05 March 2007

Royal legacy #23 -- the 1983 Royals (79-83)

The second-worst season for the Royals in the '80s, but perhaps one of the most memorable for Royals fans, brings us to 1983, the year of the "Pine Tar Incident" -- with George Brett showing a level of rage few Royals fans probably knew he had. That game happened two days after my birthday and I remember watching it with my dad and sister and being both startled and fairly amused by Brett roaring out of the dugout like he was being chased by sting-crazy bees after Billy Martin got his homer taken away thanks to pine tar slathered "too high" on the bat. George and the Royals prevailed in the end on that cause, tho. 1983 was also the year for one of the most newsworthy blemishes on the franchise when 4 Royals -- 1B Willie Aikens, OF Willie Wilson, bench OF Jerry Martin and P Vida Blue -- got into legal trouble with cocaine charges and spent three months in the pen late in the year. They were suspended for a season by commissioner Bowie Kuhn only to have the bans lifted on May 15, 1984. Only Wilson survived with incident with the Royals as Aikens continued his downward spiral in Toronto in a deal for Jorge Orta (Aikens is currently in prison until at least 2012 on drug charges he allegedly committed in the '90s), Martin landed with the Mets and Blue took '84 off before attempting a comeback with San Francisco. I personally thought Willie Wilson played better when he was on coke but, after taking a look at his Baseball Reference page, it was just slightly better -- not to endorse cocaine use or anything, just an opinion.

Mediocrity was the name of the game for the '83 Royals as Dick Howser entered his second fu
ll season at the helm as manager and guided the team to an underwhelming 79-83 season (that was five games better than expected through pythagorean W-L) but still somehow landed the team second in the AL West, 20 games behind Tony LaRussa's Chicago White Sox. Meanwhile, 5 teams in the AL East won more than 85 games, leaving little doubt which division ruled the AL that season. The team's batting average of .271 (5th in the AL) was fueled by top-six finishes in hits, doubles and triples but this was balanced out by the team posting a .319 OBP (11th in the AL thanks to a league-low 397 walks) and .397 SLG (9th) along with 109 HR (12th) and 696 runs (12th). The team didn't strike out often and had some good base stealing instincts (182 steals for second in the league, only 47 CS for 9th in the AL and best among teams with more than 100 SB), led by Wilson's 59 steals. The pitching wasn't quite good enough to pick up the slack the offense was leaving as the team ERA was 4.25 for 9th in the AL, the staff had a league-worst 19 CG and 593 Ks. Only 3 starters with more than 10 starts had what could be considered good seasons, and Quiz had a great season out of the pen but we'll get to that in a couple of paragraphs.

In only his second full season as GM, John Schuerholz was still learning the ropes in '83. Hal McRae and Paul Splittorff were retained in free agency and Schuerholz traded off a young and presumably fat Cecil Fielder to Toronto for two seasons of Leon Roberts after drafting Cecil in '82. His first-rounder in the June draft w
as OF Gary Thurman, just two picks after Boston drafted Roger Clemens out of Texas, who was probably supposed to be the speedy CF after Wilson quit but that didn't pan out as Thurman had the speed but forgot his bat. Chris Sabo went early in round 2 and Rick Aguilera went in round 3 but the Royals didn't get anything out of those two picks. Ron Gant also went a pick ahead of KC in round 4. The Royals' big strike of the draft came in round 11 with the selection of Kevin Seitzer out of Eastern Illinois U. They also grabbed Todd Zeile out of high school in round 30 but didn't sign him. Schuerholz's biggest move of '83 probably flew under the radar somewhat as he flipped P Bob Tufts to Cincinnati for P Charlie Leibrandt, who would be a solid part of the rotation for several seasons in KC. Gaylord Perry also threw the last 84 innings of his hall-of-fame (cheating) career in Royals blue in '83 as Schuerholz signed him in July. After the season, Schuerholz picked up portly 1B Steve Balboni from the Yankees in a deal to put another piece of the puzzle in place for the run to the title in '85.

As usual, George Brett led the team offensively although Hal McRae and Aikens also chipped in with solid seasons. Brett hit .310 with a .947 OPS, 25 HR and 93 RBI and led the AL in slugging percentage at .562 but played sub-par D at third with 24 errors; McRae hit .311 with an .834 OPS, 12 HR and 82 RBI as full-time DH; and Aikens hit .302 with a .912 OPS, 23 HR and 72 RBI at first. Rookie OF Butch Davis led the bench with the best season of his short career with a 137 OPS+ at .867 OPS with a .344 batting average in 33 games; Martin posted an .812 OPS in 13 games and C Don Slaught hit .312 with a .724 OPS in 83 games. Being entered into the "debits" side of the offense were C John Wathan, 2B Frank White and SS U.L. "Mr. Toothpick" Washington with sub-.300 OBPs among starters and IFs Onix Concepcion, Greg Pryor and Joe Simpson doing the same off the bench. Washington, who always looked cool on his baseball cards with a toothpick jutting out of his mouth, wasn't as smooth on the field with 36 errors. Other than his ability to draw a walk, which was mediocre, he would make Angel Berroa almost look like Cal Ripken nowadays. White and Wathan, however, played solid D at their spots, and White did hit 11 HR and drive home 77 runs. Amos Otis also had his last season as a Royal and split time in right with Pat Sheridan and Leon Roberts. AO only hit .261 with a .669 OPS before signing with Pittsburgh after the season for one more campaign before retiring. Sheridan and Wilson didn't do a whole lot better at the plate with OBPs in the .310s range and OPS numbers of .693 and .668, respectively.

"Split" was the best among KC starters in '83 with an ERA of 3.63 while going 13-8 in 156 IP. 26-year-old Bud Black was next with a 3.79 ERA and 10-7 record in 161 IP followed by aging SP Dennis Leonard's 3.71 ERA in 63 IP. Perry and Steve Renko provided sub-4.5 ERAs in 31 combined starts while lefty Larry Gura pitched 200 innings but managed only a 4.90 ERA and an 11-18 record with 76 BB and 57 Ks. Blue also posted a 6-point ERA before getting his pink slip in August. Dan Quisenberry shut the door in the late innings fo
r 45 saves en route to leading the league in that category for the second straight year -- in the process picking up his 3rd Rolaids Reliever of the Year award, finishing second in the Cy Young vote and sixth in the MVP vote. He finished with a 1.94 ERA and 5-3 record in 139 IP. Veteran reliever Don Hood added a 2.27 ERA in 47 IP and RP Mike Armstrong posted a 3.86 ERA and went 10-7 in 58 games before being included in the Balboni deal after the season. Keith Creel and Bill Castro were trotted out to the mound for a combined 140 IP of plus-6 ERAs, including 10 starts for Creel.

The road was again unkind to the Royals in '83 as the team went 9 games over .500 in the friendly confines and 13 games under .500 away from home. A 10-7 April had the team 1 game back of first on May 1
but that was the only winning month other than a 2-1 October as the team sank to 3 games back June 1, clung to that into August before the White Sox went 22-9 in that month while KC went 16-18 and dropped out of the race. The Royals ended the month on a 6-game skid to drop below .500 for good and limped home with a 79-83 record. KC would prove the White Sox to not have what it takes to last, however, as the team bounced back to a more familiar finish in '84, leading up to 1985. Despite the ups and downs of a season that was eventful both on and off the field, the Royals drew 1.96 million fans to Royals Stadium to finish 6th in the AL in attendance.

1983 Pipeline Royals MVP -- Dan Quisenberry. Let's give Quiz his just rewards on a killer season. What Royals fan under 40 didn't stand in their backyard as a kid and try his submarine style at one point?

1983 Pipeline Royals LVP -- SS U.L. Washington. He numbered his days in KC by switch-hitting his way to a .236 BA and .618 OPS with horrible fielding. Toothpick be damned. Maybe he just shoulda picked one side of the plate and stuck with it rather than stink at both sides. Well, after considering he hit .247 as a righty and .259 as a lefty, it didn't matter too much, I guess.

The somewhat coke-fueled 1983 Royals are here.

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