Kansas City Royals
Franchise Record: (through 2019) 3,901-4,222-2 (.480)
Post Season Record: 40-34 (.541)
Franchise Players: Amos Otis, John Mayberry, Hal McRae, Steve Busby, Al Cowens, Frank White, George Brett, Willie Wilson, Dan Quisenberry, Mark Gubicza, Bret Saberhagen, Bo Jackson, Danny Tartabull, Jeff Montgomery, David Cone, Mike Sweeney, Carlos Beltran, Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Greg Holland
Established in 1986, the Royals Hall of Fame now has 22 members: Amos Otis (1986), Steve Busby (1986), Dick Howser (1987), Cookie Rojas (1987), Paul Splittorff (1987), Dennis Leonard (1989), Hal McRae (1989), Joe Burke - GM/President (1992), Larry Gura (1992), Freddie Patek (1992), Ewing Kauffman - Owner (1993), George Brett (1994), Frank White (1995), Muriel Kauffman - Royals First Lady (Ewing's wife) (1996), John Mayberry (1996), Dan Quisenberry (1998), Whitey Herzog (2000), Willie Wilson (2000), Jeff Montgomery (2003), Denny Matthews - Broadcaster (2004), Bret Saberhagen (2005), Mark Gubicza (2006), and Art Stewart - Scout (2008).
The Athletics had been singularily unsuccessful, failing to reach .500 during their entire time in Kansas City, MO and being caracterized first by a series of unequal trades with the New York Yankees that made many observers say that they were still behaving like the Kansas City Blues, who had been the Yankees' top farm team before the A's moved here from Philadelphia, PA in 1955, and in later years, under the ownership of Charlie O. Finley, by general tawdriness and a sideshow atmosphere. The Royals would be a completely different beast.
The name they chose, "Royals", harked back to the "American Royal" livestock and horse show, one of the city's proudest institutions, and to the Kansas City Monarchs, perhaps the greatest team in the history of the Negro Leagues. Contrary to the A's, who were infamous for garish (and changing) uniform colors, the Royals chose a very classic look and left it unchanged for years. Owner Ewing Kauffman did not seek the limelight and left baseball decisions up to people who knew what they were doing. Their first manager, Joe Gordon was a veteran associated with the glory years of the Yankees as a player, and who had briefly managed the A's. There was little nostalgia for the departed team, however.
In the expansion draft, overseen by brilliant young general manager Cedric Tallis, the Royals chose a lot of young players with upside, whereas the other new American League franchise, the Seattle Pilots, looked for veterans. Before the season began, the Royals made a trade with the Pilots to acquire young outfielder Lou Piniella for middling veterans Steve Whitaker and John Gelnar; Piniella would end up winning the 1969 American League Rookie of the Year Award, and the trade set a formula for the Royals to develop by acquiring young players with a lot of potential in return for decent players who had reached their peak. In the inaugural 1969 season, the Royals finished a remarkable 4th in the newly-created AL West, ahead of both Seattle and the Chicago White Sox, with a record of 69-93. It was a sign of even better things to come.
Building a winner in the 1970s
Gordon retired after his first season and was replaced in 1970 by Charlie Metro, a veteran manager who had had a lot of success in the minor leagues but had only managed the Chicago Cubs for a brief time in the majors. Metro had a good eye for young talent and had worked on the team that prepared the expansion draft, but his stint as a manager was brief and unsuccessful, and marked by philosophical differences with top management. The Royals wanted to do certain things differently, in particular by setting up the Royals Baseball Academy which was to teach baseball skills to good athletes without much baseball experience. The effort would eventually lead to the development of a few major league players - Frank White most famously, but also UL Washington and Jeff Cox - but Metro was a traditionalist who thought the efforts were a waste of time. The Royals were 19-35 and in last place when he was fired on June 9. Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Lemon was brought in to replace him and slowly righted the ship. The Royals were back in fourth place when the season ended, then finished second with a winning record of 85-76 in 1971, accomplishing in three years what the A's had failed to do in 13.
It was a series of very wise trades by Tallis that brought the Royals to respectability so quickly. After the 1969 season, he traded starting 3B Joe Foy to the New York Mets for OF Amos Otis and P Bob Johnson. After Johnson had a good year in 1970, he was sent to the Pittsburgh Pirates for SS Freddie Patek and P Bruce Dal Canton. The next offseason, pitchers Jim York and Lance Clemons brought in 1B John Mayberry from the Houston Astros, then, one year later, P Jim Rooker landed reliever Gene Garber from the Pirates and P Roger Nelson and OF Richie Scheinblum snared OF Hal McRae from the Cincinnati Reds. Tallis gave up decent ballplayers in all of the deals, but what he received were youngsters who were ready to be team pillars for the next decade. Indeed, the Royals were not built through the amateur draft: their top picks in their first five seasons were all busts, although a couple of second-rounders made up for them: 3B George Brett in 1971 and P Dennis Leonard in 1972. In 1974, the team finally landed a star with its first pick in speedster Willie Wilson.
The Royals fell back to fourth place under Lemon in 1972, then in 1973 gave a young Jack McKeon his first shot at managing in the big leagues. He had been one of the earliest employees of the organization, having first managed a co-op team including some early Royals signees in 1968, and then their AAA affiliate the Omaha Royals from 1969 to 1972. He knew the organization's young players very well and was not hesitant to play them. Young pitchers Steve Busby and Paul Splittorff became 20-game winners for him, with Busby throwing two no-hitters before blowing out his arm from overuse. McKeon created the first "lifetime" designated hitter, assigning McRae, who could run but couldn't throw from the outfield, to the role and then leaving him there permanently. His arrival coincided with the opening of Royals Stadium, a beautiful park favorable to hitters for average and whose astroturf encouraged the running game. McKeon started to tool the team around these attributes, and after he was replaced by Whitey Herzog midway through the 1975 season, those tendencies only grew more prominent.
Herzog's teams from 1975 to 1979 were extremely successful, winning the AL West title in 1976, 1977 and 1978 and finishing 2nd the other two years. They were built around hitting for average - Brett and McRae finished 1-2 in the American League batting race in 1976 -, speed, with Otis, Patek, White and Wilson burning up the basepaths, and defense (White and Otis were top-notch fielders up the middle, as was C Darrell Porter, while Patek and Brett were above-average). Power was not a big consideration, although Mayberry did fit the mold of the classic power hitter/run producer in the middle of the line-up. Pitching was more problematic. Splittorff and Leonard were good front-line starters, but Herzog did not place much trust in those taking a starting turn behind them, such as Jim Colborn, Al Fitzmorris and Marty Pattin, and even if they put up some good won-loss records, he avoided using them in the playoffs. Instead, less-proven lefties Andy Hassler and Larry Gura got to start key postseason games, but the results were not so great. The bullpen was solid though, built around right-handers Doug Bird and Mark Littell and lefty Steve Mingori. In the postseason, the Royals were beaten by the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series three consecutive years, coming up agonizingly short of the World Series.
The World Series Years from 1980 to 1985
Herzog was let go after the 1979 season when the Royals failed to make the final push to the Fall Classic. His replacement was Jim Frey, a long-time hitting coach with the Baltimore Orioles who had not managed for a couple of decades. Frey was successful in building a positive atmosphere, in integrating a few new players in the line-up - OF Clint Hurdle, 1B Willie Aikens and SS Washington, and beefing up the pitching staff with the development of Gura as a successful starter, complemented by Rich Gale and youngsters Dan Quisenberry and Renie Martin landing a hand. His weakness was in the strategic decisions that needed to be made during a game. The Royals crushed the Yankees in the 1980 ALCS thanks to George Brett, who had a super-human performance after flirting with a .400 average during the regular season and winning the AL MVP. They faced the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series, with both teams looking for their first-ever world championship (although the Phillies were 85 years older than the Royals). The Phillies prevailed, 4 games to 2.
Frey's lack of strategic acumen became apparent during the 1981 All-Star Game, when he used all of his hitters early and was forced to let pitcher Dave Stieb bat for himself with the game on the line in the 9th inning. The Royals were badly outpaced by Billy Martin's Oakland Athletics in the first half of the strike-shortened 1981 season, but after Frey was replaced by Dick Howser on August 31st, they rallied to capture the second-half title. They were no match for the A's in the Division series though, and were swept in three games. After the season, rookie pitcher Mike Jones, who seemed ready to emerge as the team's future ace, was seriously injured in a car accident and was lost for two years. New GM John Schuerholz acquired Vida Blue from the San Francisco Giants to fill the gap in the starting rotation, but he gave up four good young players in the process. With Leonard struggling, they finished second behind the California Angels in 1982. 1983 was a bit of a nightmare though, even if they finished second again, but below .500 and miles behind the Chicago White Sox who ran away with the division title. The starting rotation was a shambles: Blue lost all effectiveness and did not win a game all year, posting a 6.01 ERA; Leonard was shut down by injury after 10 starts, and Larry Gura and Steve Renko combined to go 17-29 with a 4.50 ERA. Even a 45-save season by Quisenberry, and solid seasons with the bat by Brett, Aikens and McRae could not right the ship. Things got worse after the season when four players - Aikens, Blue, Jerry Martin and Willie Wilson were sentenced to jail time for dealing in cocaine.
The Royals re-tooled successfully in 1984, reshaping their starting rotation around youngsters Mark Gubicza and Bret Saberhagen, Charlie Leibrandt, acquired in a minor league trade with the Cincinnati Reds, and holdover Bud Black, who led the team with 17 wins. A new first baseman, Steve Balboni, who replaced the disgraced Aikens, hit 28 homers and Wilson returned from jail to hit .301 with 47 steals and the Royals won a surprise division title. They were easily beaten by the historically-strong Detroit Tigers in the ALCS, but that core of players took another step forward in 1985 to win another division title. An off-season trade brought in catcher Jim Sundberg. The ever-great George Brett had one of his best seasons, slugging 38 doubles and 30 homers and driving in 112 to go with a .335 batting average. Balboni set a franchise record with 38 homers. 2B Frank White, whose hitting had been improving steadily since he had come up as a defensive specialist a decade earlier, hit 22 homers and drove in 69 runs. Saberhagen took another step forward to go 20-6 and win the Cy Young Award; Danny Jackson emerged as a fifth solid starter behind Saberhagen, Gubicza, Leibrandt and Black, and the team won 91 games. They emerged winners in an epic battle with the young Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS, then upset the heavily-favored St. Louis Cardinals, managed by Whitey Herzog, in the 1985 World Series. The series is most remembered by a blown call by first base umpire Don Denkinger in the 9th inning of Game 6, which keyed a Royals' comeback win, and for their demolition of the Cards behind Saberhagen's pitching to win Game 7, 11-0. It remains the only World Championship in team history.
Sputtering for a Decade from 1986 to 1995
The beginning of the fall of the Kansas City Royals can be traced to one tragic event, the announcement during spring training in 1986 that beloved manager Dick Howser was suffering from a brain tumor. That news hit the team hard, and it got off to a poor start, playing under .500 at the All-Star break when Howser stepped down with his condition worsening; he would die less than a year later. Coach Mike Ferraro took over for the second half, but the Royals finished 3rd, 10 games below .500. Everyone's batting average took a plunge, most notably Sundberg, who fell to .212, Balboni to .229 and RF Darryl Motley to .203; adding Angel Salazar, a .245 hitter with no power, to play shortstop, did not help either; even George Brett fell below .300. The pitching also regressed, with Saberhagen having an off-year, Dennis Leonard coming back from his injury but pitching poorly and Dan Quisenberry only a shadow of his former dominant self. Billy Gardner was appointed to manage the team in 1987, but they continued to sputter around the .500 mark, and he did not finish the year, being replaced by former catcher John Wathan in late August. Wathan would manage the team until 1991, but never could take it higher than a second-place finish.
With the team seemingly spinning its wheels, GM John Schuerholz concocted a number of big trades to attempt to take it back to first place. Many of them backfired. After the 1986 season, he sent three promising youngsters, P Scott Bankhead and Steve Shields and OF Mike Kingery to Seattle for OF Danny Tartabull, who was expected to become a top star; he was a good player, but not a Hall of Famer. His next trade, during spring training in 1987 did hurt a lot: P David Cone went to the New York Mets for C Ed Hearn and Ps Rick Anderson and Mauro Gozzo; Cone became one of baseball's top pitchers, while Hearn, the Royals' presumptive catcher of the future, got hurt immediately and never contributed anything (nor did the two pitchers also acquired in the deal). After the 1987 season, Schuerholz first sent Danny Jackson and Angel Salazar to the Reds for SS Kurt Stillwell, and then four youngsters, including Ps John Davis, Melido Perez and Greg Hibbard, to the White Sox for Floyd Bannister. In both cases, what he gave up turned out to be much more valuable than what he received. His biggest mistake, however, was forking over boatloads of cash to free agent pitchers Mark Davis and Storm Davis after the 1989 season; both would turn out to be busts of gigantic proportion. There were a few high points during those years: Saberhagen won a second Cy Young Award in 1989; George Brett won a third batting title in 1990, and Kevin Seitzer had a great rookie year in 1987 before turning into a middling player. Most exciting was the arrival of Bo Jackson, one of the greatest pure athletes in baseball history, pried from the NFL in 1986, and who emerged into a spectacular and popular All-Star for a few seasons until an injury on the gridiron robbed him of his speed.
In 1990, the Royals had one of their worst seasons up to that point, going 75-86 and finishing 6th. Schuerholz was fired, to go on to success with the Atlanta Braves in the 1990s, and Wathan lasted until May 23rd of 1991. They were replaced by two veterans of the organization, Herk Robinson as GM and Hal McRae as manager. The sputtering would continue, however. For a while, Robinson continued his predecessor's habit of making big trades that did not really help the team, for example by acquiring Gregg Jefferies and Kevin McReynolds from the Mets for Saberhagen; he then tried signing some big name free agents, often past their prime (Wally Joyner, Kirk Gibson, David Cone); finally, he attempted to build from within, but he was hampered by years of poor drafting and neglect of the farm system. McRae walked and talked like a big league manager, but had disappointing results overall. The team did finish above .500 in 1993 when Brett played his last season, hitting .266 with 31 doubles and 19 homers as the DH; C Mike Macfarlane blasted 20 homers; Joyner had a 120 OPS+ at first base; and Kevin Appier won 18 games. They appeared to be headed in the right direction in 1994, when they were 13 games above .500 in the strike-shortened season, with David Cone going 16-5 and winning the Cy Young Award and Bob Hamelin winning the Rookie of the Year Award, but it was a last hurrah. When the strike was settled, the Royals estimated they could not compete financially with bigger-market teams and traded away Cone for three youngsters before the 1995 season started. McRae was replaced by former catcher Bob Boone, the team fell to 70-74, and has not really threatened to reach the postseason ever since.
Years in the Darkness: 1996-2010
Starting in 1996, the Royals began a 15-year run of seasons during which they were never really relevant to the pennant race. The major split in baseball at the time was between the "haves", the big-market teams, and the "have-nots", operating in small markets; the Royals were definitely in the second camp. Under managers Boone and Tony Muser, until 2002, they never played above .500 and never finished above third place after 1995. Sure, they signed the occasional free agent and made the occasional trade, but not much of what they did mattered much in the bigger scheme of things. Two of their players were good for a while: reliever Jeff Montgomery, who saved over 300 games for the team in a career that spanned the 1990s, and C turned 1B Mike Sweeney, who hit .299 with 197 homers and who represented the team at the All-Star Game five times while he was a Royal from 1995 to 2007. Many of the team's players were older veterans who had only one or two decent seasons left in the tank: Dean Palmer and Jeff King are examples, or younger players, who, in a flashback to the KC A's years, failed to develop for one reason or another after an initial good season: Jose Rosado, twice an All-Star before arm woes ended his career, Carlos Febles, Mark Quinn, Ken Harvey, Mike MacDougal, Angel Berroa... A few outfielders did develop well, but were traded away when they threatened to become expensive: Carlos Beltran, the 1999 American League Rookie of the Year who was traded to Houston in 2004; Jermaine Dye, infamously exchanged for the overrated Neifi Perez in 2001; and Johnny Damon, whose trade netted the flash-in-the-pan Berroa.
In 2000, major changes were made to the top of the organization. David Glass, who had made a considerable fortune by investing in Wal-Mart at the right time, bought the team from Ewing Kauffman's estate. The Royals may still have been small-market, but they were no longer poor, not with one of the richest men in the United States being their principal owner. Glass replaced Herk Robinson with Allard Baird a well-regarded general manager at the time who would quickly squander his reputation with trades such as the three mentioned above, and aimless free agent signings that gave the appearance of investing in a winner, but brought the team no closer to the prize. To compound the problem, the team was still drafting very poorly, wasting its poor finishes and consequent good draft order, on players of little impact. The list of their top picks in the period is mind-boggling in its lack of any player who would have a significant career: Juan LeBron in 1995; Dee Brown in 1996; Dan Reichert in 1997; Jeff Austin in 1998; Kyle Snyder in 1999; Mike Stodolka in 2000; Colt Griffin in 2001. Finally, in 2002, they found a keeper in P Zack Greinke.
Long after it had become apparent to all observers that Tony Muser was out of his depth as the team's manager, he was finally fired early in 2002; after hesitating for a while, Baird brought in someone from outside the organization, Tony Pena, to succeed him. And in 2003, the impossible occurred: the Royals started the season with a 9-game winning streak, at one point were 17-4 with 5 1/2 game lead in the AL Central, stayed in first place until mid-May, and finished the season above .500, at 83-79. Mind you, they still finished in 3rd place, and according to the Pythagorean Theorem of Baseball, they should have been only 78-84 as they gave up 31 more runs than they scored, but still it was an apparent beginning. Pena was named Manager of the Year and lauded all around for preaching the virtues of small ball. Even that team was short of talent, though, beyond Beltran and Sweeney. Angel Berroa was the Rookie of the Year, Aaron Guiel had the only productive season of his career, and Joe Randa and Raul Ibanez were above-average hitters; the pitching was terrible, though, with only Darrell May winning as many as 10 games, and Chris George going 9-6 in spite of a 7.11 ERA as the number 2 starter ! In an ironic twist, the Royals were the team that had given birth to sabermetrics, with Bill James analyzing its moves in the late 1970s and early 1980s to formulate his highly-influential theories; his followers Rob Neyer and Rany Jazayerli were also fans of the team, and wrote caustically about developments in the heartland, yet it was probably the least sabermetrically-inclined team in baseball. Of course, the 2003 season was fluke. The team fell back to its worst record ever, 58-104, in 2004, and Pena quit in disgust on May 11 the following season. His successor, Buddy Bell, never took the team out of 5th place in his three years at the helm.
Baird was fired in 2005 and replaced by Dayton Moore, formerly of the Braves organization. At first, it looked to be more of the same, with pointless signings (Gil Meche's contract got the most criticism, but it was one of a number of deals that cost the team too much, such as those for Jose Guillen or Scott Elarton). In 2008, Moore made a bold decision, looking towards Japan for his next manager, Trey Hillman. Hillman could not turn the team's fortunes completely around, but at least things started looking brighter. One thing that had started to improve at the end of Allard Baird's reign was the team's drafting, and that continued under Dayton Moore. Following Greinke, other top picks finally included some players with star potential, such as Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Luke Hochevar, Eric Hosmer and Aaron Crow. It would take a while for them to develop or have an impact, but finally the Royals were present again on the prospect front. After struggling with mental issues for a few years, Greinke had a break-out season in 2009, winning the Cy Young Award with a 16-8 record and a league-leading 2.16 ERA. Royals scouts beat the bushes a bit outside the usual paths and found a gem in Mexico in reliever Joakim Soria. Butler reached the majors as a doubles machine, hitting 51 in 2009 and 45 the next season. Finally, there was hope for Royals fans.
A new beginning: 2011-
Something strange occurred before the 2011 season started: publications like Baseball America were gushing about all the young talent in the Royals organization! Finally the products from the previous decades' drafts were ready to contribute. When the team had traded Greinke in the off-season, there were some good vibes about the talent obtained in return: Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi. Another trade of veterans originally brought in as overpriced free agents, that of P Kyle Farnsworth and OF Rick Ankiel, had yielded more young talent in P Tim Collins, OF Gregor Blanco and P Jesse Chavez. For a change, the Royals seemed to be doing things the right way, even if their choice of a manager to replace Hillman, Ned Yost was not universally acclaimed, given his earlier problems in managing a pitching staff with the Milwaukee Brewers. The 2011 season was characterized by solid performance from some of the young position players, particularly 1B Hosmer, OF Gordon and 3B Mike Moustakas, as well as the emergence of a solid young bullpen led by Crow, Collins, Louis Coleman and Greg Holland. For all that, the Royals still finished 20 games below .500, and in 2012 only improved by a single game as Hosmer took a step back, a few spots in the line-up continued to be offensive black holes, and the starting pitching was still well below average. More young players emerged though, particularly SS Escobar, C Salvador Perez and RP Kelvin Herrera. After the season, the front office made a bold move, trading the Minor League Player of the Year, OF Wil Myers, to the Tampa Bay Rays in return for two established starting pitchers, James Shields and Wade Davis. By signing another veteran, Ervin Santana and retaining Jeremy Guthrie, who had pitched well after being acquired in a late-season trade in 2012, the Royals had turned their traditional weakness into a potential strength, and indicated that competing for a postseason slot was the objective for 2013.
Indeed, the 2013 season marked the first time in ages that the Royals were relevant in the race for the postseason. They stayed around .500 for most of the season, then rode a late-August, early-September hot streak to insert themselves into the wild card race, hanging within a few games of a postseason slot until they were finally eliminated on September 25th only. They finished with 86 wins, the most by a Royals team since 1989. With their team still very young and a very strong farm system as well, the Royals' plan to become competitive again after their 20-year eclipse was fully on track. The playoff drought was finally ended in 2014, when a team based on speed, defence and outstanding relief pitching around Holland, Davis and Herrera won the right to host the Wild Card Game after giving the Detroit Tigers a run for their money in the regular season. They defeated the Oakland A's in a thrilling extra-inning game, starting a string of 8 straight wins in the postseason that took them to a completely unexpected appearance in the World Series. OF Cain emerged as a hero with timely hitting and some tremendous catches, but it was really an all-around effort, with big hits coming from every spot in the line-up, enough starting pitching to keep games close, and some amazing shut-down work by the trio of late-game relievers. Meeting the San Francisco Giants in the World Series, they managed to force a seventh game but lost the final game at home, 3-2, a disappointment certainly, but also an indication that the team's renaissance was now complete.
|Ewing Kauffman||1969 to 1993|
|Kauffman family||1993 to 2000|
|David Glass||2000 to present|
|Royals General Managers|
|Cedric Tallis||1969 to June 1974|
|Joe Burke||June 1974 to October 1981|
|John Schuerholz||October 1981 to October 1990|
|Herk Robinson||October 10, 1990 to June 17, 2000|
|Allard Baird||June 17, 2000 to May 31, 2006|
|Dayton Moore||June 8, 2006 to present|
- Bill James: "A History of Being a Kansas City Baseball Fan", in The 1986 Baseball Abstract, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1986, pp. 39-68.
- Bill Nowlin, ed.: Kansas City Royals: A Royal Tradition, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2019. ISBN 978-1-970159-03-5
- John Thorn: Total Baseball, Total Sports Publishing, 1989, 1995
- Peter Filichia: Green Cathedrals: The Ultimate Celebrations of All 273 Major League and Negro League Ballparks Past and Present, Addison Wesley Publishing Company (March 1993)
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