11 April 2007

Royal legacy #9 -- the 1982 Royals (90-72)

1982 was not only Dick Howser's first full season on the job as Royals manager but also probably the hardest tooth-and-nail pennant chase the Royals have been in without coming away with a division title. In mid-September, the Royals had a 2-game division lead over the California Angels but a torrid California finish gave the Halos the AL West crown before they ran into Harvey's Wallbangers in Milwaukee and lost the ALCS. The Royals were coming off back-to-back division crowns, including a trip to the World Series in 1980 and a weird split '81 season in which a hot finish under Howser had ended in a 3-game sweep by Oakland in the first ever AL Division Series. Fans paid no mind to the '81 strike as they came out in droves to Royals Stadium to post another 2 million attendance year.

Hitting and closing were the name of the game in KC in '82. The Royals were top-f
ive in the AL in every offensive statistic other than BB, K and HR (of course), including an AL-best BA of .285 and league bests in hits, doubles and triples. The team's OBP of .337 was fifth and the SLG of .428 was third. Willie Wilson and, oddly, C John Wathan led the way to a fourth-best 133 steals and the Royals also had the fourth best mark in the AL with 784 runs scored. KC finished 10th in homers and 13th in walks but eighth in Ks on the flip side of the good numbers. Pitching was a matter of a good bullpen and mediocre starters (an early herald, perhaps of the more recent Royals teams, only better?) as the team ERA of 4.08 was 10th in the AL and the team was last in complete games and Ks and 10th in HR allowed. The only areas in which the team shone were saves (second to Milwaukee), shutouts (12 for second) and walks allowed (second). KC was seventh in hits allowed and ninth in runs allowed (717).

GM John Schuerholz was new to the job, having taken over the reins as general manager in October '81, so he got his first crack at filling roster holes for '82. His first deal was sending pitchers Rich Gale and Bill Laskey to San Francisco for OF Jerry Martin, who despite a middling '82 (including a team record in Ks) would go down more in KC lore for his coke habit and subsequent scandal in '83 (along with Willie
Wilson, Willie Aikens and Vida Blue). Schuerholz helped Seattle acquire Jay Buhner in a roundabout way by trading young Ken Phelps to Montreal for 39-year-old reliever Grant Jackson, who didn't last the season in powder blues. Montreal later sold Phelps to Seattle, which in '88 traded Phelps to the Yankees for a package including Buhner. Schuerholz made another key deal in March by flipping IF Manny Castillo to Seattle in exchange for a player to be named, who happened to end up being P Bud Black. Black would post five decent years in KC, including a roster spot on the '85 world champs. In all, Schuerholz made nine trades before the '82 season started as he cleared out the guys he didn't want from predecessor Joe Burke's handiwork. Some, like the Black deal and a deal for backup IF Greg Pryor, worked. Others, like the Phelps trade and the Atlee Hammaker for Vida Blue deal, didn't work out as well. The new GM made a splash with his first round of drafting. In the January '82 secondary draft, he landed SP Danny Jackson in round 1, in a choice that paid off nicely. In the June '82 regular draft, he got OF John Morris in round 1, which paid off only in trading him to St. Louis in '85 for Lonnie Smith. He passed up Jimmy Key in round 2 and Mike Greenwell in round 3 but drafted 1B Will Clark in round 4 out of a New Orleans high school. Unfortunately, Clark opted for Mississippi State instead. He later missed on Alvin Davis, Terry Pendleton and Vince Coleman but trumped all those missed picks by selecting Bret Saberhagen out of a California high school in round 19. That's probably the best Royal "diamond in the rough" in franchise history. Jose Canseco and Kenny Rogers also went in later rounds of that draft. In the June secondary draft, Schuerholz missed Kal Daniels and Randy Myers but landed a big fish with Cecil Fielder, who was traded to Toronto in '83, two years before making the majors. Incidentally, that would be one of two Schuerholz trades in the '83 postseason and the only one with any nominal impact.

The '82 season mainly belonged to Willie Wilson and Hal McRae offensively, although the squad had a balanced attack. Wilson won the AL batting title at .332 (his only title in that category, the average was sixth on the all-time Royals charts), won a Silver Slugger for the second time, and led the league in tri
ples (15, third all-time among Royals) and singles (157, also third all-time among Royals). Willie also hit for a .796 OPS, scored 87 runs, hit 19 doubles, stole 37 bases and finished 6 hits shy of 200 on the season while covering ground in LF. DH McRae, meanwhile, led the AL in doubles with 46 (second all-time among Royals) and RBI (133, a team record at the time and now second behind Mike Sweeney's 2000 season) while posting a .308 BA and .911 OPS with 91 runs scored, 8 triples and 27 HR. His .542 slugging percentage was fourth all-time among Royals at the time (now it's 10th), and his 81 XBH is third in Royals annals. Overshadowed by Willie and Hal but still outstanding was 3B George Brett, who hit .301 with an .883 OPS, 101 runs scored, 32 doubles, 9 triples, 21 HR, 82 RBI and 14 IBB along with solid defense. 35-year-old Amos Otis hit .286 with a .756 OPS, 73 RS, 25 2B, 11 HR and 88 RBI while holding strong to his position in CF; 1B Aikens played well at first while batting .281 with an .802 OPS, 29 doubles, 17 HR and 74 RBI; 2B Frank White won his sixth straight Gold Glove and batted .298 with a .787 OPS, 45 doubles (fourth all-time among Royals), 6 triples, 11 HR and 10 SB (he also hit for the cycle for a second time in his career on Aug. 3); and SS U.L. Washington enjoyed his best season with a .286 BA, .750 OPS, 19 doubles, 10 HR, 23 SB and decent range but an inadequate glove at short. Jerry Martin and John Wathan rounded out the regulars as Martin hit .266 with a .715 OPS, 22 doubles, 15 HR and record 138 Ks (now seventh all-time for Royals); and Wathan hit .270 with a .661 OPS, 79 RS, a record 26 double plays grounded into that still stands for the Royals, and 36 stolen bases for an MLB record among catchers that still stands. The Royals also had a somewhat decent bench in '82 led by 1B Lee May, who hit .308 with an .898 OPS in 42 games and 91 AB; OF Cesar Geronimo, who hit .269 with a .776 OPS, 13 XBH and 23 RBI in 53 games and 119 AB while maintaining his good play in center and left; and rookie backup C Don Slaught, who hit .278 with a .740 OPS in 43 games and 115 AB. Pryor was decent off the bench while backing up Brett as he hit for a .703 OPS in 73 games but I'm not sure 2B/SS Onix Concepcion was worth the .544 OPS with poor D at short. He led the bench in games played and AB. OF Steve Hammond and C Jamie Quirk were also offensive liabilities off the bench.

Other than Larry Gura and Vida Blue, the '82 rotation was sub-par. Gura went 18-12 with a 4.03 ERA, 8 CG, 3 shutouts and 31 HRA in 37 starts and 248 IP; Blue went 13-12 with a 3.78 ERA, 6 CG, 2 shutouts and 103 Ks in 31 starts and 181 IP in his only full season as a Royal; Paul Splittorff was 10-10 with a 4.28 ERA in 29 games (28 starts) and 162 IP; Dennis Leonard was 10-6 with a 5.10 ERA and 20 HRA in 21 starts and 130 IP (his first sub-200 IP season since '74); new Royal Bud Black was 4-6 with a 4.58 ERA and 7 balks in 22 games (14 starts) and 88 IP; and Dave Frost was 6-6 with a 5.51 ERA and more walks than Ks in 21 games (14 starts) and 81 IP. Keith Creel and Derek Botelho combined for a 3-5 record in 10 starts with ERAs over 5 and 4, respectively. Dan Quisenberry had another great year out of the bullpen for the Royals as he went 9-7 and led the AL with 35 saves (seventh on the all-time Royal charts) for his second Rolaids Relief Award. He posted a 2.57 ERA and near 4-1 K/BB ratio while pitching in 72 games and finishing 68 (second all-time among Royals) in 136 IP. Mike Armstrong, Don Hood and Bill Castro were solid set-up men for Quiz as Armstrong went 5-5 with 6 saves and a 3.20 ERA in 52 games and 112 IP; Hood went 4-0 with 1 save and a 3.51 ERA in 30 games and 66 IP; and Castro was 3-2 with 1 save and a 3.45 ERA in 21 games and 75 IP.

The '82 season got off to a good start in KC and a great August would bring visions of a third straight trip to the playoffs but the dastardly month of September would dash those dreams to dust with a sequence of games including a crucial sweep by the Angels. KC ran to a 6-2 start en route to finishing April at 11-8 and 2 1/2 games back of California. May ended with the Royals going 14-13 in the month but dropping to 4 1/2 games back with the ChiSox in second place, but a win over Chicago on May 31 kickstarted an 8-game win streak that gave the Royals the division lead by 1 1/2 games on June 9. The Royals dropped 3 of 4 to the Angels in a late June series to drop 2 1/2 games back of the Angels but two early July 3-game win streaks, including a sweep of California that ended on the Fourth of July, put the Royals back on top by 3 games. The promise of a breakthrough month was tempered, though, as a 7-game skid including a sweep by the Brewers flipped the 3-game advantage to a 3-game deficit. The Royals recovered to end July at 56-44 and a game back of the Halos and kept the pressure on by winning six straight to regain a 1-game lead Aug. 3. A 3-game sweep of the Tribe resulted in a first-place tie with California and KC took 3 of 4 from the ChiSox in late August to stay within a game of the Angels. On Aug. 30 the team ran a winning streak to seven games and regained the division lead by 2 1/2 games over California with the White Sox 9 games back. The Royals were 21-11 in August. A four-game skid in early September cut the lead to 1 game but the Royals rebounded with a five-game surge against the Twins and M's in mid-month to maintain a 2-game cushion. The breaking point arrived soon after as consecutive sweeps at Minnesota and California were part of a seven-game slide that put KC 3 games out with only 10 games left in the season. The Royals took only 1 of 3 from Oakland to lose a 1/2 game of ground, bounced back to take 2 of 3 from the Angels to cut the lead to 2 1/2 games with 4 games left but watched California end the season with a sweep of the Rangers to lock up the division on the next-to-last day of the season. The Royals took 3 of 4 from the A's in the last series but a Gura loss on the final day put the final deficit at 3 games behind the Angels. The friendly confines were again beneficial to KC as the Royals were 56-25 in Royals Stadium and 34-47 on the road. The final record of 90-72 was two games better than expected via pythagorean W-L and the team was 26-18 in one-run games and 7-3 in extra innings. Overall, 2.28 million fans visited Royals Stadium in 1982. The disappointing finish was the start of a two-season lull that finished with a disappointing '83 made worse by the cocaine scandal implicating the four Royals players. The franchise would enjoy a resurgence in 1984, however, as the team returned to the postseason twice more.

1982 Pipeline Royals MVP -- Hal McRae and Dan Quisenberry. McRae's defensive void makes his awesome offensive numbers slightly hollow in terms of MVP talk, and Quiz did a great job cleaning up for the rest of the pitching staff. Two great Royals with a great season.

1982 Pipeline Royals LVP -- IF Onix Concepcion. Not much at the plate, less in terms of range.

Your '82 Royals.

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