When you think of speedy, slick-fielding shortstops, guys like Luis Aparicio and Bert Campaneris come to mind, but The Flea could run and field with them. Freddie “The Flea” Patek stole 385 career bases, mostly for the Kansas City Royals, and flashed some sparkling leather. He had four consecutive seasons with 100 double plays turned while Luis and Bert were unable to string two such seasons together. In fact, Aparicio only turned 100 double plays three times in his career while Campy never achieved the feat. Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith had five 100 double play seasons of which only two were back-to-back.
Patek broke in with the Pirates in 1968 but suffered a broken writs his rookie season. He was the Pirates regular shortstop in 1969 but split time with veteran Gene Alley in 1970. In order to give Freddie regular playing time, he was traded to the Pirates with veteran pitcher Bruce Dal Canton and catcher Jerry May. Patek was one of the first pieces the Royals would put in place to start their string of success in the 1970s.
The Flea took the shortstop job away from incumbent Jackie Hernandez in 1971 and had a terrific season with the young Royals who had their first winning season in just their third year of existence. Freddie led the AL in triples while pacing Major League shortstops in stolen bases. With his speed game and sharp fielding (he began his four-year string of 100 DP turned in ’71) he finished sixth in MVP voting.
Patek made his first All-Star team in 1972 when he finished third in the American League in stolen bases and posted a career high 510 assists at the shortstop post. The following year, Freddie turned a career high 115 double plays while pacing Major League shortstops in stolen bases. By 1974, the Royals had their pieces in place as George Brett joined Freddie on the left side of the infield, John Mayberry was handling first, and Cookie Rojas was mentoring his replacement in Frank White at second.
The Royals made the postseason for the first time in 1976 as Patek, who made his second All-Star team, stole 51 bases during the regular season. Never much with a bat in his hands, The Flea hit Yankees pitching quite handedly in the ALCS to the tune of a .389 average; George Brett was the only Royal to out-hit Patek as the Hall of Famer raked NY pitching at a .444 clip.
The Flea’s wheels and Brett’s bat carried the Royals to another AL West flag in 1977 as Patek paced the AL with 53 stolen bases. A .262 hitter during the regular season, Freddie continued his October swatting with a robust .389 average against the Yankees in the ALCS. But for the second straight year, the Royals fell to the Bronx Bombers and missed out on their first World Series appearance. The same thing happened in Kansas City in 1978 when the Royals went to the ALCS and for the third straight year were denied their initial Fall Classic trip by the Yankees. Freddie was the only Royal besides Brett to homer in the ’78 ALCS.
An injury sidelined the aging Patek in 1979 and with a younger U.L. Washington showing the speed Freddie was known for, the Royals let Patek walk via free agency after the season. He caught on out west with the Angels and played two years in California, missing the Royals first World Series appearance in 1980, before calling it a career.
G 1,650/R 736/H 1,340/2B 216/3B 55/HR 41/RBI 490/SB 385/BB 523/SO 787/BA .242/SA .324/OBP .309