Longtime Royals infielder U.L. Washington dies at 70 after battle with cancer

Former Kansas City Royals infielder U.L. Washington, seen here in 1982, died Sunday. He was 70. (Ron Vesely/Getty Images)

Longtime Kansas City Royals infielder U.L. Washington, who helped lead the franchise to its first AL pennant and is perhaps best known for his trademark toothpick, died Sunday, the team announced.

Washington, who had cancer, was 70.

Washington spent eight seasons playing with the Royals from 1977 to 1984. He helped them reach the World Series in 1980, which marked the franchise’s first appearance in the series, though they fell to the Philadelphia Phillies 4-2. The shortstop and second baseman held a .254 batting average with 228 RBI and 26 home runs over his eight seasons with the Royals.

While he was instrumental in the Royals’ postseason run in the 1980 season, it was the toothpick that he frequently played with in his mouth that turned heads nationwide. According to the Kansas City Star, there was even talk of banning his toothpick use during winter meetings after the 1980 season.

“I’d much rather be remembered as a pretty good player, but I realize most people will remember me as the guy with the toothpick,” Washington said in 1988, via the Star. “I feel I’ve had a pretty good career, especially looking back at how I got into professional baseball.”

Washington spent a season with the Montreal Expos and two with the Pittsburgh Pirates before he retired after the 1987 season. He finished with a career batting average of .251 in 907 games.

“So sorry to hear my friend, my teammate U.L. Washington has died of cancer,” longtime Royals star and executive George Brett said on social media. “He was a great player. I will always be thankful of our time together with the Royals.”