This Date In Royals History – April 12, 1986
On this date we salute our friend Dennis Leonard on the 24th anniversary of his amazing comeback performance on Saturday, April 12, 1986.
For those that do not remember, the Royals Hall of Fame pitcher suffered a devastating injury when his knee gave out (ruptured patella tendon) while pitching to Cal Ripken of the Orioles on Saturday, May 29, 1983. Leo recounts the injury in this YouTube clip taken from a 09 Royals Caravan appearance in Omaha, Nebraska.
Dennis fought to return to the field enduring a grueling rehabiliation process and numerous setbacks along the way – missing two and a half years in what should have been the prime of his sparkling career. His comeback had a storybook quality to it which was truly one of the most memorable non-championship moments in Royals History.
On Saturday, April 12, 1986 Danny Jackson was scheduled to be the starting pitcher but he was battling some early season injuries, so nearly at the last minute manager Dick Howser summoned Dennis Leonard and told him he was going to hand him the ball.
Howser probably was hoping to get maybe five good innings out of Leo and call on his bullpen – Dennis and the baseball gods had something else in mind. He surprised everyone with an astounding three-hit shutout of the Toronto Blue Jays. Even better the game was NBC-TV’s Game of the Week and the drama all unfolded in front of a national television audience.
Dennis gave all the credit – and the game ball – to Royals Trainer Mickey Cobb who had been by his side throughout the entire rehab process.
Just imagine. The Royals had one of the best starting rotations in baseball during their championship run in 1985 and were missing the services of Dennis Leonard – one of the best right-handed starting pitchers of the era.
I was at the ballpark the night Dennis was injured and I was watching the afternoon of his return – one of the indelible images in Royals Baseball lore.
“The game was so incredibly emotional for me. It was a baseball game and it was something else. It meant so much to all of us.” George Brett
(Curt Nelson, Director – Royals Hall of Fame)