12 April 2007

Royal legacy #8 -- the 1975 Royals (91-71)

1975 was the year it all came together for KC -- the stadium and team were meshed, the right manager was brought in, the nucleus was intact and fan support was rapidly building. The only thing lacking was the big finish as, once again, the Oakland A's foiled the Royals' chances at a playoff bid and, this time, it wasn't really close. The Royals again lowered expectations for the season as the winning percentage had alternated between the .400s and .500s each year since 1970. Manager Jack McKeon had followed up a promising '73 campaign with a disappointing .475 winning percentage in 1974, so he was likely walking on thin ice entering 1975 anyway. The team actually wasn't bad under his tutelage in the first 96 games of the season. It just wasn't good enough and Whiteyball came to town.

Unlike many Royals teams before and after the '75 season, the '75 Royals were a balanced squad with steady play both at bat, on the mound and in the field. The team batting average of .261 was fourth in the AL while the OBP was ranked better at third (.332) and the slugging percentage was even better at second (.394). The only category the team wasn't in the top-five offensively in the AL was HR (ninth). KC was fifth in runs scored (710) and walks (591), third in hits and steals, second in doubles and first in triples (58). The team's 675 Ks was second-fewest in the AL behind Cleveland. Pitching was the same way as, in only three categories
the team finished lower than fifth in the AL -- saves (sixth), complete games (52) and hits (seventh in both). To say pitchers were used differently in the '70s is an understatement. 52 complete games and that ranked only seventh -- Baltimore and New York both had 70 CG! There were only 66 total in the entire AL in 2006. Anyway, the team finished fourth in ERA (3.47), shutouts (11), runs allowed (649) and HR allowed (108); third in Ks (815); and second in walks (498). All in all, a consistently effective 25-man roster was kept in play throughout the season.

GM Joe Burke had picked up where Cedric Tallis had left off when Tallis was jettisoned in June '74, so the offseason coming into '75 was Burke's first chance to put his mark on the team. He started his first full year as GM by signing 38-year-old Harmon Killebrew to a free-agent deal, which didn't work out great in terms of hitting (although The Killer did hit 14 HR for KC). Two months later, he sold P Aurelio (SeƱor Smoke) Lopez to a Mexican League team only to watch Lopez return to the majors three years later with the Cardinals and establish a decent career. To be fair, Lopez was already 25 and hadn't pitched well in a small sample size of IP in '74. Four days after the Lopez sale, Burke flipped OF Rodney Scott to Montreal for C Bob Stinson in a deal that paid off OK in two seasons for KC but Scott turned out to be a speedster for the late '70s/early '80s successful Expos after bouncing around a little more. Burke did a little better with the draft in '75. He picked P Scott Boras in the 3rd round of the January regular draft (Boras didn't pan out as a player, but as an agent he sure likes teams like the franchise that drafted him). In the June draft, he grabbed OF Clint Hurdle in round 1, who
would be proclaimed as a top prospect and actually put in five decent seasons with the Royals before getting traded to Cincinnati in '81. Burke passed up IF Carney Lansford in round 2 and IF Lou Whitaker in round 4 but grabbed P Rich Gale in round 5 for two good and two bad years of starting pitching beginning in '78. Burke would also pass on OF Andre Dawson and P Dave Stewart in the '75 draft. Another promising pick was C Ron Hassey in round 22 but Hassey opted not to sign and landed with Cleveland in '76. Perhaps Burke's best pickup in '75 came not in the draft but four days later when he signed P Dan Quisenberry to an amateur free-agent deal.

The Royals' offensive attack consisted of three strong bats and a couple other players in support. 1B John Mayberry may have been third on the team in hitting at .291 but his .416 OBP (second in the AL, eighth in Royals history) and .547 SLG (ninth in Royals history now, team record at the time) for a .963 OPS (AL best, sixth in Royals history, tea
m record at the time) made him the team's most dangerous hitter. Big John scored 95 runs (AL best), clubbed 38 doubles and 34 HR (third all time among Royals, team record at the time), walked 119 times (AL best, third all time among Royals), and drew 16 intentional walks. His OPS+ of 168 was best in the AL and ranks fourth all time among Royals. 3B George Brett posted his first great year as a pro at age 22 with a .308 BA, .809 OPS, 84 RS, 195 hits (AL best, eighth in Royals history, first at the time), 35 doubles, 13 triples (tied for an AL best, eighth in Royals history, first at the time), 11 HR, 89 RBI and 13 SB with still developing defense at third. LF Hal McRae actually played well with limited range in left, hit .306 with an .808 OPS, and added 38 doubles, 6 triples, only 5 HR and 71 RBI with 11 steals. Joining that triumvirate were CF Amos Otis (.247 BA, .727 OPS, 87 RS, 26 doubles, 6 triples, 9 HR and 39 SB) and RF Al Cowens (.277 BA, .742 OPS, 8 triples and 12 steals) along with best bat off the bench DH/1B Tony Solaita (.260 BA, .515 SLG, .884 OPS, 11 doubles, 16 HR, 44 RBI, good defense in 93 games and 231 AB). Killebrew was the primary DH in '75 and hit .199 with a .692 OPS, 13 doubles, 14 HR and 44 RBI in 106 games and 312 AB to wrap up his career. Not as potent were 36-year-old 2B Cookie Rojas (.254 BA, .627 OPS, 18 doubles, 15 GIDP and limited range with steady D with Frank White waiting in the wings), C Buck Martinez (.226 BA, .293 OBP, .616 OPS, 9 PB and a .980 FP in 80 games) and SS Freddie Patek (.228 BA, .291 OBP, .599 OPS and 32 SB with average D). Joining Solaita off the bench, but nowhere near as effective, were OF Jim Wohlford (.629 OPS, bad D, 12 SB), 36-year-old OF Vada Pinson (good D with limited range, .583 OPS, 14 doubles in his last season) and 2B Frank White (decent D, .662 OPS, 11 SB in 111 games). Backing up Martinez at catcher were Stinson (.706 OPS, .993 FP) and Fran Healy (.642 OPS, .982 FP), so the catcher spot wasn't a bastion of offense in '75 for the Royals.

A good starting rotation in KC was backed by an equally daunting bullpen as the Royals pushed for a playoff bid. SP Steve Busby polished off a nice three-year run by going 18-12 with a 3.08 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 18 CG (fourth in Royals history), 3 shutouts and 160 K in 34 starts and 260 IP. Unfortunately, 791 IP in 3 years ruined his arm and he never topped 100 IP again. Paul Splittorff was almost as good at 9-10 with 1 save, a 3.17 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 6 CG and 3 shutouts in 35 games (23 starts) and 159 IP; Al Fitzmorris was 16-12 with a 3.57 ERA, 11 CG and 3 shutouts in 35 starts and 242 IP; and Dennis Leonard was 15-7 with a 3.77 ERA, 8 CG and 146 K in 32 games (30 starts) and 212 IP. Marty Pattin split time betwee
n the rotation and the pen and stood out with a 10-10 record, 5 saves, 5 CG, 1 shutout and a 3.25 ERA in 44 games (15 starts) and 177 IP. Nelson Briles didn't fare as well by posting a 6-6 record, 2 saves and a 4.26 ERA in 24 games (16 starts) and 112 IP. Steve Mingori had the best year coming out of the bullpen for KC despite going 0-3 with 2 saves. Mingori put up a 2.50 ERA and allowed only 2 HR in 36 games and 50 IP. Closer Doug Bird went 9-6 with 11 saves, a 3.25 ERA and 81 Ks in 51 games (he actually made 4 starts in September, too) and 105 IP. 39-year-old Lindy McDaniel went 5-1 with a save and a 4.15 ERA in 40 games and 78 IP and RP Bob McClure held a perfect 0.00 ERA with a 1-0 record, 1 save and 15 Ks in 12 games and 15 IP. RP Mark Littell also hurled a 3.70 ERA in 24 IP.

The AL West was a two-team race by June of '75, but the Royals weren't really that close to the Athletics from June on as Oakland played better than .600 baseball in all but one month of the season. The Royals only played .600 baseball in September, so it wasn't enough. The Royals rolled to a sizzling start to '75 as they won 9 of their first 11 to take an early lead in the division. The surge didn't last as the Royals lost 2 to Oakland as part of a 4-game skid and finished April 11-9 and a game back of California and Oakland. A 5-game win streak in May kept the Royals within striking distance of Oakland and a 6-game win streak later in the month had the Royals a game back of the A's. A 4-game win streak in early June gave KC a 1/2 game lead but a 5-game slide ensued to drop the Royals 2 games out. KC dropped 3 of 4 at Oakland to drop 4 1/2 games back and June ended with KC 7 1/2 back but 5 games up on third-place Texas. A 6-game July swoon extended the Royals' de
ficit to 11 games and, three days later, McKeon was fired in favor of 43-year-old Whitey Herzog, who had managed a dismal Texas team in '73 and 4 games for the Angels in '74. The Royals would go 44-25 under Whitey after starting 50-46 under McKeon, so the move paid dividends. Herzog got off to a 12-3 start in KC as the Royals took 2 of 3 from Oakland and swept a 4-game set with the Twins to cut the A's lead to 6 1/2 games. Oakland had a stranglehold on the lead at 7 1/2 games entering September and an 8-game KC run of wins only cut the lead to 5 games. Unfortunately, the streak ended with a 3-game sweep at the hands of the A's in Oakland with only 18 games to go. Five games was as close as KC would get. The season ended with the loss of 2 of 3 to the Rangers as Oakland won 4 of its last 5 to place KC in second at 7 games back. The Royals went 21 games over .500 in Royals Stadium but 1 game under .500 on the road with a 13-5 record in extra innings. The 91-71 final record was 3 wins better than expected via pythagorean W-L. After the season, Killebrew was released and Burke sent Nelson Briles packing to Texas in a deal. There were no other major moves to signal that Royals fans were in for their most successful season yet in '76. The bicentennial summer would bring a first AL West crown to start a run of three straight titles in Kansas City and begin the great managerial career of Herzog.

1975 Pipeline Royals MVP -- John Mayberry. Unprecedented numbers for the Royals were put up for Big John in '75.

1975 Pipeline Royals LVP -- OF Jim Wohlford. Bad numbers both offensively and defensively for the most often-used bench guy, but he wasn't a total liability at the plate.

Here's the '75 Royals.

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