Kevin Appier

Appier went 1-4 in his major league debut with the Royals in 1989, but after a slow start in 1990 rebounded with a fine rookie season (12-8, 2.76). The following year, Appier’s 13 wins tied staff ace Bret Saberhagen for the team lead and sealed his reputation as one of the league’s top young starters.

Nevertheless, trade rumors involving Appier swirled during the offseason as the Royals promised to take an aggressive approach to improve their moribund lineup. But instead of sacrificing Appier or Tom Gordon (another promising young starter) GM Herk Robinson decided to deal Saberhagen to the New York Mets. The unpopular trade, which brought Kevin McReynolds and Gregg Jefferies to Kansas City, opened up an Opening Day start for Appier, who responded with his best year to date. After going winless in the first five starts of the 1992 season (despite a 1.27 ERA) Appier finished with a 15-8 record for Hal McRae’s 72-90 Royals; his 2.46 ERA ranked second only to Roger Clemens‘ 2.41 in the AL. Appier had proved himself a worthy heir to Saberhagen’s legacy; he would be the Royals’ Opening Day starter for five consecutive seasons.

Appier’s main weapons are a 90-plus fastball, a good slider, an ornery splitter, and a fierce competitiveness on the mound. Some scouts credited the right-hander’s confusing, disjointed pitching motion as being as much responsible for his success as his pitching repertoire, but his unconventional mechanics have also been widely criticized for placing too much stress on his arm. Nevertheless, Appier hurled 200 innings a season from 1991 through 1997, with the exception of the strike-shortened 1994 campaign.

Throughout his career, Appier has also developed a reputation as an offbeat character. Off the mound, his tendency to drift into a blank expression, deep in thought, has led the Kansas City media to dub him “Planet Appier” on more than one occasion; former teammate Mark Gubicza once referred to him as “one of the Jetsons.” To wit: in an effort to exorcise “bad luck” during the 1995 season, Appier set fire to his uniform — cap, spikes, and glove included — in the clubhouse shower.

1993 was probably the best season of Appier’s career; he posted 18 wins against just 8 losses and led the American League with a 2.56 ERA as the Royals improved to 84-78. But the replacement of pitching coach Guy Hansen — Appier’s mentor — with Bruce Kison after the ’93 season seemed to have an adverse affect on Appier’s performance; the two had worked closely since Hansen signed Appier out of college in 1987. (By the 1996 season, Hansen had been rehired by the team to work with Appier. “I kind of talk Ape Talk that he can relate to,” explained Hansen. “And I’ve got some patience with him.”)

In Appier’s own words, the start of the 1994 season was “frustrating” — over his first eight starts, he had four losses and just three wins, and his ERA stood at an uncharacteristically lofty 6.22. But a career-high 13 strikeouts against the Texas Rangers on his next outing boosted Appier’s confidence, and at the time of the players’ strike his record stood at 7-6 and his ERA at a relatively slim 3.83. After the season, Appier signed a free-agent deal with the Boston Red Sox, which was voided after the strike ended.

Appier’s hot run continued through the first half of 1995. Armed with some new tricks, including a more compact windup and an unpredictable breaking ball accidentally discovered in a workout with manager Bob Boone in spring training, Appier started the season by hurling a no-hitter through 6 2/3 innings against the Orioles on Opening Day. After a dominating start to the season (11-2, 2.04) Appier was named to his first All-Star squad (he pitched two scoreless innings against the NL at The Ballpark in Arlington) but arm problems ruined his season. After nearly a month on the DL, Appier went 4-8 with a 5.78 ERA down the stretch to finish the year at 15-10.

Injury problems, complicated contract negotiations, and displeasure with the “youth movement” philosophy of the Royals’ front office seemed distract Appier in the first half of 1996. Appier, who had been opposed to the trades of Brian McRae and David Cone during spring training the year before, was annoyed at how easily the club had bid adieu to veterans Greg GagneGary Gaetti, Wally Joyner in the offseason. After a particularly tough loss to New York on April 22 — Cone was the winning pitcher for the Yankees — Appier took out his frustrations on a water cooler in the dugout. Appier himself had been mentioned in frequent trade rumors, but signed a three-year deal in July that included several limited no-trade clauses. He eventually closed out a decent season (14-11, 3.62) with a career-high 207 strikeouts.

Appier followed up with 196 whiffs in ’97, but thanks to a terrible supporting cast and a strangely inconsistent and unreliable splitter suffered his first losing season (9-13) since 1991. (The Royals finished dead last in the AL Central with a 67-94 record.) His 3.40 ERA, however, was his lowest in four years, and he did reach a personal milestone with his 100th win against Pittsburgh on June 15.

A freak fall off the front porch at his sister’s baby shower injured ligaments close to Appier’s pitching shoulder. After surgery, Appier made four spring training starts, but pain in his shoulder persisted. Another round of surgery shelved him for most of the 1998 season. In his first start of the season on September 11, Appier struck out two Seattle Mariners to tie Mark Gubicza‘s career franchise record, which he broke in his next start. He finished the season 1-2 with a 7.80 ERA in just three appearances.

Frustrated with Kansas City’s parsimonious ways, Appier made no secret of his desire to be traded for a contender as the 1999 season began. Even though he owned a 250-acre ranch in the area, Appier insisted he’d “rather win a World Series somewhere else than not do it here.” Eager to shed Appier’s $4.8 million salary, the Royals graciously complied, sending their one-time ace to Oakland for pitchers Blake Stein, Jeff D’Amico, and Brad Rigby at the July 31 trading deadline. During the A’s ultimately unsuccessful wild-card chase, Appier shook off a nagging thigh injury to finish 7-5 with a 5.77 ERA for his new team.