SABR

Bobby Floyd

This article was written by Nelson 'Chip' Greene.

When Baltimore Orioles shortstop Bobby Floyd fielded the final out to preserve Jim Palmer’s no-hitter on August 13, 1969, it was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the little-used Floyd’s career. His was not a household name. The quintessential good-field, no-hit utility infielder who usually played only when a starter was hurt or needed a rest, Floyd took part in only 214 major-league games for two teams in seven seasons, but was always ready to fill in when needed at any infield position. He saw time at second base, third base, and shortstop, and was a major-league-caliber fielder. But Floyd never managed to hit well enough to solidify a starting position.

Despite his brief playing career, however, Floyd did not leave the game. Once his playing days ended, he remained in the sport full-time. “Baseball’s a great game,” Floyd said in 2010. “I love it. And I’ve been fortunate enough to make a living at it.”i From minor-league manager to major-league bench coach to player personnel evaluator, Floyd carved out a long and varied career with several organizations. But traveling to such far-off places as the Dominican Republic to assess the baseball talents of aspiring 17- and 18-year olds must seem light years from football games on the beaches of El Segundo, California.

Born in Hawthorne, California, in Los Angeles County, on October 20, 1943, Floyd grew up in nearby El Segundo. He was the youngest of three children. His childhood was filled with athletics. Whether in structured Little Leagues, Babe Ruth League, American Legion, or simply sandlot pickup games, Bobby and his friends played not only baseball, but football and basketball as well. In fact, “we would often play all three sports in the same day,” he remembered. “We’d go down to the beach and play football in the mornings, then go back to town and play basketball and baseball ’til the evening.”ii

By the time he arrived at El Segundo High School, Floyd was well prepared for intramural athletics. (He wasn’t the only professional baseball player to graduate from El Segundo High: Ken and George Brett and Orioles pitcher Scott McGregor all attended the school.) As a senior, Floyd was the starting quarterback on the football team, having apprenticed the previous season to Pete Beathard. (Beathard’s older brother, Bobby went on to a storied career as a general manager in the National Football League.) As a hard-hitting shortstop, in his senior year Floyd led El Segundo to a Southern California championship. He was rewarded for his outstanding play by participating in Los Angeles’s CIF-City All Star Game.

Floyd owed the foundations of his success to his parents. For many years his mother was a librarian at the high school. His father, who coached Bobby in Little League and was meticulous about such things as caring for the baseball diamond, worked for Standard Oil. Floyd remembered his father as a hard worker who had no hobbies other than his family, but who impressed upon the young Bobby a strong work ethic and positive values, teaching him that “nothing comes without hard work.”iii Bobby absorbed his father’s lessons and carried that work ethic to the baseball diamond.

Although he had an opportunity to sign with Ed Burke, a scout for the Philadelphia Phillies, Floyd accepted a baseball scholarship to UCLA, where he gained experience and maturity. After two years of collegiate competition, in August 1963 he felt he was ready for the challenge of the next level and signed with Burke, who was then working for the Baltimore Orioles.

An important part of Floyd’s development was the two summers he spent in the Basin League in South Dakota, considered a showcase for collegians. The six teams each played a 50-game schedule in 60 days, with the top four teams meeting for the playoff championship. Floyd played for the Winner Pheasants in 1962, when he led the league in batting (.344) and 1963. “That was quite a team,” he recalled. “We had little jobs at South Dakota. I don’t remember what they were, but that’s what the NCAA required.”iv The players lived with host families.

The 1963 Winner club, managed by part-time Orioles scout Harry Wise, won the championship. One of its stars was 17-year-old pitcher Jim Palmer, who was hailed by some observers as the hardest thrower they’d ever seen. Many years later, Floyd recounted his first impressions of the future Hall of Famer as “a tremendous athlete, a natural,”v and said it was easy to see Palmer was going to be a star. The 1963 Winner team also included future major leaguers Jim Lonborg, Merv Rettenmund, and Carl Morton. As for Floyd, he hit safely in 14 of the team’s first 15 games, played 46 games at shortstop and hit .307. His performance convinced Burke to sign him.

First Floyd had to fulfill a military obligation. As a member of the Marine Corps Reserve, he attended boot camp and served a six-month hitch that conveniently ended a week before the start of spring training in 1964. Starting in April 1964 Floyd spent several years making his way through the Orioles’ minor-league system. He claimed not to have received a lot of guidance along the way. “You improved or you didn’t go higher,” he said. “They just let you play. If you had the talent you were going to move up.”vi

Floyd began his career with Elmira, New York, in the Double-A Eastern League, playing for Earl Weaver. After 34 at bats and hitting just .088, the Orioles reassigned him to Single-A Stockton in the California League, which proved much more to his liking (.269 in 123 games). The next season Floyd hit his stride playing for Tri-Cities, Washington, in the Northwest League, finishing with a .275 average while stroking seven home runs and driving in 70 runs. The home run and RBI figures were the highest Floyd produced at any level, but were only part of his accomplishments that season. Floyd also led Northwest League shortstops in putouts (260) and chances accepted (661), and when the season ended he was named to the league All-Star team.

In 1966 he returned to Elmira, two years after struggling there. Although Floyd hit just .248, he was again stellar defensively, leading Eastern League shortstops in fielding (.956), putouts (230), assists (382), and double plays (74). For the next two seasons, Floyd was the starting shortstop for the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings. He had by now made most of the stops in Baltimore’s minor-league system, and played at one time or another with most of the players who later propelled the Orioles to an extended period of excellence: Mark Belanger, Dave Johnson, Boog Powell, and Jim Palmer among others. Forty years later he recalled how much he enjoyed the camaraderie of his teammates.

“There were no egos” among the young Orioles prospects, he said. “Everyone was treated the same, whether you were a superstar or just one of the team.” All in all, they were “just a great group of guys,” and it was fun to have been a part of it. “Of course,” he added, “it helped that during many of those years the Orioles and their farm teams did an awful lot of winning.”vii

That’s what Rochester did for Earl Weaver in 1967. The team came up just short, losing the International League pennant to Richmond in a playoff after the two teams ended the regular season tied for first place. Floyd hit .243 in 105 games and played his customary steady defense. The next year Floyd broke out to hit .287 with six home runs and 52 RBIs. Sportswiter Doug Brown wrote in The Sporting News that in the spring of ’67 Floyd discovered the book Psycho-Cybernetics, described as “a new technique for using your subconscious power.” Floyd himself called it “the use of the mind as a machine.” Simply put, Floyd thought only about positive outcomes. “If you keep thinking about repeated failures,” he told the sportswriter, “that’s the way you’ll react in a tense situation.” Conversely, “Think positively and chances are that’s the way you’ll react.”viii (It’s worth noting that Floyd later returned to school, at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, as a psychology major.)

Whether or not his improvement was attributable to his new mental approach, Floyd had one of his best seasons in 1968. Rochester returned to the semifinal playoffs, although the Red Wings lost to Columbus, three games to two. On July 22 in Louisville, Floyd represented the International League in a game against the Cincinnati Reds, won by the minor leaguers, 3-1. After the season, he was named shortstop for the Triple-A East All Stars. None of those accolades could compare, however, to the excitement Floyd felt on September 15, the day after the playoffs ended, when the Orioles called him up for the final three weeks of the season. After five years in the minor leagues, he had finally made it to the majors, working again with Earl Weaver, who had become the Orioles manager. Although Floyd played sparingly (only five games) during those three weeks, he collected his first major-league hit, a double off Cleveland’s Sam McDowell, and run batted in, and fielded cleanly every ball that was hit to him at shortstop. The season ended, he went home to prepare for spring training, hopeful for the coming season.

Fresh from a second-place finish in the American League, the Orioles had few needs on their roster in 1969. They were well stocked at virtually every position. The team acquired veteran infielder Chico Salmon on the eve of the season, and he and Floyd both made the club and shared reserve duties. Floyd’s greatest baseball thrill, he later said, was being a member of the 1969 American League champion Baltimore Orioles. Although he rarely played that season, he spent the entire year in the major leagues and was on the Orioles roster in the World Series against the New York Mets. “I knew I wasn’t going to play (against the Mets) unless Earl Weaver needed a pinch-runner,”ix Floyd said, and indeed he did not play in the Series. Still, he played 39 regular-season games at second base, third base, and shortstop, and earned a full World Series share of $14, 904.21.

In the majors Floyd was unable to duplicate the batting progress he’d made the previous year at Rochester. In 84 at bats, he batted just .202, slugged an anemic .250, struck out 17 times, and grounded into four double plays. His one RBI proved an important one: On July 16 against Cleveland, Floyd’s RBI on a sacrifice fly tied the game and the Orioles went on to win, 6-5. It was a rare offensive highlight in a largely ineffective offensive performance.

During the off-season, Floyd worked hard to stay in shape. The Orioles formed a basketball team that played high-school faculties. Floyd participated on the team, along with Paul Blair, Brooks Robinson, Eddie Watt, Pete Richert, Dick Hall, Jim Palmer, and Dave McNally. In January he participated in twice-a-week workouts led by Orioles coach Billy Hunter at the Baltimore YMCA. Despite the preparation, the 1969 season proved to be Floyd’s only full year with the Orioles.

When the Orioles acquired Chico Salmon in 1969, they expected to use him as a frequent pinch hitter for Mark Belanger, a notoriously weak hitter. Weaver said in the spring that “if there are two spots open in the infield, one will be a glove and the other a bat”x; Floyd would be the glove, and Salmon, a lifetime .249 hitter, the bat. As it turned out, Belanger hit .287 in 1969 and the Orioles felt comfortable keeping just one backup infielder in 1970. Unfortunately for Floyd, Salmon won the position, and on the last day of spring training Floyd was sent to Rochester.

Naturally disappointed, Floyd dutifully reported to the Red Wings, joining a team managed by Cal Ripken, Sr. and featuring future stars Bob Grich and Don Baylor. The team got off to a great start, opening the International League season with a 9-1 record after reeling off eight wins in a row. In one of those victories, on April 27 over Louisville, the Red Wings’ Roger Freed was on third base in the sixth inning when Floyd executed a perfect suicide squeeze bunt down the third base line, scoring Freed and igniting a five-run rally, in an eventual 9-2 Rochester win. Two days later, again versus Louisville, Floyd hit his first home run of the season, although Rochester lost, 8-6. After 35 games Floyd was batting .290 and enjoying a fine season. On May 31 Orioles’ center fielder Paul Blair was hit in the face by a pitch, and was placed on the injured list. Floyd was recalled to take his spot on the roster.

This opportunity proved very brief, just three games, with three plate appearances resulting in two strikeouts and a sacrifice bunt. On June 15, at the trading deadline, the Orioles traded Floyd to the Kansas City Royals for pitcher Moe Drabowsky. After nearly seven years in the Baltimore organization, the 26-year-old Floyd was going to a second-year expansion club. “I felt like it was a good break’” he recalled. “I was finally going to get an opportunity to play. I knew I was never going to be a starter in Baltimore.”xi

Royals General Manager Cedric Tallis said the infielder would be a good addition to the club. “Floyd has a chance to help out our club substantially at short or second base,” he said. “We felt the opportunity to obtain an infielder who could help us for a long time was something we couldn’t afford to pass up.”xii Manager Bob Lemon immediately installed Floyd at shortstop. “We want to find out what Floyd can do,” Lemon said. “It would be kind of stupid to make a trade for him and then sit him on the bench.”xiii But after four starts and 10 hitless at bats, Floyd was sent to Triple-A Omaha. Among the starts was one against Bert Blyleven of the Minnesota Twins, Many years later Floyd recalled that Blyleven was the toughest pitcher he faced in the major leagues. “People always talk about his curveball,” Floyd said, “but, man, he threw hard.”xiv So too, he said, did Andy Messersmith, whose pitches Floyd characterized as simply “nasty.”

Floyd joined Omaha on July 2, and The Sporting News reported, immediately “solved a defensive problem at a position (shortstop) where three players had been given extended trials.”xv He also contributed with the bat, posting a .292 average in 62 games as Omaha captured its second straight American Association championship. Floyd returned to the Royals in September and hit well, finishing the 1970 season with a .311 average in 17 games for the Orioles and Royals.

At the winter meetings in December 1970, the Royals obtained Fred Patek from Pittsburgh to be their everyday shortstop. After a poor spring, Floyd began the 1971 season in Omaha and also changed positions, moving to second base. He adapted well to the change, particularly the throw to his right, about which he told sportswriters, “I’m working on it every day.”xvi He put together an eight-game early-season hitting streak. On June 28, the Royals recalled Floyd to replace Patek, who had been injured. This time Floyd struggled at bat, hitting just .152 in 31 games.

Things didn’t improve much in 1972. Despite a poor spring, Patek’s spring illness made Floyd the club’s starting shortstop on Opening Day. Remaining with the club for only a month, he again failed to hit much and was back in Omaha in May. Floyd hit well there, .300 in 55 games, and was soon back in Kansas City, recalled in July to replace injured third baseman Paul Schaal. But again he failed to hit (just .179 for the season).

Floyd enjoyed his best extended major-league stay in 1973. A member of the Royals the entire season, he hit .333 in 78 at-bats as a backup infielder. In 1974 promising 20-year-old infielder Frank White made the team, effectively ending Floyd’s chances. While he made the team in the spring, he managed just one single in nine at-bats before his demotion to Omaha. He hit .272 for the club that season, then returned to hit .234 as a player-coach in 1975. After the season, he retired as a player.

From 1977 to 1985 Floyd managed in the Seattle Mariners system. In 1986 he went to work as a minor-league manager for the New York Mets. (His 1988 Kingsport Mets won the Appalachian League championship.). Starting in 1989 he was the Mets’ minor-league field coordinator, a job he held for 12 years. He was a Mets coach in 2001 and 2004. In 2002 and 2003 he managed the Mets’ Norfolk team in the International League. As of 2010 he was still working in baseball and had no plans to end his long career in the game. After all, he’s got a lifetime of baseball experience to impart to young players.

 

Notes

i Bobby Floyd, interview with author, October 28, 2008.

ii Ibid.

iii Ibid.

iv Ibid.

v Ibid.

vi Ibid.

vii Ibid.

viii Doug Brown, “Mind Over Matter--Floyd’s Story,” The Sporting News, October 4, 1969.

ix Floyd, interview.

xDoug Brown, “Orioles Have Two Vacancies… Starting Hurler, Spare Infielder,” The Sporting News, March 1, 1969.

xi Floyd, interview.

xii Joe McGuff, “Deadline Trades for Floyd, Rojas Bolster Royal Infield,” The Sporting News, July 4, 1970.

xiii McGuff, “Deadline.”

xiv Floyd, interview.

xv Bob Williams, “Champ Royals Hoist Toast to Sandy,” The Sporting News, September 26, 1970.

xvi Unidentified clipping, from Floyd’s file at National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, NY.

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