July 21, 2006
A royal entrance
After a long, and often bitter, absence, Mark Gubicza
is thrilled to be back in town and going into the Royals' Hall
By J. BRADY McCOLLOUGH
The Kansas City Star
Theyre waiting for Mark Gubicza in the Dick Howser Suite
at Kauffman Stadium. Hes running an hour late, which
is no big deal, especially since his friends have been waiting
on him for seven years.
Gubicza has been looking forward to this trip for months now.
So hes not going to hurry. When Jimmy Gobble threw the
first pitch Thursday, Gubicza was taking a shower at his hotel
on the Country Club Plaza. He put on a suit and rubbed gel
in his hair, which -- sorry, ladies -- is no longer a flowing
No, Gubicza is not going to hurry as he gets out of the yellow
taxi outside the K. Hes soaking it all up, taking each
step one at a time, looking at the massive Royals Hall of Fame
posters outside the stadium.
"Theyre going to give me one of these deals, huh?" Gubicza
asks. "Thatd be awesome."
Gubicza has been waiting, too. Five years. Thats how
long hes waited for the Royals to honor his 132 wins
and 12 years of service with a spot in the Hall. He used to
wear his 1985 World Series ring religiously, but now only on
special occasions. Hell be wearing it tonight because,
well, this induction to the Hall is pretty special.
Gubicza wants to get his nerves out right now so that he can
be himself for tonight. He walks in and starts doling out hugs
and handshakes. He cant believe how great the blue seats
look -- the last time he was here, they were orange. Finally,
he walks into the Howser Suite.
"Well its about time!" a woman yells, likely
not realizing the truth in her words.
"Did you get bigger?" former Royals teammate Mike
For Gubicza, this visit to Kansas City isnt just about
being celebrated. Sure, itll be nice to hear teammates
remembering the years when he was the staff workhorse, the
days before the injury.
But mostly, its about putting the past to bed. Just
two years ago, still bitter about his trade from Kansas City
and his continued exclusion from the Hall, Gubicza said on
his radio show in Los Angeles that he hoped the Royals would
lose 100 games. Then, he didnt make it to the 20-year
reunion for the 85 team, which people assumed was him
making a point. It wasnt.
"It got kind of crazy," Gubicza says, "to the
point where people thought I didnt like my time in KC.
Thats something I hope will get settled while Im
At spring training in 1984, Gubicza and Bret Saberhagen just
wanted to make Class AAA. But the Royals had bigger plans.
Gubicza, 21, and Saberhagen, 20, made the Royals opening-day
Suddenly, they had gone from rooming together in Class AA
Jacksonville to living in Kansas City, shacked up at George
Bretts house for their first few months.
"I can still remember going into his house and just being
amazed that Im actually here," Gubicza says. "Hed
take us out to dinner, and if we even attempted to reach into
our pockets, hed make sure we didnt."
Gubicza and Saberhagen were best friends, but they couldnt
have been more different. Saberhagen was a laid-back dude from
California, Gubicza a wound-up East-Coast guy, born and raised
in Philadelphia. Where Saberhagen would encourage the players
behind him, Gubicza quickly became known for the scowling "death
stare" hed flash any time a ball got through the
"He wasnt a fun guy to play behind early on," says
Frank White, laughing. "He expected perfection. He was
a sinker-ball pitcher, and when he got a ground ball, he thought
every ball should be caught."
The Royals fed off of Gubiczas intensity. He won 24
games in his first two seasons and got the ball in game six
of the 1985 ALCS in Toronto. He held off the Blue Jays 5-3
and sent the series to game seven. The Royals, of course, went
on to win their first World Series, but Gubicza did not pitch
in the Series because the Royals went to a four-man starting
rotation. His contribution wasnt forgotten, though.
"He brought a lot of life and energy to the team," says
former Royals catcher and manager John Wathan. "We needed
that at that time. We had some older guys."
Gubicza had always gotten flack in the clubhouse for being
from Philadelphia, but he started to feel at home in Kansas
City, living on the Plaza and driving his red Pontiac Trans-Am
around town. Gubicza and Saberhagen were the towns golden
boys after 85.
"We were hanging out with everybody," Gubicza says. "The
fans took to us, and we took to them."
The Royals stopped winning pennants in the late 80s,
but that had nothing to do with Gubicza. He had come into his
own, throwing with the same velocity but with more control.
Gubicza went 20-6 in 1988 and finished third in the Cy Young
voting. He followed it in 1989 with a 15-11 mark, making his
second straight All-Star team.
"He was definitely as dominant as any starting pitcher
in the American League," says former teammate Jeff Montgomery,
a fellow Royals Hall of Fame member. "And he wasnt
just a five and fly guy. He was a nine-inning guy."
Yes, it was tough to get the ball out of Goobies right
hand those two years. His 6-foot-5 frame and his extreme workout
regimen had turned him into the staff workhorse. He threw eight
complete games and averaged more than seven innings per start
in 88 and 89. He lived for the big game, especially
the Western Division matchups against the slugging Oakland
"We always liked to have him throwing in the 130-degree
Sunday afternoon turf games," Saberhagen says. "He
was the biggest and the strongest. Hed do 1,000 sit-ups
At the 1989 All-Star Game, Gubicza talked with Nolan Ryan
in the bullpen about how to train so that he could have a long
career like Ryan. Two months later, in a September start, Gubicza
tore the rotator cuff in his right shoulder. His big arm had
finally given out, as many had predicted it would.
"It was probably wear and tear," Gubicza says. "Looking
back, you wish you were a little smarter on the mound. Throwing
130-pitch games rather than being smarter and trying to get
first-pitch outs and let your fielders make plays instead of
Gubicza knew right then hed never be the same pitcher.
He would work over the next six seasons to reinvent himself
as a pitcher who could locate his fastball and use a change-up,
but he was never as effective as before. He won only 46 games
during 1990-96. Gubicza couldnt determine whether fans
were booing him or just saying "Goooooobie" as they
In the middle of the 1996 season, the Royals traded Gubicza
to Anaheim for Chili Davis. It didnt make much sense.
The Royals were trying to get younger, but they traded a career
Royal for Davis, a designated hitter two years older than Gubicza?
Gubicza, who had two young children, wanted to finish his
career in Kansas City. He thought he had three to four years
Despite his performance in 96 -- he won just four games
-- Gubicza was saluted with a going-away party thrown by local
radio DJ Johnny Dare before he left for Anaheim. Hed
return to Kansas City one time in the next decade.
But now Gubicza is back, and he hasnt changed much.
Hes still a seamhead, coaching high school baseball in
LA. And he still has that clubhouse wit. Gubicza cracks a joke
about how he would fit in much better on these Royals, with
names like Grudzielanek and Mientkiewicz. "Maybe now they
wouldnt call me Gooboza, " he says.
Gubicza has never lost his love for Kansas City or Kauffman
Stadium. He just let his bitterness over the trade get the
best of him. But now theres a new owner, a new general
manager, a mostly new staff. And now he can tell people who
ask him that hes in the Royals Hall.
White, now the Wichita Wranglers manager, hopes this weekend
will mend things enough to where Gubicza can make his way back
into the organization as a coach.
Gubicza isnt thinking that far ahead, though. Hes
only thinking about tonight, when he gets to walk on the field
at the K again. He still thinks Kauffman is the most beautiful
ballpark in the majors.
"Im looking forward to seeing people I havent
seen in so long," Gubicza says. "I wouldnt
say that its closure. Its more having the door