Rance Mulliniks was a slightly built 6-foot, 160-pound left-handed-hitting infielder who played 16 major-league seasons with the California Angels, Kansas City Royals, and Toronto Blue Jays that culminated with a 1992 World Series championship for Toronto. The mustached and later glasses-wearing infielder from Central California developed into an excellent fielding third baseman who was also known for his keen batting eye, high on-base percentage, and clutch hitting.
Steven Rance Mulliniks was born on January 15, 1956, in Tulare, California, and grew up in nearby Woodville, a community of about 1,700 residents. He was one of three children of Harvey and Ganell Mulliniks. Harvey was a US Army veteran of the Korean War, serving from 1953 to 1955. He managed a finance company in Tulare for several years, and then was a real estate appraiser for the Tulare County Assessor’s Office for 26 years before retiring in 1994.1
Harvey was a fine baseball player himself. He won the Giants Baseball Player of the Year Award at Sequoia College in 1956 and pitched two years with the Modesto Reds, a New York Yankees farm team in the Class-C California League. He finished his minor-league baseball career with a record of 0-2. Harvey undoubtedly passed along his love and passion for the game to Rance.
Rance was swinging a bat from the age of 3 and started playing organized baseball at the age of 7.2 He played in the area’s Little League, Babe Ruth, and Connie Mack leagues.3 He remembered spending hours at the Little League field, where his father would throw batting practice to him, “working towards the goal of one day becoming a Major League baseball player.”4 Like many boys who grew up in California’s Central Valley, his favorite team was the San Francisco Giants. His favorite player was Willie Mays.5
While baseball was his passion, Rance developed other interests off the diamond. He enjoyed hunting, fishing, reading, and playing all sports. An all-around athlete, Mulliniks earned varsity letters in baseball, football, and basketball at Monache High School in Porterville.6 He was a standout performer in both basketball and baseball. In basketball he was a member of the East Yosemite League championship team his sophomore year. During his senior year he scored 628 points and averaged 24.2 points per game, which is believed to still be a single-season school record. He was the first boys player at Monache to score over 1,000 points and finished his high-school career with over 1,200 points. He was All-League his junior and senior years and league MVP his senior year.7
In baseball, Mulliniks was a member of two East Yosemite League championship teams and earned All-League honors in his sophomore, junior, and senior years.
Mulliniks graduated from MHS in 1974 and was a member of the inaugural class of athletes and coaches inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2017.8
Mulliniks was drafted by the California Angels in the third round of the 1974 amateur draft. He was signed by Angels scout Satoshi “Fibber” Hirayama9 for $32,500.10 Mulliniks had earned full-ride scholarships in baseball to USC, Arizona State, and University of Arizona and in basketball to Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount, and Gonzaga.11 However, he thought the signing bonus was enough that he could pursue his education later if baseball didn’t work out.
He began his professional career with Idaho Falls of the Rookie-level Pioneer League. In 66 games with the Angels, Mulliniks hit .218 with 24 RBIs and 14 stolen bases. Reflecting back on his first professional season, Mulliniks commented on how homesick he felt. “I had never been away from home and that two and-a-half months seemed like an eternity,” he said.12
Mulliniks started the 1975 season with the Quad City Angels of the low Class-A Midwest League. He was batting .269 with one home run and 21 RBIs when he was promoted to Salinas of the Class-A California League. In 59 games with the Packers, Mulliniks hit .258 with 10 RBIs.
Mulliniks continued to quickly progress through the Angels’ minor-league system and played in 1976 with the El Paso Diablos of the Double-A Texas League. It was a breakout season of sorts for the 20-year-old shortstop. Despite missing the final six weeks of the season with a fractured left thumb, Mulliniks hit .315, eighth highest in the circuit, and was named to the Texas League all-star team.
Recovered from the broken thumb that sidelined him at the end of the previous season, Mulliniks started the 1977 season with the Salt Lake City Gulls of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League and picked up where he left off. He was hitting .309 with a team-leading 11 home runs and 51 RBIs at the time of his call-up on June 14. Looking back on hearing the news that he was going to join the Angels, Mulliniks said, “Suffice to say, I didn’t get much sleep that night because I was so excited. … I remember thinking to myself, when I walked to the clubhouse for the first time and put that major league uniform on for the first time, no matter what happens from this point on I can at least always say I did play in the big leagues and that would be a childhood dream come true.”13
Mulliniks made his major-league debut on June 18, 1977, against the Milwaukee Brewers in Milwaukee’s County Stadium. He pinch-hit for second baseman Orlando Ramirez in the top of the seventh and grounded out to third. Mulliniks remained in the game and played shortstop. In the bottom of the seventh, Robin Yount, Don Money, and Sixto Lezcano all grounded out to short. In his second at-bat, Mulliniks drew a walk off rookie right-hander Sam Hinds.
His first major-league home run came on July 4 at Anaheim Stadium. With the Angels leading the Oakland Athletics 2-1 in the bottom of the fourth, Mulliniks came to the plate with one on and no outs. Facing A’s right-hander Rick Langford, Mulliniks homered to deep right field, scoring Dave Chalk ahead of him. The Angels went on to win the game, 4-2.
Mulliniks finished his rookie year with every reason to feel optimistic about the future. Serving as the Angels’ regular shortstop for the second half of the season, he played in 78 games and hit .269 with 3 home runs and 21 RBIs.
Hampered by a bad back and a slow start at the plate, Mulliniks split time between the Angels and Triple A in 1978. He hit just .185 in 50 games with the Angels. In 34 games at Salt Lake City, he hit .307 with 3 home runs and 21 RBIs.
He started 1979 with the Angels, but once again struggled at the plate and was optioned to Salt Lake City. He was hitting just .148 when he was sent down. He played the balance of the Triple-A season with the Gulls, attempting to play himself back to where he was prior to the back injury. In 116 games with the Gulls, he hit .343 with 3 home runs, 59 RBIs, 21 stolen bases, and a .924 OPS. He was named to the Pacific Coast League and National Association Triple-A all-star teams.
He received a September call-up to the Angels but played in only three more games, going 1-for-7 to finish the season with a .147 average. Although he was only 23 years old, it was clear that the Angels questioned whether he would be able to hit at the major-league level.
On December 6, 1979, Mulliniks was traded, along with Willie Aikens, to the Kansas City Royals for Al Cowens, Todd Cruz, and Craig Eaton. He was excited about the opportunity to join the Royals, a veteran team coming off a second-place finish in the AL West after winning three consecutive Western Division titles from 1976 to ’78. However, with Frank White at second base and U L Washington at shortstop, Mulliniks was limited to a middle-infield utilityman role with the Royals.
Mulliniks played in only 36 games for the 1980 American League champion Royals. In 62 plate appearances, he hit .259 with 6 RBIs. He was left off the American League Championship Series and World Series rosters.
The strike-shortened 1981 season brought even less playing time for Mulliniks. In 24 games he hit .227 with 5 RBIs. Again he was left off the playoff roster when the Royals met the Oakland Athletics in the divisional round of the playoffs.
While he didn’t play enough to develop as a player, Mulliniks said, he learned a lot about baseball during his time with the Royals. Hal McRae, the Royals’ DH, had a lasting impact on the young Mulliniks. “I learned a lot about how to play from Hal McRae,” he said.14
In the spring of 1982, it was clear to Mulliniks that he wouldn’t have a chance to consistently play in Kansas City in a way to “have a chance to have a career at the major-league level.”15 Accordingly, he let the Royals know that he would be open to a trade if there was any way to move him.
On March 25 Mulliniks was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for Phil Huffman. The right-handed Huffman, who lost 18 games for the Blue Jays in 1979, pitched at the Double-A and Triple-A level in the Royals farm system before being released a year later. Mulliniks, on the other hand, was about to embark on an 11-year career with the Blue Jays that culminated in a World Series title and being named to the all-time Blue Jays team in 2001.
Mulliniks joined a Blue Jays team that was in transition from the lowly club that occupied the AL East cellar to a team with a nucleus that was poised to begin contending. It was also a year of transition for Mulliniks. The Blue Jays didn’t have an obvious choice to play third base, so manager Bobby Cox took the left-handed-hitting Mulliniks and right-handed-hitting backup second baseman Garth Iorg and turned them into a long-term, cost-effective platoon at third base.16 In 112 games, Mulliniks hit .244 with 4 home runs and 35 RBIs.
The chance to play consistently sat well with Mulliniks. By 1983 he was seeing more time at third base and was a reliable left-handed bat off the bench. He played in a career-high 129 games (equaled in 1985), hit 10 home runs and drove in 49 runs while hitting .275. He also hit a team-leading 34 doubles, finished second among AL third basemen in fielding percentage (.971), collected 10 pinch hits and led all AL pinch-hitters in slugging percentage (.652) and on-base percentage (.591).
Mulliniks continued to improve at the plate in 1984. In 125 games, he hit a career-high .324 with 3 home runs and 42 RBIs. He was particularly hot in the month of July, hitting .426. He cooled off very little in August, hitting .367, and collected eight consecutive hits and reached base safely 10 times in a row in a four-game series against the Minnesota Twins in late August. He led all AL third basemen with a .968 fielding percentage.
There was a great deal of optimism surrounding the Blue Jays as they entered the 1985 season. After winning 89 games and finishing in second place the year before, the team was poised to contend for the AL East title. Once again, Mulliniks was a steady presence at third base and proved to be a clutch performer off the bench. On April 14 he had the only four-hit game of his career, against the Baltimore Orioles at Memorial Stadium. On June 12, pinch-hitting for Iorg, he led off the top of the 10th inning with a tiebreaking home run off the Yankees’ Rich Bordi at Yankee Stadium. Although it was only June, the home run played a significant role in the AL East pennant race. When the season was finished, the Blue Jays were 99-62, two games ahead of the second-place Yankees. Mulliniks finished the year hitting .295 with 10 home runs and a career-high 57 RBIs while leading all AL third basemen with a .971 fielding percentage.
As a testament to his off-the-field contributions and calming presence in the clubhouse, Mulliniks was the winner of the 1985 “Good Guy” Award given by Toronto’s chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America. He is credited with having mentored John Olerud and Jeff Kent as they came up through the Blue Jays system.
Mulliniks performed well in the 1985 American League Championship Series. He went 4-for-11 with a Game Three home run off Bret Saberhagen and two RBIs. Mulliniks pointed to Game Three as the one game the Blue Jays should have won and the game that ultimately came back to haunt them. Leading the series two games to none, the Jays scored five runs in the top of the fifth, fueled by Mulliniks’ two-run homer, to take a 5-2 lead. The team appeared to be in a position to take a three-game lead in the series but the Blue Jays failed to hold the lead and, despite going up three games to one, lost the series. Had the Blue Jays won the series, Mulliniks certainly would have been in the conversation for the Championship Series MVP.
The 1986 season was the last for the Mulliniks-Iorg platoon. Mulliniks had an off year by the previous season’s standards, partially due to a compressed nerve in his lower back that landed him on the disabled list for much of August. For the third consecutive year, he led AL third basemen in fielding percentage (.975). While his batting average dipped to .259, he hit 11 home runs (a career high to that point).
Not known for his power, Mulliniks had three multiple-home-run games in his career. The first was on July 3, 1986. In an 8-5 Jays victory over the Red Sox at Fenway Park, he hit a two-run homer to right field off Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd in the fifth and added a solo shot off Mike Brown in the seventh. He finished the game 3-for-4 with 4 RBIs.
He repeated the feat twice in 1987. On June 24 he took Tigers ace Jack Morris deep twice at Tiger Stadium to lead the Jays over Detroit, 5-3. On September 14 he hit home runs off left-hander Eric Bell and right-hander Ken Dixon in the Blue Jays’ 18-3 drubbing of the Baltimore Orioles at Exhibition Stadium. The game was notable on three fronts: The Blue Jays hit 10 home runs off Orioles pitchers, Jays catcher Ernie Whitt hit three home runs, and Orioles manager Cal Ripken Sr. replaced Cal Ripken Jr. at shortstop in the eighth inning, ending Junior’s streak of consecutive innings played at 8,264.17
Mulliniks had a bounce-back year in 1987. He started the season as the team’s designated hitter against right-handed pitchers. However, he found increasingly more playing time at third as Kelly Gruber went through the growing pains of becoming an everyday major-league third baseman. Mulliniks hit .310, in part due to a two-month stretch at the end of the season in which he hit .352 (51-for-145). He also matched his 11 home runs from the year before and drove in 44 runs during the first year he wore eyeglasses.18
The end of the 1987 season was the most heartbreaking in Mulliniks’s baseball career. The Blue Jays were leading the AL East by 3½ games with just seven to play. The Jays ended the season with seven consecutive losses and finished second, two games behind the Tigers. “That was definitely a season that we should have gone to the postseason. We had a great club,” Mulliniks lamented.19
In 1988 Gruber took over the third-base job full time, and Mulliniks platooned as DH with Cecil Fielder. Being the left-handed hitter in the platoon meant Mulliniks had the majority of the at-bats. He had perhaps the best offensive season of his career, hitting .300 and setting career highs with 12 homers and an OPS+ of 143.20 He drove in 48 runs. However, the Blue Jays failed to recover from the late-season collapse of a year earlier and finished tied for third in a tightly contested AL East pennant race.21
Mulliniks saw his offensive production drop off in 1989 as the Blue Jays returned to the top of the AL East. Now 33 years old, Mulliniks finished the year with a .238 average, 3 home runs, and 29 RBIs. The personal highlight of his season came on May 2 when he hit his only career grand slam, off Oakland’s Bob Welch in the bottom of the first at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto.
The Blue Jays faced the Oakland A’s in the 1989 ALCS. Mulliniks made only one appearance in the series, a Game Four ninth-inning pinch-hitting assignment. He was struck out by A’s closer Dennis Eckersley. Looking back on the A’s five-game series victory, Mulliniks said, “That year I thought the Oakland A’s were the best team in baseball. … We lost to a better team that year.”22
In 1990 his role on the team changed again. He became a pinch-hitter. Mulliniks went 8-for-22 (.364) with 7 RBIs as the team’s left-handed bat off the bench. In 120 plate appearances over 57 games, Mulliniks hit .289 with 2 home runs and 16 RBIs.
In 1991 Mulliniks was back in the DH platoon role, this time with Pat Tabler. In 97 games he batted .250 with 2 home runs and 24 RBIs to help the Blue Jays win their third AL East Division title since 1985.
The Blue Jays faced the Minnesota Twins in the 1991 ALCS. Mulliniks played in all five games, going 1-for-8 with three walks. Once again, the Blue Jays came up short as the Twins won the series four games to one.
Early in spring training of 1992, Mulliniks had made the decision that it would be his last year. Struggling with the same back problem he had in 1978, he spent nearly the entire season on the disabled list. He had an eight-game rehabilitation stint with the Knoxville Blue Jays of the Double-A Southern League. Rejoining the Blue Jays in September, he made three pinch-hitting appearances, going 1-for-2. He was left off the roster for the ALCS but was added to the Jays’ 25-man World Series roster. He did not play in the World Series, but in looking back, Mulliniks stated, “When I reflect back I think about how fortunate I was to have been a member of a world championship team.”23
The end of the World Series brought an end to Mulliniks’s 16-year playing career. He compiled a .272 batting average over 3,569 at-bats in 1,325 games, with 445 runs, 972 hits, 226 doubles, 17 triples, 73 home runs, 435 RBIs, and 460 walks. However, one needs to go beyond the numbers to truly appreciate Mulliniks’s career. He was a member of five division-winning teams, two American League champions, and one World Series champion. He was also a clutch performer, holding the Blue Jays’ record for career pinch hits (58) and a .287 career batting average with runners in scoring position.
After retiring as a player, Mulliniks has stayed active in the game. He coached at the professional level with the South Bend Silver Hawks (1996), Birmingham Barons (1997), and as a hitting instructor with the San Francisco Giants and Chicago White Sox. He later worked in the Canadian Broadcast Corporation’s broadcast booth doing color commentary for the Blue Jays from 2006 to 2010. He opened the Mulliniks Baseball School in Visalia, California, and he participates in baseball camps run by the Blue Jays. Like his father, he has also had a career in the real estate industry. Mulliniks is a licensed real estate agent for Century 21 in Visalia.
Mulliniks has been married twice. He shares five children with his current spouse, Lori. The couple are also proud grandparents.
Sources and Acknowledgment
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also relied on Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org.
A special acknowledgment goes to SABR member Mal Allen, who provided valuable research materials.
1 Obituaries: Harvey Mulliniks. Retrieved from http://www.recorderonline.com/obituaries/article_eb05c02f-e4b2-5a77-88de-c40f51a6d160.html?msclkid=dc2bce6dafb311ecbd4496a06939a552.
2 Monache High School: 2017 Hall of Fame. Retrieved from onache.portervilleschools.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=283895&type=d&pREC_ID=1318231.
3 Player questionnaire completed for William J. Weiss, August 20, 1974. SABR, San Diego, California; U.S. Baseball Questionnaires, 1945-2005; Box Number: 555697.
4 “Clubhouse Conversation: Rance Mulliniks.” Retrieved from clubhouseconversation.com/2015/11/rance-mulliniks/.
5 “Clubhouse Conversation: Rance Mulliniks.”
6 Weiss questionnaire.
7 “MHS graduate Mulliniks Became a World Series Champion,” Porterville (California) Reporter, March 10, 2017. Retrieved from http://www.recorderonline.com/sports/mhs-graduate-mulliniks-became-a-world-series-champion/article_5d272d06-0555-11e7-8a3a-cf231e06087b.html?msclkid=78355d9cb0b011ec9551fc992f7ee94e.
8 “MHS Graduate Mulliniks Became a World Series Champion.”
9 Hiroyama is considered the best pound-for-pound wrestler in Fresno State history. After graduation he played one season with the Stockton Ports of the California League and later embarked on a 10-year baseball career in Japan for the Hiroshima Carp before returning to work as a school administrator in California’s Central Valley.
10 Weiss questionnaire.
11 “MHS Graduate Mulliniks became a World Series Champion.”
12 “Clubhouse Conversation: Rance Mulliniks.”
13 “Clubhouse Conversation: Rance Mulliniks.”
14 “Clubhouse Conversation: Rance Mulliniks.”
15 “Clubhouse Conversation: Rance Mulliniks.”
16 Tom Dakers, “Top 60 All-Time Blue Jays: #28 Rance Mulliniks,” bluebirdbanter.com, February 25, 2021. Retrieved from http://www.bluebirdbanter.com/2021/2/25/22300397/top-60-all-time-blue-jays-29-rance-mulliniks?msclkid=62548866b0fd11ec961c4c3109e741b5.
17 Trent McCotter, “Ripken’s Record for Consecutive Innings Played,” Baseball Research Journal (SABR), Fall 2012, Volume 41 (2): 7-9.
18 Toronto Blue Jays Official Guide 1992, 96.
19 “Clubhouse Conversation: Rance Mulliniks.”
20 Tom Dakers.
21 Five teams finished within 3½ games of each other, and the Red Sox won the division by one game over the Detroit Tigers.
22 “Clubhouse Conversation: Rance Mulliniks.”
23 “Clubhouse Conversation: Rance Mulliniks.”