During a late season call-up in 1986, Kevin Seitzer burst upon the American League looking like the next Kansas City Royals star, the heir-apparent to future Hall of Famer George Brett at third. He arrived with his trademark hunched-over batting stance that produced sensational batting averages in the minor leagues and a brash attitude that shaped his aggressive approach at the plate. A pure hitter who had the ability to spray the ball to all fields and draw walks, Seitzer never fulfilled the promise of super-stardom his first few seasons in the big leagues suggested might have been in the offing.
A wizard with the bat during his early years with the Royals, he was average or below-average in many other aspects of the game — modest power, slow-footed, and a defensive liability.1 Known for a prickly personality, fiery temper, and demeanor that came off as abrasive in the clubhouse, Seitzer at times found himself at odds with teammates and managers alike.
Kevin Lee Seitzer was born in Springfield, Illinois, on March 26, 1962. He was the oldest child of three born to Clifford and Carolyn Seitzer. Cliff, a jack of all trades, worked as a millwright for the Caterpillar Company in East Peoria, Illinois, for 40 years. Carolyn was a secretary at the Logan County Soil and Water Conservation District in nearby Lincoln.2
Kevin grew up in Middletown, Illinois, a village in Logan County in the central part of the state with a population of about 500. He attended New Holland-Middletown elementary, middle, and high schools and grew up playing sports of all kinds on the Middletown playgrounds. He moved up the ranks of Junior League, Little League, and Pony League and was often coached by his father, Cliff, whom Seitzer called his “best coach.”3 At New Holland-Middletown High School, Kevin starred on the baseball diamond and basketball court. According to Seitzer, basketball was his first love.4 On the hardwood he averaged 20 points per game and shot 52 percent from the field.5
Seitzer began drawing the attention of college coaches during his sophomore year when he set four records as a member of the Lincoln American Legion baseball team. He said his American Legion experience was critical in his development and that without taking a step-by-step approach, he might not have achieved the success he did. In Legion ball, “I got to play much better competition than I did in high school,” Seitzer said. “What was important about Legion baseball is until you play at that high level, you really aren’t going to develop.”6
After his junior year, the Seitzer family moved to Lincoln, Illinois, a city 30 miles northeast of Springfield. The city was named for and by Abraham Lincoln before he became president.7 In addition to Seitzer, the town of fewer than 15,000 inhabitants produced major leaguers Dick Reichle, Bill Sampen, Emil Verban, and Dennis Werth. Seitzer attended Lincoln Community High School during his senior year and was an All-Conference and All-State pitcher. He was the sixth man on the school’s basketball team that finished in fourth place in the 1980 Class-AA Illinois High School Association basketball tournament. An all-around athlete, he ran track as well.
Seitzer drew some college interest as both a baseball and basketball player, but was not a deemed a blue-chip recruit. He was recruited by Hawaii, Illinois State, and Eastern Illinois University. Seitzer accepted a partial scholarship offer from EIU. “I liked the campus because it’s small and easy to get around,” he said. “And Coach (Tom) McDevitt treated me very well when I was down there visiting.”8
Seitzer enjoyed a standout baseball career at EIU. A member of the Panthers’ 1981 NCAA Division II runner-up team, he is the school’s only baseball player to bat over .400 for three consecutive years (1981-83). He left EIU with a career batting average of .418 and as of 2018 ranked in the top five in career hits, doubles, triples, runs scored, and RBIs.9 Seitzer was elected to the EIU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1992 and his number-2 jersey was retired by the Panthers in 2012.10 Seitzer earned a degree in Industrial Electronics in 1985.
Seitzer credited Panthers coach McDevitt for making him a complete player and transforming his game. “He pretty much taught me how to hit to the opposite field,” said Seitzer. “I was a straight pull hitter. And he was annually detailed about how to play the game the right way. We worked on cutoffs, relays, bunt defenses, first-and-third situations. But he would take it to the nth degree.”11
Seitzer decided to forgo his final season of eligibility at EIU. In June of 1983 he was selected by the Royals in the 11th round of the free-agent draft and was assigned to the Butte (Montana) Copper Kings of the rookie Pioneer League. Seitzer immediately showed what kind of player he could be, hitting .345. His performance earned him a promotion for the 1984 season. In 141 games with the Charleston Royals of the Class-A Sally League, Seitzer batted .297, the only minor-league season he failed to hit .300, with 8 home runs and 79 RBIs. He also demonstrated patience at the plate, compiling a team-leading 118 walks.
Seitzer started the 1985 season with the Fort Myers Royals of the Class-A Florida State League. In 90 games he hit .314 and drew a team-leading 85 walks before being promoted to the Memphis Chicks of the Double-A Southern League. He had no difficulty hitting Double-A pitching and finished with a .348 average. He started the 1986 season in Memphis before being promoted to the Omaha Royals of the Triple-A American Association. In 129 games with the Royals’ top farm club he hit .319 with a team-leading 13 home runs and 74 RBIs. The effort earned him a call-up to the Royals when Omaha’s season ended.
Seitzer made his major-league debut on September 3, 1986, against the Chicago White Sox at Royals Stadium. He started the game in left field before moving to third base in the top of the 10th inning. With the Royals trailing the White Sox 1-0, he collected his first major-league hit with a leadoff single off right-hander Joe Cowley in the top of the ninth inning. He scored the game’s tying run when Steve Balboni doubled to center field. Seitzer capped off his 2-for-5 major-league debut with a 10th-inning walk-off single that scored Willie Wilson to give the Royals a 2-1 victory.
Looking back on his first day in the majors, Seitzer remembered how he was given a locker next to Royals closer Dan Quisenberry: “I was scared to death. I had never been on the 40-man roster before, so I wasn’t in big-league camp in spring training, and I didn’t really know anybody. I was petrified, but if it wasn’t for Quiz, I don’t know if I would have been able to do what I did. He talked to me and calmed me down.”12
Two and a half weeks later, on September 21, Seitzer belted his first major-league home run, off Seattle Mariners right-hander Mike Brown. The two-run shot to left center in the top of the eighth inning came in the Royals’ 8-1 shellacking of the Mariners in the Kingdome. In his 28 games with the Royals in 1986, Seitzer finished with a .323 batting average, 2 home runs, and 11 RBIs.
In 1987 the right-handed-hitting Seitzer picked up right where he left off the previous year. Breaking camp as the Royals’ starting first baseman, Seitzer got off to a fast start, collecting nine hits in the team’s first four games and finishing April with a .382 batting average. In mid-May he and Brett swapped positions in an effort to keep the aging star’s bat in the lineup. The defensive move had little impact on Seitzer at the plate. His average remained over .300 for the entire season except for one day in June when it dipped to .299. He ended the first half of the season at .305 and earned a trip to the All-Star Game in Oakland.
Seitzer replaced Wade Boggs at third in the sixth inning of the midsummer classic. Facing right-hander Rick Reuschel and leading off the bottom of the eighth inning, he hit a pop fly to shallow center that was caught by Phillies second baseman Juan Samuel. His second plate appearance, in the bottom of the 10th, resulted in a long fly ball to center field off of right-hander Lee Smith. After the American League All-Stars fell behind by two runs in the top of the 13th, Seitzer was walked by Mets left-hander Sid Fernandez to lead off the bottom of the inning. With two outs Dave Winfield grounded to third, forcing Seitzer at second to end the game, a 2-0 National League victory.
Seitzer’s performance after the All-Star Game was even more impressive. He batted.343 with 11 home runs and 45 RBIs. On August 2 he was 6-for-6 (including two home runs and seven RBIs) in a 13-5 victory over the Boston Red Sox at Royals Stadium. He wrapped up the year with a season-high 12-game hitting streak. Defensively, he was raw and led AL third basemen with 22 errors.
Although he finished the season with a .323 average and compiled a league-leading 207 hits, the Royals third baseman was overshadowed by another Royals rookie, left fielder Bo Jackson. However, it was Seitzer who finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year balloting to the Oakland Athletics’ Mark McGwire, who belted a league-leading 49 home runs. On the surface, it appeared that things couldn’t have been going better for the Royals rookie. However, things are not always as they appear.
While he enjoyed a career year in 1987, Seitzer struggled off the field. He became so despondent during his first full year with the Royals that he contemplated suicide. “I never loaded a gun and put it to my head, but there were times I thought I’d be better off dead than to continue like this,” he said. “The only time I was happy was when I was on the baseball field, between the lines, in war. As soon as it was over, I started to drink.”13
While his emotional struggles and drinking problem may not have been evident in his play, it certainly affected his marriage to his first wife, Lisa Seitzer. “I never hit my wife, but I’d have her up against the wall, drawing back on her,” Seitzer said. “She was petrified. I’d back her into a corner, raging, like I was going to kill her.”14 On the field, all appeared well. Seitzer enjoyed another fine season at the plate in 1988. In 149 games the Royals third baseman hit .304 with 5 home runs and 60 RBIs. Defensively, he continued to struggle and made a league-leading 26 errors at third.
By the end of the 1988 season, separation from Lisa appeared inevitable.15 However, during the offseason the Seitzers attended the Pro Athletes Outreach Conference in Orlando, Florida. Seitzer wasn’t aware it was a Christian gathering but when he learned the true purpose of the conference, his interest was piqued. Seitzer would find relief at the conference and on November 2, 1988, he became a born-again Christian, a turn of fate that possibly saved his life.16
Seitzer played in a team-high 160 games for the Royals in 1989. While his offensive production dropped (he hit .281 with 4 home runs and 48 RBIs), he did draw 102 walks and finished with a .387 on-base percentage. He also improved defensively and cut his errors at third base down to 20. While he was far from winning a Gold Glove Award, he did improve his fielding percentage to a respectable .950, which was slightly higher than the .943 fielding percentage for all AL third baseman that season.
After three full seasons in the majors, Seitzer was now arbitration-eligible. On January 26, 1990, he and the Royals avoided arbitration and agreed to a one-year contract worth $1,001,250, a significant increase over the $340,000 he earned the previous season.17 Seitzer led the Royals in 1990 with 158 games played, 622 at-bats, 91 runs scored, and 67 walks while batting .275 with 6 home runs and 38 RBIs. Notably, his OBP dipped to .346.
Seitzer was again arbitration-eligible after the 1990 season. Contract talks turned a bit contentious when he sought a raise to $1.8 million while the Royals countered with $1.25 million. The two sides again avoided arbitration and settled on a two-year contract worth $1.625 million per year.18
Seitzer struggled mightily to begin the 1991 season. He was hitting an anemic .182 on April 26, when he broke a hamate bone in his hand after being plunked by a pitch by Red Sox right-hander Greg Harris. The injury caused Seitzer to miss 30 games. When he returned on May 31, he continued to struggle at the plate. It wasn’t until June 17 that he raised his average above .200 for the remainder of the season.
To start the second half of the season, new Royals manager Hal McRae decided to shake things up, benching Seitzer, shortstop Kurt Stillwell, and first baseman Jim Eisenreich in favor of reserves Bill Pecota, David Howard, and Warren Cromartie. McRae wanted to emphasize defense, and Seitzer’s erratic arm was no fit, particularly when he was no longer hitting as he did in 1986 through 1988. Referring specifically to the benching of Seitzer and Stillwell, McRae said the moves were made to “basically see if he can catch the ball.”19 The move did not sit well with Seitzer, who testily responded by saying, “All I can do is play as hard as I can. I’ll never be Brooks Robinson.”20 For the remainder of the season, Seitzer was relegated to spot appearances at third and pinch-hitting. He played in only 85 games and finished the year with a (then) career-low .265 average, with one home run and 25 RBIs.
At the end of his disappointing season, Seitzer revealed he was having knee problems and on October 1 had arthroscopic surgery on both knees to address the thickening of the joint lining under each kneecap. “What’s hard on me was that I was supposedly benched because my range and speed were no good,” he said. “I couldn’t say anything because I didn’t want teams to know about it and bunting on me, and there was a possibility that I could be traded. Now I’m happy I wasn’t traded because I couldn’t have played for anybody anyway.”21
During the offseason the Royals made a blockbuster five-player trade with the New York Mets, shipping ace pitcher Bret Saberhagen and Pecota to the Mets for third baseman Gregg Jefferies, outfielder Kevin McReynolds, and utilityman Keith Miller. It was clear that Seitzer was no longer in the Royals’ future plans.
Seitzer’s offensive decline was puzzling. He did not attribute it to injury. “Mentally, emotionally, I put a lot of pressure on myself,” Seitzer said. “And when my goals and expectations weren’t met, you start trying harder, pressing more.”22
On March 26, 1992, Seitzer’s 30th birthday, he was released by the Royals. The club decided that $1.625 million was too much to pay a utility infielder, and by releasing him before the start of the season they were obligated only to give him $401,785 in termination pay.23 After clearing waivers, Seitzer signed a one-year contract for the major-league minimum salary of $109,000 with the Milwaukee Brewers, who were looking for a third baseman to fill the void created by the trade of Gary Sheffield to San Diego Padres.24
In 148 games with the Brewers, Seitzer hit .270 with 5 home runs and 71 RBIs, his highest RBI total since his rookie year in 1987. Defensively, he had his best season ever at third base. In 146 games at the hot corner, Seitzer made only 12 errors and had a fielding percentage of .969. It was a solid bounce-back season for a guy less than a year removed from double knee surgery. At the end of the year, he opted for free agency.
On February 1, 1993, Seitzer agreed to a nonguaranteed one-year contract for with the Oakland A’s for the major-league minimum $109,000. The contract called for called Seitzer to be paid $600,000 if he made the Opening Day roster. In essence, Seitzer was betting on himself. He won the bet, starting the season as the A’s everyday third baseman. But a May slump relegated him to a utility role. He was hitting .255 with 4 home runs and 27 RBIs when he the A’s designated him for assignment on July 16. When he refused to go to the minors, the A’s released him. It was the second time in 16 months that Seitzer had been released.
A standout pitcher in high school, Seitzer made his only major-league pitching appearance on May 2, 1993. With the Athletics trailing the Indians 10-2, Seitzer came in from third base to pitch to Carlos Martinez in the bottom of the eighth inning. The right-handed-throwing third baseman ended the inning when the Indians’ designated hitter was caught looking at strike three.
Three days after he was released by the Athletics, Seitzer re-signed with the Brewers and began resurrecting his career. He returned in a utility and pinch-hitting role, but by late August he was once again the team’s everyday third baseman. In 47 games with the Brewers, he batted .290 with 7 home runs and 30 RBIs.
During the offseason, Seitzer and the Brewers agreed to a two-year, $1.3 million contract. Primarily playing third base to start the 1994 season, Seitzer got off to a hot start. He was batting .324 with 3 home runs and 17 RBIs when a torn left hamstring landed him on the disabled list. After missing five weeks, he returned to hit safely in his first 13 games back. He was enjoying his best season since his rookie year, hitting .314 with 5 home runs and 49 RBIs when the season abruptly ended after the players struck.
In 1995 Seitzer proved that his resurgence at the plate was not a fluke. The right-handed-hitting corner infielder was hitting .345 as the month of June closed and earned a second trip to the All-Star Game. Just as he had in 1987, he replaced Boggs at third. Pinch-hitting for Boggs in the bottom of the seventh inning, Seitzer was retired on a fly ball to right by Expos rookie left-hander Carlos Perez. Chicago Cubs closer Randy Myers retired Seitzer on a groundball to second in his only other plate appearance of the game. Having been released twice, Seitzer took amazing pride in making it back to the All-Star Game.
Seitzer continued to swing a consistent bat for the remainder of the 1995 season. He finished the year with a .311 average, 5 home runs and 69 RBIs. For his efforts he was rewarded with a $1 million contract with a player option of $1.2 million for the 1996 season. The pact turned out to be a good investment for the team. In 132 games with the Brewers in 1996, Seitzer hit .316 with 12 home runs, 62 RBIs, and a .406 OBP. However, the Brewers were going nowhere in the AL Central and needed to begin thinking about the future.
On August 31, 1996, the Brewers traded Seitzer to the Cleveland Indians for outfielder Jeromy Burnitz. Seitzer, who was resigned to the fact that he would retire without playing in the postseason, was excited to have the opportunity to the join the AL East-leading Indians. Used primarily as a designated hitter and spot starter at first base to spell Jim Thome, a rejuvenated Seitzer responded by hitting .386 in 22 games for the Tribe. He started all four games of the ALDS against the Baltimore Orioles (three as a designated hitter and one at first base). He hit .294 with four RBIs as the Indians dropped the series, three games to one.
Having finally had a taste of postseason play and coming up short of his goal of winning the World Series, Seitzer returned to the Indians in 1997 as a part-time designated hitter, corner infielder, and pinch-hitter. In 64 games he hit .268 with 2 home runs and 24 RBIs as the Indians won the AL Central Division title with an 86-75 record. Seitzer and his teammates would get one more chance to capture a World Series title.
The Indians beat the New York Yankees three games to two in the ALDS. (Seitzer started and played first base in the Indians’ 6-1 Game Three loss, going 0-for-4 against Yankees left-hander David Wells.) The Indians advanced to the ALCS and faced the Baltimore Orioles. Seitzer got into four games during the Series. He was the starting first baseman in Game Two and had pinch-hitting appearances in games Three, Four, and Five. He went 0-for-4 with a walk and a sacrifice in six plate appearances as the Indians beat the Orioles, four games to two. The Indians winning the pennant was one of Seitzer’s best memories in baseball. “That was probably my greatest moment,” he said in 2018. “I had worked my whole career to go the World Series.”25
The Indians met the Florida Marlins in the World Series. Seitzer finally realized his goal to play in the World Series when he pinch-hit for pitcher Paul Assenmacher in the top of the ninth inning of Game Six. With runners on first and third with two down and the Indians leading 4-1, Seitzer grounded out to Marlins third baseman Bobby Bonilla to end the inning. It was Seitzer’s only appearance in the Series, which the Indians lost in seven games. Reflecting on coming so close to winning a World Series ring, Seitzer said, “You know the satisfaction of being able to say you’ve been there and went seven games. That was pretty cool.”26
After the World Series, Seitzer retired. He finished his 12-year major-league career with a .295 batting average, 74 home runs, and 613 RBIs. While his career numbers may pale in comparison to what was expected after his rookie season of 1987, Seitzer earned the reputation of being one of the best situational hitters in baseball. His ability to make consistent contact and the patience he demonstrated at the plate prepared him well for a second major-league career as a hitting coach.
Seitzer was a hitting coach for a number of major-league teams. In October of 2006 he was named hitting coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Halfway into his first season, he was fired and replaced by Rich Schu. In 2009 he returned to Kansas City and was the Royals’ hitting coach for four seasons. In 2014 Seitzer was the hitting coach for the Toronto Blue Jays. He was hired as the Atlanta Braves hitting coach after the season.
Under Seitzer’s guidance, the Braves’ team batting average improved in each of his first three seasons. In 2018, the club batted .257, second highest in the National League. Preferring to remain humble and unwilling to take credit for any players’ successes, Seitzer pointed to his success and struggles as a player as great preparation for his current role. “Guys who never struggle in their career have a hard time relating to those who are struggling,” he said. “Those who never enjoyed success don’t know what it takes to maintain it. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve experienced both.”27
As of 2018, Seitzer and his wife, Beth, resided in Leawood, Kansas, where they liked to “hang out and watch movies together.”29 Together they raised four sons, Tyler, Brandon, Nick, and Cameron. His stepson, Nick Graffeo, was drafted as a pitcher by the Royals in the 38th round of the 2010 Amateur Draft. He was released by the Royals in the spring of 2013. Cameron was drafted as a corner infielder and outfielder in 11th round of the 2011 Amateur Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays. In 2017 he joined the Chicago White Sox organization and in 2018 made the transition to pitcher.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also relied on baseball-reference.com and Retrosheet.org.
1 Max Rieper, “The 100 Greatest Royals of All-Time — number 19 Kevin Seitzer.” royalsreview.com/royals-history-trivia/2016/11/11/12662244/the-100-greatest-royals-of-all-time — 19-kevin-seitzer.
2 Kevin Seizer, personal correspondence, October 8, 2018.
3 Bill Flick, “Seitzer Enjoys Life of Balls, Hits and Strikes,” The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Illinois), June 6, 1980: 18.
4 Kevin Seitzer, personal correspondence.
5 Bill Flick.
6 Jason Blasco, “A Pathway to Success,” The Courier (Lincoln, Ilinois), June 12, 2013. lincolncourier.com/x1002423462/A-pathway-to-success.
7 Abraham Lincoln practiced law in Lincoln, Illinois, from 1847 to 1859.
8 Bill Flick.
9 Hall of Fame: Kevin Seitzer. eiu.touchpros.com/hallofFame.asp?sectionName=hof§ionID=4&letterID=S
11 Missouri Sports Hall of Fame Inductee: Kevin Seitzer. Mosportshalloffame.com/inductees/kevin-seitzer/.
13 Reality is Sobering for Brewers’ Seitzer. washingtonpost.com/archive/sports/1995/07/04/reality-is-sobering-for-brewers-seitzer/ae288c22-226b-46ba-ac5f-9024f4b750e4/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.4da54b87f487.
15 The 20-year marriage ended in divorce.
16 Kevin Seitzer, personal correspondence.
17 “Baseball,” Springfield (Missouri) News-Leader, January 27, 1990: 22.
18 “Royals, Seitzer Agree on One-Year, $1,625,000 Pact,” Springfield News-Leader, February 16, 1991: 17.
19 Rick Hummel, “Mets Are Making a Run, Even Without Coleman,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 14, 1991: 61.
21 Rick Hummel, “Free Agent Flops Are a Chewy Problem,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 15, 1991: 46.
22 Kevin Seitzer, personal correspondence.
23 “Kansas City Releases Seitzer,” Springfield News-Leader, March 27, 1992: 45.
24 Seitzer, Bell Are the New Kids on the Block: Brewers Sign Former Royal for Minimum,” Springfield News-Leader, April 1, 1992: 31.
25 Kevin Seitzer, personal correspondence.
29 Kevin Seitzer, personal correspondence.