CONCENTRATION: Steve Busby and the Royals’ first no-hitter

This month, our focus has been on our “C” word, CONCENTRATION, which includes: Ability to focus; Hones instincts; Prepares with a purpose. One of the biggest accomplishments in baseball, the no-hitter, obviously has a lot to do with concentration. The following is a previously published piece by our Director, Matt Fulks, on Steve Busby’s first no-hitter, which happened to be the first in Royals’ history. And it happened to be 44 years ago today.

 

It takes awhile for it to hit: the realization that you’ve just thrown a no-hitter in the major leagues. At least that was the case for Steve Busby in early April 1973.

“It took awhile for it to sink in that it really happened,” said Busby, who threw another no-hitter for the Royals the next season. “I didn’t really realize the gravity of it. I was caught up in the moment and in awe of all the attention that it drew. The second one was different because I had been through it before. I enjoyed the second one more at the time than I did the first one.”

Busby threw the first no-hitter in Royals history on April 27, 1973, in Detroit. As he’s quick to point out, Busby was anything but spectacular that night. His six walks in the game help tell that story.

In fact, Busby, 23 years old at the time, struggled throughout the early part of his rookie season. He was 1-2 with an 8.40 ERA. If things didn’t turn around in a hurry, “Buzz” probably was headed north on I-29, to triple-A Omaha.

He turned it around. Busby says he was far from perfect, but he was unhittable against a solid Tiger offense that boasted the likes of Norm Cash, Willie Horton and Mickey Stanley.

“I know it sounds ludicrous to say that I wasn’t pitching well, considering I threw a no-hitter,” Busby says, “but every time I threw a strike, I think it was a surprise to the Detroit hitters. I was all over the place. The weather was miserable, though, and the Tigers weren’t really interested in trying to hit.”

Today, Busby laughs at the notion that a pitcher doesn’t realize he has a no-hitter throughout the game, saying any player who can read numbers “just has to look at the scoreboard and realize there’s a zero in the hit column.”

It’s a matter of when a pitcher begins thinking about it. That game between the Royals and the Tigers was close. It was scoreless until the Royals put a run on the board in the fifth inning. Then Kansas City added another in the eighth. That’s about the time Busby started focusing on a potential no-hitter.

“Until that point, the way I had been pitching, I was more interested and concerned with helping us get a win,” he said.

Of course, the eighth inning or so is usually about the time teammates avoid the pitcher in the dugout. In Busby’s case the other Royals avoided him in the early innings, too. Pretty much whenever he pitched.

“I’m not the most sociable person anyhow, but when I was pitching I was always kind of in a grumpy mood,” said Busby. “That was just me competing. That night was no exception. Nobody said word-one to me. Looking back I don’t know if it was because of the old baseball thing about not mentioning the no-hitter or because the guys just knew that’s how I was when I pitched.”

The Royals added another run in the top of the ninth inning, giving Busby a three-run cushion. In the bottom of the inning, Busby walked the first hitter, Duke Sims, before Rich Reese laced a screaming line drive down the first-base line. Since John Mayberry was holding Sims on the base, Reese’s shot went right at “Big John,” who then stepped on first for the double play.

“In most situations, with either John not holding the runner on or nobody on base, that’s a double for Reese and everything is up in smoke,” Busby says as if he’s thought about that play. “It just worked out that way.”

One pitch later, Bill Freehan popped out, ending the game and cementing Busby in Royals’ lore. It also gave baseball its first no-hitter with the designated hitter in the lineup.

Incidentally, Buzz took a no-hitter into the sixth inning of his next outing. Funny, but he did that again in 1974 — immediately after his second no-hitter.

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