St. Louis U. High’s contribution to Major League baseball played for nine different teams in 10 seasons. Ken Sanders lettered for the Junior Billikens in three sports, soccer, football and what became his highly successful profession — baseball.
Born a St. Louisan in 1941, and after one month at St. Louis University, he signed with the Kansas City Athletics as an amateur free agent in 1960. Success came quickly for Sanders. In his first season with the Florida State League’s Sanford Greyhounds he went 19-10 with a 3.21 earned run average as a right handed starter. However, his effectiveness on the mound led his managers to use him in relief as well for his first three seasons, becoming a full time reliever with the Birmingham Barons in 1964.
The major leagues beckoned and the Athletics brought him up late that year, and put him right into the fire, pitching in relief in his first game against what would be the eventual American League champion New York Yankees with Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra and the rest of the star-studded cast. Ken did not allow a run, and struck out Mantle!
The 1965 season was spent totally at Triple A with the Boston Red Sox who had claimed him in the Rule 5 draft. Then it was back to Kansas City in a six player trade where he made his only MLB start against the California Angels. Good things happened with the Milwaukee Brewers beginning in 1970, his finest three years in baseball. Brewer manager Dave Bristol nicknamed Sanders “Bulldog” because “he was so mean, tough and stubborn on the mound”. That season he was an impressive 5-2 with an ERA of 1.76 and remains the Brewers all-time ERA leader at 2.22.
The dividends paid off in 1971. Ken was named the American League “Fireman of the Year” with 31 saves, 83 appearances, and a then Major League record of 77 games finished, with a 7-12 record and a sizzling 1.92 ERA. Ken was the Brewers’ Most Valuable Player, and voted Fireman of the Year by the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.
Subsequent stops at Minnesota, Cleveland, California, New York Mets and back to Kansas City with the Royals, earned him a “journeyman” tag. The career ended in 1976, but those years in Milwaukee never forgotten. With a lifetime ERA of 2.97 and was named to the Brewer’s All-Decade Team for the ‘70’s and named to the inaugural class of the Brewer’s “Wall of Honor”.
After baseball, a new career was launched as a real estate broker. An interesting tidbit, Sanders assisted in the sale of the property in Dyersville, Iowa, that was the “Field of Dreams” movie site.
Baseball has never left his life. A lifetime member of the Professional Baseball Players Association and the Baseball Players Alumni Association, for which he has worked and chaired events raising money for charities. Married to his wife Mary Ann, father to Leanne, Steven and Laura, with five grandchildren and longtime resident where his baseball triumphs are best remembered, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.