Former Royals, Cardinals Pitcher Mark Littell Shares Baseball Stories in Captivating New Book
In 1973, Mark Littell, then just 20 years old, dominated AAA to the tune of a 16-6 record with a 2.92 ERA. The righty was a key part of a young core of Kansas City Royals that included George Brett and Frank White that put the team on the precipice of the greatest era in franchise history.
The affable, straight-shooting Littell, who enjoyed a nine-year career in the majors and adventures in different parts in the world after his career, shares his colorful stories in his book On the Eighth Day, God Made Baseball
“Three years ago I started writing down some stories and showed this to some friends,” said Littell. “One guy read it and said it made him laugh and another guy read it and said he thought I had a movie here. When the editors got hold of it they said Mark you can stop. Why? I’ve more. Well right now you’ve got about three books written. Really! My ADD must have kicked in.
Unlike most former players who used co-authors or ghostwriters, Littell wrote the book on his own.
“You have other writers tagging along that want to change things, but then it ends up not being in your voice. I’d think, that’s not something a country boy would say, so I kept it in my voice.”
And Littell’s voice is unique, colorful and entertaining to say the least. On his website, www.MarkLittell.com, the author shares a free chapter to download. The chapter deals with the time Littell and his catcher, Dennis Pepke, dealt with a AAA umpire who was squeezing him. In the excerpt, Littell wrote:
“I wound up and let ‘er rip, just like Pap had said. Roe Skidmore didn’t swing at the first pitch, and the ball went between Dennis’s mask and mitt. But as I was watching, something funny happened. The baseball gods came into play on this one really quick, and all of the sudden, this umpire fell backwards onto the ground and landed spread eagle. The ball had hammered the lower part of his mask and pushed against his jaw, kinda like taking a one-two punch from Ali. This guy was out, stone cold.”
His book includes 17 chapters and 253 pages of topics ranging from being teammates with Hall of Famer George Brett, to his first spring training and the time he threw a wild pitching while warming up in the Cleveland bullpen that knocked out a woman in the stands.
“If you looked at that bullpen, there was no way you could throw a ball out of it,” said Littell. “But apparently I found a way.”
He continued, “The ball flew outta my hand, kinda like there was goose grease on my fingers. When I let it go I thought there was no way it would clear the bullpen wall … But it did. The stands were full that day because the Indians were giving away a car an inning and everyone on that side of the stands was now standing up. Kinda like there was a loose scud middle roaming around with a serious malfunction. Had to be 20,000 people that stood up just all bent outta shape. Pretty soon, that bullpen was full of all kinds of garbage. All we had for ammo was baseballs, candy bars and cans of Copenhagen. Whitey Herzog called down to the bullpen and told them to get me on the phone. He said, ‘Air, what the hell is goin’ on down there?’ I said a ball just got away from me ‘Rat’ musta clocked s someone in the stands. He asked me if I was loose, I responded with ‘you bet.’ The safest place for me was in the center of the field on the bump. I went back out the next inning and almost all 60,000 were giving it to me.”
In addition to those chapters, Littell also has a chapter called, “The Big Bang Theory…Not a Theory,” to being on the wrong end of one of the most dramatic home runs in baseball history. Littell was brought in to the deciding game five of the 1976 ALCS against the Yankees with a runner on second with one out in the seventh inning. He retired the first five batters he faced as the Royals rallied to tie the game. However, on the first pitch of the bottom of the ninth in a 6-6 game, after a delay caused by Yankee fans showering the field with bottles and toilet paper, Chris Chambliss homered to send the Yankees to the World Series.
“People don’t hear my angle of the story too often,” said Littell, who had pitched 4.2 scoreless innings over three appearances in the series before that point. “I gave up one home run all season [in 104 innings].”
The home run set off one of the wildest celebrations you can see on a field as thousands of fans stormed the field instantly, even knocking down Chambliss, trying to take his helmet right off his head and ultimately digging home plate out of the ground.
Littell was caught in the middle of it.
“I looked down at the back of the mound and then to the right. I turned to centerfield and saw the fans. When I turned to the left to walk off the mound, fans were already there. One of them had their foot on the mound before I even walked off. But nobody touched me. I walked to the dugout and didn’t really know what to do. Someone grabbed my arm and said to come with him up the tunnel. It was lined with New York’s finest. I tossed my glove and hat aside and went to the showers. Amos Otis, Whitey Herzog and Galen Cisco tried to talk to me, but I just wanted to be left alone. I thought, I was just a kid, why should I be here?”
The truth was Littell was there because he had become one of the top closers in the majors in 1976 by the age of 23. He pitched to the tune of a 2.06 ERA over 104 innings that year and received recognition in the American League MVP voting. Littell even reached out to Chambliss to include his remarks about the home run for the book.
Despite the success at a young age, Littell remained grounded when it came to pitching.
“I just tried to stay the same guy I always was. I realized that as fast as you can go up the ladder, you can also fall on your face. I just tried to stay in the middle and not get too big for my britches.”
Littell’s demeanor was one of the things that earned the trust of Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog, who converted Littell to a closer. He was also responsible for giving Littell an additional nickname to his customary “Country.”
“Whitey called me Airhead,” said Littell. “While writing the book I found that he didn’t give me that name because he thought I was crazy. He told me that he called me ‘Air’ because I was the calmest, coolest guy on the mound.”
Littell’s stories aren’t just limited to his relationship with Herzog or his role in the 1976 ALCS; not by a longshot.
The final chapter of the book is called “Forrest Gump Stats,” which discusses some of the interesting, random events Littell encountered over his career.
“I was the winning pitcher in the game when Lou Brock got his 3,000th hit and struck out Hank Aaron looking at three straight pitches the first time I faced him. He took a slider and then a fastball and then Buck Martinez called for another fastball. I hesitated for a bit and thought he must know what’s coming. I threw it anyway and Aaron took the fastball for strike three. [John] Mayberry started yelling at him from first base,” recalled Littell.
Littell continued. “I liked pitching against guys with big swings. Guys like Mike Schmidt.” Schmidt hit just .133 in 16 at bats against the righty.
The book begins during Littell’s childhood and tells stories about him growing up playing the game in the bootheel of Missouri. His brother was also an outstanding player who caught for Mississippi State.
“There was one time in high school my brother was catching me and I saw him spit on the batter’s shoes. I was kind of taking my time on the mound and the batter started waving me on like I was backing in a truck. Man, I just lasered a ball at his head and the guy collapsed right there. I split his helmet. He didn’t fall back or stumble, he just collapsed in the box. My brother stepped right over him and came out to the mound. I asked him what he said to him and he lifted his mask, knocked it against his shin guards and said, ‘I told that sucker to hang loose my brother can get a little wild at times.’”
Littell was traded from the Royals to the Cardinals after the 1977 season, a move he somewhat anticipated. “Sometimes you wear out your welcome, I kind of expected it,” said Littell. “They needed a left hander, so they sent me and Buck Martinez to the Cardinals for Al Hrabosky. I was from Missouri, so it wasn’t so bad. Vern Rapp tried to make me a starter there, but that lasted two games. He was fired [after going 6-11 in 17 games] and I moved back to the bullpen.”
Littell battled a second elbow injury in 1982 and after pitching in 16 games that year, he ended his career as a major leaguer.
“I threw 100 innings as a set-up or closer three different years but with a lot of appearances not many guys did that. When they give you the ball though, you didn’t say no. Now things are a little different. Guys look after themselves a little better and sometimes agents step in,” said Littell.
After his playing career, Littell stayed active in the game as a successful coach in the minor leagues and in Australia. He was Bruce Bochy’s pitching coach in high A ball and mentored a number of pitchers who eventually made it to the majors.
Littell’s journey in baseball was filled with colorful stories and fans will enjoy this peek behind the scenes. On the Eighth Day, God Made Baseball is a humorous collection of stories with many familiar names to baseball fans, especially those who grew up with the sport in the 1970s and 80s.
“People tell me it’s funnier than all ‘git out’ and has had a great reception so far. Yeah, the folks have been nice to me with the book and it was kinda fun taking the time to write the stories. Fans always told me I had great stories, so I finally put them down in writing.”
On the Eighth Day, God Made Baseball separates itself from other baseball books due to Littell’s unique voice and straight-forward candor. He doesn’t hold back in telling his stories, which makes this a great read for baseball fans of any age.