With the college baseball season hitting its stride, it’s about time to start documenting Kansas baseball and some of its best players. Last year, I wrote a profile on the greatest Jayhawk to take the field in Lawrence, Bob Allison, and I highly recommend taking a few minutes to remember this fine human being. Today, we feature former Philadelphia Phillie and Kansas City Royal (and overall awesome hair style haver) Steve Jeltz.
Steve Jeltz joined the Royals in the peak of my love of baseball, 1990. I’d been a Royals fan all of my life, went to the 1985 World Series with my father, went to as many Royals games as possible each summer, idolized George Brett, and played the game every day I could. I was thirteen in 1990 and poured over baseball cards with the kind of attention to detail that I wish I could apply to anything these days. I remember reading that Steve Jeltz, newly acquired Royals shortstop, had attended the University of Kansas. Worlds were colliding. Even though he stunk, I suddenly had a soft spot for Steve Jeltz.
Jeltz was born in Paris, France (more on this in a minute), but his military family eventually settled in Lawrence and he eventually found his way to Hoglund-Maupin Stadium as a member of the Kansas baseball team in 1978. After three seasons at KU, he was drafted in the 9th round of the 1980 draft by the Philadelphia Phillies. He started his Major League career with the Phillies in 1983 and lasted through the 1989 season. He primarily played shortstop, but also spent time at second base and third when the need arose. He rounded out his career in Kansas City but spent just one year as Kurt Stillwell’s backup.
Known as a defensive specialist, Jeltz’s statistics back up his reputation. In his eight big league seasons, he hit only .210 and smacked only five career homeruns, so no one will ever mistake Jeltz for Cal Ripken, but despite doing few things well at the plate, he owns a few distinctions as a major leaguer.
June 8, 1989 was easily the best day of Steve Jeltz’s professional baseball career. The game got off to an auspicious start for Jeltz and the Phillies as the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates put up a ten spot in the top of the first inning. But the Phillies slowly climbed back in the game on the heels of two (yep, two of Steve’s five career homeruns came in one game) Jeltz home runs. His second home run cut the Pirate lead to 11-9 and was historic for two reasons. For starters, it was the first time in the history of the Phillies franchise that someone hit a home run from both sides of the plate in the same game. Secondly, it sparked the famous comment from then-Pirates announcer Jim Rooker when he announced to the world that if the Pirates lost, he’d walk home to Pittsburgh. Well, the Phillies completed the rally and Rooker made good on his promise during the offseason and raised money for charity in the process.
That day in early June 1989 was obviously a career highlight, but Jeltz holds one more MLB distinction. Statistically, he is the greatest major league position player to ever be born in France. Sure, there have only been eight major leaguers to hail for La République Français, but it’s pretty cool that a Kansas product holds the record.