Wathan is Royals blue through and through
Former catcher relishes his 35 years in Kansas City
When you think about a definitive "company man," you think about John Wathan's long relationship with the Kansas City Royals.
Although Wathan grew up in San Diego, his adult life has revolved around Kansas City and a myriad of assignments with the organization that drafted him in 1971.
"I've been a player, coach, manager, broadcaster and scout," Wathan said. "I've done a little bit of everything except selling peanuts and working on the grounds crew."
If the Royals handed Wathan a shovel, he'd enthusiastically try that, as well. He's Royal blue through and through.
"A lot of people who know that I grew up in San Diego ask me why I wouldn't want to live there now," Wathan said. "I tell them that Kansas City is my home and has been since I got to the Major Leagues in 1976. I love the people, the Midwestern culture and the hospitality here. I never want to live anywhere else."
Wathan, who now aids the Royals in player development, recently held court at All-Star Fanfest, talking about his Major League career from 1976 through 1985. It was the true golden era of Royals baseball.
The Royals earned their first World Series berth in 1980 when Wathan played in 126 games and hit .305. With self-deprecating humor, Wathan recalls the day late in the '80 regular season when he came to the plate with two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the eighth and got a "tremendous ovation." En route to a walk, the crowd noise intensified with each called ball.
"I'm like, 'Why are they cheering so hard for me? All I did was get a walk,'" Wathan said. "Then I got to first base, glanced up at the scoreboard and realized what was going on. George Brett was coming up next and he was hitting .399. I had to get on for the crowd to see him get a crack at .400 that day."
Sure enough, Brett stroked a double and Wathan had a story that would withstand the test of time.
Wathan didn't fit the profile of a stocky, slow-moving catcher. He stole 36 bases in 1982 to break Ray Schalk's single-season record for steals by a catcher. Wathan's record still stands today.
"I had platooned in the Minors and been a backup in the Majors, so my legs were still pretty fresh at age 32," Wathan said. "I'm very proud of the record. I could have had more than 36 steals that year, but I got hurt. I had 25 steals in June when I fouled a ball off my foot and was in a cast for a month.
"What helped me a lot was watching [former Royals center fielder] Amos Otis. He'd get a walking lead and if the pitcher didn't make him stop, he'd just keep going. I tried to pick up on that."
Wathan took great satisfaction in how he called games from behind the plate. He was often in harmony with his pitchers -- particularly Paul Splittorff and Dennis Leonard. But if he wasn't on the same page with the guy on the mound, Wathan wasn't afraid to let his pitcher know it.
"When I was at [Triple-A] Omaha, Bob McClure and I almost got in a fist fight on the mound one time," Wathan recalled with a laugh. "Bob had a lot of confidence and that helped make him a great pitcher who was in the Major Leagues for a long time. But sometimes I wanted to throw a different pitch, and we would butt heads. We got it all ironed out and became very good friends."
Wathan went on to manage the Royals for four-plus years and had a career .515 winning percentage. Heading a true baseball family, Wathan has seen sons Derek and Dusty, play professional baseball and daughter Dina currently works for the Royals in media relations.
"I've been with the Royals for 35 of my 41 years in baseball," Wathan said. "The experiences with this organization have been tremendous. I'm really a fortunate guy."
Robert Falkoff is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.