Mission Man: Royals’ Guthrie holds unique place in MLB history

Royals right-hander Jeremy Guthrie, who starts Friday against the A’s, has made baseball history in two ways.

● Guthrie, who was 23 when the Cleveland Indians selected him 22nd overall in the 2002 draft, is the oldest first-round pick to reach the majors this century, according to STATS LLC. (Ariel Prieto, who debuted with Oakland in 1995, was 25 when the A’s drafted him.)

● Last October, Guthrie became the first Major League Baseball player who had been a Mormon missionary to appear in the World Series, according to research by Doug Andersen of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Guthrie, now 36, started and earned the victory in Game 3 before taking the loss in Game 7.)

The two aspects of Guthrie’s biography are very much related, as the start of his professional baseball career was delayed by the two-year mission in Spain. Guthrie spent his freshman year at BYU, served his mission and then pitched at Stanford for two more seasons before the Indians drafted him.

In fact, Guthrie was drafted three times: by the New York Mets in 1997, after he graduated from Ashland (Oregon) High School; by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the third round, following his first season at Stanford in 2001; and then by the Indians.

The Mets selected Guthrie in the 15th round and offered an extraordinarily high bonus ($650,000) for that point in the draft. Guthrie declined, saying that he was determined to serve his mission before turning pro. During one meeting at Shea Stadium, Guthrie remembers then-Mets general manager Steve Phillips asking if $1 million would be enough for him to commit to baseball full time rather than become a missionary. Guthrie said no.

AROUND THE HORN

Eighteen years and more than 1,600 major-league innings later, Guthrie uses the Spanish he learned during his mission to translate for Royals teammate Yordano Ventura, a native of the Dominican Republic, during media interviews.

Andersen’s research found a total of seven major leaguers who also served as Mormon missionaries: Guthrie, two-time NL MVP Dale Murphy (a mission president in Massachusetts after his playing career), Brian Banks, McKay Christensen, Matt Lindstrom, Gary Johnson and Scott Nielsen.

Murphy appeared in the 1982 NLCS with Atlanta. Christensen played in one game for the White Sox in the 2000 ALDS against Seattle. Banks’ final big-league plate appearance was a walk (resulting in a run scored) for the Marlins in Game 7 of the 2003 NLCS at Wrigley Field. But Guthrie was the first among them to play in the Fall Classic.