Royals HOF director puts knowledge to use
Nelson honored to represent club on MLB Network game show
KANSAS CITY -- Curt Nelson has a lot of baseball facts and figures stashed away in his brain -- sometimes even too much information for the director of the Royals Hall of Fame.
"There's a lot of useless information swimming around up there after loving this game for 40-something years, so it's nice to occasionally run into a scenario where that useless information might turn into valuable information," Nelson said.
Such a scenario appeared recently in the form of "Baseball IQ," the first game show produced by MLB Network. Nelson became one of 32 contestants, representing the Royals. Each of the 30 Major League clubs has one entry, along with one from MLB.com and one from the Baseball Hall of Fame. The winner of each episode nets $5,000 for a favorite charity, which, in Nelson's case, is Royals Charities. The champion can win $45,000 for charity.
Nelson carried the Royals' banner by virtue of in-house qualifying.
"We got a list of questions, and it felt like you were taking the SAT again," Nelson said. "Anybody in the organization could come up and take this, and whoever scored the highest would be our representative."
So off Nelson went to Secaucus, N.J., for the taping of the show. Yes, in typical TV fashion, it's pre-recorded and, no, Nelson can't reveal how he did. But Royals fans can find out by watching at 8 p.m. CT on Wednesday as Nelson takes on first-round foe Howard Starkman, vice president of special projects for the Toronto Blue Jays. It was a pairing to recall the 1985 American League Championship Series, and, well, we know who won that.
Fans wanting to match their trivia skills with the experts can tune in for 31 episodes of the show with two new segments airing every Tuesday through Thursday night, Jan. 24 through Feb. 23.
Nelson enjoyed doing the show in Studio 42, the number in Jackie Robinson's honor, even though it could be nerve-wracking. Many questions involved multiple answers; for example, name the 12 players to hit at least 40 home runs in a season in the 1980s.
"For me, it's a little bit more of a challenge, because it's not just one answer; it's 12 answers," Nelson said. "So you've got a lot running around in your head, and on a game show, you have to answer those questions in just seconds."
That's not as clear-cut as a one-answer question.
"One of the first questions we were asked internally was, 'Who was the first manager of the Texas Rangers when they first moved from Washington to Texas?' Well, it's Ted Williams," Nelson said. "You either know that or you don't know that. You don't have to sit there and think about which 12 people it might be."
Nelson came by his baseball trivia knowledge over the years as a Royals fan.
"I grew up in Tulsa, Okla., but my parents were from Kansas City and we had family up here, so I'd spend a lot of time here," Nelson said. "I like to say I was born with the Royals, which is sort of true, because I was born in February of '68 and the Kauffmans were awarded the club in January of '68. So my life is basically along with the Royals. And when we won our first championship in '76, I was 8 years old, so that was the perfect time to be a kid discovering baseball and falling in love with the game."
The late '70s and early '80s were prime years for Kansas City baseball.
"We had Frank White and George Brett and all those great players, so they all become an integral part of why I loved the game of baseball," Nelson said. "And when you're a kid, you focus in on that information and it stays in your head. I've been fortunate to be allowed to have that as a career as well."
Nelson, entering his 14th season with the Royals, reads several baseball books a year and finds that his duties at the Royals Hall of Fame take him far back into the game's history. His research led him to two members of the Baseball Hall of Fame not usually associated with Kansas City.
Center fielder "Sliding" Billy Hamilton got the first of his 914 stolen bases with the Kansas City Cowboys of the old American Association, then considered a Major League, in 1888.
"He still held the National League stolen-base record until Lou Brock came along years later, and he might still hold the runs-scored record," Nelson said. (Indeed, Sliding Billy's 198 runs for the 1894 Phillies is still the mark.)
Charles "Kid" Nichols, a longtime pitcher for Boston (1890-1901), came to Kansas City in '02 as manager and pitcher for the Blue Stockings of the Western League. He did so well that in '04, the St. Louis Cardinals hired him as manager and he won 21 games as a pitcher, too.
After his playing days, Nichols settled in Kansas City, became an outstanding bowler and operated a bowling alley. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1949 and died in K.C. in 1953 at the age of 83.
"If you find his death certificate, it doesn't say anything about him being a baseball player; it says he was a professional bowler," Nelson said.
That was an odd thing, and how about this for another twist in the Nichols story?
"There was a boy that lived right across the street from Kid Nichols right around the turn of the century that sort of picked his brain about being a big league player and a manager -- and that was Casey Stengel," Nelson said.
Yep, ol' Casey was born in K.C. in 1890.
With all that trivia rattling about in his head, Nelson concedes it's hard to keep it all straight. Since he's been working for the Royals, Nelson sees so many games that sometimes he can't remember if something happened in, say, 2003 or '08. That can easily change in the coming season, he believes.
"When you have a great season, that's a very memorable season, like we have coming up with the All-Star Game and the team doing well on the field, which I think is going to happen as well," Nelson said. "That'll make a distinguishing mark that everyone remembers."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.