Rural Missouri - June 2017 - 46
From the Bootheel
to the Big League
baseball's Forrest Gump,
counts his blessings
by Jim McCarty | firstname.lastname@example.org
ark Littell shakes his head in wonderment at the many twists and
photo courtesy the St. Louis Cardinals
turns his life has taken. A former major-league pitcher for the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals, his life is a baseball trivia
quiz where all the answers are Mark Littell.
"After you ﬁnish reading my book, maybe you will understand a little about
me because I'm not sure I do," Mark says of his recently released book, "On the
Eighth Day God Made Baseball."
"Everybody says this about me: If there's really a Forrest Gump, it's me. I'm
Former Gideon High School star Mark Littell delivers the heat as a reliever for the Cardinals.
serious, because of all these interesting little things that happened to this counMark says playing American Legion ball - ﬁrst for Poplar Bluff and later for
try kid who came from nowhere."
As an 11-year-old boy with a broken foot, Mark was riding the elevator up a team out of Blytheville, Arkansas - got him noticed by major league scouts.
to his seat at the Cards' old Sportsman's Park when Lou Brock stepped on the "You are playing a little better brand of baseball than high school," Mark says.
elevator in his ﬁrst home game with the Cardinals. Years later, Mark would be "You are getting noticed there. Every stone is pretty much turned over."
Mark threw three no-hitters as a senior at Gideon High School. When his
the winning pitcher when the Cardinal base stealer got his 3,000th hit.
He gave up the record-breaking hit when Pete Rose broke the National League classmates were on their senior trip in 1971, Mark stayed home to pitch a couall-time hitting record. Mark was the winning pitcher in both halves of a double- ple of games for the Blytheville Casons. In one game he struck out 24 batters.
header and he also once lost three games in less than 24 hours. He gave up the That led to him being drafted in the 12th round and a professional contract with
game-winning home run that dropped the Royals from a World Series appear- the Royals, signed when he was 18. His contract gave him just $4,250, with
ance in 1976 and once knocked out an umpire - and an elderly lady - with potential bonuses that could increase that up to another $5,000.
After just two years in the minor leagues, Mark was called up to the big
an errant pitch.
You can add to all this the fact that this small-town Missouri man played leagues in 1973 after winning nine games in Triple-A ball by June 9. Only 20
his entire career - nine seasons - with Missouri's two Major League Baseball years old and the youngest player at the time, he wasn't really ready for the big
time. But due to his success, the Royals were faced with either playing him or
teams. He was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2016.
Mark still can remember his ﬁrst at-bat in a baseball game. He grew up on losing him to another team. His major-league debut came against Baltimore,
a farm near Wardell, which also produced two other professional baseball play- with Mark going 6.1 innings and giving up just one hit.
He would play with the Royals until 1977, ﬁnding his spot as a relief pitcher.
ers, Jeff and Jerome Stone. His dad drove him 13 miles to Gideon where he
convinced Bo Wingo, the town marshall and baseball coach, to let the 6-year-old But the Royals decided they needed another left-handed reliever on the roster.
They traded Mark and his wicked slider to the St. Louis Cardinals in a controtake a few swings. "I had never seen a baseball ﬁeld before," Mark recalls.
He tells the tale of his ﬁrst hit in his book under a chapter called "Batter Up." versial exchange for Al Hrobowsky.
He would stay ﬁve seasons with the Cardinals, earning a World Series ring in
A right-handed pitcher, Mark learned on that day that he was a natural lefthanded batter. He started out on the left side of the plate,
1982. He still holds the Cardinals' record for most strikeouts in a season by
took a pitch, then asked the umpire if he could move to the
a relief pitcher, 130.
right side. He got the OK, but left his hands in the same
For three seasons, he would pitch in more than 100 innings, an amazing stat for a reliever. "You wouldn't do that nowadays," Mark says.
Mark took another pitch, decided he liked the left side better
His pitching career over, Mark turned to coaching, which he has
and again asked to switch sides. "I heard everyone laughing in
done for 20 years, taking his skills as far away as Australia. At age 64,
the stands," he says. "I said to myself, 'I guess I better swing.' So
Mark isn't close to slowing down. This year he will be the director of a
winter league in Cuba, leading 60 U.S. ballplayers and 12 coaches
I saw the ball and I swung and it made contact. I'm glad I ran to
to play against Cuban prospects.
ﬁrst instead of third."
During his career, Mark has had to explain to many sportswritOver the years, that swampy, mosquito-infested ﬁeld in Gideon
ers where the Bootheel is. He called it "that part Arkansas didn't
became Mark's second home as he worked to achieve his dream
want." He's still amazed at his good fortune in being able to be part
of playing professional baseball. "I always said in my mind that
I wanted to be a Major League Baseball player," says Mark, who now lives in
of the game he loves for so many years.
"I was lucky," Mark relates. "But I always tell my players, 'You know what
Phoenix. "I told my counselor that ever since I was a ninth grader. She said,
'What do you really want to do?' and I said, 'I just told you.' I told her that luck is? It's the residue of hard work.' It kind of rubs off sometimes, that hard
work that you do."
through my senior year."
Many budding baseball players learn the game by playing catch with their
Mark returns to Southeast Missouri on June 2 when he will give a pitching
dads. That didn't work for Mark, whose father was shot in the wrist during the
Korean conﬂict. Instead, Mark turned to his younger brother, Eric, who would fundamentals clinic at the Jackson High School baseball ﬁeld. Starting at 9 a.m.
on June 3, he will sign autographs at the SEMO Summer Sports Card Show at
catch him all through high school.
"I used to throw clods at him if he wouldn't catch me," Mark said of his the Miner Convention Center. For more information, call 573-429-5804. You can
brother, who also was drafted but instead opted for college at Mississippi State. contact Mark or order his book at www.marklittell.com.
RURAL MISSOURI | JUNE 2017