26 April 2007

Royal legacy #6 -- the 1984 Royals (84-78)

Royals fans in general likely had no idea what to expect going into the 1984 season. The Royals had been to the World Series in 1980 and back to the playoffs in '81, but had finished second in both '82 and '83 to the Angels and White Sox. 1984 would be another remarkable pennant race for Kansas City as the Royals hung around the bottom half of the division until August, stayed within striking distance, and then turned up the pressure in late August/September to fight off the Twins and Halos for the AL West crown. Unfortunately, '84 was also the year of the Detroit Tigers' 1-to-162 first place run in the AL East and the Tigers were too much to handle in the ALCS.

1984 wasn't a hugely successful year in either hitting or pitching for the Royals or any individual Royal. A solid team effort, tho, paid dividends. The team only ranked top-five in the AL in three main categories -- batting (.268, fifth), doubles (third) and triples (second) -- and ranked low only in walks (400 for last), HR (no surprise, 117 for 12th), and runs scored (673 for 11th; luckily the pitching staff picked up the slack there). Other than that, the Royals were middle of the pack in hits (sixth), slugging (.399 for sixth), steals (106 for sixth), Ks (eighth-most), and OBP (.319 for ninth). In each of the areas the hitters lacked, the pitching staff did well as the Royals were best in the AL with only 433 walks all
owed, gave up only 136 homers (third) and allowed only 686 runs (fifth). Thanks to another great year from Dan Quisenberry, the team's 50 saves were second in the AL (one behind Detroit). Low marks came in Ks (11th) and CG (18 for 11th, but the team had a good pen), and otherwise the team was about average for the league with a 3.92 ERA (seventh), 9 shutouts (sixth) and fourth place in hits allowed.

The complexion of the team changed coming off the 79-83 record and second place finish in '83. The coke trials that saw four Royals get in trouble in '83 also took their toll as only Willie Wilson was brought back from that group by GM John Schuerholz and owner Ewing Kaufmann. A longtime Royal said goodbye going into '84 as the Royals let OF Amos Otis walk after a shaky '83. AO would sign with Pittsburgh but would be released in August before retiring just shy of his 37th birthday. In some December trading action at the Winter Meetings, Schuerholz slapped together a package of three prospects for the Dodgers in trade for RP Joe Beckwith, who would give KC two solid seasons, and packaged P Mike Armstrong with a minor leaguer to the Yankees for 1B Steve Balboni and a minor-league pitcher. Balboni would give KC two good seasons, another average season and a lot of Ks and also set the team record for HR in a season at 36 in '85. I'd give the solid advantage in both deals to KC. Schuerholz waited until later in the month for another deal that ship
ped 1B Willie Aikens (now presumably expendable with Balboni in place) to Toronto for OF Jorge Orta in a move that would ring through eternity for KC fans and help lead to the most memorable photograph of the '85 series (excepting the SI cover to the left). Orta had one good and two decent seasons for KC while Aikens never regained form. As the season progressed, Schuerholz's only other resonating move was to purchase IF Dane Iorg from St. Louis, which would echo into October '85. The '84 draft year was ho-hum, to say the least, for Royals fans as the best pick was first-rounder P Scott Bankhead, who only paid off in getting traded for Danny Tartabull a couple years later. The Royals missed Jay Buhner in the January secondary draft and, in the June regular draft, took Bankhead over Greg Maddux, IF Luis de los Santos in round 2 over Tom Glavine, took OF Bobby Bell a pick ahead of 3B Ken Caminiti in round 3, passed on Jamie Moyer in round 5, and like all the other teams skipped Chuck Finley repeatedly until California took him in round 15. There were no landmark moves post-draft in the '84 season.

It was mainly Balboni and Brett (for 3/4 of the season, anyway), in KC in '84. Balboni made his KC debut a good one by leading the team in OPS+ at 122 -- hitting only .244 but posting an OPS of .818 thanks to a .498 SLG. The bald, rotund one cranked out 23 doubles, 2 triples (somehow) and 28 HR with a team-leading 77 RBI and set a Royals record with 139 Ks (now sixth on the all-time Royals season charts; he passed that mark in both '85 and '86). He did play passable defense, too. Brett got bitten by the injury bug as a knee injury cost him the start of the season and his 104 games played would be a career low in non-strike seasons. He
still produced, however, as he hit .284 with an .803 OPS, 21 doubles, 13 HR and 69 RBI while playing average D at third. 38-year-old DH Hal McRae hit .303 to lead the team in batting and posted a .760 OPS with 13 doubles but only 3 HR and 42 RBI as age slowly started catching up; LF Darryl Motley came out of nowhere with a flash-in-the-pan season of a .284 BA, .760 OPS, 25 doubles, 15 HR and 70 RBI with average D, although he did ground into 23 double plays; 2B Frank White battled a leg injury to hit .271 with a .756 OPS, 22 doubles, 5 triples, 17 HR and 56 RBI with still above-average D; OF Pat Sheridan was solid while filling in for Willie Wilson during his drug suspension from the '83 debacle as Pat hit .283 with a .737 OPS, 24 doubles, 53 RBI, 19 SB and decent defense in CF/RF; and Wilson came back to take over CF with Otis gone and proceeded to hit .301 with a .740 OPS, team best 81 RS, 24 doubles, 9 triples and 47 SB in 128 GP. The other three regulars struggled somewhat -- C Don Slaught hit .264 with a .676 OPS, made 11 E at catcher but led the team with 27 doubles; shortstop was a chaotic position as Onix Concepcion, U.L. Washington and Buddy Biancalana split time there with Onix's 82 OPS+ being the high # and the three combined for 28 E (to be fair, Onix played relatively good D, U.L. was average, and Buddy had a nice personality -- the team even tried to salvage Bucky Dent's career to no avail late in the season); and 3B Greg Pryor split time with Brett to hit .263 with a .657 OPS and OK D with poor range at the hot corner. The bench was pretty much a one-man show of DH/OF Orta, who hit .298 with an .800 OPS, 23 doubles, 7 triples and 50 RBI in 122 games. Iorg contributed 23 XBH and a .691 OPS in 78 games; John Wathan played worse at catcher than Slaught and hit .181 with a .540 OPS in 97 games; and extra OFs Butch Davis and Lynn Jones played poor D and hit for OPS of .435 and .718.

The stars began to converge on the Royals' pitching staff as Bud Black had a career year and Mark Gubicza and Bret Saberhagen made their debuts with Quisenberry having another landmark year in the bullpen. Black was the lone Royals pitcher with 200+ IP and made them count with a 17-12 record, 3.12 ERA, league leading 1.12 WHIP, 8 CG and a shutout in 35 starts and 257 IP. Gubicza was solid for a rookie with a 10-14
record, 4.05 ERA, 4 CG, 2 shutouts and 111 K in 29 starts and 189 IP; Charlie Leibrandt had a decent season with an 11-7 record and 3.63 ERA in 23 starts and 143 IP; and Saberhagen split time between the rotation and pen to go 10-11 with a 3.48 ERA, 1 save, 2 CG and 1 shutout in 38 games (18 starts) and 157 IP. Not so good in starting roles were SP Larry Gura, who proved ready for retirement with a 12-9 record, 5.18 ERA, nearly 1-1 K/BB ratio and 26 HRA in 31 games (25 starts) and 168 IP; and SP Mike Jones, who went 2-3 with a 4.89 ERA in 23 games (12 starts) and 81 IP. Danny Jackson was decent with a 4.26 ERA but a 2-6 record with 1 CG in 15 games (11 starts) and 76 IP. Also, Paul Splittorff played out his career with a 1-3 record and 7.71 ERA in 12 games (3 starts) and 28 IP while Frank Wills went 2-3 with a 5.11 ERA in 10 games (5 starts) and 37 IP. The full-time bullpen was a three-man show led by Dan Quisenberry, who won his fourth Rolaids Relief Award with a 6-3 record, 44 saves (third in Royals history and an AL best) and 67 games finished (fourth all-time among Royals). Quiz posted a 2.64 ERA in 129 IP. Beckwith was good with a 3.40 ERA, 8-4 record, 2 saves and 75 Ks in 49 games and 100 IP and Mark Huismann was average with a 3-3 record, 3 saves and a 4.20 ERA in 38 games and 75 IP.

As noted in the opening paragraph, it would be the second half that would propel Kansas City to its sixth division title in 1984 as a fairly weak AL West was ripe for the picking. The Royals' best months were in August and September as a 45-35 second-half record made the difference. KC stumbled to an 8-11 April record to finish the month in fifth place in the division and a 7-game losing skid in early May dropped KC to sixth but
still only 6 games out. The Royals won 6 of 7 in early June to move to third and 1 1/2 games back of California but turned around and lost 8 of 9 to drop back to sixth and 6 1/2 games back. The roller coaster headed back uphill in early July as a 5-game win streak cut into the lead but a 5-game losing streak later in the month put the Royals back in sixth at 39-48. The real winning began in late July when KC took 8 of 9 to get back within 3 games of the division lead and a 4-game sweep at Detroit was part of a 5-game surge in early August to keep KC in fourth place. A 17-12 August record propelled KC into second place, two games back of Minnesota. KC took control with a 5-game surge in early September to move a game in front of the pack but the loss of 2 of 3 at Minnesota made the race a tie Sept. 12. A 4-game winning streak soon after gave KC a 2-game lead as the Twins dropped 3 of 4 in Chicago. The Royals took 3 of 4 from the Angels to knock them out of the race by Sept. 25, and the Twins lost their last 6 games while KC finished the season with 1 of 3 from Oakland to kinda sorta back into the playoffs. The Royals had gone 44-37 at home and 40-41 on the road with a 26-21 record in 1-run games and 6-5 record in extra innings. The 84-78 overall record was 4 games better than expected via pythagorean W-L for the Royals and fourth-year manager Dick Howser.

The AL West title put the Royals in the crosshairs of the Detroit Tigers, who won 104 games and the A
L East division by 15 games over second place Toronto. The Royals had gone 5-7 vs. the Tigers in the regular season including the 4-game sweep in Detroit in August and two 3-game sweeps of losses to the Tigers in May and August (a week after the Royals swept in Motown). Tigers P Willie Hernandez had somewhat overshadowed Quisenberry's great season with an MVP Award and Cy Young year in '84. Game 1 of the ALCS in Royals Stadium wouldn't be a contest as the Tigers jumped on Bud Black for 4 ER over 5 IP including 2 HR and the Royals couldn't do much against Tigers SP Jack Morris with only 1 ER over 7 IP as the Tigers won, 8-1. Hernandez pitched 2 hitless innings of relief in the win. Game 2 matched up Saberhagen and Dan Petry but neither factored in the decision as Detroit won, 5-3, in 11 in KC. The Tigers jumped out to a 3-0 lead but KC scored in the 4th, 7th and 8th to tie it, including a clutch RBI double by McRae off Hernandez in the 8th. The Royals stranded 2 in the 10th and Detroit cashed in on a Slaught throwing error in the 11th with a 2-run double by 35-year-old Johnny Grubb. Lynn Jones flew out with 2 on in the bottom of the inning and the Royals were down, 2-0, in the best of 5. Game 3 two days later in Tiger Stadium would be a pitchers' duel between Charlie Leibrandt and Milt Wilcox as both teams got only 3 hits but the Royals made 3 errors in a 1-0 loss to end the season. An RBI force out by Marty Castillo in the 2nd would be the only run scored as Wilcox 1-hit the Royals into the 8th. Hernandez came in for the 9th and gave up a 2-out single to McRae before getting Darryl Motley to pop out to foul territory by third to seal the series. Detroit OF Kirk Gibson was the MVP by hitting .417 in the series. Slaught had the best offensive performance of any Royal by hitting .364 while Brett hit .231 and no other regular hit over .200. Really, with the way the Royals' pitchers did in games 2 and 3, just a couple more hits here and there could have turned the series around.

After the season, Schuerholz looked to fine-tune the team. He shuttled U.L. Washington to Montreal for prospects who didn't pan out (no loss either way), and, in a 4-team trade, coughed up Slaught in a deal for C Jim Sundberg, who was a defensive standout and offensive mediocrity but would be a key in the '85 title run. With Brett back at full strength and Saberhagen hitting his stride, the Royals were poised for bigger and better things in '85, but it would take some postseason magic to get the Royals their first and only World Series ring.

1984 Pipeline Royals MVP -- Tough one. I'll go with Bud Black, since he had a career year and was the lone rock in the rotation. Best wishes in San Diego, Bud.

1984 Pipeline Royals LVP -- Larry Gura retired one year too late for Royals fans. His '85 #s were somewhat scary, plus he logged the third most IP on the team. Nice autograph, tho.

The not-quite-enough '84 Royals.

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