Royals Rundown: Oft-injured Mondesi elicits memories of stunted careers of budding KC stars

By Todd Fertig
Special to The Capital-Journal
An immense talent when he's healthy, Kansas City shortstop Adalberto Mondesi hasn't been able to stay off the injured list throughout his career, harkening memories of past Royals' talents who saw their careers derailed by injuries.

Kansas City Royals shortstop Adalberto Mondesi is now making his third appearance on the injured, to the dismay of the team’s fan base. 

The 25-year-old tantalizes fans with his unique skill set and ability to affect the game. But each time they get their hopes up, he disappears to the trainers room. Will Mondesi wind up an elite talent who never realized his potential in Kansas City? 

If Royals fans are frustrated with the unavailability of Mondesi, that emotion pales in comparison to what they were feeling 30 years ago this summer. 

Bo Jackson's career with the Kansas City Royals was brief but powerful, making Royals fans wonder what might have been if a football hip injury hadn't cut him down in his prime.

In case you don’t remember what a phenom Bo Jackson was, just reflect on the enormous popularity of Patrick Mahomes. The young quarterback of the Chiefs is the face of Kansas City. And he’s ubiquitous, appearing on commercials on seemingly every channel.  

But in the days before social media, Jackson was Mahomes’ equal in terms of popularity. He spurned the NFL to join the Royals, then negotiated his own moonlighting gig with the Los Angeles Raiders. Playing just part of the football season each year, he blew the competition away.

He had his own Nike campaign, celebrating his freakish abilities. Bo was on top of the sports world. 

The Royals were the beneficiaries of his enormous popularity, both financially and competitively. Fans flocked to Kauffman Stadium to see what ridiculous thing Bo would do next. The team was in the pennant race nearly every year with Jackson in the outfield, and his raw game was steadily improving.

In 1990, he hit .272 with 28 homers in just 111 games. His on-base percentage was a career-high .342, and his strikeout rate was trending down. His play was catching up to his celebrity status. 

But then, on Jan. 13, 1991, tragedy struck. On a long run along the sideline, Jackson was dragged down from behind by a Cincinnati Bengal. On what seemed like an innocuous tackle, Jackson’s hip was dislocated. The injury damaged the blood supply in the hip, causing something called avascular necrosis. 

It didn’t appear Jackson would ever play either football or baseball again. So, on March 18, 1991, the Royals made the gut-wrenching decision to release their 28-year-old all star. Royals fans were devastated. 

Jackson worked his way back to the big leagues, playing a couple of partial seasons with the Chicago White Sox and California Angels. But he was never the same. 

What might have been? Jackson was becoming more than just a freak athlete in a baseball uniform. He was developing into a player with skills to match his natural tools. There’s no question what he meant at the box office and to the profile of Kansas City as a media market. 

Bo Jackson’s injury is probably the most impactful injury in the history of the Kansas City Royals. But, as with every franchise, there have been many others. There are other injuries that cause Royals fans to ask ‘What if…?’: 

Steve Busby flashed the form that earned him a no hit, 2-0 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers Wednesday night at County Stadium. It was the second no-hitter for the 24 year old Kansas City Royal, who did it to Detroit April 27, 1973. Busby issued only one walk.

Steve Busby: When the Royals were just becoming competitive in the early 70s, a young pitcher burst on the scene and became one of the team’s first stars. Just 23 years old, Steve Busby led the Royals to challenge the powerhouse Oakland As in the club’s first pennant race in 1973. Early in that season, he pitched the Royals first no-hitter.  

He was even better in 1974, winning 22 games, posting a 3.39 ERA, and making the All-Star Game. He threw the team’s second no-hitter that season. Busby stayed on top of the game in 1975, winning 18 games, giving up just 3.09 runs per game, and making the All-Star Game for the second straight year.  

But the three-year run came at a cost. Busby had pitched 791 innings in just three seasons, often throwing well over 100 pitches in a game. He started the 1976 season with the Royals, but was diagnosed as having a torn rotator cuff.  

At the time, surgery for such an injury was unheard of. Legendary doctor Frank Jobe advised that Busby attempt to “throw through it” because surgery was a last option. But finally, Busby had no choice but to go under the knife — the first “rotator cuff surgery” — and he was forced to watch as the Royals reached the playoffs for the first time.  

With a nucleus that featured George Brett, Hal McRae, Frank White, Amos Otis and a solid pitching staff, the Royals broke through as one of the best teams in the game for the next decade. A healthy Busby might have put the team on top. But Busby never fully recovered. 

The loss of Bo Jackson is much more memorable, and was more costly in terms of revenue and prestige. But Busby is probably the best player the Royals ever lost to injury. 

Mark Quinn: The Royals emerged from the dreadful 1990s with a collection of talented young stars that included Mike Sweeney, Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye and Carlos Beltran. Arriving in Kansas City with that group was another baseball-bashing youngster who captured the public’s imagination.

Mark Quinn belted 20 homers and hit .291 in his rookie season in 2000. His second season was nearly as good. 

Quinn was a fun-loving free swinger who might have provided the Royals another power bat in a lineup on the rise. But Quinn showed up at training camp in 2002 with a mysterious rib injury.

Word eventually leaked that he had injured himself sparring with his brother kung-fu style. Had Quinn hurt himself training? Had he been clowning around with his brother? Had there been an actual fight?  

Quinn tried to calm the rumors, but the damage was done. Not only was Quinn unable to regain his form at the plate, he had exasperated the Royals front office. They released him the next spring. 

Mike Jones: Pitchers dominate the list of most impactful injuries, because arm injuries seem to derail so many careers. However, in the case of one young hurler just beginning to make his mark, it wasn’t an arm injury.

The Royals’ first round draft choice in 1977, Jones ripped through the minor leagues and debuted in the majors at age 20. At 21, he went 6-3 as a starting pitcher in 1981, with an impressive 3.21 earned run average. The talented Royals of the early 1980s were set to rely heavily on the 6-foot-6 flamethrower. 

But then, just before Christmas of 1981, Jones was severely injured when he drove his car into a tree in his home state of New York. He was charged with drunk driving in the incident.

Jones made it back to the Royals for spot duty in 1984 and 1985. But he was never the same. And thus the Royals were deprived of a young pitcher who appeared on the path to stardom. 

Jose Rosado: One of the few bright spots for the 1990s Royals was Rosado, an All-Star in 1997 and 1999. Just 25 years old and the ace of the Royals staff, Rosado was driven out of the game by a labral tear.   

Honorable Mention

Colt Griffin: There are probably several players who could make this list due to injuries suffered in the minor leagues. But one who stands out is Griffin, simply because of the remarkable talent he possessed at a young age.

Griffin’s fastball was clocked at 101 mph as a senior in high school. He was believed to be the only high schooler ever to top 100 on the radar gun. 

Tantalized by that velocity, the Royals gambled that the Texas product could harness his wildness and avoid burning his arm out. They grabbed Griffin with the 9th pick in the 2001 draft and gave him $2.4 million to sign.

Luck was not on the Royals’ side. Griffin battled injuries from day one, undergoing numerous surgeries before giving up the game in 2006. He never pitched above Double-A.