Mark Littell, Former Reliever, Dead at 69

Mark Littell

Mark Littell, a relief pitcher for the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals, died on Monday. He was 69 years old. The cause of death is unknown at the time of publication.

A Look At Mark Littell’s Career

The Royals drafted Littell in 1971 out of high school in Gideon, a small town in the Bootheel of Missouri. He would make his major league debut in June of 1973. Despite mixed results, Littell made eight appearances in his first season. Unfortunately, he lost all of the 1974 season due to arm surgery.

He returned to the Royals in August of 1975 but didn’t make his presence felt until 1976. That season, manager Whitey Herzog shifted his role, using him almost exclusively in relief. From 1976-1980, Littell finished 169 games and thrived coming out of the bullpen. He enjoyed his best overall season in 1976 with a 2.08 ERA. He struck out 92 batters across 104 innings as the Royals made it to the ALCS. In 1977, the Royals would again come within one win of making it to the World Series as Littell performed well again. During the offseason, the Royals traded Littell, along with Buck Martinez, to the Cardinals for Al Hrabosky.

In 1978, Littell set a career-high with 11 SO/9 and once again had an ERA under 3. He had another strong year in 1979, but his effectiveness began to wane in 1980. Herzog would join the Cardinals as manager and continued to use Littell through his retirement in 1982. Littell once again did not get to pitch in the World Series. Despite the team winning it all, Littell had retired midway through the year due to bone spurs on his elbow.

Brushes with History

Despite his success, Littell is probably best known for being on the wrong side of two historic events. Littell gave up the series-winning home run to Chris Chambliss in Game Five of the ALCS. It was only the second home run he surrendered that year, but the iconic moment lived on as the New York Yankees won the first three consecutive Championship Series over the Royals. Five years later, Littell would give up the hit that would make Pete Rose the National League leader in career hits. The Cardinals visited the Philadelphia Phillies on August 10th, 1981, and Stan Musial, whose record Rose would break, was on hand for the base hit to left field.

Mark Littell after Retirement

Littell did not move on entirely from baseball after his time pitching in the majors was behind him. He served as a minor league pitching coach in various organizations and remained involved in coaching youth and at various other levels over the years. Littell, known for his humorous stories, eventually authored two books about his life in baseball: On the Eighth Day, God Made Baseball, Country Boy: Conveniently Wild, and What’s Up Ramrod? Additionally, Littell invented the Nutty Buddy, a specially designed protective cup. The Missouri Sports Hall of Fame inducted Littell in 2016.

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Players/ managers mentioned:World Series

Mark Littell, Whitey Herzog, Buck Martinez, Al Hrabosky, Pete Rose, Chris Chambliss, Stan Musial