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It's difficult to say what might have become of Bill Kazmierczak had his right shoulder not given out.
The former Cubs farmhand appeared destined to make it all the way to Chicago as the spring of 1988 unfolded. He made history that season in the Carolina League, tossing a pair of no-hitters and dazzling the opposition while pitching for the Winston-Salem Spirits. But during his second no-hitter, Kazmierczak began to experience discomfort, and what was once a promising career slowly began to come apart.
"My shoulder didn't bother me during the first one," Kazmierczak said. "During the second one, it started to act up. It was very minimal, but shortly after the second one the irritation I was feeling turned out to be a rotator cuff. It was something that was gradual."
Those six weeks in late April and early May proved to be the high-water mark of Kazmierczak's career. He sat out the 1989 season after undergoing shoulder surgery and retired after coming back to win nine games in 1990.
While Kazmierczak might never have reached the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, he still holds a place in the Carolina League record book after becoming the first and only pitcher in the circuit's history to toss two no-hitters in one season. In fact, he was just the second pitcher in league history to throw two career no-hitters. Juan Quintana tossed a pair for Durham, one seven-inning affair in August of 1965 against Raleigh and the other against Peninsula in April of 1966.
At the time, Kazmierczak was the first professional pitcher in 15 years to throw two no-nos in one season. (Nolan Ryan had two no-hitters for the Angels in 1973.) Despite that distinction, the 20th anniversary of his feat passed quietly last month for the right-hander.
"Unfortunately, I don't think about it much, unless someone brings it up," said Kazmierczak, who's now a police officer in Illinois. "I'm really a quiet guy when it comes to my baseball past. If someone didn't find out, they might not even know I played. I'm not embarrassed about it. That's just the type of person I am."
The Cubs had drafted Kazmierczak in the sixth round out of Lewis University in 1986, and he rewarded them by going 10-3 with a 3.80 ERA in 16 games (15 starts) between the New York-Penn and Midwest Leagues. He followed that by going 9-5 with a 4.14 ERA in 25 outings (20 starts) in the Midwest and Carolina leagues the next season, setting the stage for what would be an eventful 1988.
Kazmierczak got off to a fast start at Winston-Salem that year, winning his first three outings while posting a 0.36 ERA. One of those games was a seven-inning, 1-0 no-hitter against Salem on April 13.
"The biggest memory I have of that game was that my wife [Angie] was sitting in the crowd," said Kazmierczak, who threw two no-hitters in college. "Late in the game, someone told her I was pitching a no-hitter. She was in the midst of having a conversation with the other wives and she just said, 'Oh yeah, he's good.' She had no idea what that meant."
What it meant was that Kazmierczak had thrown the first of the only two no-hitters the Carolina League would see that season. While some would dismiss it as being only a seven-inning affair, Kazmierczak didn't mind.
"I'll take it against anyone," he said. "You do realize that it's not easy to do, so you take it when you can get it."
Kazmierczak got another one May 20 against a woeful Virginia squad. The Generals were in the middle of losing 15 consecutive games when they faced Kazmierczak. (They would also lose 14 straight later that year.) He struck out eight, walked just one and improved to 6-2 while lowering his ERA to 1.64.
Eventually, Kazmierczak would get moved up to the Double-A Eastern League that summer. He finished with a 9-2 record and a 1.34 ERA in 11 starts for the Spirits, then went 5-3 with a 4.09 ERA in 12 starts for Pittsfield, but he knew it was a mirage.
"I had that season shortened by about four weeks," Kazmierczak said. "Midway through the season, I started having real issues with my shoulder, and it got progressively worse. I was doing less and less. I would take a start and then shut it down until my next start; no long toss, no between work in the bullpen.
"Toward the end of the season, they did some tests and it came out that I had issues that needed to be resolved. I had two different surgeries, and I didn't play at all in 1989. It took a toll. Before my arm started acting up, things were going well that year. You heard talk about some guys moving onto the 40-man roster. It was nice before the pain started setting in."
But the pain and the surgeries changed everything. By the end of the '89 season, it was apparent to Kazmierczak that pitching was not going to be an option much longer. He wound up taking a test to become a police officer and has served his family and his community in that role ever since.
While he remains humble about his accomplishment, he never really wonders whether he would have been wearing a Cubs uniform instead of a police uniform had his shoulder not given out.
"I never feel slighted or cheated by any stretch," said Kazmierczak, who still has a warm-up jersey from that season with Winston-Salem. "I never think what might have been. I like to think I had a pretty good knowledge of the game and above-average ability. And the way things were falling into place, I like to think I would have been able to make it, even though it was difficult to move up.
"But it's just the way the ball bounces. That's how it worked out for me. I'm actually pretty excited to be helping my kids [Jake and Griffin] and their teams with what they are doing. If it was meant to be, it would have happened."
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com.