10 April 2007

Royal legacy #10 -- the 1989 Royals (92-70)

We've hit another tricky part of our countdown, as the '89, '82 and '75 teams all finished within 2 games of each other. The '89 team featured all-time seasons from Bret Saberhagen and Jeff Montgomery but a weak offense compared to '82 and '75. The '82 team finished only 3 games behind California but had slightly weaker pitching and a better offense than '89. The '75 team trumps both, in my mind, as it was the franchise's best season to that point, marked the beginning of the great years with the arrival of Whitey Herzog, and featured a team with equally good hitting and pitching. So in the end it shakes out with '89 as 10th to lead off KC's final three postseason-less teams on the list. The Royals were still part of the pride of the AL in '89 as manager John Wathan was entering his second full season and the team was coming off back-to-back winning campaigns. The Bash Brother A's helped kill KC's chances in '88 and, with the core in Oakland still intact, the Athletics would seal the Royals' fate again in 1989 by staying steady while the Royals wavered.

As previously noted, it was the Royals' pitching that kept them in the race and helped provide two great months in the '89 season. The team's ERA was 3.55 and good for third in the AL (unfortunately Oakland and California were better and in the Royals' division) and the team was top-five in the league in every category b
ut saves, in which KC was ninth with 38 saves (thanks in part to 27 blowout wins of 5 or more runs). KC was first in HR allowed; second in walks allowed and complete games (27); third in Ks (978), runs allowed (635) and shutouts (13); and fifth in hits allowed. If only the offense was that good. The O was only top-five in four categories -- OBP (fifth, .329), steals (154 for third), triples (41 for second) and walks (554 for fifth). The team batting average of .261 was sixth, the slugging % of .373 was 12th, the 690 runs scored was 11th and the team was seventh in hits, 10th in doubles and 13th in homers. Bo Jackson and Danny Tartabull put the team in the middle-of-the-pack in the AL in Ks as the team was seventh in that stat.

Entering his second-to-last season as Royals GM, John Schuerholz held pat in the offseason entering '89. His biggest moves were the free-agent signing of 41-year-old C Bob Boone (he did pay off with a Gold G
love season) and bringing back 39-year-old hobbling 1B Bill Buckner, whose best days were in the past. The June draft was also a yawner as the only significant player acquired by KC was C Brent Mayne at pick 13 in round 1, ahead of guys like Mo Vaughn, Chuck Knoblauch and Todd Jones. The Royals missed out on John Olerud in round 3 and Jeff Bagwell in round 4. The rest of the season was also uneventful in terms of player moves.

Even though Tartabull and George Brett were solid once more in '89, the season belonged to Bo Jackson, who not only hit .256 with an .805 OPS but led the team with 32 HR, 105 RBI, 86 RS and 172 Ks (a Royals record that still stands -- it broke Steve Balboni's record by 6). He threw in 26 steals and intimidating if not stellar defense in left field. 1989 was the year Bo threw out Harold Reynolds at home from the wall and also the year he clubbed a mammoth HR in the all-star game en route to being named the all-star MVP. His HR mark also cracked the team record books as it is seventh all-time for KC. Tartabull hit .268 with an .809 OPS, 22 doubles, 18 HR, 62 RBI and 123 Ks; 36-year-old 1B Brett hit .28
2 with a .793 OPS, 67 RS, 26 doubles, 12 HR, 80 RBI and 14 SB, and played great D at first; OF Jim Eisenreich lead the team with a .293 BA, hit for a .789 OPS and threw in 33 doubles (another team leading stat), 7 triples (co-team lead with Wilson and Stillwell), 9 HR, 27 SB and was the team's best OF statistically; and 3B Kevin Seitzer hit .281 with a .724 OPS, 78 RS, 17 doubles, team-leading 102 walks and 17 SB while playing decent but not great D at the hot corner. SS Kurt Stillwell was simply average at short but hit .261 with a .705 OPS and 20 doubles; C Boone had his seventh Gold Glove season and hit .274 with a .674 OPS; CF Willie Wilson hit only .253 with a .658 OPS but hit 7 triples and stole 24 bases in 112 games; and 2B Frank White had a weak offensive year at .256 with a .635 OPS and 22 doubles but was again solid at second base. The bench was again weak as utility guy extraordinaire Bill Pecota led the way with a .685 OPS in 83 AB while playing every position other than catcher or pitcher at some point. Pat Tabler saw the most action off the bench as he hit for a .633 OPS in 390 AB and backup C Mike Macfarlane had a subpar .223 BA and .562 OPS in 157 AB. The rest of the bench included guys like IF Brad Wellman (.550 OPS), Buckner (.507 OPS), OF Matt Winters (.666 OPS) and speedy OF Gary Thurman (.552 OPS and 16 SB in 24 games).

Bret Saberhagen, simply put, had arguably the team's best pitching season ever in 1989. Bret went 23-6 with a 2.16 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 12 CG, 4 shutouts and 193 Ks in 35 starts and 262 IP en route to his second Cy Young Award. He led the AL in wins, ERA, ERA+, and complete games and was third in Ks. In
the Royals' record books, his ERA and WHIP were second (to Roger Nelson's '72), his wins were first all-time (breaking Steve Busby's '74 record of 22), his winning percentage was second to Larry Gura's in '78, his K total was sixth and his K/BB ratio of 4.49 and his ERA+ of 178 are team records (the ERA+ mark is tied with Kevin Appier's '93). If 1985 had made Saberhagen a likely candidate as a Royals legend, 1989 cemented that position. Mark Gubicza also had a fine year in the Royal rotation in '89 as he went 15-11 with a 3.04 ERA, 8 CG, 2 shutouts and 173 Ks in 36 starts and 255 IP. Leibrandt's '89 was enough to make him trade fodder for Schuerholz after the season as Charlie went 5-11 with a 5.14 ERA, 3 complete games and a 1.35 K-BB ratio in 33 games (27 starts) and 161 IP; Floyd Bannister was 4-1 with a 4.66 ERA in 14 starts and 75 IP; Luis Aquino was 6-8 with 2 CG, a shutout and a 3.50 ERA in 34 games (16 starts) and 141 IP; and Tom Gordon was 17-9 with a 3.64 ERA, 1 save and 153 Ks in 49 games (16 starts) and 163 IP. The bullpen was led by Jeff Montgomery's 1.37 ERA, 7-3 record, 18 saves and 94 Ks in 63 games and 92 IP -- he didn't take over as closer from incumbent Steve Farr until late June. If he could have translated those numbers into a full season of closing, he would have had to win the Rolaids Relief Award. As it is, his '89 season trumps the '93 season in which he actually won the award. Farr wasn't as solid as he had been in '88 or would be in '90 as he went 2-5 with 18 saves, a 4.12 ERA and 56 Ks in 51 games and 63 IP. Terry Leach had a 4.15 ERA in 73 IP while Steve Crawford was good with a 2.83 ERA in 54 IP, Larry McWilliams had a 4.13 ERA in 32 IP and Rick Luecken had a 3.42 ERA in 23 IP. Kevin Appier made an unsuccessful debut with a 9.14 ERA and 1-4 record in 5 starts and 21 IP.

The Royals stormed out of the gates in 1989 but couldn't keep pace with Oakland while hosting record crowds in Royals Stadium. The team was an awesome 29 games over .500 at home but 7 under .500 on the road while going 24-19 in 1-run games and 11-6 in extra innings under Wathan. The Royals were 16-8 in April thanks to win streaks of five and four games but found themselves 2 games out of first entering May as Texas and Oakland also had good opening months. KC leveled out to 14-13 in May as two five-game win streaks were balanced somewhat by a six-game skid and the Royals dropped from a momentary division lead tie mid-month to 3 1/2 games back of Oakland and California entering June. June was only a little better as KC was 14-12 and swept California while taking 2-of-3 from Oakland as part of a six-game winning s
treak to keep within 1 1/2 games of the A's. The deficit was 2 games entering July and a momentary swoon in the month would have negative impact that reverberated as KC was 13-14 in July to drop 6 1/2 games back of California and 5 games back of Oakland entering August. The team's big push came in a 21-8 August as an early three-game winning streak closed the gap to 5 1/2 games and a huge nine-game surge included 3 wins by Leach and 2 wins by both Saberhagen and Gordon. With all the wins, the gap remained 4 1/2 games behind Oakland as Bert Blyleven snapped the streak on Aug. 24. The Royals followed by taking 2 of 3 from Oakland to cut the deficit to 3 1/2 games and a four-game win streak cut the deficit to 1 1/2 games entering play Sept. 2. By then, the team was holding steady but slowly running out of gas. KC went .500 in September as an early sweep by Detroit dropped the deficit back to 4 1/2 games and Oakland's 17-10 September record was good enough to eliminate the Royals from contention Sept. 27. The season ended with KC dropping 2 of 3 at Oakland to finish 7 games back of the eventual world champs. The Royals' 92-70 record was 5 games better than expected via pythagorean W-L but despite shutting out opponents 13 times, the Royals were shut out themselves 18 times thanks to an inconsistent offense. In all, 2.47 million fans hit the turnstiles in Kansas City in 1989 to obliterate the previous record of 2.39 million set in 1987. The '89-90 postseason would go down in infamy as the time of the Storm and Mark Davis signings, Charlie Leibrandt's trade to Atlanta and the Jose DeJesus-Steve Jeltz trade. Not one of Schuerholz's periods high on his curriculum vitae, I'm sure. The team would rebound under manager Hal McRae in the early '90s with Schuerholz gone to Atlanta but the good times were few after the 1989 season eclipsed.

1989 Pipeline Royals MVP -- Bret Saberhagen. That's a fairly easy choice. Too bad he didn't get to stay a Royal for his entire career.

1989 Pipeline Royals LVP -- Gotta give this one to Charlie Leibrandt. $1.25 million for a 5-point ERA. He was a consistent pitcher over his career in KC, but '89 was a low point. I would have liked to see him rebound in KC rather than Atlanta, but that's the way it goes.

Here's Bo and the '89 Royals.

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