By Nicholas Diunte
While neither New York baseball team was in this year’s World Series, for one Forest Hills resident, it was a contest of dual allegiances.
Bob Tufts, a left-handed pitcher in the Major Leagues for both the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants from 1981-83, watched this year’s playoffs with great anticipation as a potential matchup between his two former clubs grew closer to reality.
“The best part was when the playoffs were set, I was going — it would be so neat to have the Royals and Giants to play,” Tufts said. “I didn’t think who I would root for at that point. I thought that would just be kind of a cool thing to happen, and it happened.”
Tufts broke in with the Giants after being drafted in 1977 in the 12th round of the draft from Princeton University. The 6-foot-5 lefty ascended the ranks of the Giants system in four years, making his Major League debut in August 1981 with a club that was mired in years of mediocrity.
“The Giants were an organization at that point that wasn’t used to winning,” he said. “Frank Robinson came in and basically shook it by the neck and got the organization going in a positive direction.”
Tufts stayed with the Giants in 1981, long enough to get his face on a Topps Rookie Prospect card, but was shipped to the Royals prior to the start of the next season in a six-player trade. The atmosphere of the Royals clubhouse was a stark contrast from his former team.
“It was professional,” he said. “You were expected to win. The Royals, you’re talking about all of the players that were the last vestiges of the great series against the Yankees in the playoffs which I watched in college. (There was) a little bit of vestige of the Baseball Academy and an approach akin to the Dodger way that worked that existed in the club.”
He pitched parts of two seasons for the Royals, finishing his Major League career at the end of the 1983 season with a 2-0 record and 4.71 ERA in 27 games. He left baseball for the business world, earning an MBA from Columbia University.
After working in equity sales on Wall Street, he has now parlayed his business and baseball expertise into adjunct teaching positions at Manhattanville College, Yeshiva University and New York University, where at NYU he will be piloting a course this winter on the history of the late players’ union head Marvin Miller with author Marty Appel.
“Starting in January, Marty Appel and I are doing alternating nights,” he said. “He’s doing a summary of his books on Yankee history, and I’m doing Marvin Miller, trade unions and the players’ association on the other days. It’s a continuing education course, something we hope to offer as an undergraduate credit course in the fall of next year.”
Shifting his focus from the classroom to the ball field right as Game 7 approached, Tufts acknowledged the strength of the Giants, but admitted he had a soft spot for the underdog Royals.
“I love Bruce Bochy as a manager,” he said. “He’s a great guy and I think he has all the sentiment and all the knowledge of what to do. It’s their third World Series in five years, but with the 29 years without being there, I had some sympathy for the Royals. In the end, I said Royals in seven; however, it was going to go extra innings, going to go 12 and be won with a walk-off.”
While Tufts didn’t quite get the ending that he wanted, the performance of the Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner provided a dramatic finale that will be etched into the annals of baseball history for years to come. He pitched five scoreless innings of relief in Game 7.
“Even though I picked the Royals in seven,” he said, “once Madison came in I was rooting for a pitcher to succeed — not a team. It was more than loyalty to my former position; it was a memorable story — even more so than a 29-year World Series drought.
“It connected to other moments in baseball history — Grover Cleveland Alexander, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez — where the pitcher had to carry their team in the playoffs.”