Jim Loll, the subject of today’s Column One, had been a standout athlete in high school and college, but he had an untypically poor performance (.109 batting average) in 1969 during his one sojourn in professional baseball.
He played with the Kansas City Royals’ rookie league farm team, the Kingsport Royals in Tennessee, and his brief stint there contained another surprise — and bitter irony. Two of Loll’s teammates at Kingsport went on to make it to the big leagues — one became an unlikely star, and both were from the Los Angeles area.
Taken out of Centennial High School in Compton in the 75th round of the `1969 major league draft was outfielder Al Cowens, who went on to a successful career with the major league Royals. By comparison, Jim Loll was a lofty eighth-round draft pick in the 1968 secondary draft with the Dodgers. According to Kansas City Royals historian Curt Nelson, at the time Cowens was drafted and for many years to come, he maintained the record for being the lowest-drafted player ever to make it to the majors. (Today, there aren’t 75 rounds.)
“A great diamond in the rough,” said Nelson of Cowens, who played 13 years in the majors, hitting .312 with 23 home runs in 1977, the season the Royals won their most games (102). That year, Cowens came in second for most valuable player in the American League behind Minnesota Twins infielder Rod Carew, who won more batting titles (seven) than any other player ever except Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner and Tony Gwynn.
By extension, Loll had rubbed shoulders with one of the greatest hitters of all time. He certainly had appeared to have more promise than Cowens. Today’s Column One chronicles Loll’s promise and his friendship with Rick Dempsey, who would go on to play with the Baltimore Orioles and Dodgers, including the team that won the World Series in 1988.
Loll’s other major league teammate from the Kingsport Royals was outfielder Keith Marshall of Anaheim’s Loara High School. Marshall evidently didn’t gain traction, playing in only eight major league games with the Royals in 1973, with a batting average of .222, managing only one extra-base hit (a double).
Loara alumni officials say they had lost track of him over the years; when last heard of, Marshall was a New York State police officer.
One of the mysteries of sport, and certainly of Jim Loll, is why some athletes can perform well in one arena but not another. One of his former teammates at Crespi Carmelite High School in Encino, Brian Porter, recalled of Loll: “He had the best raw talent on the team. He was big and strong as a bear. He could hit a baseball harder than I had ever seen.”
And yet, for various reasons, Loll never made it the way his buddy Dempsey did. As Nelson put it: “Baseball is an eternal mystery. The inexplicable nature of the game is one of the main reasons so many of us are drawn to and fascinated by it.”