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Royals' first pick didn't make an impact

Royals' first pick didn't make an impact

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Irish eyes have smiled on baseball diamonds before, but it has been especially tough for those surnamed O'Donnell.

Three such men have played in the Major Leagues. The first, John, caught one game for the 1884 Philadelphia Keystones on July 16, 1884, going 1-for-4.

Eighty years later, in 1954, the longest-tenured and most recent of them, right-hander George O'Donnell, made 21 appearances for the Pittsburgh Pirates, compiling a 3-9 record and a 4.53 ERA.

Scores of O'Donnells have attempted and failed to make it to the big leagues since. Shortstop Kenneth might not be the most talented among that group, but he carries a designation that the others don't: He was the first player ever drafted by the Kansas City Royals.

Kansas City and its expansion brethren -- the Montreal Expos, San Diego Padres and Seattle Pilots -- began play in the 1969 season. A year earlier, however, each participated in the regular phase of baseball's draft, beginning in the fourth round. The Royals were the last of them to select.

They took Kenneth O'Donnell from Neptune High School in Neptune, N.J., with the final pick of the fourth round and the 84th selection overall. He lacked size at 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds but packed ample athleticism into his frame. O'Donnell had been named All-New Jersey for basketball in high school. He received the same honor in the summer of 1967 as a semi-pro shortstop for the Red Bank Shoreliners.

In the Royals' 1968 draft notes, O'Donnell listed his greatest thrill as hitting three home runs in a high school game. He didn't sign with Kansas City out of high school but reported to its New York-Penn League affiliate in Corning, N.Y., to play in the short season.

He showed promise, hitting .276 (70-for-254) in 67 games that summer. O'Donnell had nine doubles and three triples and was second in the league with 15 stolen bases. He attended college in Monmouth, N.J., in the offseason.

O'Donnell played for High Point-Thomasville, the Royals' High Class A team in the Carolina League the following summer. In 1970, he split time between Elmira in the Eastern League and the Royals' Double-A team in San Jose.

O'Donnell didn't fare well in his first full season at San Jose in 1971. He batted just .210 in 114 games with two stolen bases and was released following the season. Meanwhile, the rest of Kansas City's 1968 draft class was progressing ahead of him.

Left-hander Paul Splitorff, a 25th-round selection, spent the first of his 14 full seasons with the Royals in 1971. He went on to win 166 games for the Royals and was inducted into their Hall of Fame in 1987. Infielder/outfielder Dane Iorg, who spent time with Philadelphia and St. Louis before joining the Royals in 1984, helped the club to its only World Series title a year later.

In addition, John Mayberry, a Royals Hall of Famer and Kansas City first baseman/designated hitter from 1972-77, was acquired from Houston for two young pitchers, which included 1968 draftee Lance Clemons.

According to Art Stewart, who joined the Royals organization in 1969 and currently serves as the senior adviser to the general manager, O'Donnell was never invited to Spring Training during his time with the Royals.

He did not play in any other club's system.

Kevin Druley is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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