05 April 2007

Royal legacy #12 -- the 1973 Royals (88-74)

The success of 1971 combined with a less successful in terms of wins and losses but record-setting '72 (thanks to Roger Nelson, John Mayberry, et al) was enough to generate some momentum in Kansas City entering the '73 season. 1973 was prominent for two main reasons -- the debut of the new Royals Stadium, complete with Astroturf on the field and fountains beyond the outfield walls; and the debut of '71 draftee George Brett at third in an August call-up. Both factors would be ingredients in the team's recipe for success that started in 1973 and picked up momentum in 1975 with the fading of the Athletics dynasty. The new stadium also hosted its only all-star game in '73 (with Bobby Bonds as the MVP in a 7-1 NL win). Unlike '71, when the Royals were overcome by a more powerful Oakland team, Kansas City would more than hold its own for most of the season in '73 before wilting late in the season to give the A's the third of four straight AL West titles.

In a mirror image of '71, this time the offense was steady but pitching was less than reliable. The team posted a .261 BA that was fourth in the AL and a .339 OBP that was third but the team's .381 SLG was eighth in spacious Royals Stadium. The franchise's M.O. came into play again as the team was top five in doubles (239 for second), triples (40 for third) and steals (105 for fifth) but ninth in HR with 114. The team's run total of 755 was only 3 less than AL-leader Oakland and the Royals were also second in walks, fourth in hits and
second-to-last in Ks with only 696. Pitching, on the other hand, was poor in comparison to the league. The team ERA of 4.10 was 10th (out of 12); the Royals were 10th in CG, 12th in shutouts, 11th in hits allowed, 10th in runs allowed (752), 10th in walks allowed and ninth in Ks. The only categories the staff was top-five in were wins (fourth, good to be top-five in that stat), HR allowed (as usual) and saves mainly thanks to a good year from closer Doug Bird.

All in all, 1973 was an up-and-down year for transactions for GM Cedric Tallis. The odyssey of 3B Kurt Bevacqua with KC began in November '72 when Tallis traded '71 ace Mike Hedlund to Cleveland for the light-hitting infielder. Hedlund had originally signed with the Indians and come to KC via the expansion draft. Apparently Tallis knew something Cleveland didn't, because Hedlund battled a sore arm and never pitched in the majors again. Bevacqua, meanwhile, actually posted a good season in '73, was traded by Tallis to Pittsburgh along with Ed Kirkpatrick in the Nelson Briles deal, and then was brought back via trade in mid-'74, didn't hit OR play defense, and was sold to Milwaukee in '75. Don't know what Tallis saw there. Anyway, Tallis pulled off a dandy of a deal later in November '72 when he sent Roger Nelson and Richie Scheinblum to Cincinnati for P Wayne Simpson and good bat, no-D OF Hal McRae. McRae only went on to be another piece of the puzzle in KC and one of the best DHs in AL history. Nelson and Scheinblum were done by '75. Another Tallis deal was
less of a clear win for KC when he sent P Greg Minton to San Francisco for C Fran Healy in April '73. Healy had two good seasons and one mediocre season in powder blue, but also turned into Larry Gura in a deal with the Yankees. Minton was a solid reliever from '79 to '90. I guess in the end, Tallis won again thanks to the assist from GM Joe Burke in turning Healy into Gura. Even though Tallis whiffed on Fred Lynn, Eddie Murray, Mike Flanagan and Jack Clark in the '73 draft, two players of note did come KC's way. Tallis picked OF Ruppert Jones in round 3 (over Murray, after skipping over Lynn in round 2), but Ruppert played only 28 games for the Royals before going to Seattle in the '76 expansion draft and producing in the Pacific Northwest. Also in the secondary phase, Tallis picked up P Bob McClure, who logged only 19 innings for KC before being included in the deal with Milwaukee that brought in P Jim Colborn (integral part of '77 rotation) and C Darrell Porter. McClure had a nice long career in Milwaukee and 5 other stops, but Colborn and Porter had their moments for KC.

John Mayberry was the man to watch again in '73 for KC. He followed up a .901 OPS in '72 with an .895 OPS in '73, hit .278 with 87 RS, 20 doubles, 26 HR and 100 RBI and set a team record that still stand
s with 122 BB. His .417 OBP was also sixth on the franchise all-time list, and he led the AL in both OBP and BB. OF Amos Otis also had a fourth-straight solid campaign with a .300 BA, .852 OPS, 21 doubles, 26 HR, 93 RBI and 89 RS. He also stole 13 bases and won his second Gold Glove in CF. 3B Paul Schaal made 30 errors in the field (further ushering in the Brett era along with Bevacqua's 6 errors in 40 games at 3B), hit .288 and posted a .788 OPS while C Healy hit for a .757 OPS while splitting time with Carl Taylor (.646 OPS, .283 SLG) behind the plate. The other regulars were somewhat less productive -- Ed Kirkpatrick (now in the OF) hit for a .708 OPS; new DH Hal McRae (his career was saved by the DH starting in '73) hit for a .697 OPS; 2B Cookie Rojas hit for a .692 OPS with decent D at second; Piniella hit for a .291 OBP and .652 OPS with 28 doubles in what looks like a tank job to get out of town; and SS Freddie Patek hit for only a .632 OPS but stole 36 bases, hit 19 doubles and scored 82 runs with 26 errors at short. The bench featured 1B Gail Hopkins (.728 OPS in 74 games) and IF Bobby Floyd (an out-of-nowhere .754 OPS in 51 games) but saw inauspicious debuts from 2B Frank White (.543 OPS, including .262 OBP, in 51 games at age 22) and Brett (.295 OPS in 13 games at age 20). Steve Hovley was a marginal fourth OF with a .669 OPS and OF/DH types Rick Reichardt and Jim Wohlford posted OPS figures of .641 and .718 in their appearances.

Pitching was a tale of Split, Bird, Mingori and Fitz, as 26-year-old Paul Splittorff went 20-11 for his only 20-win season, posted a 3.98 ERA, and threw 12 complete games and 3 shutouts in a then-team-record 38 starts and 262 IP. Fitzmorris appeared in only 15 games, started 13 and posted an 8-3 record and 2.83 ERA in 89 IP. Drago and young Steve Busby were solid as Drago went 12-14 with a 4.23 ERA and 10 CG in 37 games (33 starts) and 212 IP and Busby went 16-15 with a 4.23 ERA, 7 CG and 174 Ks in 37 starts and 237 IP and threw in the franchise's first no-hitter in a 3-0 win at Detroit April 27. He hurled another one the next season in Milwaukee. The other two starters, Ken Wright and Wayne Simpson (also a part of the McRae deal coming KC's way) were unspectacular with below-average ERAs and a combined 9-9 record. The main men in the bullpen were Steve Mingori, who Tallis picked up in a midseason deal (Mingori went on to post a 3.04 ERA, 3-3 record and 1 save in 19 games and 56 IP before producing in five more seasons in KC) and Doug Bird, who KC drafted in '69 and made his debut in '73 with 102 IP of a 2.99 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 83 Ks, 4-4 record and 20 saves for the Royals. He, too, would be productive (through '77) with KC. RP Gene Garber, who had come over from the Pirates in '72, posted a 4.24 ERA, 9-9 record and 11 saves in 152 IP as the pen workhorse but it wasn't pretty after that as Bruce Dal Canton and Joe Hoerner combined for 7 saves and plus-4.8 ERAs and five other relievers had ERAs over 4.9.

A great July had the Royals primed for their first postseason appearance but it wasn't to be as the Oakland machine rolled to a World Series title. KC was 15 games over .500 on the new turf at Royals Stadium
and a game under .500 on the road under new manager Jack McKeon, who took over from Bob Lemon and guided the team to a record 7 wins better than expected via pythagorean W-L. KC roared out of the gates to take 8 of its first 10 to grab a 2-game division lead and finished April at 13-8 and tied with the White Sox atop the AL West. Two 4-game losing streaks in May helped KC go 14-15 in that month and drop 4 games back of Chicago and their streaky play continued in a 15-15 June as KC had two 4-game win streaks and two 5-game skids. Luckily the White Sox faded and the month ended with KC 1 1/2 games back of Oakland. A 5-game win streak in early July closed the gap to a game and the Royals ended play July 28 with a 1 1/2 game deficit. By Aug. 5, a 7-game win streak had flipped that deficit to a 1-game lead as KC went 18-10 in July and 14-12 in August. The A's and manager Dick Williams, however, went a combined 37-19 in those two months and took advantage of a 4-game KC slide in late August to build a 5 1/2 game lead. By then it was a two-team race and Kansas City didn't have the gas to finish. A 4-game win streak in late September got the team to 4 1/2 back but Oakland held them off to win the AL West by 6 games.

After the season, Tallis changed up the pitching staff by sending SP Dick Drago to Boston for P Marty Pattin, as both would pitch well in their new surroundings. Tallis also drafted 1B Tony Solaita in the rule V draft from Pittsburgh and got two good seasons from the Samoan slugger. The changes continued with the Nelson Briles deal, which ended up a wash, and the questionable deal of 29-year-old OF Lou Piniella and P Ken Wright to the Yankees for 38-year-old reliever Lindy McDaniel, who was done by '76. Piniella would go o
n to great '74 and '78 seasons in the Bronx Zoo and torment the Royals with his Yankee teammates in the postseason. The Royals would fall back in '74 but the onset of a new manager in Whitey Herzog in '75 would spark the team to new heights for the rest of the decade.

1973 Pipeline Royals MVP -- John Mayberry. Great hitting at first plus good D equals an all-time Royal.

1973 Pipeline Royals LVP -- Lou Piniella. Too bad he had to go out that way from KC.

The not-quite-enough '73 Royals. With #11, we're getting close to playoff territory. Your first Royals on the Farm update is set for Friday.

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