24 May 2007

Royal legacy #2 -- the 1980 Royals (97-65)

The summer of 1980 was the setting for the nation's eyes focusing on Kansas City as 27-year-old George Brett had the best season of his career in leading the Royals to the postseason for the fourth of the last five seasons and, this time, the Royals didn't succumb to the Yankees in the postseason. Unfortunately, the Philadelphia Phillies did stand in the way in the Royals' first trip to the World Series and a case of hemorrhoids was among the factors to help do in Brett and the Royals. In 1979, the Royals had won but hadn't lived up to the standards set by Whitey Herzog's teams from '76-78 in making the playoffs. KC placed second in the AL West and Herzog's conflicts with the front office led to his firing. Orioles coach Jim Frey got his first managerial shot and would make the best of it in '80 by helping guide the Royals to their second-best record ever.

Thanks to a lineup featuring few weak links, the Royals' offense was among the best in the American League. The Royals topped the AL in batting (.286), hits, triples and steals and were top five in OBP (.344, third), doubles (third), slugging (.413, fourth), runs scored (809, fourth), and strikeouts (fifth lowest). The Royals were sixth in walks drawn and, as usual in Royals Stadium, ninth in HR. The pitching staff couldn't live up t
o those standards but was solid with top five finishes in saves (third), walks (third), shutouts (10, fourth), ERA (3.83, fifth), hits allowed (fifth), runs allowed (694, fifth), and homers allowed (129, fifth). KC's 37 complete games were sixth in the AL and the team only lagged in Ks at 13th.

GM Joe Burke made no huge moves after the disappointment of '79 but did tweak the team in ways that paid off. Closer Al Hrabosky was granted free agency as Dan Quisenberry had proven his worth in '79; OF Al Cowens, who had been productive from '77-79, was the cornerstone of a three-player trade to California that netted IF Rance Mulliniks and 1B Willie Aikens; and Burke also let SS Freddie Patek go via free agency (after Patek had held down that position throughout the '70s) with an eye on giving U.L. Washington a try at short. Patek's departure would put the SS position in flux in KC over time with only intermittent periods of production, including the Kurt Stillwell years ('88-91, decent hitting, not great D), the Greg Gagne years ('93-95, great D, sporadic O), and Rey Sanchez years ('99-01, solid D, again unsatisfactory O). Burke's in-season moves had little impact. Former Reds closer Rawly Eastwick was brought in for 22 innings of sub-par relief, aging OF Jose Cardenal was brought in and actually hit OK in 25 games (albeit with bad defense), and that about sums it up. The 1980 draft year was fairly quiet in Kansas City. The January drafts saw no good players missed by KC and the biggest get of the June draft was seventh rounder C Don Slaught, who would be packaged with first rounder P Frank Wills in the trade for Jim Sundberg in '85. KC passed up Danny Tartabull in round 3 (although they would get his best years anyway), took SS Cliff Pastornicky over Eric Davis in round 8 and, like many teams, passed repeatedly on P Oil Can Boyd (16th rounder to BoSox) and C Darren Daulton (25th rounder to Phils).

Put simply, 1980 belonged to George Brett as he chased the first .400 season BA since Ted Williams. He had exhibited greatness, especially in '76, '77 and '79, but put his career on another level with what he did at the plate in 1980. Brett won the team's first league MVP award, set team records in batting (.390), OBP (.454), slugging (.664), OPS and OPS+ (1.118 and 202), hit 33 doubles, 9 triples and 24 HR, drove in 118 runs (team record then, fifth all-time among Royals now), scored 87 runs, drew 58 walks compared to only 22 Ks, was intentionally walked 16 times and stole 15 bases. His efforts brought him the most deserved Silver Slugger award in KC history and his 137 runs created tied his '79 season for a team record in that stat (he later eclipsed that mark in '85). OF Willie Wilson won the only Gold Glove of his career (playing mostly LF with AO in CF), the first of 2 Silver Slugger awards (along with '82) and hit .326 with a .778 OPS, 133 runs scored (led league, team record at the time since outdone by Johnny Damon), 230 hits (team record including Royals record 184 singles, led AL), 28 doubles, 15 triples (third all-time among Royals, led AL with Alfredo Griffin) and 79 SB (second all-time among Royals, he's the only guy in Royals history with more than 70 steals in a season) in 705 AB (MLB record that still stands). DH Hal McRae also produced again by hitting .297 with an .825 OPS, 39 doubles, 5 triples, 14 HR, 83 RBI and 10 SB; RF Clint Hurdle would play below-average D in right but hit .294 with an .807 OPS, 31 doubles, 10 HR and 60 RBI in 130 games; and 25-year-old Aikens would taste success in KC by hitting .278 with a .789 OPS, 24 doubles, 20 HR, 98 RBI, and average D at first while grounding into 23 DPs. Not as productive but decent were regulars U.L. Washington (shaky but rangy D, .273 BA, .711 OPS, 11 3B, 20 SB), C Darrell Porter (not great D, .249 BA, .696 OPS, 69 walks compared to only 50 Ks), and CF Amos Otis (good D, .251 BA, .699 OPS, 10 HR, 16 SB). 2B Frank White wasn't really handy with the bat, at least during the season (.264 BA, .646 OPS), but won his fourth straight Gold Glove, hit 23 doubles and stole 19 bases. The bench was led by backup C John Wathan, who hit .305 with a .783 OPS, 27 XBH, 17 steals and 50 walks compared to 42 Ks in 126 games. He also hit into 19 DPs. Cardenal joined the team late but did hit .340 with a .754 OPS in 25 games and third catcher/utility guy/Brett caddy Jamie Quirk hit .276 with a .704 OPS in 62 games. That was about it, tho, as the team didn't get a lot of production from IF Dave Chalk (.667 OPS in 69 games), 1B Pete LaCock (.547 OPS in 115 games), or fourth OF Rusty Torres (.417 OPS, bad D in 51 games).

The story on the pitching mound in '80 was the emergence of Dan Quisenberry as a premier closer, although Larry Gura had a nice year as a starter. Gura led a hearty rotation with an 18-10 record, 2.95 E
RA, 16 complete games and 4 shutouts in 36 starts and 280 IP. Dennis Leonard had an all-things-considered good season by going 20-11 (fourth all-time among Royals in season wins) with a 3.79 ERA, 9 complete games, 3 shutouts and 155 Ks in 38 starts and 283 IP, although he did lead the AL in ER and HR allowed (118 and 30). SP Rich Gale was 13-9 with 1 save, a 3.92 ERA, 6 complete games and a shutout in 32 games (28 starts) and 190 IP; Paul Splittorff was 14-11 with a 4.15 ERA and 4 CG in 34 games (33 starts) and 204 IP; and Renie Martin was 10-10 with 2 saves, a 4.39 ERA and 2 CG in 32 games (20 starts) and 137 IP despite walking more than he struck out. The what-could-have-been career of Steve Busby came to an unfortunate end in '80 as he went 1-3 with a 6.17 ERA in 11 games (6 starts) and 42 IP. Quisenberry and Marty Pattin were the lone bright lights in a shaky pen for KC. Quisenberry won his first Rolaids Relief Award by appearing in an AL-best 75 games (third among Royals, first at that time), and going 12-7 with 33 saves (tied Goose for the AL lead, eighth all-time among Royals) and a 3.09 ERA in 128 IP. Pattin was 4-0 with 4 saves and a 3.64 ERA in 37 games and 89 IP. Nobody else on the staff was close to league average as Gary Christenson was 3-0 with 1 save and a 5.17 ERA in 24 games and 31 IP; Eastwick was 0-1 with a 5.32 ERA in 14 games and 22 IP; and lefty Jeff Twitty was 2-1 with a 6.04 ERA in 13 games and 22 IP. George's brother Ken Brett was brought in late in the season and did pitch 13 scoreless innings.

Unlike in other years, there would be no dogfight through the final week as the Royals took control of
the AL West in late May and pulled away from there to clinch the division in mid-September. The Royals played well through June but turned up the pressure by going 41-16 in July and August to put a stranglehold on the competition. The ascent to the top coincided with Brett's run at .400 as the team got on a massive roll. The team didn't look that remarkable in the early going, though, as a 10-8 April put the team in the middle of the pack. Winning 8 of 9 in mid-May, including a 3-game sweep in Anaheim against the Angels, put the Royals 2 1/2 games up on first and an 8-game win streak in early June made the lead 5 1/2 games over the ChiSox. As of May 26, Brett was hitting .267 but a 3-5 game at Oakland kickstarted a 10-game hot streak that raised his average to .333. A hitless game at Texas was followed by another 9-game hitting streak that raised his average to .374. A hitless day on a July 17 loss in Boston left him at .366 but the Royals were still 10 1/2 games up on first as the fun for Brett really began. Brett began a 30-game hitting streak the next day at New York and, as the team won 14 of 16 in mid August to move 15 1/2 games up on the division, Brett crossed from .394 to .401 with a 4-4 game in KC versus Toronto. The streak ended 2 days later at Texas but Brett would range from .397 to .406 into early September. A 2-4 day at home versus Oakland Sept. 19 put Brett at .400 but that would mark his last day at the threshold of baseball immortality as a 4-27 stretch versus Oakland, Seattle and Minnesota dropped his average to .384. The slump coincided with an 8-game losing streak that dropped the team's lead to 12 1/2 games but the division was clinched by then and the only thing in the balance was Brett's batting average. Brett was 7-10 over the next 3 days to snap the slump and get his average back to .391 but it settled at .390 after going 3-9 in the final 3 games. The Royals' division run ended with a 14-game lead as the team was 49-32 at home and 48-33 on the road to finish at 97-65 (pythagorean W-L was 92-70). The team saw 2.28 million fans come to Royals Stadium to watch them play.

Two years after losing their second straight heartbreaker ALCS in the playoffs to the New York Yankees, the Royals were set for a rematch in '80 as Dick Howser had guided the Yankees to a 103-59 record but only a 3-game win of the AL East over a good Baltimore team. The Yankees were led by a good lineup with OF Reggie Jackson, 1B Bob Watson and 2B Willie Randolph as the cornerstones and a pitching staff led by Tommy John, Ron Guidry and closer Goose Gossage. The Royals went about their business in each game of
the series as game 1 saw them defeat Guidry, 7-2, behind a 3-4 game from White and 2-hit days from Brett and Otis as Gura got the complete-game win. Gura gave up back-to-back homers to Rick Cerone and Lou Piniella in the 2nd but a White 2-run double in the 2nd keyed a comeback as the Royals came back to score 7 unanswered runs to win. Game 2 was somewhat tighter as the Royals took a 3-0 lead on SP Rudy May and Leonard and Quisenberry held off the Yankees to win, 3-2. White was again 2-3 and Wilson drove home 2 runs with a 3rd inning triple. New York's runs came in the 5th off Leonard but he bounced back to retire 8 in a row. New York tried to tie the game in the 8th but Randolph was thrown out at home by Wilson in left (via a Brett relay) on a Watson double to salvage the lead. Quisenberry pitched the 9th to lock down the win. Game 3 saw dramatics in the 7th as the Royals swept the Yankees, 4-2. Aikens was 3-4 and McRae, Wilson and Washington had 2-hit games as White homered with 1 out in the 5th and give SP Paul Splittorff a 1-0 lead. Split and Quisenberry (who Frey brought in in the 6th) gave up 2 runs in the 6th thanks in part to a White error to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead. Gossage relieved Tommy John with 2 out and 1 on in the 7th and gave up a Washington single before Brett jacked a 3-run homer to make it 4-2 KC. Quisenberry loaded the bases with none out in the 8th but got a lineout double play from Cerone and a ground out from Jim Spencer to end the threat. He set the Yanks down in order in the 9th and the Royals had punched their ticket to the World Series on the Yankees' home turf. White was named ALCS MVP by going 6-11 for a .545 BA while Brett hit 2 HR but began experiencing problems with hemorrhoids that would also impact the World Series. Washington and Aikens hit .364 and Otis hit .333 for KC. Wilson also hit .308 with 4 RBI for the Royals in the series. Fortunately for KC, the Royals hadn't relied on any of their bullpen other than Quiz as all three starters had solid starts and Quisenberry had taken care of the rest. That wouldn't be the case in the World Series.

The Phillies had outlasted Montreal in the NL East to go 91-71 and win by a game before winning an NLCS that went to the limit with Houston. The Phils were another team led by a great third baseman (Mike Schmidt) with a solid supporting cast featuring 1B Pete Rose, OF Greg Luzinski and 4th OF Lonnie Smith as well as defensive stalwarts Garry Maddox, Bob Boone, Manny Trillo and Larry Bowa. Pitching started with lefty
Steve Carlton and ended with standout closer Tug McGraw. The Royals would get close but get no cigar in game 1 in Philadelphia as Aikens and Otis combined to go 5-8 with 6 RBI but Leonard couldn't keep the Phils in check. Otis gave the Royals the lead with a 2-run homer in the 2nd and Aikens matched the feat in the 3rd as the Royals took command but Leonard gave up a crucial 3-run homer to OF Bake McBride in the bottom of the 3rd to give the Phils a 5-4 lead and blow whatever momentum KC had. Leonard gave up another run in the 4th and was pulled for Renie Martin. The Phils' defensive reputation held true as Maddox robbed Brett of potential extra bases on a leaping catch at the wall in the 5th and then hit a sac fly in the bottom of the inning to make it 7-4 Phillies. The score stayed that way into the 8th when Aikens stepped up with a 2-run big fly off SP Bob Walk to close the gap to 1 and bring in McGraw. McGraw got Wathan to ground into a double play to end the rally and then K'd 2 in the 9th to end the game. Game 2 was another hard loss for KC as Quisenberry faltered late and Brett had to leave the game with hemorrhoid problems. Both starters -- Gura and Carlton -- bent but didn't break in the early going as Carlton stranded 5 Royals over the first 3 innings and Gura was perfect through 4 innings but got dinged in the 5th with 2 runs on 3 hits and a sac fly. A Trillo error allowed KC to score a run in the 6th but Brett stayed in the clubhouse as the Royals took the field for the bottom of the inning. Replacement Dave Chalk walked as part of a 3-run 7th for KC that featured a 2-run double by Otis and a Wathan sac fly to make it 4-2 KC. Quisenberry pitched the 7th and then came out for the 8th and got lit up, as 2 doubles and 2 singles scored 4 runs to give the Phils a 6-4 lead. The Royals didn't threaten as Ron Reed shut the door for Philly in the 9th and the Phils took a 2-0 series lead. McRae was 3-4 while Brett and Otis had 2 hits each in the loss. With the shift to Royals Stadium for game 3, the home fans saw the team put up a fight. The third game went to 10 innings as Philadelphia forced extras but the Royals got the win. Brett was back in the lineup after surgery on his hemorrhoids following game 2 and stepped right back into the flow with a 1st inning homer off starter Dick Ruthven to give KC a 1-0 lead. Unfortunately, KC starter Rich Gale gave the run right back in the top of the 2nd but a McRae RBI single in the 4th made it 2-1 Royals. That lead lasted 1 batter into the 5th as Schmidt homered to tie the game. Otis homered to put KC back ahead, 3-2, in the 7th and this time Renie Martin blew the lead in the 8th on a 2-out RBI single by Rose. Quisenberry came in and put out the fire again and stranded 3 over the 9th and 10th to keep KC in the game. With 2 out in the bottom of the 10th, Wilson stole second and was singled home by Aikens to cut the Phils' series lead in half. Five Royals had 2-hit games in the win. Phils game 4 starter Larry Christenson had posted a 4.03 ERA in the regular season but lasted only 1/3 of an inning in the game 4 start as Brett tripled home a run, Aikens cranked a 2-run homer and Otis doubled home a run to chase the starter for RP Dickie Noles. The Phils got an unearned run off Leonard in the 2nd but Aikens hit his second homer in 2 innings off Noles in the 2nd to make it 5-1 KC. The game stayed that way into the 7th when Leonard gave up a Boone sac fly to cut it to 5-2. Quisenberry gave up a Schmidt sac fly in the 8th but stranded 1 and then pitched a perfect 9th to end it. Aikens was 2-3 with his second 2-homer game of the series and 3 RBI while McRae and Otis also had 2-hit games. Brett was only 1-5 but did have an RBI. The win tied the series at 2 games each and made game 5 in Kansas City the next day a crucial game for both teams, as the series was cut to a best-of-3. Gura took the hill for the Royals while Phils manager Dallas Green sent 21-year-old Marty Bystrom, who had appeared in only 6 regular season games, to the mound. Quisenberry, who had taken the mound in games 2 and 3 of the ALCS and every game of the World Series, would again factor in and perhaps show some fatigue in a blown save. Both teams threatened early but neither scored until the 4th when the Phils got 2 runs on an Aikens error that Schmidt made Gura pay for with a 2-run homer. The Royals cut into the lead in the 5th as Brett hit an RBI ground out and Otis led off the 6th with a homer to tie the game. Two more hits chased Bystrom for RP Ron Reed and Washington hit a sac fly to make it 3-2 KC. Frey went to the Quisenberry well once more with 2 on and 1 out in the 7th and Quiz stranded both runners. The Royals stranded 2 in their half and the game went into the 9th still at 3-2 Royals. Schmidt singled off Brett's glove to start the inning and pinch-hitter Del Unser hit a clutch RBI double to tie the game. With 2 out and Unser at third, Trillo singled off Quisenberry's glove to push the lead run across. McGraw walked the bases loaded with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th but Jose Cardenal struck out and the Phils had taken the game and a big 3-2 series lead. The Royals had left 13 on base in the loss as Wilson, Porter, Otis and Washington had 2-hit games and Brett was 1-5 with an RBI again. With the win and the momentum, it was the worst time for the series to shift back to Veterans Stadium for Kansas City. With the series on the line, Frey set Gale out to pitch while Philly gave Carlton a second series start. This time, things would go differently from game 2. Gale lasted until the 3rd before giving up 2 runs on a 2-run single by Schmidt after Frank White's second error of the series. Renie Martin was pulled with 2 on and 1 out in the 5th and Splittorff allowed a run credited to Martin to make it 3-0 Phillies. A Boone RBI in the 6th made it 4-0 as Carlton took a 2-hit shutout into the 7th. The Royals finally got a run off Carlton and McGraw in the 8th but stranded the bases loaded. Kansas City loaded the bases once more off McGraw with 1 out in the 9th but White grounded out and Willie Wilson struck out to end the series as Philadelphia celebrated a championship. Brett, Wathan and Cardenal had 2-hit games and Frey finally played other pitchers than the starter and Quisenberry, but it was one game too late. He used Marty Pattin in game 6, when he could have been using him and Quiz all along and saving Quiz for the absolute crucial situations. McRae, Otis and Aikens combined to go 0-9 in the loss, however, in the meat of the order. Schmidt was the MVP after hitting .381 with 7 RBI in the series and Keith Moreland, Boone and Bowa also had a good series at the plate. Otis had arguably the best series among Royals by hitting .478 with 3 HR and 7 RBI, Aikens hit .400 with 4 HR and 8 RBI and Brett and McRae both hit .375 while combining for only 4 RBI. Hurdle hit .417 in 12 AB but Porter took heat by only hitting .143 while Wilson hit only .154 and LCS MVP White hit .080 with 2 errors. Here's a link to the series stats. Not much is made over the long run of the '80 World Series but it was actually filled with some tight games. It was karma, in a way, that KC got the comeback done in the '85 series.

After the season, the Royals let Pete LaCock go via free agency as he played his last MLB game, let C Darrell Porter go via free agency (where he would land in St. Louis with Whitey and help the Cardinals to an '82 World Series title), and settled in for a repeat run in '81. Obviously Frey didn't build up much front offic
e support in his one year tenure as he was fired after a poor start in the split season of '81. Dick Howser, who the Royals had vanquished as manager of the Yankees in the '80 playoffs, was brought in and helped lead the team back to the playoffs in '81. Howser would keep the team in contention in '82 and '83 before getting back to the playoffs in '84 and leading the team to the promised land in 1985.

1980 Pipeline Royals MVP -- George Brett. Easiest choice of the countdown.

1980 Pipeline Royals LVP -- I've gotta split it between Joe Burke and Jim Frey. Burke should have done something to bolster the bullpen a little more while Frey probably shouldn't have leaned on Quisenberry so much during the World Series. The Royals were so close to winning that series. Couldn't find a picture of Burke on-line, so Frey with the Cubs is gonna have to suffice. This was another year there just wasn't one player to point to as "the" weak link.

The '80 Royals.

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