special project close to his heart.

"The thing I work at most is the Kim Patek Foundation to fight paralysis," he said.

Kim, his daughter, was paralyzed from the neck down in a 1992 car accident and was on life support until her death in 1995.

Patek raises funds for the foundation and the Spinal Cord Society through a bass fishing tournament and other activities.

"We help out in a lot of ways there, whether it's cash or wheelchairs or whatever the call may be. That was Kim's wish and that's why we do that," he said.

His golf game is on hold this summer because he recently underwent right shoulder replacement surgery. Too many throws from the hole and the pivot at second base, he figures.

So, anyway, exactly how tall was Patek?

"Probably 5-5 is the most accurate. A guy named Bob Prince, who was an announcer for the Pirates back then, actually took me into the studio and measured me without any spikes on. And I turned out to be like 5-5," he said.

Patek was a key contributor during the stretch when the Royals won three successive division titles.

"We had what I called sneaky talent. We really didn't look like we had a lot of guys who hit the ball out of the park but everybody seemed to have 20 to 25 home runs and pretty close to 80 or 90 RBIs every year," he said.

"We didn't have the big-name players but we had a lot of players that played big."

Like 5-5 Freddy Patek.

Contributions to help victims of paralysis may be sent to Kim Patek Foundation, c/o Irvin McCoy, 12309 Russell, Overland Park, Kan. 66209

This article was reprinted from Volume 2 -- Issue 3 of the 2005 Gameday Magazine. Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.