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Mudville: December 6, 2023 12:46 am PDT

The Mighty Quinn

While Mark Quinn is part of a very select group in baseball history, his opportunity to make a larger impact on the game was stifled by injuries, service-time manipulation tactics and what appears to be a general lack of competence on the part of Kansas City’s front-office for the better part of two decades.

The Royals had a losing record in 17 of 18 seasons, finishing with a winning record in only 2003 when they were four games above .500. Quinn’s time with the organization came right in the middle of that mess. He spent eight years with the Kansas City organization, including the entirety of his four-year, big-league career [1999-2003], after getting drafted in 1995.

While Quinn demonstrated on several occasions that he was more than up to the task of being an integral part of Kansas City’s everyday lineup at a time when a solid bat was needed, the club seemed to have less faith in him than he did in himself. Ultimately, it was a devastating hamstring injury that brought Quinn’s career to an end, closing out a story that should have been much longer and brighter.

Still, Quinn made a mark on the game on Sept. 14, 1999, when he became just the fourth player to hit two home runs in his Major League debut, joining, at the time, Charles Reilly [1889], Bob Nieman [1951] and Bert Campaneris [1964]. J.P. Arencibia and Trevor Story joined the club in 2010 and 2016, respectively.

“That night [9/14/99] I was the lead-in to Sportscenter,” said Quinn, who is also the only player since 1919 to hit five home runs in his first seven career games. “I stayed up until 4 a.m. and watched Sportscenter over and over again. I had never seen my highlights on television before. It was an amazing, memorable night.”

That game provided a glimpse of what Quinn could do and his future looked even more promising the following season when he finished third in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. Fate, soggy turf and mismanagement, however, intervened.

WELCOME TO TEXAS

While Quinn is all about Texas, his story doesn’t start there. He was born in Southern California and was a huge Rod Carew fan and as a result, followed the Angels. He admits that he was “somewhat of a Dodgers fan” in the mid-80s but his family moved to Texas when he was 11 years old and all that changed.

“We took a road trip and saw the Astros and I immediately fell in love with Jose Cruz,” Quinn, 48, said. “When we moved to Houston, we had season tickets for 10 years. We went to 40 games a year and I was following [Ken] Caminiti and Cruz. The thing I liked about Cruz was the way he hit and carried himself in the outfield. I was at game when the Astros were on the road and the fans were brutal to him and just kind of took it. I thought I really like this guy; all the yelling and screaming doesn’t bother him. And he hits home runs. I want to be like that.”

Quinn spent quite a bit of time in the Astrodome as a teenager. His family had season tickets just behind the visiting dugout and would get to the games early enough that Quinn was able to spend time talking with players from the opposing teams. He says he was a baseball rat and the seats afforded him the opportunity to “talk to everyone”.

“They had the All-Star game there in 1986 and we’re on the third base side by the AL dugout,” he said. “All the big boys came out. Those guys were my heroes. I always studied the left side of the infield. I was a shortstop growing up and I learned the Caminiti hop at third base. It was a time, too, where there were no [cell] phones and no distractions. You were just there to watch Major League players do what they do and learn from them.”

He even got to meet Cruz as a 13-year-old when he and Jose Cruz, Jr. played on the same Pony League All-Star team. Cruz, Sr. would occasionally throw batting practice to and work with the team. Cruz, Jr. would later be Quinn’s teammate at Rice University.

“It was a big deal when he [Cruz, Sr.] would show up at a Pony League game in Houston,” Quinn said. “I got to talk to and take BP from my favorite player when I was 13. It was surreal.”

“Whether it’s on a tee, flipping balls or playing home run derby, the ball needs to go through the middle. And, if you have something heavy like a shovel, swing that.”

Quinn was consumed with baseball and hoped that someday he’d have the opportunity to play for the Astros. It didn’t work out that way but he did make some valuable contacts, aside from Cruz, as a middle schooler that had a tremendous impact on his career. The first was Terry Wetzel, his seventh-grade algebra teacher and his football coach. Wetzel was also a scout for the Kansas City Royals and is currently a special assignment scout for the club.

“The first year after we moved to Houston, I was this cocky California kid and I found out he was a Royals scout,” Quinn said. “Our little league field was across the street from the school. I said to him, I hear you’re a Royals scout. Why don’t you come watch me pitch? He showed up in all his Royals gear and I think I struck out 15. He talked to my parents and that’s how I started a relationship with the scout who drafted me. That was 1985 and he drafted me in 1995.”

The second person that had much to do with the success that Quinn would one day enjoy, both at Rice and professionally, was Kevin Bass. The former Astro spent 10 of his 14 Major League seasons with Houston, including the time period in which Quinn was a teenager. Not long after Quinn’s family moved into their suburban Houston neighborhood, so did Bass. And, like any good 12-year-old baseball nut would, Quinn and his buddy tracked Bass down.

The pair went to Bass’ house and knocked on the door. He was home and offered Quinn some advice that he took to heart and relied on throughout his baseball career. He’s still relying on it now as an instructor.

“We asked that we just wanted to know what we needed to do as hitters to be the best hitters we could be,” Quinn said. “He said take 100 swings a day and hit as many balls on a line up the middle as we could. Whether it’s on a tee, flipping balls or playing home run derby, the ball needs to go through the middle. And, if you have something heavy like a shovel, swing that. I learned that at an early age and it stuck with me my entire career.”

COLLEGE AND THE PROS AWAIT

Quinn was a star at William Clements High, anchoring a team from his spot at shortstop. He was good enough to draw attention from Rice, at the time a Division I power. He was undersized, though, and despite getting an offer from the Owls, his first year in college would have been as a redshirt and he would have had to pay his own tuition.

So, after speaking with Wetzel, he decided to attend Lee Junior College. He earned the starting job at shortstop and played every game for two seasons. Those two years led him back to Rice, which offered him a full ride for his junior and senior seasons. He pitched for the Owls in addition to playing the outfield, coming in as a closer or making the occasional start.

Quinn won the Owls’ Triple Crown as a senior, leading the team in batting average [.380], homers [18], RBIs [89] and hits [95]. He was named All-American and was one of five Owls, including Cruz, Jr., taken that year in the draft. Quinn, who desperately wanted to go to the Astros, was selected by Kansas City in the 11th round. He was given the choice to pitch or play the field and he opted to stay on the field.

“Growing up here and playing here I wanted to get drafted by the Astros but you have no control over that,” Quinn said. “I told them I don’t want to pitch unless I have to. The only time my arm ever hurt was when I pitched. At Rice, I pitched through arm pain. I never had any injuries and my arm never hurt as a position player. I guess the max effort motion of pitching hurt my arm and I also had the craziest schedule at Rice as a pitcher.

“I was kind of like Ohtani. We would play a four-game weekend series and I would play left field Friday night. If it was a save situation, I would come in and close and then start the first game of the doubleheader on Saturday. I’d DH the rest of the weekend because I couldn’t lift my arm. Any game during the week was kind of the same way. We made it to the Regionals [in 1995] and I got the start against LSU and we eliminated them. That was the last game I ever pitched. We lost to [Cal-State] Fullerton the next day.”

Quinn never got pitching completely out of his system, though. Once he signed with the Royals he continued to throw bullpen sessions. He would go down to the bullpen occasionally late in some games just to loosen up, but he never got into a game. Still, he retained his ability to hit the mid-90s on the gun.

“My manager [in the minors] told me once that if they let me or [Carlos] Beltran pitch and we got hurt, he’d get fired,” Quinn said. “That’s when I found out they don’t let prospects pitch. I knew I could pitch. I just didn’t want it to be a career battling arm injuries forever.”

Mark Quinn of the Kansas City Royals bats against the Boston Red Sox at Kauffman Stadium on August 27, 2000 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images)

The Royals sent Quinn to Spokane of the Rookie-Level Northwest League, where he hit .284 in 44 games and finished 10th in the league with 37 RBIs. The rigorous schedule of playing every day took it’s toll, though, and Quinn lost 20 pounds, seeing his weight fall to 160. He worked out with future Hall-of-Famers Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, both stars with the Astros, that winter and put on 30 pounds.

Kansas City bumped him up to Lansing of the Low-A Midwest League in 1996 and he hit .302 with nine homers and 71 RBIs. He began the 1997 season at Wilmington of the High-A Carolina League and had 16 homers and 71 RBIs by the break, prompting a promotion to Wichita of the Double-A Texas League, where he finished out the season by hitting .375 with a pair of homers and 19 RBIs in 96 at-bats. That included hitting in 13 consecutive games upon arriving in Kansas.

Quinn, however, was already starting to wonder about the direction in which his career was headed.

“I always thought they had players ahead of me that I was better than,” he said. “Back then Rice was a powerhouse and coming out, I was a well-accomplished, highly awarded player who started in Low-A. I really thought I’d get to skip that. I went to Wilmington and they moved me to Double-A and I thought finally. Nope. I was back in Double-A the next year.”

Quinn hit .350 for Wichita to win the Texas League batting title in 1998 but never got bumped up to Triple-A Omaha or the big leagues. He followed that up by winning another batting title in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in 1999 [he hit .360] but the frustration was mounting.

“There are just managers who don’t like rookies,” Quinn said. “They had changed managers from Bob Boone to Tony Muser and he didn’t want to call anyone up that wasn’t going to play. I won a batting title; I was on the 40-man and I wasn’t called up. I’m thinking ‘What do I have to do to crack into the big leagues or at least get a call-up or a shot?’ That was the frustrating part. I stayed in Triple-A all year and I talked to my agent and asked him what did I need to do? I was watching guys in the big leagues for the Royals hitting .240 with six homers.

“I’m thinking what is really going on here. The Royals said they were still waiting for my defense to come around but I was named best outfielder in the league twice so why was I still in the minors? Why did I stay in Triple-A for the entire year when I could have come up and helped the big-league club immediately?”

Mark Quinn #14 of the Kansas City Royals has some fun with some young fans before the game against the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinios. The Royals defeated the White Sox 7-6.Mandatory Credit: Donald Miralle /Allsport

THAT SEPTEMBER DAY AND BEYOND

Quinn ultimately did get the call up to Kansas City in the fall of ’99 and when he stepped into the batter’s box for the first time on Sept. 14 – he was the DH and hit fifth in the second game of a doubleheader against the Angels – he channeled all his frustrations, using them to show the Royals and their fans what they had been missing. Though he popped to third base in the first inning, he followed that up with a double to center in the fourth. The best, however, was yet to come.

“Before the game, it was almost like that movie Hoosiers where they go and measure the rim,” Quinn said. “I needed to show my self that this is just baseball. I got to the stadium at 2 o’clock, went out by myself and set a tee on home plate. I hit an entire bucket of balls, line drives up the middle, and then I went and picked up the balls. It was the same game, just a bigger stadium.

“The first thing I noticed that night was how bright the lights were. It felt like daylight. I could see everything. It was bright a night game I had ever been in. My first at-bat I worked a 3-1 count then just missed. I thought get it together, stay aggressive and my next at-bat I doubled.”

Anaheim’s starter Mike Fyhrie was still in the game to begin the sixth with the Angels holding a 4-1 lead. Quinn worked a 3-2 count before sending Fyhrie’s next offering over the fence in left center for a two-run homer. Shigetoshi Hasegawa was pitching when Quinn came up in the bottom of the eighth. He greeted him by sending his first pitch over the wall in left on a line drive.

“I was sitting on an off-speed pitch that first pitch [against Hasegawa] and thought if he throws a curve I’m going to hit that first pitch out,” Quinn said. “I knew I was ready and knew I should have been there the year before. I had been doing this all my life. Why was I wasting at-bats in the minor leagues?”

Quinn certainly looked like the Royals had miscalculated about when to bring up their young slugger. He hit safely in five of his first seven games, homering on Sept. 18 at Oakland and the collecting another two-homer game in Seattle on Sept. 20 to become the first player since at least 1919 and, according to BaseballReference.com, quite possibly the only player to ever hit five homers through his first seven career games.

“We went to Seattle and I hit two home runs in a game there,” Quinn said. “I had done that in the minors, but it started in college. I had a coach that told me, ‘Okay, you hit a home run. Now it’s time to hit another; you’re not done’. I never hit three, though. I was always in awe of the guys that hit three in a game. Just getting three pitches to hit much less hitting them out.”

He hit safely in 11 of 17 games in which he appeared, collecting six multi-hit games along the way to finish with a .333 batting average, six homers and 18 RBIs. Quinn had 15 RBIs through 10 games, the most by any player in his first 10 games in more than two decades.

But, he also spent just over two weeks on the Major League roster which, at the time, didn’t seem like much considering the celebratory mood in which Quinn found himself. It would, however, come back to haunt him the following spring.

Quinn was on the Major League roster coming out of Spring Training in 2000 and seemed to pick up where he left off the previous fall. He was hitting .279 with seven homers and 26 RBIs on June 2. He went on a 10-game hitting streak over the last two weeks of May during which he hit .333 [13-for-39] with seven RBIs for a Royals team that was struggling to stay above .500.

Kansas City Royals right fielder Mark Quinn crashes into the wall on a double hit by Minnesota Twins David Ortiz that scored Doug Miekiewicz to pull ahead in the eighth inning in Kansas City, MO, May 13, 2002. (Photo: DAVE KAUP/AFP via Getty Images)

Yet, Quinn was inexplicably sent back to Omaha for two weeks, the same amount of time he had spent on the Major League roster the previous fall. Quinn would go on to hit .294 with 20 homers and 78 RBIs upon his return and finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting behind Seattle reliever Kaz Sasaki and Oakland’s Terrance Long. Quinn got four of the 28 first-place votes.

“It was all for service-time manipulation,” said Quinn, who hit .377 with three homers and 13 RBIs in 13 games at Omaha. “I got sent down for exactly 15 days. Beltran had won Rookie of the Year the year before and I was on track to do the same thing. At the time I didn’t understand it. The manager and I got into a shouting match over it. I had the third highest batting average on the team and I was third in homers. How can you justify sending me down when you have two role players who never play hitting .190. Why not send those guys down?

“That was a very frustrating year. I got off to a great start, I was hitting fifth or sixth and then to be sent down. I found out later that it was the exact number of days I was called up previously. It cost me the Rookie of the Year. They send me down for 15 days so at the end of that season I wouldn’t be a one-year plus guy, just a one-year guy.”

A hamstring injury in 2001 limited Quinn to 113 games yet he still hit .269 with 17 homers and 60 RBIs. He also went 241 plate appearances without drawing a walk, which captured the attention of fans in Kansas City.

“I wanted guys to come right after me, that’s how I survived as a hitter,” Quinn said. “Then they started throwing a slider away on the first pitch and a fastball in, another slider away. I’d get a green light and swing but I’m thinking why are these guys afraid to pitch to me. That walkless streak was just one of those things that, when you’re in it, you can’t do much about it.”

Quinn missed the beginning of the 2002 season with a rib injury suffered while training in the off-season. He returned to the lineup in the middle of May and was with the club for just under a month before tearing his left hamstring in half on June 7 against the Cardinals. It was the last Major League game in which he would appear. He points to the field in Kansas City as a big reason for the injury.

“I never had injury issues before,” he said. “A muscle strain here or there. No surgeries. All that stuff [Carlos] Correa is going through, there was none of that. Because the climate is so bad in Kansas City, they had to overwater the field to keep it green. It made the ground soft and any time you had to spring for a ball, the ground would give way and your hamstring had an extra inch and a half to stretch. They were overwatering the grass so it would look green for fans and most of us bore the brunt of it in the outfield with injuries’.

“I came in for a fly ball, my cleat caught, my leg hyperextended and I snapped my hamstring in half. I missed the rest of the year. There were tons of hamstring and groin issues because of it. When you tore your hamstring they didn’t surgically repair it like they do now. It took me 12 months to get back. My left leg is the one I plant on to hit and when that goes …”

The Royals released Quinn the following spring and he signed with the Padres. He would split time with the Padres and Tampa Bay that season, appearing in 70 games, all in the minor leagues. Injuries once again were a factor. And he wasn’t done with the Royals just yet.

Mark Quinn #14 of the Kansas City Royals is congratulated by teammate Dave McCarty after Quinn hit a solo home run in the fifth inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York. (Photo: Ezra Shaw/ALLSPORT)

“The Royals did me dirty,” Quinn said. “They released me in spring training when I was hurt and they knew I was hurt. A couple of years later they had to reimburse me a full year’s salary because they knew I couldn’t do anything. You can’t release a player if he’s not 100 percent. The Padres picked me up and I had to nurse the hamstring the whole year. I eventually got hot and was about to be called up when I tweaked an oblique muscle.

“The Royals didn’t have their stuff together. I got to play for Bruce Bochy with San Diego and Tony LaRussa in St. Louis and after that I thought, wow, did I start off with the wrong organization. Talk about a different experience. I also played for Ozzie Guillen in 2006 when I signed with the White Sox. It was an experience being around better managers and trainers. The Royals were kind of in the dark ages with all the strength, training and nutrition stuff.”

Quinn finished his aborted career with a .282 batting average, 45 homers and 167 RBIs in 293 games. He also had the distinction, for a while, of having the most career homers in the Major Leagues by a player whose last name begins with Q. He broke Jamie Quirk’s record of 43 during his last year with Royals and held the mark until Carlos Quentin took over in 2008.

COACH QUINN

Quinn returned to Houston and in 2008 and began coaching hitters of all ages from little leaguers to professionals. He also founded the Houston Royals Select Baseball team, a squad he continues to coach today. His prowess as a coach also got him noticed by the Baltimore Orioles, for whom he served as the hitting coach in 2016.

“Brady Anderson called me and asked would I come interview for the hitting coach job,” Quinn said. “I told him I didn’t want any part of that lifestyle again but he said, look, this is the deal. We’ve gone through 99 interviews and we’re going to pick three guys to bring in for final interviews and I thought about you so just come see.

“They started asking all these questions and evidently I answered them differently than the last 99. They asked things like if there is a runner on second and no one out, do you teach to hit a grounder to the right side to move them over. Absolutely not. I want them to hit the ball and trade bases with them. I don’t want to trade an out for a base. In the AL East, you’re not going to be playing for one run every night. You have a team of sluggers and the last thing you need is to teach sluggers how to be singles hitters. I got the job.”

Quinn excelled helping Mark Trumbo lead the Major Leagues in home runs that season. Despite his success, he wanted to be home in Texas. So, he left the Orioles after one season and returned to Houston to continue his successful coaching business. He moved into a new 25,000 square-foot facility last January and remains one of the most sought-after teachers not only in Texas but across the country.

While Quinn did not leave as big a mark on the Major Leagues, he does remain part of a very small group and is one of the most respected coaches in the industry.

Covered a Mets-Astros doubleheader in 1987 and never looked back. Spent eight years at MLB.com, more than half of that as the Mets beat writer. Had one beat writer from another newspaper threaten to kill him in an elevator at the winter meetings. The other half was as MiLB.com’s staff historian. Worked three years in Philly at Comcast covering the Phillies’ minor leagues and doing weekly TV spots. Author of the popular blog The Bobblist, which covers everything A to Z in the world of bobbleheads. Really.

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