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.

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