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.

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