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.

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