20 February 2007

Royal legacy #29 -- the 1969 Royals (69-93)

For most expansion franchises, the first season is often a bottom-five season all-time, if not the worst. It's all castoffs from other organizations and unproven young guys trying to gel and still find a way to win games. That's not exactly a winning recipe. Well, thanks to the late 1990s as well as the last five seasons, I've got the Royals first season of 1969 ranked as the franchise's 10th worst. And they lost 93 games that season. If you needed another reason to lament the loss of the once-strong "Royals winning heritage," that's all you need. But, at least the 1969 Royals gave KC a fresh start. Gone was Charlie O. and his bullshit. A new regime was at hand, led by owner Ewing Kauffman, GM Cedric Tallis and a little-known administrative assistant in charge of minor league operations -- John Schuerholz. Basically the three guys who would work to put the pieces together during the glory years. The franchise was in good hands.

That first Royals team hit only .240 with a .306 OBP and .338 SLG in the last year of the big Decade of the Pitcher and, despite a 3.72 team ERA, that number was in the bottom half of the AL. HOFer Hoyt Wilhelm was briefly a Royal but was traded in December '68 to the Angels for utility guy Ed Kirkpatrick and C Dennis Paepke. In a trade later that month they picked up C Buck Martinez and, in April '69 they added OF Lou Piniella from the Seattle Pilots. Tallis' first draft saw him pick OF Al Cowens as a diamond in the rough of round 75 and P Doug Bird in the 3rd round of the secondary draft. As noted in the 1970 post, Tallis found more good fortune in December '69 by flipping IF Joe Foy to the Mets for OF Amos Otis and P Bob
Johnson. On the field, one-year manager Joe Gordon guided the team to a record that matched the team's pythagorean W-L record. Piniella, Kirkpatrick and 1B Mike Fiore were the three guys that stood out on offense with .400 SLGs in over 100 games played. Young Sweet Lou posted a .741 OPS while leading the team with a .282 BA, Fiore posted an .848 OPS (including a .420 OBP) and Kirkpatrick posted a .799 OPS while playing every position but SS and P during the season. On the flip side, C Ellie Rodriguez slugged a measly .296 but somehow was the team's lone all-star, 2B Jerry Adair posted a .595 OPS and SS Jackie Hernandez (he of the atrocious 1970) one-upped that by posting a .560 OPS. It was your basic first-year lineup.

Pitching was a different story, as all 5 main starters and 3 of the 5 main relievers posted a sub-4 ERA. Wally Bunker went 12-11 with a 3.23 ERA and Roger Nelson had a nice season at 7-13 with a 3.31 ERA. Moe Drabowsky was the bullpen ace with an 11-9 record, 11 saves and a 2.94 ERA in 98 IP and Mike Hedlund posted a 3.24 ERA in 125 IP while making 16 starts and 18 relief appearances. That's not to say there weren't some low lights. Dave Morehead had an ERA
over 5 and Tom Burgmeier posted a high-for-that-year 4.17 ERA.

The year had no real peaks and valleys. There were three 6-game losing streaks but the team only had one single-digit win month and that was a 9-10 record in April. The team was shut out 14 times but also shut out opponents 10 times. The team was only 5 games back of first on June 1 but, by August 1, had dropped to 21 1/2 games back of the first-place Twins. Only 902,000 people showed up for home games in Municipal Stadium, but baseball was back in KC to stay
and would prove fruitful.

1969 Pipeline Royals MVP -- OF Lou Piniella. A storied career (that's still ongoing) got its true start in KC.

1969 Pipeline Royals LVP -- Sorry, SS Jackie Hernandez, but I've gotta give you the nod again. 33 errors and 111 Ks with a .560 OPS.

The team that started it all. The '69 Royals.

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