Another off day for the Royals, who probably needed it. Their trip to Seattle and Oakland would start off with a scheduled doubleheader against the Pilots. But thanks to two makeup games, one from an April rainout and the other from a rainout earlier in the week, the double dip in Seattle on the 20th would be Kansas City’s third twinbill in five days.
Our brief introductory series to some of the 1969 Royals continues with pitcher Mike Hedlund.
Michael David Hedlund was born on August 11, 1946 in Dallas. Cleveland signed him right out of high school under the “bonus baby” rule, which meant he had to spend his entire first full season on the major league roster. He was able to pitch 25 innings at the Class A level after signing his contract in 1964, but he was in the majors for the whole 1965 season. Much like a team now might “stash” a Rule V pick, he pitched sparingly, appearing in just six games. The rule was scrapped with the advent of the amateur draft, but one wonders how many players lost valuable developmental time to it.
Once he was eligible to be sent to the minors, Hedlund spent the next three seasons in Cleveland’s system, mostly at Class AA. But the Indians left him unprotected in the expansion draft, and the Royals selected him with the 45th pick. Cleveland felt he hadn’t developed as expected, although he threw four one-hitters in the 1968 season.
The 1969 season would be the first time Hedlund was a contributor at the major-league level. Still just 22 on Opening Day, he appeared in 34 games (16 starts) and pitched 125 innings. He posted a 3-6 record, 3.24 ERA, and picked up two saves as well. For a player that young, on an expansion team, that’s pretty solid. It wasn’t always an easy year—his mother-in-law and sister-in-law were killed in a car wreck on June 1—but Hedlund was definitely in the Royals’ plans for 1970.
Kansas City sent Hedlund to Venezuela to pitch in winter ball. At first, it looked like a rousing success; Hedlund had a scoreless inning streak of 53 to start his season and finished with a 0.75 ERA. But Hedlund also contracted the flu and bronchitis while in Venezuela, and the already lanky righthander lost quite a bit of weight. He started the season on the disabled list and pitched poorly when he returned in mid-April. He was finally demoted to Omaha in mid-May, and remained there the rest of the season despite some success.
Hedlund rebounded to have his best season in 1971: 15-8 with a 2.71 ERA for the Royals. Kansas City general manager Cedric Tallis had a knack for trading players who would never be the same after one good year for players who would have long, successful careers in Royal blue. But in this case he had no inclination to deal Hedlund. Unfortunately, Hedlund would stumble to a 5-7 mark with a 4.78 ERA in 1972. Rather than selling high, the Royals sold low, trading Hedlund back to Cleveland for utility infielder Kurt Bevacqua.
Nobody knew it at the time, but Hedlund had pitched his last game in the bigs. Although he would hang around the minors for two more seasons, he would not appear in another major-league game. After baseball, Hedlund went to work for a credit union, and ended up running the human resources department for 35 years, a fine second act to his baseball career.