30 March 2007

Royal legacy #14 -- the 1994 Royals (64-51)

The 1994 baseball strike had a huge impact in the sports world. In my case (and many other people's cases, I think), it soured me on major league baseball for about five years. For the Royals case, the strike ushered in a new economic era that, combined with the death of Ewing Kauffman in 1993, changed the complexion of the franchise for good. The board of directors put in place after Kauffman's demise and led by David Glass wasn't able to handle the changes to the game and adjust as other similar teams had. The '94 team was the last of its breed for Royals fans -- a team built on solid effective veteran pitching with a firm foundation in youth to fill the holes.

Pitching carried a somewhat anemic Royal offense in 1994 as the Royals began the post-Brett era. The team's 4.23 ERA was good for second in the AL, the staff gave up only 95 homers (second) and posted a league-high 38 saves. The Royals were also top-five in runs allowed with 532 (third), fourth in walks allowed, fourth in hits allowed and fifth in shutouts in a highly offensive season. Manager Hal McRae wasn't quite Sparky Anderson with the hook on the mound but he let the bullpen go to work as the Roy
als' 5 complete games were last in the league. The one thing the offense had was speed as KC finished atop the league in SB with 140 and second in triples with 38. After that the picture isn't very pretty. The team .269 BA was seventh, the .333 OBP was ninth and the .419 SLG was 11th. The team scored only 574 runs (eighth), was seventh in hits and doubles, and was 13th with an even 100 HR. The team's 376 walk total was 12th but the team was fifth in Ks.

GM Herk Robinson had an uneventful offseason leading into '94. The major move involved sending OF Kevin McReynolds (never accepted for costing KC Saberhagen) back to the Mets for OF Vince Coleman, who was in decline at age 32. June's draft was also uneventful for KC as the big picks for the Royals were IF Jed Hansen with a second rounder (he didn't pan out) and P Jose Rosado in round 12 (he panned out for a couple seasons but was derailed by injury). The 1994 draft was such a down year in many ways I can't even really fault Herk for it. He was lucky to have Rosado pan out. The big players KC missed were P Javy Vazquez, RP Keith Foulke, and RP Eric Gagne, who didn't even look like much until LA gave him a desperation shot as closer. The rest of 1994 was spent by Herk releasing guys and, with baseball in uncertainty heading into '95, Herk held pat. Really the '93-95 offseason-season-offseason may be the most boring in team history. It's in the running, anyway.

The Royals' offense was a five-man show in '94 with no bench support, which explains why a good team wasn't quite able to get over the hump-that-wasn't, as the '94 playoffs were canceled anyway. The breakout season came from DH Bob Hamelin, who at 6-0, 235, came out of nowhere to take the AL Rookie of the Year after hitting .282/.388/.599 (the SLG is second on the Royals' all-time list behind Brett's in '80), for a .987 OPS (fourth all-time for KC) with 25 doubles, 24 HR and 65 RBI. (Sophomore slump became an understatement when Hamelin hit .168 in 72 games in '95.) His HR/AB ratio of 1 every 13 ABs was also a franchise record. OF Felix Jose bounced back from an underwhelming '93 with KC to hit .303 with an .837 OPS, 28 doubles, 11 HR and 10 SB along with adequate defense in RF. 1B Wally Joyner led the team in batting at .311 and hit for an .835 OPS, 20 doubles and 57 RBI; C Mike Macfarlane set a Royals record with 18 HBP and hit .255 with an .821 OPS, 17 doubles and 14 HR; and 3B Gary Gaetti hit 12 HR while posting a .790 OPS in 90 games. The most decent other regular was OF Brian McRae with a team-leading 71 RS, .737 OPS and 28 SB. SS Greg Gagne played good D at second but posted a .314 OBP and .706 OPS with a Royals record 17 CS (Tom Goodwin would beat that # not once but twice over the next two seasons). 2B Jose Lind was also solid with the glove but anemic as usual with the bat in hitting for a .654 OPS, and OF Coleman, who had helped KC in '85 by being run over by a tarp, may have helped them the same way in '94 if the chance arose. He hit .240/.285/.340 for a .625 OPS, stole 50 bases, led the team with 12 triples and played poor defense. To put it simply, Terry Shumpert was the best bat off the bench for KC as his .715 OPS led a cadre that included 35-year-old Dave Henderson (.708 OPS, bad D), C Brent Mayne (.670 OPS), IF David Howard (.622 OPS) and 37-year-old Hubie Brooks (.550 OPS, played with fork sticking out of his back).

On the pitching mound, David Cone and Kevin Appier led a good rotation supplemented by a decent bullpen. Cone picked up the '94 AL Cy Young Award despite not leading in any of the big pitching categories. He went 16-5 with a 2.94 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 4 CG, 3 shutouts and 132 Ks in 23 starts and 171 IP. His .762 winning percentage was fourth all-time in the Royals' annals while his 6.82 H/9 was third and his 170 ERA+ is third all-time among Royals pitchers. Appier followed with another good season of a 7-6 record, 3.83 ERA and 145 Ks in 23 starts and 155 IP. Not far behind was Tom Gordon's 11-7 record, 4.35 ERA and 126 Ks in 24 starts and 155 IP while Mark Gubicza was solid if unspectacular at 7-9 with a 4.50 ERA in 22 starts and 130 IP. The other two guys who made more than five starts were way behind -- Bob Milacki posted a 6.14 ERA in 10 starts and Chris Haney posted a 7.31 ERA in 6 starts. Billy Brewer, Rusty Meacham and Jeff Montgomery were decent out of the pen for KC as Brewer rang up a 2.56 ERA in 38 IP with 3 saves, Meacham had a 3.73 ERA and 4 saves in 50 IP and Montgomery had a 4.03 ERA and 27 games in 44 IP. The other main relievers -- Hipolito Pichardo, Stan Belinda and Mike Magnante -- all posted ERAs in the high 4s or low 5s.

If '94 was the franchise's last solid winning season, the Royals were solid almost all-around in winning games in the year of the strike. Most notable was the team's 14-game win streak in July-August that came to an end five days before the work stoppage. The Royals were 35-24 at home and 29-27 on the road in 1994 and w
ere 10 games over .500 on the second half when the strike hit. The team didn't look like winners off the bat as they got out to a 1-5 start en route to a 9-11 April record that put them in fourth in the newly formed AL Central. May saw the team creep back over .500 but hold steady in fourth while three 3-game win streaks in June held the line as well on the deficit. A 4-1 win by Cone over Detroit on July 23 was followed by 4-game sweeps of the ChiSox and A's sandwiched around a 3-game sweep of the Twins as the Royals moved from 9 1/2 back on July 22 to 1 game back of the White Sox and Indians on August 5 and the streak reached 14 games. Seattle snapped the surge with back-to-back wins over Gubicza and Cone and an August 10 loss to California put the Royals 4 games out of first when the owners and players' union put the season on hold and later canceled the playoffs and World Series. A few days after the season was declared dead, the Royals fired Hal McRae, who had proven a winner in his career as both a player and manager with KC. The Royals' 64-51 mark was three games better than expected via pythagorean W-L. McRae is one of only four Royals managers with winning records in more than 500 games managed and one of six Royals managers with a winning record at all.

As the salaries rose and the priority became spending money as wisely as possible for the now-called "small market" Royals when play resumed in 1995 (under a worse manager in Bob Boone), the Royals kept trying to win the same way they had up to '94. The only thing was, over time the ability for GM Herk Robinson and later, Allard Baird, to build a minor league system as had been the team's hallmark, dissipated and the money supposedly wasn't there to give out more than one expensive contract at a time, which effectively kille
d rebuilding via free agency and forced the team to trade away homegrown budding stars Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye (not wholly homegrown) and Carlos Beltran while entering their primes. A 70-74 record in 1995 would kick off a streak of eight straight losing seasons and 11 in 12 losing seasons with the aberration of 2003. 1994 wasn't like the peak years of the franchise, but it was the last stand for the Royals that had been built since 1969.

1994 Pipeline Royals MVP -- David Cone. It's too bad the Royals not only felt the need to trade him away twice but also got squat from both deals. Coney was a hometown guy and seemed to want to play in KC, which makes the team's inability to keep it together even worse. Here's to the only Royal Cy Young winner not named Saberhagen.

1994 Pipeline Royals LVP -- Vince Coleman. $3.3 million for speed and bad defense.

The last of its kind -- the '94 Royals.

29 March 2007

Royal legacy #15 -- the 1988 Royals (84-77)

Pesky, pesky work, always getting in the way of baseball and other great things. The countdown resumes and enters the top 15 with 1988, the Year of the Gubicza in KC as Mark had a career year and two tough months combined with an Oakland juggernaut cost the Royals a chance at an eighth divisional crown that eludes them to this day. The Royals were still riding the high of their early-to-mid '80s success in '88, and, fueled by good pitching and a few offensive stalwarts, the '88 team would continue the franchise's winning tradition.

Royals Stadium was again hard on the longball in 1988 as the pitching staff gave up an AL-low 102 HR and the hitters combined for 121 HR (12th in the AL). The pitching staff had nine pitchers go over 25 IP with a sub-4 ERA en route to a 3.65 team ERA mark that was good for third in the AL. The staff was also top-five in the AL in complete games (29 for fifth), shutouts (12 for third), runs allowed (648 for third) and walks allowed (465 for fourth) and was middle-of-the-pack in hits allowed (seventh) and Ks (eighth). Meanwhile the hitters weren't quite as proficient in most positive stats -- the highest finishes were in doubles (275 for third), triples (40 for second) and steals (137 for third). Other than that, the team's .259 BA was eighth, the .320 OBP and .391 SLG were seventh, the 704 runs scored were seventh, th
e 486 walks were ninth and the whopping 944 Ks (thanks again, Bo and Danny) were second only to the Rangers' total of over 1,000 Ks.

Coming off the decent but frustrating season that was '87 (as detailed in 3/22's #16 post), GM John Schuerholz started off the off-season with a bang -- jettisoning SP Danny Jackson and no-hit SS Angel Salazar to Cincinnati for P Ted Power and better-bat, worse-glove SS Kurt Stillwell in November '87. KC could have used Jackson's career year in '88, but even with him in the #3 starting slot, I doubt they would have caught Oakland. A package of four players, including pitchers Melido Perez and Greg Hibbard, went to Chicago in December for SP Floyd Bannister and another player. OF Lonnie "Skates" Smith left via free agency for Atlanta, where he would enjoy a resurgence as part of the "worst to first" Braves. In February '88, another trade with the Reds brought in RP Jeff Montgomery, who racked up the first of 304 career saves in 1988 as the small start to his closing job with the Royals. Schuerholz made a questionable move in May to bring in FA 1B Bill Buckner, who had gone from the '86 "hobbled" version to the '88 "nearly decrepit" version but could still field balls hit right at him. He also couldn't run and the potency was gone from his bat at the plate. Hefty 1B Steve Balboni was the victim of the move as KC released him after 20 Ks in 63 AB but a solid place in the hearts of Royals fans who liked bald, overweight slugging first basemen that looked like slo-pitch softball players and played on the franchise's lone world champion team. The 1988 draft wasn't exactly a highlight moment for Schuerholz as the most productive player the Royals got, other than Bob "The Hammer" Hamelin (one year '94 ROY flameout) in round 2, was RP Mike Magnante in round 11. '88 was the year the Royals and every other team passed on Mike Piazza at least 61 times before Tommy Lasorda took him as a favor in round 62. Other notable Royal misses were OF Marquis Grissom in round 3 (one pick after KC picked once upon a time hot prospect P Joel Johnston), Luis Gonzalez, 1B Eric Karros, OF Jim Edmonds, P Tim Wakefield (then a 1B) and OF Kenny Lofton. Another key move came two days after the draft when Schuerholz flipped P Bud Black to the Indians for OF Pat Tabler (he of the .489 lifetime BA with the bases loaded), who had a productive '88 and not as productive '89 for KC. Black gave Cleveland and San Francisco a couple nice seasons each after the trade. The Fourth of July was a tough day for Royals fans as Schuerholz let RP Dan Quisenberry go after a great relief career -- Quiz had a 3.55 ERA in 25 IP at the time and probably deserved better.

The Royals offense was the Brett and Tartabull show with the Seitzer and Bo side acts in '88. George Brett settled in at first and hit .306 with an .898 OPS for a 149 OPS+ that ranks in the franchise's top 10 a
ll time. Brett also smacked 42 doubles, 24 HR, drove home 103 runs, scored 90 times and was walked 82 times with only 15 Ks -- and then threw in 14 SBs at age 35 for the most he'd had in that stat since '81. Danny Tartabull was in the same realm in most categories by hitting .274 with an .884 OPS (145 OPS+), 38 doubles, 26 HR, 102 RBI and 80 RS but also K'd 119 times and made 9 errors in RF for the worst OF mark on the team. Kevin Seitzer left something to be desired at third (26 errors) but made it up at the plate by hitting .304 with a .794 OPS, 32 doubles, 90 RS, 10 SB and 60 RBI; Bo Jackson again proved his athleticism but poor batting eye by hitting .246 with a .759 OPS (only a .287 OBP), 16 doubles, 25 HR, 25 BB, 146 K, 27 SB, 7 errors in mostly LF and 11 outfield assists. He was an adventure in the field but had the equal chance to do something ticket holders had never seen before with the plays he could make -- a once-in-a-generation kind of guy. Stillwell showed some production and solid D in his first season in KC as he hit .251 with a .721 OPS, 28 doubles, 10 HR, but only 53 RBI. There was a paucity of RBI ability on the team that proved fatal as, after Brett and Tartabull's totals, the next best RBI producer was Bo at 68. Among other regulars, the C position was split adequately between Jamie Quirk and rookie Mike Macfarlane, who hit for OPS of .741 and .725, respectively, and combined for 22 doubles and 51 RBI. The not-so-great among regulars came from 2B Frank White (.266 OBP, .596 OPS but 25 doubles, usual great D at 2B), OF Willie Wilson (.289 OBP, .622 OPS, co-league leader with 11 triples, 106 Ks, 35 SB, still good D) and DH/1B Buckner (.290 OBP, .641 OPS, 17 XBH in 89 games). The bench was led by Macfarlane and Tabler, who hit for a .309 BA and .747 OPS, 17 doubles and 49 RBI in 89 games after the Black trade. The pickings were slim thereafter as Bill Pecota and 11 other guys failed to produce an OPS+ number higher than 82.

Pitching was a tale of Gubicza, Leibrandt, a "down" year from Sabes (read -- still better than most guys) and closer by committee employed by manager John Wathan in his first full year as manager. Gubes put up a top-10 all-time Royals season with a 2.70 ERA (149 ERA+, both marks
sixth all-time for KC), 20-8 record (one of only eight 20-win Royals seasons), 8 CG, 4 shutouts and 183 Ks in 35 starts and 269 IP. Leibrandt provided another low-key, rock solid season by going 13-12 with a 3.19 ERA and 7 CG in 35 starts and 243 IP and Sabes was 14-16 with a 3.80 ERA, 9 CG and 171 Ks in 35 starts and 260 IP. The dropoff went from there to Bannister's 12-13 record, 4.33 ERA and 22 HRA in 31 starts and 189 IP and Power's 5-6 record and 5.94 ERA in 22 games (12 starts) and 80 IP. The KSU product would also be gone in a mid-season deal with Detroit and Luis Aquino stepped in and pitched nicely in 7 games (5 starts) for a 1-0 record and 2.79 ERA in 29 IP. The bullpen was solid but not spectacular overall with a cadre of five guys with ERA+ numbers over 110. Steve Farr got a shot as closer and went 5-4 with 20 saves and 72 Ks in 62 games and 82 IP; Monty was 7-2 with a 3.45 ERA and a save in 45 games and 62 IP (but led the team oddly with 6 balks); Quiz as listed earlier was decent in 20 games prior to his release; Jerry Don Gleaton went 0-4 with 3 saves and a 3.55 ERA in 42 games and 38 IP; and 40-year-old Gene Garber wrapped up his long career (and twisty delivery) by going 0-4 with 6 saves and a 3.58 ERA in 26 games and 32 IP. The other two main pitchers were rookie Israel Sanchez, who went 3-2 with a 4.54 ERA in 35 IP and Black, who had a 4.91 ERA in 17 games prior to his trade to Cleveland. Rookie Tom Gordon made an ignominious debut in Royal blue by posting a 5.17 ERA but 18 Ks in 5 games and 15 IP.

Wathan's team enjoyed home cooking in '88 by posting a 44-36 home record compared to a 40-41 road record. Three early 3- and 4-game losing streaks left the Royals 3 1/2 games back in second behind Oakland at the end of April but two 6-game losing streaks in May dropped KC 12 games out. A 7-game win streak in early June closed the gap to 8 1/2 games and a 6-game surge that made it 13 of 14 games (including taking 6 of 6 from Oakland) with a W for the Royals cut the A's lead to 4 1/2 games. The Royals entered July back at 8 games out thanks to an Oakland burst and a 6-game skid in that month dropped the deficit back to double digits at 11. A 4-game streak in late August helped the Royals hold the line on the deficit but the Athletics wouldn't falter. A 2-5 stretch versus Oakland in September pretty much did in the Royals' chances and the Royals ended up 19 1/2 games out and 6 1/2 games back of the defending champion Twins for second. Wathan guided the Royals to a mark three games worse than expected via pythagorean W-L and the stadium saw 2.35 million fans enter the turnstiles (fifth in the AL) for the fourth straight year
of plus 2-million attendance. The good times would culminate in '89 with a 92-win team but the success was due more to offensive performances and the pitching of Saberhagen than any further team building. Schuerholz's biggest moves after '88 would be to bring back a 39-year-old Buckner and sign 41-year-old C Bob Boone. The price of the '88 draft and holding pat entering '89 would begin to take a toll in 1990 as aging stars and Schuerholz's exit to Atlanta had bad times on the horizon in the City of Fountains.

1988 Pipeline Royals MVP -- George Brett. Gubicza was just the best of several good Royals pitchers, and due credit goes to him for a career year. Without Brett's production and leadership, however, the Royals wouldn't have been close to winners.

1988 Pipeline Royals LVP -- I think I gotta give this one to GM John Schuerholz, with his drafting in '88 and the absence of any out-and-out great moves. Willie Wilson didn't provide much other than triples and good defense for $1.38 million but Schuerholz hurt the team, in my opinion, in '88.

Here's the '88 Royals.

22 March 2007

Royal legacy #16 -- the 1987 Royals (83-79)

Death again had a hand in the Royals' season in '87, as it would six years later. Really, it was the best of times and the worst of times for Royals fans. The best of times was being two seasons removed from a world title and battling the Twins to the end for the AL West title in '87 -- the worst was seeing manager Dick Howser battle brain cancer, as diagnosed over the '86 all-star break. He tried to come back in spring training '87 but couldn't, and passed away in June '87, just 20 months after guiding the team to the pinnacle of the game. Howser's number, 10, has since become one of only three numbers retired for Royals along with George Brett's 5 and Frank White's 20. Mike Ferraro had taken over the team for '86's second half and Billy Gardner started '87 as KC's manager. Gardner went 126 games before John Wathan took over for the final 36 games and remained into '91.

The Gardner-Wathan tandem watched over a team richer in pitching than hitting as the '87 Royals batted .262 (eighth in the AL) with a .326 OBP (ninth) and .412 SLG (13th of 14). The team was dead last in runs scored at 715, 12th in doubles and HR, 10th in walks, and also in the bottom half of the league in hits (ninth). The hallmark speed of the successful teams in the stadium was present in triples, as KC's 40 was good for third in the AL, but not in steals as the team's 125 total there was good for only seventh. The mixture of Danny Tartabull and Bo Jackson was n
ot good for the team's K total as KC racked up 1,034 Ks for fourth in the league. The team was in the top half of most categories, however, on the pitching mound as a 3.86 ERA was good for second and the team finished second in complete games with 44, third in shutouts with 11, third in hits allowed at 1,434, second in runs allowed at 691 and first in HR allowed at 128. The bullpen notched only 26 saves for 12th in the league, and walks and Ks were not the staff's forté, as KC finished ninth in both categories.

GM John Schuerholz's biggest deal heading into '87 was the December '86 trade that sent P Scott Bankhead and OF Mike Kingery to Seattle for OF Tartabull. Tartabull was brought in to fill an OF hole created when the team decided to let Rudy Law go in free agency. Tartabull would pay immediate dividends with the first of three .500 slugging seasons in a Royals uni. In a trade that didn't work out for Schuerholz, and perhaps his biggest misstep, he made the first David Cone deal in March '87, shipping Cone and another player to the Mets for C Ed Hearn and two other players. Those three players played 26 games for KC. In '88 Cone would win 20 games and kickstart a great career. Nauseating. Jim Sundberg, the catcher for the '85 title team, was also shipped out soon after in a deal with the Cubs as Schuerholz handed the catcher's job to Jamie Quirk. With the retirement of P Dennis Leonard, more ties would be cut to the recent Royals' past as Jorge Orta and Hal McRae were released midseason and no-bat SS Buddy Biancalana was traded to Houston. Schuerholz made a big hit in the June draft by getting P Kevin Appier in round one. He also grabbed utility guy Terry Shumpert in round two and OF Jeff Conine in round 58 as two other players who would factor into team history. Shumpert went ahead of Albert Belle in round two, the Royals missed out on RP Mike Timlin in round five and players like OF Steve Finley and Scott Brosius
went by the boards in later rounds. No big losses were made by KC anywhere.

It was pretty much a three-man show for the Royals on offense in '87 as Tartabull proved his worth by hitting .309 with a .931 OPS, hitting 27 doubles, tying for third on the franchise charts with 34 HR, and leading the team with 101 RBI. He also K'd 136 times, which came along with the Tartabull package. Kevin Seitzer, whose emergence in '86 moved George Brett to first, lived up to the hype in '87 with 207 hits (tying for the league lead with Kirby Puckett and placing him fifth on the team's season record chart -- just one of six Royals 200-hit seasons), a .323 batting average and .869 OPS, 33 doubles and 8 triples, 105 runs scored, 15 HR, 83 RBI and 12 SB. That's a well-rounded season. Brett kept up his production at his new position by hitting .290 with an OPS of .884. He also chipped in 18 doubles, two triples, 22 HR and 78 RBI in 115 games. OF Bo Jackson also got his first full-blown taste of MLB with 116 games played in which he hit .235 with a .751 OPS (only a .296 OBP), 17 doubles, 22 HR, 53 RBI and 158 Ks in 396 AB. Bo stole 10 bases. He never saw a pitch he didn't like. The other regulars weren't as steady as Willie Wilson posted a .697 OPS and hit 15 triples for the fourth time in his career -- he threw in 59 steals and finished second to Seitz with 97 runs scored, so had his usual good points. Frank White hit 32 doubles and 17 HR while posting a .708 OPS, Steve Balboni hit 24 HR as part of his .273 OBP, .700 OPS and 97 Ks, and C Quirk hit for a .652 OPS in 109 games. SS Angel Salazar played steady D at short but hit .205/.219/.246 for an OPS+ of 23 in 116 games. The bench didn't provide much relief, either, as McRae hit for a .905 OPS in 18 games before his release, Bill Pecota hit for a .721 OPS in 66 games and Lonnie Smith hit for a .714 OPS in 48 games while playing a shaky LF. Other guys like Juan Beniquez, Larry Owen, Thad Bosley and Ross Jones didn't carry much weight. In an under-the-radar move that would be more of a payoff in coming years, OF Jim Eisenreich also started his comeback from Tourette's Syndrome in '87 and provided some pop with a .467 SLG in 105 AB.

A quartet of starters posted sub-4 ERAs for KC in '87 led by Bret Saberhagen's odd-year wonder of an 18-10 record, 3.36 ERA, 15 CG and 4 shutouts in 33 starts and 257 IP. Charlie Leibrandt was again a stalwart in the rotation with a 16-11 record, 3.41 ERA and 3 shutouts in 35 starts and 240 IP. Danny Jackso
n and Mark Gubicza weren't as steady as those top two but made their impact, as both broke the team record for walks allowed with Gube's still standing 120 BB and Jackson's 109 BB. Gubicza finished with a 3.98 ERA, 13-18 record, 10 CG, and 14 wild pitches in 35 starts and 241 IP while Jackson posted a 4.02 ERA, 9-18 record (their loss totals are also on the franchise's top 10 season marks), and 11 CG in 36 games (34 starts) and 224 IP. Bud Black split time between the rotation and pen to appear in 29 games (18 starts) and go 8-6 with a 3.60 ERA and 1 save in 122 IP. There was no clear-cut closer out of the pen despite Dan Quisenberry's 2.76 ERA and 8 saves in 47 games and 49 IP. John Davis posted a 2.27 ERA in 27 games and 43 IP and Gene Garber picked up 8 saves and posted a 2.51 ERA in 13 games and 14 IP. Three other relievers -- Steve Farr, Jerry Don Gleaton and Bob Stoddard -- would post ERAs in the low 4s while combining to go 9-10 with 7 saves in 181 IP. Farr was the steadiest of the three with a 4.15 ERA and 88 Ks in 91 IP.

The home confines were especially nice to the Royals in '87 as Gardner and Wathan guided the team to a record one game worse than expected via pythagorean W-L. KC was 46-35 at home while going 37-44 in road games. The Royals got off to a 9-10 start through April to end the month 2 games back of the Twins in fourth in the AL West but a 6-game win streak in early May put them in a three-way tie for first with the Angels and Mariners by May 10. Another 5-game win streak in May gave KC a 3 1/2-game lead in the division race and the month would end with KC sitting at 27-19 with a 2 1/2-game advantage. June and July weren't as kind to the boys in blue as two 4-game losing skids in June dropped KC 4 1/2 games out of first but a 4-game surge closed the gap to 2 games soon after. The Royals went on a 6-game tear in early July to tie the Twins atop the AL West but followed it up by losing 11 of 12 games through and past the all-star break to fall 4 games back. KC ended July on a 4-game slide to drop 6 games out of first by August 1. Just as quickly the team took 8 of 11 games to cut the gap to 4 games and the season went into September with KC 3 1/2 games back of the Twins. The deficit stayed at that mark through mid-September but a crucial 4-game losing streak that included a 3-game sweep by the A's crippled KC's chances as they dropped to 6 1/2 games out on the Twins. Four straight wins late in the month, including 2 over Minnesota, got KC back within 5 games of the lead but, with only 7 games to go, time ran too short. Back-to-back losses versus the Twins and Mariners eliminated the Royals from contention and even with a 5-game surge to end the season, including a 3-game sweep of the Twins, the Royals could only manage to finish 2 games back. A then-record 2.39 million fans flooded Royals Stadium in 1987 (fourth in the AL) and that total remains the second highest in franchise history as only the 1989 team exceeded that attendance mark. After the season, Schuerholz would stick to reshaping the team as P Danny Jackson was shipped to the Reds for P Ted Power and SS Kurt Stillwell (perhaps a reaction to Jackson's wildness in '87 and the impotency of Angel Salazar at the plate), a package of players including RP John Davis went to Chicago for P Floyd Bannister, and the Royals picked up nondescript RP Jeff Montgomery from the Reds in another deal that worked out nicely for Schuerholz and KC. The moves would help keep KC in its winning ways but the rise of the Oakland dynasty would spoil the team's chances at a division title into the early '90s. By then, Schuerholz was gone to Atlanta.

1987 Pipeline Royals MVP -- Kevin Seitzer and Danny Tartabull. Can't beat that kind of production for a combined $200,000.

1987 Pipeline Royals LVP -- Juan Beniquez. $430,000 was more than several productive players and he hit for a .610 OPS.

Here's the '87 Royals.

21 March 2007

Royal legacy #17 -- the 1993 Royals (84-78)

Two things make 1993 stand apart unique from other Royals seasons, and neither are really good things. #1 -- owner Ewing Kauffman died after a bout with bone cancer. This was the most important change as Kauffman's death would leave the team in the hands of a seemingly adrift board of directors chaired by David Glass, who would go on to take over the team and help run it into the ground. Basically the stable backbone that had kept the team's winning tradition intact since 1975 passed away. If you don't have the right people in the right places when that happens, it makes it tough to rebound. The Royals didn't. #2 -- Hal McRae's classic office rant. Set off by a question about George Brett in a game situation. As Ron Burgundy would say, "Boy, that escalated quickly." My personal favorite lines are "You think I'm a G**damn fool?" and, of course, "Put that in your pipe and smoke it." Perhaps a little known fact is the guy that got hit with the phone or whatever and whose face is bleeding at the end of the video -- that guy is Alan Eskew, who now writes for the team website. He was writing for the Topeka paper at the time of the rant, I believe. Ah, memories. The funniest thing was it wasn't like it was a late August game -- the rant happened in April. You'd think Hal would have wanted to build up to that point over a season, not a month. 1993 also marked George Brett's farewell tour of the league and the last year of the AL West, so it was the end of an era both in KC and the American League with Brett's retirement and the '94 realignment.

Hitting was not a strength of the '93 squad. The team BA of .263 was 10th in the AL and the .316 OBP was last in the AL, as was the 675 runs scored and 428 walks drawn. Team slugging was only a little better at .397 (ninth in the AL) but the team was third in doubles at 294 and fifth in triples with 35. Kauffman Stadium (as named mid-season before the owner's death) was again unkind to the longball as the team's 125 homer total was 10th in the AL. Free swingers like Brian McRae (105 Ks), Felix Jose (95 Ks), Greg Gagne (93 Ks) and touted rookie never-was 3B Phil Hiatt (82 Ks) helped the team post a fourth-worst 936 Ks in '93 as well. The pitching staff was a different story as great seasons from Kevin Appier, David Cone and Jeff Montgomery helped the team post a 4.04 ERA that was third in the AL. The staff allowed a league-low 1,379 hits and 105 HR while keeping the anemic offense alive in games by allowing only 694 runs (second in the AL). The pitchers weren't as stingy with walks as their total of 571 was ninth in the AL but they posted 985 Ks for fourth in the league.

Coming off a 90-loss season in Hal McRae's first full season as manager again gave low expectations heading into '93 but GM Herk Robinson made some nice moves following the '92 campaign. He let OF Jeff Conine go to Florida in the expansion draft but improved the defense (if not the offense by much) at 2B with a trad
e for Jose "Chico" Lind, who was coming off an NL Gold Glove season in '92. He also got some good production out of rule V pick RP Billy Brewer for two years of 30 some-odd IP seasons before the league caught on and he started getting shelled -- by then he was out of town anyway. The big get came on December 8, 1992, when hometown boy Cone signed with KC after being traded away in '87 and making his name with the Mets. Gagne signed on the same day and, if nothing else, provided solid D at short for two seasons. Felix Jose came along in February '93 in a deal that sent Gregg Jefferies to St. Louis. The deal looked like a challenge deal for both sides and Jefferies paid off for St. Louis in '93 while Jose would do more in '94 for KC before moving on in '95. In April, Herk sold SP Mike Boddicker to Milwaukee, and the June draft reaped KC not much, as 17th rounder Glendon Rusch is considered by most to be the organization's best pick of the draft. 31st rounder Jacque Jones was likely their best pick but the Royals were unable to get him signed. First rounder P Jeff Granger went fifth, ahead of P Billy Wagner, P Chris Carpenter, 1B Derrek Lee, and OF Torii Hunter and, needless to say, didn't pan out. The Gagne and Cone signings cost the team its second and third-rounders. The other big miss of that draft was OF Jermaine Dye, who went to Atlanta in round 17, but he would eventually make his way to KC anyway. 3B Gary Gaetti came along and was shrewdly picked up by Herk in June as he went on to post three solid seasons in KC. I'm beginning to think someone else was controlling Herk's mind in '93 with these moves that turned out well -- the draft aside. At the end of July, with the team in second, he sent minors P Jon Lieber and RP Dan Miceli to the Pirates for RP Stan Belinda in a move that worked out somewhat well for Pittsburgh.

As with other solid Royals teams, the offense was a team effort with a couple of guys sticking out more than the rest. C Mike Macfarlane led the pack with an .857 OPS while hitting .273 with a team-best 20 HR and a then-team-record 16 HBP. Supplementing this was 1B Wally Joyner, who led regulars with a .292 B
A and posted an .842 OPS, 36 doubles, and 15 HR. Gaetti paid dividends for the league minimum by hitting for a .786 OPS with 14 HR in 82 games. After that was a cadre of solid performances led by George Brett's .266 BA and .746 OPS, 19 HR, 31 doubles and team-high 75 RBI in the final season of his HOF career. OF Kevin McReynolds hit for a .741 OPS while splitting time with Chris Gwynn in LF. Gwynn chipped in nicely with a .300 BA and .741 OPS in 103 games. Brian McRae whiffed often but did provide solid D in center while hitting .282 with a .738 OPS, including 28 doubles, 9 triples and 12 HR. Gagne also supplemented his D with a .280 BA, .725 OPS and 32 doubles at the plate. Lind, on the other hand, played great D at second but also hit for a .559 OPS to provide nothing at the plate. Felix Jose also didn't live up to his potential as he hit .253 with a .652 OPS in 149 games. The bench was shallow, to say the least, after Gwynn. Hiatt's inability to hit (.651 OPS) was what brought Gaetti into the picture at third, aging OF Hubie Brooks hit for a .706 OPS in 168 AB, C Brent Mayne hit for a .654 OPS while giving Macfarlane a break and no one else really made a name for themselves. Keith Miller, Rico Rossy and Harvey Pulliam all saw time at the plate for KC and didn't do much, and even '94 surprise RoY Bob Hamelin didn't impress in his limited time in '93.

Pitching was a different story in KC as Kevin Appier posted a second consecutive great season. Ape went 18-8 with a 2.56 ERA (fourth all-time in KC's season books), a 1.10 WHIP (eighth all-time for KC) and an
adjusted ERA+ of 178, which equals Saberhagen's '89 mark for the best in KC history. Appier also whiffed 186 batters in his 34 starts and 238 IP. With the stellar Cone behind him, the duo was one of the best in the league, even with Cone's control problems. Cone went 11-14 with a 3.33 ERA, 114 walks, 191 Ks and 14 wild pitches in 34 starts and 254 IP. He and Appier combined for 11 complete games. Hipolito Pichardo had a second straight solid year to start his career and proved a good third starter with a 4.04 ERA, 7-8 record and 2 complete games in 30 games (25 starts) and 165 IP. Flash Gordon proved effective both in the rotation and the pen as he posted a 3.58 ERA and 12-6 record with 143 Ks in 48 games (14 starts) and 155 IP. The other two main starters -- Chris Haney and Mark Gardner -- weren't pretty as they combined for 39 starts and had ERAs of 6.02 and 6.19 with a combined 13-15 record. The bullpen was solid behind closer Jeff Montgomery's landmark season that earned him his only Rolaids Relief Man award. Monty went 7-5 with 45 saves and a 2.27 ERA along with a 1.00 WHIP in 69 games and 87 IP. His save total tied Dan Quisenberry's team record set in '83. Brewer, as previously mentioned, was good in limited action with a 3.46 ERA in 39 IP; Mark Gubicza worked mostly out of the pen and posted a 4.66 ERA and 2 saves in 49 games (104 IP). Belinda also came on to post a 4.28 ERA with 25 K in 27 IP. The two other most solid pitchers were Mike Magnante with a 4.08 ERA in 35 IP and Greg Cadaret with a 2.93 ERA in 15 IP.

The Royals were winners at home and on the road in '93 as they posted a 43-38 record in KC and 41-40 record on the road. The team staggered out of the gate to a 5-game season-opening losing streak and finished April 9-14 and 6 games out of first. The team rebounded to go 16-9 in May and cut the deficit to 2 games back before starting June with a 5-game win streak. The momentum didn't last as the Royals went 13-15 in June but kept within 1 1/2 games of the AL West lead. The Royals were a game back at the all-star break and rat
tled off 16-12 and 15-14 records in July and August. The Chicago White Sox were hot, though, and KC couldn't break through. A 4-game winning streak in mid-August kept KC within 3 1/3 games and a second August 4-game surge cut the deficit to 2 games on August 19. By the end of the month, the steady Sox had upped the lead to 6 games over KC as the Royals slipped to third place behind Texas. A comeback wasn't in the cards as the Royals treaded water at 13-13 in September and finished the month 9 1/2 games out, in third place. The final deficit was 10 games as the White Sox earned the last AL West title. Hal McRae guided the team to a record 5 games better than expected via pythagorean W-L, had the team over .500 in both halves of the season, went 38-32 in 1-run games, and saw 1.93 million fans come to Kauffman in a mark that was 13th in the 14-team AL. As active as the hot stove season was heading into '93 for KC, Herk didn't do much heading out of the season. His biggest moves were the resigning of Gaetti and the addition of OF Vince Coleman and OF Tom Goodwin. Like I said, not much. But McRae would have the team doing even better than '93 when the strike combined with baseball's changing economics and the rudderless organization would change the face of the franchise for 13 years and counting.

1993 Pipeline Royals MVP -- Kevin Appier. Truly one of the franchise's pitching greats.

1993 Pipeline Royals LVP -- Keith Miller. Made $1.09 million to hit .167 with a .194 SLG and .423 OPS in 37 games.

20 March 2007

Royal legacy #18 -- the 2003 Royals (83-79)

I hate to rain on the parade of Royals fans with fond memories of 2003, but I'm firmly in the camp that looks at it as a fluke season. One great month, one bad month, two decent months and a late season fade would be an easy way to sum up 2003, in 15 words or less. I also refuse to believe Tony Pena had a lot to do with the team's success, but I grudgingly give him credit for staying positive even when the team was going into the tank in August and September. He did also, however, keep trotting out guys like Chris George and Kris Wilson to the mound, so he had as much to do with that tanking as anyone else. Was it nice for Royals fans to not be the doormat for one season? Yes. But was it also a momentary aberration caused by the confluence of several factors for about a month? I also say yes, as '04-06 have unfortunately borne out.

Also aiding the cause for 2003 going into the season was that expectations couldn't have been any lower from KC fans, which made it ever so easy for them to throw their hearts into a mediocre team. 2002 was the franchise' first 100 loss season, as summed up early in the countdown. Pena had come in for 3/4 of th
e season and not done well after replacing Tony Muser, who was given too much leash already. Basically anything other than an 1899 Cleveland Spiders-type season, Kauffman Stadium burning to the ground or the dreaded-at-the-time threat of contraction becoming reality could make 2003 worse than 2002, but the organization was saving the worst of times for '04 and '05.

GM Allard Baird took the tack that no big moves, or even moderate moves were necessary coming off that wondrous 62-100 2002 season. KC did get some "addition by subtraction" however, as Dye albatross Neifi Perez was picked up by the Giants in November 2002 and the team gave up on free swingin' OF Mark Quinn. Other moves made by Baird blew up in his face, as they usually did. P D.J. Carrasco and C Ronny Paulino were added via the rule V draft -- Carrasco pitched marginally bad in '03 and didn't get any better in '04 or '05 before leaving for Japan, and Paulino was returned to Pittsburgh before the season, where he has now become a candidate as the Pirates' C of the future. Other roster filler like P Nate Field, P Albie Lopez and IF Desi Relaford were brought in only to not fare well, to no surprise. Baird's biggest impact move came in early June when P Jose Lima was picked up off the independent scrap heap and, along with "rah rah" antics from Pena, the two started the "Nosotros Creemos" (We believe) slogan for the team. Lima pitched decently for KC, translated it into a FA deal with the Dodgers for '04, fleeced KC and Baird in '05 and then landed with the Mets, with whom he sucked in 2006. In the June draft, Baird used first rounders on OFs Chris Lubanski and
(then C) Mitch Maier (to be fair, the jury's still out on both of them) and passed up 1B Conor Jackson, OF Nick Markakis, SS Brandon Wood, P Chad Cordero, P Chad Billingsley and OFs Carlos Quentin and Matt Murton in round 1. OF Shane Costa came to KC in round 2 over OF Andre Ethier and only RP Ryan Braun and SS Mike Aviles have reached AAA out of the guys in that draft thus far. P Jon Papelbon got passed up in round 4 and utility guy Kevin Kouzmanoff was bypassed in round 6. In the majors, Baird had released Albie "Blowpez" as he became better-known, by mid-June and his playoff push deal was to swap two minor leaguers to Milwaukee for RP Curt Leskanic, who did pitch very well in KC in '03 but couldn't push the team over the top. Baird also picked up SP Brian Anderson from Cleveland in August, who like Leskanic also pitched well in '03, but bottomed out in '04 and '05 after earning a pay raise from his '03 performance; and added OF Rondell White from the Padres with the season heading downhill -- White had a good 22 games with KC before heading to Detroit via free agency.

As is the team's M.O. in the down years with decent performance on one side of the game and poor performance on the opposite side, the hitting was solid on the '03 team. The pitching wasn't. The Royals were top-five in the AL in six different offensive categories and were top-10 in all hitting categories. The high
lights included a .274 team BA (fourth in the AL), 39 triples (third), 120 SB (third), 1,526 hits (fourth) and 836 runs (fourth). The problem was middle-of-the-pack finishes in team OBP at .336 (sixth), slugging at .427 (seventh), walks at 476 (ninth) and doubles at 288 (10th). The team's 162 homers were also seventh in the AL. On the pitching side of the ledger, it was a mirror image as most categories had the Royals ranked low in the league. The lone highlight was the team's 10 shutouts (fourth in the AL). Other than that the Royals finished no higher than seventh in any category -- ERA 5.06 (12th), 867 runs allowed (12th), 1,569 hits allowed (11th), 566 walks (12th), 865 Ks (13th) and 190 HR allowed (ninth).

Offensively for KC, there were several solid performers in 2003. The leader was CF Carlos Beltran with a .307 BA (the only regular to hit over .300) and .911 OPS. Carlos also scored 102 runs, hit 10 triples, clubbed 26 homers, drove home 100 runs and stole 41 bases. Basically he put on a display of a power and speed combo that is unrivaled in franchise history. Sweeney followed that with a .293 BA and .858 OPS, hit 16 HR and drove home 83 runs but was hampered by his back problems and wasn't able to produce at 100 percent, which made a difference. OF Aaron Guiel also emerged in 99 games of a .277 BA and .835 OPS and threw in 15 HR but would struggle with an eye problem in 2004 and never get back to a steady job with KC. He left for Japan after the '06 season, which he mainly spent with the Yankees. Raul Ibanez was also solid as he hit .2
94 with a .799 OPS, hit 18 homers, scored 95 runs, led the team with 33 doubles and was second to Beltran with 90 RBI. 3B Joker Joe Randa was solid as usual as he hit .291 with an .800 OPS, and hit 31 doubles and 16 homers. SS Angel Berroa also had a to-this-point flash in the pan rookie season to beat out the Yankees' Hideki Matsui for AL Rookie of the Year honors. Berroa hit .287 with a .789 OPS, hit 28 doubles, scored 92 runs, hit 17 homers, stole 21 bases, K'd 100 times while walking 29 and tied Mike Macfarlane's team record with 18 HBP. Of course, since then his OBPs and SLGs have declined every year to the point that he was the worst shortstop in the AL in 2006. But in 2003 he was solid at the plate even though he was marginal at short with 24 errors. The other regulars weren't solid -- 2B Carlos Febles combined with the aforementioned Desi Relaford to provide decent D but little O (Relaford's .691 OPS was more than 130 points higher than Febles'), Cs Brent Mayne and Mike DiFelice struggled to OPS marks of .651 and .696, and year one of the 1B Ken "Grimace" Harvey era ended with his .721 OPS, 30 doubles (nice), 13 HR and 11 errors while sharing time with Sweeney at 1B and DH. Fourth OF Michael Tucker was solid with a .771 OPS and 13 HRs but the bench was unproductive. Beside White's late-season play after his acquisition, OF Dee Brown and IF Mendy Lopez were the only other position players to log more than 50 games for KC in 2003 and they posted OPS+ marks of 52 and 86. The rest of the players were bench filler other than a late season cup of coffee for CF David DeJesus, who played well in 12 games.

The pitching staff was led by a career season from SP Darrell May, who had been brought back from Japan in 2002. May put up a 3.77 ERA while leading the team at 10-8 but gave up 31 homers in 35 games (32 starts) and 210 IP. Opening day starter Runelvys Hernandez, who had yet to balloon like Bartolo Colon, lasted 91 IP before hurting his arm and needing Tommy John surgery. He posted a 4.61 ERA in 16 starts wh
ile organization-touted pitching prospect Jeremy Affeldt stepped up to make 18 starts and appear in 36 games and pitched somewhat solidly. Affeldt posted a 3.93 ERA and 7-6 record in 126 IP. All in all, 15 pitchers started games for KC in 2003 with May, Affeldt and Brian Anderson (3.99 ERA, 5-1 in 7 starts) represented the "good"; Chris George (7.11 ERA but somehow 9-6 with 22 HR allowed in 18 starts) and Brad Voyles (7.47 ERA in 11 games (3 starts)) were the "bad"; and Kyle Snyder (5.17 ERA, 1-6 record in 15 starts), Kris Wilson (5.33 ERA, 6-3, 13 HR allowed in 29 games (4 starts)), Miguel Asencio (5.21 ERA in 8 starts) and Paul Abbott (5.29 ERA in 8 starts) were the "ugly." Throw in Jose Lima's 4.91 ERA and 8-3 record in 14 starts and that's an odd-looking jumble at starter. The bullpen was no different as 29 pitchers would take the mound over the course of the season. Standouts were Leskanic's 1.73 ERA in 26 IP and Al Levine's 2.53 ERA in 21 IP. Albie Blowpez got his walking papers after a 12.71 ERA in 22 IP, Mike MacDougal had a nice rookie season with a 4.08 ERA and 27 saves in 64 games, Jason Grimsley finished second on the team's season charts in appearances with 76 games of a 5.16 ERA in 75 IP, Carrasco pitched 80 innings and posted a 4.82 ERA and Kevin Appier was brought back from unemployment to post a 4.26 ERA in 19 IP late in the season. Other than that it was guys like Sean Lowe (6.25 ERA in 44 IP), Jason Gilfillan (7.71 ERA in 16 IP) and late season pickup Graeme Lloyd (10.95 ERA in 12 IP).

The start was a big part of 2003's success story in KC as the Royals won their first 9 games, 11 of the first 12 and 16 of the first 19 games to race to a 5 1/2 game lead in the AL Central on April 24. The team couldn't keep up the momentum, tho, as the Royals went 10-19 in May to fall 3 1/2 games back of the Twins. A 15
-12 June got the team back within a 1/2 game of the Twinkies and a 15-11 July had them back in first by a game entering August. The team would start to hit the wall in August to finish the month with a 13-15 record and drop 1 1/2 games back of the ChiSox entering September. An 8-11 record versus Chicago would be part of the team's undoing in 2003, as the Sox hastened the team's descent with a late July sweep in KC and took 2 of 3 in Chicago in early August. The team matched August with a 13-15 September and ended the season losing 3 of 4 to Chicago to finish in third place, 7 games back of the division champ Twins in a pretty weak AL Central. A .500 home record was helped to a winning overall record by a 43-39 road mark, although the team was hurt by a 32-38 second-half record. Pena was selected as the AL Manager of the Year for guiding the team to a record 5 games better than expected via pythagorean W-L. After the season, Baird would let Ibanez go in FA (his consistency would be missed) and the Royals' good performance in '03 also kicked in a contract stipulation that stopped DH Mike Sweeney from leaving via an opt-out, just as he was entering his full-stage decline. He had spent about two months of 2003 on the DL with back problems. The poor couple months that ended the '03 season and kept the team from the playoffs would be magnified over the next three seasons as the team posted three straight 100-loss seasons in an ever-strengthening division.

2003 Pipeline Royals MVP -- Carlos Beltran. You know what they say about hindsight, but I wish KC had given Carlos the big pay day.

2003 Pipeline Royals LVP -- Albie Lopez. $1.5 million salary almost matched his ERA.

The '03 Royals.

14 March 2007

Royal legacy #19 -- the 1991 Royals (82-80)

Two notes before we delve into our first winning Royals season on the countdown. One, there's still one losing season left, but 1981 (50-53) was such a weird season with the split schedule because of the strike, and the Royals won a division title in one "half" of that season, so I'm sliding it up a couple spots. Two, bow your heads for a moment of silence as '91 was the final year the Royals wore the powder blue unis. My personal favorite was the powder blue uni with "Kansas City" block printed on the front. That one was retired in '82, unfortunately, which I say accounts for '83's momentary swoon. Anyway, on to '91.

If KC going 75-86 in 1990 started the death knell for John Wathan as Royals manager, the first 37 games of 1991 did him in as he was fired, Bob Schaefer took over for 1 game, and then fiery Hal McRae took over to start his 3 3/4-year run as Royals manager that ended during the '94 strike. The '90s just weren't the Royals' decade. You had the bad '90, Bo Jackson hurting his hip in January '91 to effectively end his athletic career, a bad '92, Ewing Kauffman dying and Hal McRae exploding in an all-time rant in '93, the '94 strike with the Royals in contention and then the last 5 years of the decade getting outplayed, outmanaged and out-operated (if that's even a word) by at least one team if not most of the remainder of the AL Central every year. But the Royals did have three winning years in the '90s under McRaes watch, with '91 being the first on our countdown. 1991 also marked the end of an era as the last season the Royals drew more than 2 million fans to the stadium with a final tally of 2.16 million visitors to Ro
yals Stadium. The bad '92 would snap a streak of seven straight seasons drawing 2 million or more fans that dated back to 1985.

Really, Kansas City was short on many fronts in 1991 as they finished sixth for a second straight season, but three areas were especially deficient -- HRs (as usual), walks and, in the biggest area, wins. The team's hitting was marginal and the pitching was slightly better but the team played like a .500 squad, which it was. At the plate, the team hit .264 for fifth in the AL, got on base at a .327 clip for eighth and slugged .394 for eighth as well. They finished top-5 in the league in doubles, triples, SB, CS, and hits, but hit only 117 HRs (11th), drew only 523 walks (10th) and scored only 727 runs (eighth). That's what happens when you have a lineup packed with free swingers like Terry Shumpert (75 Ks), Kirk Gibson (103 Ks), Brian McRae (99 Ks), and the king, Danny Tartabull (121 Ks). Even George Brett struck out 75 times in '91 for his worst year in that stat. It must have been contagious. The pitching was middle-of-the-pack in most stats, including a 3.92 ERA (sixth), 17 CG (seventh), 529 walks (seventh) and 722 runs allowed (seventh), but was top 5 in shutouts (12, fourth), Ks (1,004, second, thank you Sabes, Flash and Ape), and HR allowed (105, first). It should be no surprise then that the team's final 82-80 record was right on the nose as expected by pythagorean W-L.

With Herk Robinson in his first full season as GM, there was no shortage of moves, mostly via free agency. Guys like Steve Farr and Willie Wilson were allowed to sign elsewhere and Herk brought in Mike
Boddicker (OK for two seasons) and Kirk Gibson (gimpy and running on fumes but still had nice pop). Bo was released in March as his contract stated a football injury could terminate the deal and his potential would never be realized after his best season in 1990. The season moved along fairly quiet heading into June's draft when Herk's biggest two picks were C Mike Sweeney and IF Joe Randa. Joe Vitiello was Herk's top pick (over Manny Ramirez and Shawn Green) while a second first-rounder never panned out. Another Royal fan favorite (sarcasm), IF Shane Halter, came along in round 5 as the Royals passed on Jason Schmidt, Derek Lowe and Brad Radke before finally landing (at one-time) good players in Sweeney in round 10 and (now retired) Randa in round 11. In July, Herk traded for 1B Todd Benzinger, who was solid for a half-season before saying goodbye in the Chris (please be like your brother Tony) Gwynn deal. The offseason after '91 would be a dark one for KC fans, as Herk let Tartabull go in free agency (understandable as he got a $3 million raise from the Yanks), signed Wally Joyner in a decent move, and in the worst move, gave up Bret Saberhagen to the Mets for a handful of magic beans and a copy of the New York Post (more accurately, Kevin McReynolds, Keith Miller and Gregg Jefferies). That's already been covered in the 1992 post.

So 1991 was a fairly ho-hum year, with really more bad than good coming out of it, which would hold true in 1992. Tartabull was a beast at the plate when he made contact as his .593 slugging percentage led the AL and was third best in franchise history. His .990 OPS and 171 OPS+ were also third best in Royals history behind two Brett seasons ('80 and '85) and he added 31 HRs (eighth all-time for KC) and 100 RBI while hitting .316. Next best was versatile 3B Bill Pecota with a .286 BA and .755 OPS; then Gibson at .236
with a .744 OPS (second on the squad with 16 HR and 81 RS, not so rangy in the OF); OF Jim Eisenreich at .301 with a .725 OPS; Brett (now in DH phase) at .255 with a .729 OPS (40 doubles, tho - the man could hit for two baggers); and Benzinger at .294 with a .724 OPS (with plus-D at first). On the flip side, Brian McRae set a then-record for KC with 496 outs (since eclipsed by Carlos Beltran in 1999) and was wisely used by his dad, Wathan and Schaefer to set the table as the leadoff guy despite the fact his OBP was second worst (.288) to Terry Shumpert among regulars. Shumpert hit .217 with a .605 OPS and 16 errors at second, but at least was batting ninth, while Kurt Stillwell and C Brent Mayne were mediocre at best. Mayne put up a .640 OPS in 85 games as somehow the managers weren't smart enough to give C Mike Macfarlane more time with arguably better defense and a .277 BA and .836 OPS to boot (including a .506 SLG). Macfarlane led the bench guys along with 1B Warren Cromartie, who returned from Japan for one more MLB season and hit .313 with an .801 OPS in 69 games. The only other productive bench guy who saw more than 20 games of action was IF Kevin Seitzer, who hit for a .700 OPS in 85 games and was let go via free agency after the season. Other than that, it was the parade of usual suspects David Howard (.525 OPS, solid IF D), Gary Thurman (speed and a .679 OPS but not much glove), Tim Spehr (.189 with a .660 OPS) and Sean Berry (.133 with a .183 SLG and .395 OPS (ugh)).

Little did Royals fans know they were witnessing Bret Saberhagen's last year as a Royal and they were lucky enough to have it fall on an odd year as Sabes led the way at 13-8 with a 3.07 ERA, 1.07 WHIP (fifth on the all-time Royals chart) and 136 Ks in 28 starts and 196 IP. ***EDIT -- Somehow I bypassed this in the original post, but Sabes hurled the fourth no-hitter in team history on August 26 versus the White Sox, which was no mean feat as the Sox won 87 games that season and had Frank Thomas, Tim Raines, and other good hitters in the lineup.*** Appier added 207 IP of a 13-10 record, 3.42 ERA and 158 Ks in 34 games as he and Saberhagen combined for 13 complete games and 5 shutouts. Luis Aquino stepped up to provide 38 games (18 starts) of a 3.44 ERA, 8-4 record and 3 saves in 157 IP and Mike Boddicker's main contribution was tying the franchise record for hit batsmen at 13. He had a 4.08 ERA and 12-12 record in 29 starts and 180 IP. Plus he made more than George Brett or Saberhagen in '91 -- a little hard to believe but true. The Royals also got Mark Gubicza's worst year as he went 9-12 with a 5.68 ERA in 26 starts and 133 IP. Tom Gordon had a solid year and proved he could pitch out of the pen as he appeared in 45 games, made 14 starts, and posted a 3.87 ERA, 9-14 record, picked up his second career save, and K'd 167 batters in 158 IP. Jeff Montgomery and Mike Magnante were the main pen forces along with Gordon for KC as Monty went 4-4 with 33 saves to post a 2.90 ERA in 67 appearances and 90 IP; and Magnante posted a 2.45 ERA in his rookie year of 38 games and 55 IP. Another unknown rookie, RP Joel Johnston, came out of nowhere to post a 0.40 ERA and 21 Ks in 22 IP but would be shipped out later in the Jose Lind deal and post one good year for the Pirates before fading into obscurity. The other three main relievers didn't fare nearly as well. In year two of the Mark Davis Debacle, the $3.6 million man had his best year in blue with a 4.45 ERA and a 1.5 WHIP in 62 IP; Storm Davis put up a 4.96 ERA in 114 IP; and Steve Crawford had a 5.98 ERA in 46 IP.

Despite the great attendance, the road was kinder to the Royals than the home confines were as the team was 3 games over .500 on the road and 1 game under in Royals Stadium. The team sputtered to a 7-games-under-.500 record through June that put them in last place and 10 1/2 games out of first entering July but kicked it into gear to go 16-10 in that month and 18-11 in August to move up to fourth place and shave a couple games off the Twins' division lead. It didn't last, tho, as the team went a combined 15-19 in September and October to finish in sixth, 13 games back of the Twins and 5 games back of the second-place White Sox. McRae's boys were 24-17 in 1-run games and 11-8 in extra innings while shutting out the opponents 12 times and getting shut out 9 times. After Herk's moves helped deep-six the '92 team, some other key acquisitions would ignite the team's last two "good" seasons before the dark ages began in 1995.

1991 Pipeline Royals MVP -- Danny Tartabull. Ks and all, the man could hit. Maybe not play great D, but hit. His was a season for the ages in KC.

1991 Pipeline Royals LVP -- I hate to harp on it, but how can I not go with Mark Davis and make it 3-for-3? He was the highest-paid player on the team and the second-worst pitcher. If that's not the least valuable player, I'm not sure who is.

The 1991 Royals.

Royals in the Spring -- a short update

We're now a couple of weeks into spring training, and I've been tardy in posting any kind of distant commentary on it, basically because I don't think Spring Training means much other than getting in shape and there aren't tons of hot position battles in Royals camp. Remember last season when the Royals had one of the best spring training records, then Buddy Belled their way to another 100-loss season? I don't really care if they win until opening day, period. I also wanted to wait until the first round of cuts, which saw 15 sent to minor league camp yesterday. Anyway, I figured in the interest of the Royals I would do a quick rundown of ST thus far in sunny Arizona. Here's a link to the current stats.

Injuries -- Mark Grudzielanek apparently gave Esteban German an open shot at the 2B job coming out of ST with a knee problem but reportedly may be ready by opening day. Oh well, at least Esteban gets the spring to show his stuff. Really, Grudz is getting old and German deserves a shot. Oh, yeah, wait, Buddy Bell is the manager and will trot Grudz out there and force German to play out of position in CF. Just like with Huber last year and the infamous "Dougie doesn't deserve that" quote about Mientkiewicz that continues to chap my hide. At least Grudz IS coming off a Gold Glove season. He's still past his prime, tho.

Joe Nelson developed more labrum problems with surgery scheduled today, I think. He's out at least a couple months. He was a pleasant surprise in '06 and looked to be a hopefully solid set-up guy for Octavio Dotel. As it is, his injury will probably welcome Kenny Ray back to KC to start '07. Leo Nunez was probably in the mix until he got hurt by a line drive to the wrist.

Of course the most heartstopping injury for Royals fans has been the "shoulder jam" to Alex Gordon, which apparently isn't anything serious. If Gordon tore his rotator cuff or something like that, talk of a KC curse would probably start up. Forget I mentioned it.

On the field (pitchers) -- The Pipeline has Joakim-mania, and hopefully rule V pick Soria carries the hype over into the season in KC. He has the best ERA currently among Royals pitchers, even though some of his performance has been against minor-league competition, and it IS only spring training. Todd Wellemeyer is making an unsuccessful run at the rotation; Meche and Hudson have been OK; De la Rosa has been himself (lack of control, streaks of good and bad); Bannister has looked to be solid; and Odalis Perez has gotten shelled. Not what KC fans wanted to see from Odalis. At all. Still I have to say he gets to make the rotation until he gets blown up in the regular season a couple times. I'd rather roll the dice with him than Wellemeyer or Greinke (at this point). Jimmy Gobble, Soria, Dotel, Wellemeyer, and Riske look to be solid out of the pen, even though American Japan import John Bale has gotten lit up in limited action. He'll still make the team as a lefty out of the pen, I'd wager, mainly because the only other strong option is Ryan Braun, who I think will close at Omaha to start the season.

On the field (hitting) -- The biggest news, of course, is Mark Teahen giving RF a go to clear room for Alex Gordon at third. Gordon wasn't hitting to start the spring, heated up, did whatever he did to his shoulder and now Royals fans have to hope he can still produce. Also, Billy Butler has been raking to the tune of a 1.4 OPS in ST but his defensive issues will send him to Omaha. How about if we had just gotten rid of Mike Sweeney at least two seasons ago, then Butler at DH would be a no-brainer. But no, the $11 million back injury has struck again. I know Sweeney seems to be a good guy, but I don't buy that he's a winner as a team leader and I don't buy that he can stay healthy. He's an albatross, and KC needs to get him off the books. This season they're already babying him like an octagenarian, giving him limited time so he doesn't get hurt. He's a full-time DH this season, I bet. They'd be stupid to let him play defense. He's proven well that he can get injured just swinging the bat or running out a routine grounder, too, though. Give him until May 1.

On the "looking good" front, I'd place Shealy (1.0 OPS), Butler, Gathright (if he could hit more than singles), Teahen (solid while learning a new position), Gload (may be this year's version of '05 Emil), Gordon (picked it up nicely since slow start), and Huber (waiting for his next chance at getting passed by, also back at first). Reggie Sanders has been solid in limited action but will be lucky to stay off the DL (nothing against Reggie but the Pipeline is still holding out for a trade here), and to point out the absurdity of ST stats, SS Alex Gonzalez has hit for a 1.3 OPS in 8 games. Which throws all the numbers out the window. On the "not so good" front, I'd only put DeJesus (OBP under .250) and Emil (.190 BA, .238 SLG in 8 games). That puts a lot of people in the middle ground, including Berroa (0 BB, 10 Ks, 1 XBH, a shocker), Buck (only .250 BA but nice OBP and OK SLG), LaRue (nice pop at C, producing more than Buck, I say start him), German (solid but nothing spectacular), Andres Blanco (better than German but we'll see how it holds up), Costa (battling back strain now, still ought to be 4th OF), and Sweeney, who's only played 4 games.

The cuts -- Nothing earth-shattering in the 15 cuts made yesterday. P Luke Hochevar will start '07 at Wichita but will likely finish in Omaha at best, OF Mitch Maier will play CF at Omaha, LHP Dan Christensen will start the season in the rotation with Hoch at Wichita, and RHP Carlos Rosa (who also reportedly looked good in Arizona) will start the year at Wilmington but, I think, finish up in Wichita. Others cut were pitchers Dewon Brazelton (Omaha or out), Billy Buckner (Omaha? I think Wichita), Wayne Franklin (see Brazelton), Roberto Giron (ditto), Tyler Lumsden (see Buckner) and Matt Wright (Omaha, I'd think); catchers Damaso Espino (Wichita), Jared Price (Omaha) and Max St. Pierre (?) and infielders Graham Koonce and Richard Lewis (both Omaha). At least it'll be nice not to see 75 percent wash-ups in AAA for KC this season.

13 March 2007

Royal legacy #20 -- the 1972 Royals (76-78)

We're getting so close to KC's winning days you can almost see the Powder Blues and hear the PA announcer calling out names like "Steve Balboni" and "Freddie Patek" with other names like "Amos Otis" and "John Mayberry" in yellow lights up on the huge logo scoreboard. Not all at the same time, mind you, but bear with me. We're entering the top 20, folks, so we finally get to talk about some good teams. Anyway, the '72 Royals came close to good but fell short. In the final KC season of Bob Lemon (Royals manager #2), he guided the Royals to a record 2 games below .500 and 5 games worse than expected via pythagorean W-L. It was also the final Royals season in Municipal Stadium as the team would christen Royals Stadium in '73. There was reason for some optimism among KC fans going into 1972 -- the team was coming off its first winning season in '71 and had finished second to the up and coming, 101-win A's. The Royals had rising stars in Otis and Lou Piniella along with young Paul Splittorff and Al Fitzmorris. Steve Busby would also debut with a September call-up to set the stage for what would be an outstanding short run with KC.

The men running the show for KC were, of course, owner Ewing Kauffman and GM Cedric Tallis, who were still busy in '72 putting the pieces together for the Royals from '75-85. In a steal, Tallis pulled the trigger on a deal in December '71, sending pitchers Jim York and Lance Clemons to Houston for a young 1B, Mayberry, who hadn't shown a lot in 105 career games with the 'Stros. Eyes would be opened by Mayberry in the '70s as the trade likely ranks in the top 5 deals in franchise history. Tallis netted P Dennis Leonard out of Iona College in New York in round 2 of the June draft despite drafting no-bat Jamie Quirk in round 1 over Chet Lemon or John Candelaria (who went in round 2 after Leonard, as did Dennis Eckersley and Gary Carter in early round 3). P Randy Jones and IF Willie Randolph along with OF Leon Roberts were also guys KC missed out on in the first 10 rounds. So, like every GM, Tallis didn't bat 1.000 but, unlike every GM, when he hit he was a slugger. While the team was battling mediocrity on the field in '72, Tallis made some other small moves, like signing amateur FA IF U.L. Washington, who had his good moments with KC, and an October trade for RP Gene Garber, which worked out better for Pittsburgh in getting P Jim Rooker as Garber was sold to Philadelphia in '74. In December, Tallis also swung another big deal that brought Hal McRae to KC from Cincinnati, who like Mayberry hadn't shown much in Cincy and, unlike Mayberry, cost KC its best pitcher from '72. When McRae started hitting, however, KC easily got the better end of the deal in another swap that ranks among Tallis and KC's finest.

1972 was another example of the Royals having enough of one commodity (contact hitting) and not enough of others (power in Municipal and pitching). The team batting average of .255 was first in the AL, as was the team's .325 OBP, but the slugging percentage of .353 was fifth and the team's 78 homers were 10th in the league. The team could hit as KC led the AL with 1,317 hits and was second with 220 doubles with speed that led to 85 stolen bases (fourth in the AL) and 580 runs (third). The team also drew a league-best 534 walks while K'ing only 711 times (second best in the AL). Pitching was a different story, as the team's decent #s aren't as great when compared to a pitching-heavy AL. The team ERA of 3.24 was NINTH in the league, which blows me away (five teams' staff ERAs were under 3). Royals pitchers gave up 1,293 hits for 10th in the AL along with 545 runs (ninth); notched 801 Ks (ninth); were sixth despite 44 complete games(!); and hurled 17 shutouts, which was still only sixth in the 12-team AL. On a good note, the team only gave up 85 homers for the best mark in the AL and walked only 405 batters for second in the league.

At the plate, Mayberry debuted with more than a bang for KC as he posted a 167 OPS+ that is the fifth best in that number in team history. His average line was .298/.304/.507 for an .811 OPS, 25 HR and
100 RBI in 149 games. He drew more walks than Ks, rapped out 150 hits and, to top it all, was only 23. Tallis could be a magician. In Mayberry's wake was a great OF of Piniella, Otis and Richie Scheinblum. Piniella hit .312/.356/.441 for an OPS of .797, drove home 72 runs, hit 33 doubles and grounded into 25 DPs (both to lead the AL) ; Otis hit .293/.352/.413 for an OPS of .765, lead the team with 75 runs scored, hit 28 doubles and stole 28/40 bases; and switch-hitting Scheinblum hit .300/.383/.418 for an OPS of .801 in 134 games, drove home 66 runs and paid off via the McRae deal in the post-season. I'd have to say that has to rank among the top OF in one season for the team. We'll find out if I'm mistaken over the course of the next 19 teams. Original Royal C Ed Kirkpatrick also had perhaps his best season for KC with a line of .275/.365/.396 and also had more walks than Ks, and 3B Paul Schaal and 2B Cookie Rojas were solid at the plate if not spectacular. On the other hand, Patek was not solid at the plate with an OPS of .556 but played adequate defense at short. The bench was led by a .703 OPS from OF Steve Hovley in 105 games but didn't go much deeper than that. The only other notable contributors were utility guy Carl Taylor (.662 OPS in 63 games) and OF Bob Oliver (.673 OPS in only 16 games).

The team's 76-78 record and somewhat lackluster (comparatively) pitching numbers belied one of the best performances by a starter in Royals history. Roger Nelson had pitched well for the fledgling Royals in 1969 but had thrown only 9 innings in 1970 and 34 in 1971, so what he did in '72 came out of pretty much nowhere. In 34 games, 19 starts and 173 IP, Nelson slapped together a 2.08 ERA, 0.87 WHIP (both franchise bests), 10 complete games, 6 shutouts (another Royals record), 3 saves, and 120 Ks to only 31 walks, b
ut somehow only went 11-6. His ERA+ of 146 in '72 is seventh-best all-time for KC, but that's thanks mostly to Saberhagen, Appier and Cone's exploits. He would be flipped to the Reds in the McRae deal but went back to putting up good numbers in much less IP before all but fading out after '74. A distant second in numbers in the rotation, although still respectable, Dick Drago went 12-17 with a 3.01 ERA and 11 complete games in 33 starts and 239 IP. Split followed up his breakout '71 by going over 200 IP for the first time in '72 at 216 while amassing a 12-12 record and 3.12 ERA and leading the team with 12 CG and 140 Ks. Bruce Dal Canton also chipped in a 3.40 ERA, 6-6 record and 2 saves in 35 games (16 starts) while fellow starters Mike Hedlund and Jim Rooker wouldn't do as well. Hedlund posted a 4.78 ERA and 5-7 record in 29 games (16 starts) and Rooker had a 4.38 ERA and 5-6 record in 18 games and 10 starts before moving on in the Garber trade to five straight good years with the Pirates. Having him in the mid-'70s may have made a difference for Royals teams that couldn't quite get past the bleepin' Yankees in the playoffs. Busby debuted with a 1.58 ERA, 3-1 record, 31 Ks and only 8 walks in his first 5 starts in September, which would make the following three seasons a nice treat for KC fans. Among the guys in the pen, RP Ted Abernathy stepped to the forefront with his second straight solid year (1.70 ERA, 5 saves in 45 games and 58 IP); Tom Burgmeier saved 9 games while posting a 4.23 ERA, 6-2 record and nearly twice as many walks as Ks in 51 games and 55 IP; and Fitzmorris had a 3.74 ERA, 2-5 record and 3 saves in 38 games and 101 IP.

1972 was a banner year in some ways with Nelson, the OF, and 5 guys being named to the midseason all-star team in Piniella, Otis, Rojas, Patek and Scheinblum. Municipal Stadium was friendly to the team as the Royals were 11 games over .500 at home and 13 games below even away. The season got off to an underwhelming start as a 6-8 April record had KC in fifth place and a 7-16 May record had the Royals in the cellar and 12 games out of first. The team rebounded to go 18-9 in June and move back up to fourth in the six-team AL West but the team treaded water instead of swimming with the sharks in July and August and dropped further out of contention in September despite a winning record that month. A late 3-game losing streak foiled the chance at a winning season and the Royals finished a disappointing 16 1/2 games behind the eventual world champs from Oakland. Lemon guided KC to a 22-31 record in 1-run games and 5-10 extra-inning record. While the team shut out opponents 15 times, as '72 seemed to go, they were shut out 16 times. Perhaps the most disappointing stat was that only 707,000 fans came to Municipal to see Mayberry and Nelson's historic performances. Only the sadsack '70 team that was 65-97 drew worse.

1972 Pipeline Royals MVP -- I'm gonna let Roger Nelson and John Mayberry share this one. Two awesome performances that were rarely, if ever, duplicated in a Royals uniform.

1972 Pipeline Royals LVP -- Pretty hard decision. I guess backup IF Bobby Floyd, who posted a .410 OPS in 61 games. But maybe I should give it to Lemon, because this was a year after Floyd posted a .430 OPS in 31 games. His defense wasn't bad, but, man, a .410 OPS!

Here they are, your overall mediocre yet exciting '72 Royals.

09 March 2007

Royal legacy #21 -- the 1995 Royals (70-74)

Ah, yes, the team that started all the losing. The '94 strike, combined with the 1993 death of owner Ewing Kauffman, left the team with no rudder in a changing sea as a board of directors and GM Herk Robinson couldn't do much to keep the ship afloat. '95 was the year of Bob Boone, Cone trade #2 and a Cleveland team that roared through the AL Central, including an 11-1 record vs. KC. The problem was a sadsack offense that didn't finish higher than 10th in the AL any team category other than triples (third), steals (second) and caught stealing (second). The team batting average of .260 was 12th, the OBP of .325 was 13th and the SLG of .396 was 14th. The Royals hit a league-low 114 HR and scored a league-low 629 runs. Some decent pitching couldn't change the team's fate as the staff ERA of 4.49 was fourth in the AL, the staff combined for an AL-best 10 shutouts and allowed only 142 HR (third in the AL) and 692 runs (fourth). Power pitching was in short supply, however, as the team's 763 strikeouts were 12th in the league.

The biggest transactions for the team coming into the unknown of '95, when spring training opened with replacement players before the players and owners finally wised up and ended the work stoppage, included the trade of Brian McRae to the Cubs for little return, and, the next day in April '95, the trade of '94 Cy Young winner P David Cone to the Blue Jays for pennies on the dollar. OF Chris Stynes was the be
st player KC got in the deal and he didn't get more than 130 ABs in two seasons before getting shipped out in another Herk deal. Veteran C Pat Borders was brought in, as was P Tom Browning, but Borders didn't last the season before getting flipped to Houston and Browning pitched 10 innings in '95. The draft wasn't a total disaster as KC got OF Carlos Beltran in round 2 and flash-in-the-pan OF Mark Quinn in round 11 but missed out on C Michael Barrett, P Joe Nathan and P A.J. Burnett. Herk made a flurry of trades in August and September but didn't reap or give up much in any of the deals. One brought in has-been IF Juan Samuel, who finished out the year with KC before moving on near the end of his career. Defections began after the season as Tom Gordon, Gary Gaetti and Greg Gagne all moved on in free agency and their replacements couldn't provide the same punch in '96.

Gaetti was the difference maker in the KC lineup in '95 as he hit .261 with an .847 OPS, 35 HR (second in franchise history for a season) and 96 RBI. 1B Wally Joyner was also no slouch as he hit .310 with an .841 OPS, 12 HR and 83 RBI while playing good D at first. It would be his last season with KC as he was included in the Bip Roberts deal. Rookie rule V pick OF Jon Nunnally made a splash with an .829 OPS in 119 games to finish in the top 10 of RoY voting, and free-agent signing IF Keith Lockhart hit .321 with an .833 OPS in 94 games. His biggest contribution to KC would be as part of the trade that brought Jermaine Dye to town. OF Vince Coleman was also adequate with a .747 OPS and 26 steals in 75 games. Rookie Johnny Damon also debuted with 47 games of a .282
BA and .765 OPS. The biggest disappointment offensively was easily DH Bob Hamelin, who followed up a Rookie of the Year in '94 by hitting .168 with a .590 OPS in 72 games. Chris James and Joe Vitiello provided pop off the bench with OPS numbers of .839 and .763 but didn't get much help from guys like David Howard (.635 OPS in 95 games), Phil Hiatt (.625 OPS in 52 games) or Edgar Caceres (.641 OPS in 55 games). Rookie Joe Randa also had a rough debut with a .171 BA and .480 OPS in 34 games.

P Mark Gubicza had his last good season to pace the starting rotation with a 3.75 ERA and 213 IP along with a 12-14 record that included 2 shutouts. P Kevin Appier kept plugging away with a 15-10 record, 3.89 ERA and 185 Ks in 201 IP while P Chris Haney made 13 starts and compiled a 3.65 ERA in 81 IP. Gordon was slightly better than mediocre at 12-12 with a 4.43 ERA and 119 Ks in 189 IP. Meanwhile, Jason Jacome, Dilson Torres, Melvin Bunch, Scott Anderson and Doug Linton combined for 27 starts with plus-5 ERAs. Closer Jeff Montgomery was the main man out of the pen with 31 saves and a 3.43 ERA in 65 IP. RPs Hipolito Pichardo and Mike Magnante were also OK with ERAs of 4.36 and 4.23 in a combined 108 IP. RP Billy Brewer came off two solid years of small sample-size but effective relief to washout with a 5.56 ERA in 45 IP, and RP Rusty Meacham was also somewhat shaky with a 4.98 ERA in 59 IP. RP Gregg Olson was brought in mid-season and did well in posting a 3.26 E
RA in 20 games and 30 IP while P Dave Fleming also came in and was solid with a 3.66 ERA in 5 starts and 9 games total with 32 IP.

The team, although mediocre, was somewhat consistent in matching 35-37 home and road records. Going into June the team was 5 1/2 games behind the Indians and, even after a 15-10 June, the team sank to 9 games out of first as the Cleveland team was the buzzsaw of the AL. A July swoon dropped the team back to double digits in games back and a 12-17 September record cemented the team's also-ran status. When the dust settled the Royals were 30 games back of Cleveland but 2 games up on Chicago for second in the AL Central. All in all, Bob Boone's first season as Royals manager went decently as he guided the team to a record that was 4 games better than expected via pythagorean W-L, although the strike helped dip attendance to 1.23 million on the season. Boone's tenure would be short as his missteps combined with transaction blunders and an inability to adjust with MLB's economic times would sink the franchise into a hole it is still trying to get out of.

1995 Pipeline Royals MVP -- Gary Gaetti. Not the prettiest guy but a consistent player and a true leader.

1995 Pipeline Royals LVP -- Gotta go with The Hammer, Bob Hamelin. He couldn't quite reclaim that rookie-year magic. Followed in the footsteps of McRae as another born DH.

Yikes, I need to find better pictures for these two.

Here's the '95 Royals.

07 March 2007

Royal legacy #22 -- the 1974 Royals (77-85)

1974 was another season of high hopes ending in disappointment after the team gave eventual world champion Oakland all it could handle in 1973 only to fall six games short. 43-year-old manager Jack McKeon was entering the second season of his first MLB managerial stint in '74 and young 3B George Brett would play his first full season in the majors and finish third in the RoY voting. Other pieces of the puzzle that made the late '70s Royals great like OF Amos Otis, 1B John Mayberry and DH Hal McRae were already in place but things didn't go right from opening day as the team stumbled to an 8-11 April record, original GM Cedric Tallis was fired in June in a controversial move by owner Ewing Kaufmann, and despite righting the ship somewhat in the mid-season, a late swoon would drop KC out of contention. Within a season, McKeon would join Tallis outside the organization and land in Oakland while Tallis took over the Yankees in 1980. The numbers were there team-wise for KC, for the most part, but inconsistency would doom the team's pennant chances. KC hit .259 as a team in '74 for sixth in the AL while posting an OBP of .326 for fifth and a subpar .364 slugging average for 11th. Once again the team had doubles power and triples speed but no longball pop as the team was second in the league in two- and three-baggers but last in homers with 89 as a team (four members of the A's combined for more than the Royals team). The team was second in steals in the AL and third in walks but scored only 667 runs for 7th in the AL. Pitching was the same way as the team posted a 3.51 ERA for fourth in the AL and allowed only 91 HR (second to Oakland) with 13 shutouts (third) but gave up a league-high 1,477 hits while finishing in the bottom half of the league in Ks, runs allowed and saves.

Tallis made some moves to try and carry the momentum of an 88-win '73 into '74 but few worked out too well. 1B/DH Tony Solaita came in via the Rule V draft and gave KC two good seasons; original Royal Ed Kirkpatrick joined Kurt Bevacqua in a trade to Pittsburgh for P Nelson Briles, who didn't dazzle much in two seasons; Lou Piniella was sent to New York after a disappointing 1973 and revived his care
er in exchange for two seasons of aging reliever Lindy McDaniel; and a February trade brought in a past-his-prime OF Vada Pinson, who also didn't step up. Tallis' final draft in June didn't pan out in much other than first-rounder OF Willie Wilson. P Sammy Stewart was picked up in round 28 but didn't sign and would end up with a world champion in Baltimore, and the team missed out on pitchers Ed Whitson and Jim Clancy in the early rounds. Tallis got his walking papers in mid-June and the GM reins were handed to Joe Burke, who within a month had traded to return Bevacqua to KC and sold closer Gene Garber to the Phillies. Burke tried to pull 1B Orlando Cepeda off the scrap heap for an August shot of power but that move didn't work as Cepeda slugged only .290. After the season, Burke would bring in washed-up Harmon Killebrew and sell Bevacqua to Milwaukee as none of his moves would bring any guys in for the AL West run in '75.

The '74 Royals lineup was sprinkled with talent and mediocrity as McRae led the way in his first season as a primary DH. He finished third in the AL with a .310 BA while getting on base at a .375 clip and slugging .475 for an .850 OPS. He took another piece of the team triple crown with 88 RBI and slugged 36 dou
bles along with 15 HR while throwing in 11 stolen bases. AO hit .284 with a .348 OBP and .438 SLG for a .786 OPS while hitting 12 HR and driving home 73 runs with 31 doubles and 9 triples. Otis chipped in 18 steals. Mayberry also stepped up with power if not consistent hitting as he batted only .234 but got on-base at a .358 percentage and slugged .424 for a .782 OPS. He led the team in homers with 22 and drove home 69 runs while drawing 77 walks and striking out 72 times. Fran Healy was OK as starting C with a .252 BA and .718 OPS with 24 doubles and 16 steals but played not-so-good D with 21 passed balls and 16 errors. George Brett had a nice but still in development first complete season by hitting .282 with a .675 OPS along with 21 doubles but only 2 HR. He also made 21 errors at third. Solaita came off the bench for a .767 OPS in 96 games but was a lone good bat off the pine for McKeon. SS Freddie Patek slugged under .300 with a .622 OPS and made 25 errors at short; 2B Cookie Rojas played somewhat more solid defense up the middle but posted only a .648 OPS; and OF Jim Wohlford was mediocre with decent D in the corner OF spots and a .670 OPS. Rookie OF Al Cowens also struggled in his rookie season to a .589 OPS, as did second-year 2B Frank White, who posted a .533 OPS in 99 games.

Steve Busby was the pitcher to watch for KC in '74 as he followed up his '73 no-hitter vs. Detroit with a '74 no-no versus Milwaukee in June. He went 22-14 in '74 with a 3.39 ERA and 198 Ks in 292 IP but the heavy workload (20 complete games! Guess McKeon never thought much of pitch count) combined with 260 IP in 1975 at only 25 would kill his career. He didn't pitch 100 innings in a season after '75 and was out of the league by '81. 1974 was the start of Busby's two-year pinnacle and he was joined in the rotation by Al Fitzmorris (2.79 ERA, 13-6 record, 9 CG in his first season over 20 starts), Bruce Dal Canton (3.13 ERA, 8-10 record, 9 CG in 22 starts), and Paul Splittorff (4.10 ERA, 13-19 record, 8 CG in 36 starts coming off his only 20-win season). Briles came in and made 17 starts for a 5-7 record and 4.02 ERA after his addition and Marty Pattin, who came in from Boston pre-season in a trade involving Dick Drago, also made 11 starts with a 3.99 ERA and 3-7 record. The bullpen was rock solid with Doug Bird taking over what could be called the closer role from Garber and posting a 2.73 ERA, 7-6 record and 10 saves in 55 appearances. RP Steve Mingori nearly matched that with a 2.81 ERA and 2 saves in 67 IP while McDaniel posted a nice 3.46 ERA in 106 IP and Joe Hoerner had a 3.82 ERA in 30 games. Garber had a down season prior to his sale to the Phils with a 4.82 ERA in 28 IP but would bounce back in Philly. Also notable was the debut of P Dennis Leonard, who went 0-4 in 4 starts with a 5.32 ERA in 22 IP. He would take over Busby's role as rubber arm starter for Whitey Herzog in the future.

As mentioned earlier, the season didn't get off to a great start in April and the team would end up neither a winner at home or away with a 1-game under .500 record in the stadium and 7 games under .500 road mark. The Royals ended April in last place but bounced back in May with one of two 5-game win streaks to get within a game and a half of first by June 1. The momentum didn't last as the team went 2 games below .500 in June and July combined to drop back to 8 1/2 games out. The team recovered in August to go 18-10 through August 27 to take solid hold of second place, 4 1/2 games back of the A's. Then the season took a sudden downturn as an 8-game skid ensued to drop the Royals to 10 1/2 out by Sept. 6. KC went 8-22 in September and October to finish in a franchise-low to that point fifth place in the division. McKeon watched over a team that was 23-30 in 1-run games and finished 5 games worse than expected via pythagorean W-L. Despite shutting opponents out 13 times, the Royals themselves were shut out 11 times. A year later, the fun would begin for Royals fans as the emergence of Brett combined with the play of Mayberry, McRae and a great starting rotation along with some guidance from replacement manager Whitey Herzog would start a great run for the franchise.

1974 Pipeline Royals MVP -- Steve Busby. Perhaps the first Royals pitching great. Gave his right arm for the organization.

1974 Pipeline Royals LVP -- Another toughie. I guess I'll go with Jack McKeon, who helped lead to the short career of Busby but couldn't have done a whole lot more with what he had in his much younger pre-somewhat-loveable-curmudgeon days.