Tom Poquette was the Kansas City Royals Rookie of the Year in 1976 and enjoyed a seven-year major-league career as a left-handed hitting outfielder. When his baseball career ended, he was inducted into Eau Claire, Wisconsin’s Baseball Hall of Fame. This popular and hard-working player and coach produced a genuine lifelong baseball story and local legacy.
Thomas Arthur Poquette, born on October 30, 1951 in Eau Claire, was one of six children, five boys and a girl, born to Gordon (1916–1996) and Jeanette (Owens) Poquette (1922–2012). Jeanette was a homemaker. Gordon, who had played ball at Medford High School and the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire, taught social studies, including geography, Wisconsin history, and psychology at Eau Claire (later known as Eau Claire Memorial) High School from 1946 through 1980, where he was also an assistant coach for the baseball, basketball, and football programs.1
Tom Poquette starred in three sports in high school. For that and his post-graduate success, he was one of the 25 charter inductees of the Eau Claire Memorial High School Hall of Fame in 2005.2
In football, he started at halfback for three years. In his senior year, he led his conference in rushing yards and points scored en route to a co-championship 8–1 season. He was voted to the first team of the All-Conference and the All-Northwest teams as both running back and defensive back3 and to the first team United Press International All-State team as a running back.4 He rushed for 210 yards in Memorial’s third game of the season, a school record that stood for a number of decades.5 In basketball, Poquette started at guard in his junior and senior years for teams that advanced to the state tournament both years. In his senior year, Memorial went undefeated, 18–0.
Yet, baseball was his sport. Poquette helped the “Old Abes” win the high school state championship in 1968, and he helped bring home the American Legion state championship in 1969. Playing in the Legion tournament in Bowling Green, Ohio, was the greatest thrill of his pre-professional career.6 But Poquette’s talent and drive under pressure is perhaps best exemplified by the events of the final week of his senior year. Pitching in the Eau Claire sectional championship game on June 5, 1970, he struck out 11 batters and was one strike away from pitching a no-hitter. He held on to win a one-run game.7 In the state tournament, Memorial won in the first round but lost the next game. In that 2–1 loss, Poquette allowed only two hits and two unearned runs. However, his counterpart pitched a one-hitter—Poquette’s single in the third inning—for the upset.8
Throughout his varsity baseball career, Poquette was being watched. When local scout Art Stewart accepted a job with the Kansas City Royals during their inaugural 1969 season, he met Lois Brandenburg, a correspondent for the Appleton Post-Crescent and regular American Legion scorekeeper, in Marion. As Art tells the story, Lois told him about a kid over at Memorial High School. “He’s only a sophomore,” she said, “but he’s impressive.”9 Stewart saw Poquette play in his junior year and invited him to a tryout. The Royals were impressed, and Stewart followed him through high school, with the help of Cy Berg, a local “bird dog.”
Much has been written about the Kansas City Royals’ fierce effort to build from within and to field players with the skills that suited their new big ballpark with the hard surface. They looked for players with three key skills: running speed, quickness, and arm strength.10 Poquette was a great fit.
In the June 1970 amateur draft, the Kansas City Royals selected him in the fourth round with the 80th overall pick.11 He had just been offered a full scholarship to play baseball and football at the University of Wisconsin but he chose to turn it down. On Saturday, June 13, 1970—the day after his final high school game, as the rules require—he signed a contract to play with the Royals.12 Tom Poquette was Art Stewart’s first Royals signing.13
Poquette progressed steadily through the Royals farm system. In the summer of 1970, he led the Kingsport [Tennessee] Royals of the Rookie-level Appalachian League in runs scored. For the Class A Waterloo [Iowa] Royals in 1971, he topped his teammates in numerous offensive categories, including batting, home runs, and RBIs. With the Class AA Jacksonville [Florida] Suns in 1972, he paced the club in doubles. In 1973, with the Class AAA Omaha [Nebraska] Royals, he led the team in extra-base hits.
During those formative years, Poquette saw players all around him with more ability than he had. But he also saw first round picks who didn’t make it out of A-ball. The 5’11”, 175-pound hustling outfielder knew he had to work hard.14
He spent hours with the team’s hitting coaches in spring training and at the Royals Academy in the winter.15 The coaches who were most helpful to him were Charlie Lau16 and Joe Tanner.17 (Later, when he played for Boston, it was Walt Hriniak.18) From Lau, Poquette learned to crouch more19 and to be less of a pull hitter.20
“I probably would not have made it in the majors without Lau,” he says.21
Poquette was called up for his major-league debut on September 1, 1973, at age 21. He collected his first big league hit on September 10, a pinch-hit, opposite-field single off Vida Blue of the Oakland A’s. On September 23, he drove in his first two major-league runs with a bases-loaded double off Jim Bibby to help the Royals defeat the Rangers.
At the end of spring training in 1974, Poquette and teammate George Brett, who also debuted in late 1973, were the last two players re-assigned to the minors. Together, they drove to Omaha for the start of the 1974 season.22 Poquette was having a productive year, slashing .305/.409/.430 in 63 games, when he suffered his first major injury. He tore the cartilage in his right knee while playing right field and underwent surgery in September.
Even so, in early 1975, Baseball Digest declared: “Excellent arm, line drive hitter. Strong defensively. Will probably win steady job with Royals in 1975.”23 However, after he re-injured the same knee and underwent a second surgery in January, he was shipped back to Jacksonville in 1975. As he worked himself back into shape, it appeared that the only facet of his game that suffered was his running game. He was a moderately good base-stealer in the minor leagues. However, now with no cartilage in his right knee, he lost much of his turn-and-go skill. In his major-league career, Poquette stole only 13 bases and was caught stealing 13 times.
With his knee healed, Poquette was ready for his jump to the big leagues. When the 1976 season opened, he was Kansas City’s principal left fielder but platooned with right-handed hitting Jim Wohlford. “Pokie” (his nickname since high school) did not disappoint. He slugged at least three hits in nine different games that year. Over a three-game span starting on July 22, 1976, he reached base in nine straight plate appearances, including six consecutive hits.
Yet, the highlight of Poquette’s rookie year occurred in a 21-7 victory over Detroit on June 15. His five runs scored were a franchise record at the time24, and his five-hit performance included his first big-league home run (an inside-the-parker) and two doubles. He was just a triple shy of hitting for the cycle. Not that Pokie was shy about triples. He had 10 that season, fourth best in the American League and a Royals rookie record that still stands. In his big-league career, Poquette hit more triples (18) than home runs (10).
He finished the year batting .302, best among all rookies, and was named to both Topps’ and Baseball Digest’s 1976 Rookie All-Star Team. His manager, Whitey Herzog, told Baseball Digest: “Tom has really been a pleasant surprise. We knew he was a fine defensive player, but his bat has been a big bonus. The thing that really makes Tom valuable is his attitude and hustle. He’s one of those players who seem to spark the whole team.”25
In October, the Royals made their first post-season appearance, extending the New York Yankees to the limit before losing the decisive Game Five of the American League Championship Series in the bottom of the ninth. Poquette appeared in all five contests. He collected the team’s only RBI in a losing cause in Game One—the franchise’s first post-season run. And he helped the Royals win Game Two—the team’s first post-season victory—when he collected two hits and a walk with two RBIs and a run scored.
For the 1977 season, rookie Joe “Mad Dog” Zdeb became Poquette’s platoon mate. In the first year of his new three-year contract, Poquette’s offensive numbers were comparable to those of his fine rookie season. Perhaps most notable, however, was his improved defense. The decidedly un-pokey outfielder made no errors while handling 185 chances (including four assists) in 1977. In fact, he ran a streak of 133 consecutive errorless games spanning from August 22, 1976, through April 24, 1978: “I’ve always taken a lot of pride in my defensive ability. Offense can be streaky, but defense is always there.”26
Pokie was given credit for saving Jim Colborn’s no-hitter on May 14th of that year when he made a fine running catch of a slicing line drive hit by Texas Ranger Willie Horton to end the seventh inning. “If I hadn’t broken that way with the pitch, I never would have gotten there,” said Poquette.27 29,978 were present in Royals Stadium for the historic game, the first authored by a Kansas City Royal pitcher in the team’s home ballpark.
Then came the famous tug of war.
Each February from 1975 until 1983, ABC-TV televised SuperTeams, a competition between members of the previous season’s World Series and Super Bowl contestants. The re-match was not in baseball or football, but rather in the following events: tandem bike relay, running relay, swimming relay, canoe race, volleyball, obstacle course, and tug of war. In February 1978, the Royals (subbing for the unavailable Yankees28) defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in the semi-finals and advanced to the SuperTeams finals to face the Dallas Cowboys.
Poquette was a good all-around athlete. “We had to try out to make the team,” he explained. He was one of six Royals running the relay in the finals. He also swam anchor leg in the swimming relay in the semi-finals and was the helmsman in the outrigger war canoe race in the finals. When asked about his water skills, Poquette replied, “I spent a lot of time at the pool in high school. And to steer a boat, it’s easy if you know how to use a rudder.”
Each team won three events in the finals. The winner would be determined by the last event—the tug of war. The most unforgettable rope pull in the history of the SuperTeams competition ended in a draw. For 75 minutes in the Honolulu sun, the Royals, including Poquette, deadlocked with the Cowboys. The overall competition ended in the only co-championship in the show’s history.29
In the 1978 regular season, despite Poquette’s hot start in April—.400/.393/.760 (with 2 HRs) in 28 plate appearances—the promotions of Willie Wilson and Clint Hurdle (Kansas City’s first-round picks in 1974 and 1975, respectively) dampened his hopes to play as much as he had in his first two seasons.
The 1979 season was no different. With Wilson entrenched full-time in left field, Poquette was relegated to the bench. On June 13, the Royals traded him to the Red Sox for George Scott. Kansas City fans were not happy with the trade.30 However, Poquette optimized his opportunity by batting .331 for the Red Sox over the remainder of the year as the backup to Fred Lynn, Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, and Carl Yastrzemski.
In spring training 1980, Poquette was suffering with what was thought to be a rotator cuff injury in his right shoulder. He had injured it diving back to second base on a pickoff attempt the previous August. He was placed on the disabled list in March, and when the injury still did not heal, he underwent surgery in May to remove cartilage behind the shoulder.31 Pokie’s 1980 season was totally washed out.
The man most responsible for reeling Poquette into Boston in 1979 was manager Don Zimmer. “I’ve always liked Poquette,” said Zim.32 Entering 1981, however, the Red Sox had a new manager and two new off-season acquisitions, Rick Miller and Joe Rudi, crowding their outfield. A dejected Poquette was the odd man out and, on August 12, 1981, he was selected off waivers by the Texas Rangers. Who was the Rangers’ new manager that season? Don Zimmer.
“That was the nice part about it all,” said Poquette. “They went after me. That really helped my confidence.”33 He got regular playing time for the Rangers in the remaining 40 games, but he just could not regain his pre-injury form. On November 13, 1981, he was granted free agency.
While with Boston, Poquette met and retained Eddie Kleven as his agent. Kleven called his friend Bud Selig, the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, but Kansas City’s new general manager, John Schuerholz, had a different idea. Schuerholz called Kleven and, on January 15, brought Poquette back to the Royals for the 1982 season.
Poquette filled in for the injured Wilson in April, but his playing time dried up once again when Wilson returned. Rather than accept a minor league assignment, Poquette retired when he was released on July 21, 1982. He was 30 years old.
The story that is not fully told in other published accounts of his career is that of coach Poquette, a vital chapter in his story.
His passage from player to coach was actually put into motion while he was with the Red Sox in 1980 rehabbing the shoulder injury. A racquetball enthusiast himself, Poquette invested in the Eau Claire River City Racquetball Club, an indoor fitness center with a swimming pool and six racquetball courts. After he retired, however, he uncovered some irregularities with the business and disengaged himself from the project. Enter Art Stewart, for the second time.
“Art Stewart said I should come back to the Royals. I interviewed with John Boles [Royals’ farm director from 1986–1988] who told me he had two job openings: hitting coach at Double A and hitting coach at Triple A. Of course, I took Triple A.” That contract began a string of many years of coaching in the Royals organization for Poquette.
Poquette was the hitting coach for the Class AAA Omaha Royals from 1988 through 1990 when they won three straight American Association Western Division titles. In 1990, Omaha went on to win both the league championship (over the Nashville Sounds) and the Triple-A Classic (defeating the International League champion Rochester Red Wings).
In 1991, he was tapped to be the manager of the Eugene [Oregon] Emeralds in the short-season, Class A Northwest League. The team finished third with a 42–34 record, nearly reversing its 1990 record of 30–46. For that, Poquette received the Manager of the Year Award.34
He earned Manager of the Year honors again in 1992 after leading the Appleton [Wisconsin] Foxes in the Class A Midwest League to a 41–23 first half mark and 70–62 record overall.35
In 1993, Poquette was promoted to manage the Memphis Chicks in the Class AA Southern League, followed by his promotion to hitting coach for Class AAA Omaha in 1994 and 1995. He was recognized by the front office as a good developer of young talent, and he was promoted again to minor league roving hitting coordinator for the entire Royals organization in 1996 and 1997.
After the Royals upset the Cardinals in the 1985 World Series, Kansas City experienced a rough skid, hitting rock bottom with the first last-place finish in franchise history in 1996. With the club still stuck in the second division on July 9, 1997, the Royals hired Tony Muser to replace Bob Boone as manager. Primed by his minor-league experience, Poquette was called on to help turn the parent club around by becoming the new hitting coach. However, the Royals fared no better and his contract was not renewed after the 1998 season.
Pokie returned to managing, but in the lower minors: the Charleston [West Virginia] Alley Cats in Class A South Atlantic League in 1999, followed by the Spokane [Washington] Indians in short-season Class A Northwest League from 2000–2002. After that, he switched back to hitting coach duties with the Arizona League Royals II in 2003 and the AZL Royals from 2004–2006.
“I just loved coaching,” Poquette proclaimed. “Managing, hitting coach, outfield coordinator. I was like a utility man.”36
But then misfortune struck. During a game in 2004, an opposing player grounded weakly to the second baseman. While Poquette was watching the ball, the batter hurled his bat into the Royals’ dugout in disgust. The cupped end of the bat barrel caught Pokie square in the side of his head, knocking him unconscious.
During his playing career, Poquette endured five concussions.37 The best known one occurred on June 22, 1976. Kevin Bell of the White Sox drove a ball to the left field corner and Poquette, in full pursuit, crashed into the unpadded wall. He fell to the ground, fading in and out of consciousness and bleeding from a gash over his eye, while Bell rounded the bases with an inside-the-park grand slam home run.38
Poquette missed only about a month of play on that occasion. This time, however, he was unable to shake the concussion he suffered in Arizona. He fell several times and had difficulty avoiding line drives during batting practices. He was tested in 2005 and was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. Even though Lloyd Simmons, Arizona’s manager, urged him to hang in there and keep coaching, Poquette was forced to retire after the 2006 season with permanent partial cognitive disability. He was only 55 years old.
“I hated to quit. Coaching is long days and hard work. But then you get a “thank you” call from Joe Randa, whom I coached since his Rookie League, or Johnny Damon. I took him through his early big-league years. That’s your satisfaction.”
“But whenever this question comes up,” the ever-humble coach continued, “I always say I don’t take credit for anybody’s success. They are the ones who did what they had to do. And besides, there are a lot of people involved in a player’s development.”39
Despite his untimely exit from baseball, his convalescence in Eau Claire was the best thing that ever happened to him, Poquette says. Not because of his stabilizing medical treatment, but because that is where he met Michelle, his physical therapy aide and future wife. After Tom checked out of therapy and concluded his patient–professional relationship with Michelle, they went on their first date. Tom and “Mitch” were married on June 7, 2012.40
“Mitch did not know anything about baseball when we first met,” Poquette says. “But she does just fine now.” The couple currently live in Eau Claire. They share seven children from their previous marriages, the youngest of which just graduated high school, plus several grandchildren.41
Shortly after Poquette began his coaching career, he told the Appleton Post-Crescent, “I got back into baseball because I wanted to. I’m a firm believer in doing something because it’s fun.”42 Fun now includes deer hunting and musky fishing with his family and friends, including Joe Weiss, his boyhood buddy, high school teammate, and president of the Spooner Musky Club, of which Pokie is also a longtime member.43 Weiss and Poquette made the news on Friday, October 13, 2017, when Poquette photographed Weiss with a 47-inch muskellunge—the biggest musky caught on Wisconsin’s Lost Land Lake.44
Tom Poquette has enjoyed a full baseball life. In tribute to his local legacy and to his major-league career, he was inducted into the Eau Claire Baseball Hall of Fame twice—individually in 200945 and as a member of the group of 42 “Eau Claire Natives” in 2010.46 His plaque is mounted in Henry Aaron Plaza in front of Carson Park baseball stadium, the site of many of his high school and American Legion contests and heroics:
Born in Eau Claire on October 30, 1951, outfielder
Tom Poquette played for the Kansas City Royals, Boston
Red Sox and Texas Rangers between 1973 and 1982, spending a
total of seven seasons with their Major League clubs. In 1976 he
hit .302 and made baseball’s all-rookie team. He had a .268 career
batting average. He rejoined the Royals in 1987 as a minor
league coach and was named the team’s major league
hitting instructor in 1997. Poquette graduated from
Eau Claire Memorial High School in 1970 and
was on the school’s 1968 state baseball
Last revised: March 7, 2021 (ghw)
Special thanks to Tom Poquette (telephone interviews with Len Pasculli on July 27, September 6, September 30, and October 16, 2020, and several follow up e-communications).
This biography was reviewed by Malcolm Allen and David H. Lippman and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted www.baseball-almanac.com, www.baseball-reference.com, www.leadertelegram.com, www.newspaperarchive.com, www.retrosheet.org, www.sabr.org and Eau Claire Memorial High School Yearbooks (Kodak) retrieved from www.classmates.com.
1 Tom Poquette, telephone interviews with Len Pasculli on July 27, September 6, September 30, and October 16, 2020, and several follow-up e-communications (hereafter Poquette-Pasculli Interview). Unless otherwise cited, all Tom Poquette direct quotes are from the Poquette-Pasculli interview.
2 Retrieved from https://www.ecasd.k12.wi.us/schools/high/memorial/athletics/MHS_HOF _TomPoquette.cfm#d90350. (N.B. In 2007, Tom’s brother Ron, also a three-sport star at Memorial High School (Class of 1962), was also inducted into the Memorial High School Hall of Fame. The author acknowledges, with thanks, Ron’s assistance for this article.)
3 “Poquette Two-Way All-Big Rivers Choice,” The Daily Telegram (Eau Claire), November 19, 1969: 12A; Ron Buckli, “Two Way Players Head All-Northwest,” The Daily Telegram (Eau Claire), November 25, 1969: 1B.
4 Gene W. Hintz, “Poquette, Hagen Join Back-of-Year Bohlig On UPI Team,” The Eau Claire Leader, December 11, 1969: 1D
5 “State Honors to Poquette” (The Associate Press) and “Abe’s Tom Poquette Area Player of Week,” The Daily Telegram (Eau Claire), September 24, 1969: 1B.
6 Tom Poquette’s Baseball Questionnaire for William J. Weiss, October 15, 1970.
7 Ron Buckli, “Poquette Hurls Abes into State Meet,” Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, June 6, 1970: 3B.
8 Ron Buckli, “Abes Ousted; Wilmot, Antigo Battle for State Crown,” Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, June 13, 1970: 1B.
9 Art Stewart with Sam Mellinger, The Art of Scouting (Olathe, Kansas: Ascend Books, 2014): 242.
10 Syd Thrift & Barry Shapiro. The Game According to Syd (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990): 26–28.
11 See https://www.baseball-almanac.com/draft/baseball-draft.php?yr=1970. Poquette was the only player drafted by the Royals in the June 1970 amateur draft who made it to the major leagues.
12 Ron Buckli, “Buckshot: Poquette Chooses Baseball, Signs Bonus Pact with Royals,” Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, June 16, 1970: 1C.
13 Stewart with Mellinger, The Art of Scouting, 242.
14 Craig Handel, “Poquette Back As an Old-Timer,” Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, July 17, 1986: 1B
15 Poquette-Pasculli Interview
16 Poquette-Pasculli Interview. Lau was Kansas City’s batting coach from 1971 to 1978. He was demoted to minor league roving instructor at the end of the 1974 at then manager’s Jack McKeon’s insistence but was reinstated as Royals’ hitting coach in July 1975 when Whitey Herzog replaced McKeon.
17 Poquette-Pasculli Interview. Tanner was a minor-league infielder for eight years (1953–1961) but a coach for 50 years after that, including his time at the Royals Baseball Academy as bunting and base-running coach. Joe died at the age of 89 in April 2020.
18 Poquette-Pasculli Interview.
19 Poquette-Pasculli Interview
20 Dean Vogelaar, “Tom Poquette: He Won the Hearts of K.C. Fans,” Baseball Digest 36, no. 2 (February 1977): 85.
21 Poquette-Pasculli Interview
22 Poquette-Pasculli Interview
23 George Vass, “Exclusive Scouting Reports on 144 Rookies,” Baseball Digest 34, no. 3 (March 1975): 61.
24 That record has since broken by Joe Randa with 6 runs scored on September 9, 2004.
25 George Vass. ”Mark Fidrych of the Tigers and Butch Metzger of the Padres Sparkle as Freshmen Pitchers,” Baseball Digest 35, no. 11 (November 1976): 26.
26 Dean Vogelaar, “Tom Poquette: He Won the Hearts of K.C. Fans,” Baseball Digest 36, no. 2 (February 1977): 85.
27 “Brett Helped Colburn [sic] Effort,” Maryville Daily Forum, May 16, 1977: 6.
28 “It is unclear if the Yankees barred players from Superteams due to fear of injury or as a result of the 7–0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds the year before.” See http://www.thesuperstars.org/comp/78bbteam.html
30 Scott was 35 years old at the time of the trade but he was a perennial Gold Glove first baseman who averaged 20 home runs over his first 13 years. The Royals were looking for more pop from their first base position.
31 United Press International, “Sox Poquette May Miss 1980 Season With Injury,” Newport (Rhode Island) Daily News, March 31, 1980: 14; United Press International, “Poquette Undergoes Surgery,” Biddeford (Maine) Journal Tribune, May 23, 1980: 11.
32 Larry Whiteside, “Red Sox Expect Watson to Furnish Wallop,” The Sporting News, June 30, 1979: 15.
33 Chuck Rupnow, “Poquette Remains ‘Totally Optimistic,’” Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, August 31, 1981: 1B.
36 Poquette-Pasculli Interview
37 Poquette-Pasculli Interview
38 Poquette fractured his cheekbone and missed 21 games. But the incident prompted management to pad the outfield walls at Kauffman Stadium. The home run was rookie Bell’s first in the major leagues and his only inside-the-park home run; it came seven days after rookie Poquette hit the first home run of his career, also an inside-the-park home run.
39 Poquette-Pasculli Interview
40 Poquette-Pasculli Interview
41 Poquette-Pasculli Interview
42 Mehring, “Flashback Friday: 1992 Newsletter,” January 16, 2015.
43 Paul A. Smith, “Making a Motion to Have Fun,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 8, 2015.
44 What really made this fish tale interesting was that on October 13, 2017, Weiss hooked a line that had the musky on one end and an expensive rod and reel on the other! The rightful owner responded to Weiss’s lost and found ad and met with Weiss in July 2018 to retrieve his gear. Paul A. Smith, “Extraordinary Musky Fishing Tale, Verified and True, Comes to Happy Ending,” The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 11, 2018.
45 See https://volumeone.org/articles/2009/01/22/200343-six-join-hank-in-hall-of-fame. The author acknowledges, with thanks, the assistance of Jason Christopherson of the Eau Claire Baseball Hall of Fame.
46 According to Baseball-Almanac.com, Poquette is one of only four players born in Eau Claire to make it to the majors; the other three were Ralph Pond, Vic Johnson, and Brad Radke (Radke was born in but not raised in Eau Claire). Many of the local stars who went on to play major-league, minor-league, or independent-league baseball were inducted into the Eau Claire Baseball Hall of Fame as a “Eau Claire Native.” See https://www.facebook.com/EauClaireBaseballHallOfFame/videos/1817165864917.