We have a couple of Royals inspired posts today to go along with my story in this week’s Sports Illustrated about the exciting future of the Kansas City Royals. We start with the sad promotion that is “Fans voting for the Royals Hall of Fame.”
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Sometimes, I think people complete miss the point of Hall of Fames. I am talking specifically here about the Kansas City Royals. But this really could refer to almost anyone. It seems to me that a Hall of Fame is about celebrating something — a sport, a team, a a culture, something. The most famous (and in my opinion, best) of these is the Baseball Hall of Fame because of its history and mythology and remarkable flexibility. By flexibility, I mean that people tend to think the Baseball Hall of Fame is exactly WHAT THEY WANT IT TO BE.
That is to say there are people who believe that, say, Bert Blyleven’s election somehow diminishes the Hall of Fame. This is ridiculous, of course. The Hall already has many pitchers with inescapably inferior careers, pitchers like Rube Marquard, Jesse Haines, Jack Chesbro, Catfish Hunter, Chief Bender, Vic Willis, Eppa Rixey, Bruce Sutter and at least a dozen others who you probably have never heard of.
There are people who believe that, say, Jeff Bagwell doesn’t “feel” like a Hall of Famer when the Hall already includes Rick Ferrell and Chick Hafey and Freddie Lindstrom and Jim Bottomley and George Kell and Chuck Klein and a host of other players (including the last two every day players voted into the Hall Jim Rice and Andre Dawson) who, if you judge them in context, were not the player Bagwell was.
The Baseball Hall of Fame has that sort of grip on our culture … it doesn’t just pay tribute to greatness, it DEFINES greatness. Jim Rice became a different player in baseball history when he was elected to the Hall of Fame. Dwight Evans is a different player in baseball history because he was not. That’s the power of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Most Hall of Fames don’t have that particular power. They are around to help us celebrate, say, great Polish athletes or the people who made a difference in agriculture or, specific to our discussion, the Kansas City Royals.
The Royals have a proud history. The franchise began in 1969, the same year as the San Diego Padres, the Montreal Expos and the Seattle Pilots (who a year later became the Milwaukee Brewers).
The Royals were a cutting edge organization from the start, headed by a forward-thinking owner in Ewing Kauffman who had no connection whatsoever to baseball tradition and so was perfectly happy to try new things. In those early years, the Royals opened up the famed Baseball Academy in Florida. They brought in community members to sell season tickets. They made a series of fabulous trades that brought in, among others, Amos Otis, Hal McRae, John Mayberry and Fred Patek. A quick comparison of the early years of those four expansion teams will tell you just how far ahead of the curve the Royals were in the early 1970s:
Expansion teams overall record from 1969-1977:
Kansas City: +48 games
Montreal: -204 games
Seattle/Milwaukee: -250 games
San Diego: -338 games
It wasn’t just that stark overall difference in record. None of the other three teams had a single winning record until 1978 (Milwaukee). The Royals had already had four winning records and been the playoffs twice by then, and they probably had the best team in the league in 1977 (though they lost to the Yankees in a five-game series).
Like I say, a proud history. From 1976-85, the Royals reached the postseason seven times, won two pennants and a World Series. They developed one of the premier players of the generation in George Brett — more on him in the next post — one of the great defensive second baseman ever in Frank White, and perhaps the fastest man to ever play baseball in Willie Wilson. Things took a bit of a nasty turn after 1985, but even so the Royals drafted and developed Bo Jackson, Bret Saberhagen, David Cone, Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran and so on … even when the organization fell apart in the 1990s and 2000s, there was this certain pride that trailed back to the days when Kansas City represented all that was good about the game.
Unfortunately — and I say this with sadness — the Royals also lost their way, not only on the field but off. They went cheap, canceling the popular banquet in town, moving away from the Royals Lancers (those community people who sold tickets), once deciding not to have the players wear authentic Negro Leagues uniforms on Negro Leagues Day because, best I could tell, the uniforms were too expensive. I have this theory that when you stop acting major league, in many ways, you stop BEING major league, and the Royals definitively stopped acting the part. There was a “poor me” vibe about the franchise that wasn’t exactly anybody’s fault — the Royals HAD been pushed into a situation where it was extremely difficult to compete — but it was discouraging to watch. For years, I watched good baseball people try to break through this defeatist culture, but they could not, and the Royals were in this cycle of both losing and irrelevance for a long time.
Dayton Moore — and this is what I focus on in my SI piece this week — changed the culture but in a crafty and quiet way that many people did not fully notice. He hired a bunch of good people and spent a lot of money building a farm system. The reason people often didn’t notice — and I include myself in this — is that the Royals continued to LOOK like the same team at the big league level and continued to make some of the small decisions off the field. Moore’s two-prong plan was to make the major league club respectable while he built the infrastructure for future excitement. The infrastructure thing seems to be working brilliantly. But he failed miserably on the first plank. His managerial choice, Trey Hillman, flopped quickly and decisively. His free agent choices were often disastrous on several levels. His talk about the process proved an easy punch line while the team never got any better.
And … the Royals continue to just do what I consider to be dumb things on the public level — things that once again suggest the Royals are small-time. They tried for a while to promote the perfectly adequate left-fielder, David DeJesus, as a Gold Glove candidate. This bugged the heck out of me, not only because it was futile — left fielders almost NEVER win Gold Gloves, and if they do they have to be better than David DeJesus — but because it reeked of small-time. Who cares if your left fielder wins a Gold Glove? How does this help anyone? Who gets excited about something that ridiculous?
They had a public break with Royals Hall of Famer Frank White. Now, Frank is a friend of mine and the situation is more complicated than a simple paragraph can explain. But the main point is that Frank White is from Kansas City, and he was a fabulous second baseman, and he has been loyal to the organization, and I suspect it would not have taken much money at all to make sure that the rift didn’t go public and become an embarrassment. Again … small-time.
There are a lot of other examples, but I don’t think I can come up with a better one than the voting that is going on right now for the Royals Hall of Fame (hat-tip, The Pitch through Baseball Primer). You might recall what I said at the top … Halls of Fame are supposed to celebrate the greatness of a team. The Royals Hall of Fame should celebrate what the Kansas City Royals have been about.
And then .. they do this poll where they ask fans to vote for the next Royals Hall of Famers. So far, so good. But some of the players on the list, frankly, are so embarrassing that it really makes you wonder if the Royals understand the point at all.
Take a look:
Career with Royals: 12-15, 5.44 ERA, 245 1/3 ip, 306 hits, 46 homers, 102 Ks, 68 walks, 1.518 WHIP.
Best season: 2003 when he went 5-1 with a 3.99 ERA down the stretch
Comment: Brian was absolutely one of my favorite people … just a great guy, a funny guy, a thoughtful guy. I guess he’s doing some announcing work with Tampa Bay, and my sense is that he can be a big, big star in the announcing game. But as a Royals pitcher … he was dreadful. He will tell you he was dreadful. He pitched pretty well down the stretch in 2003, but after that he was so bad that, as he himself said, they could have called up any random guy from A ball, and the kid could not pitch worse. He was probably hurt but the point is … if someone was making up a joke Royals Hall of Fame, Brian Anderson would be on the list. And, knowing BA just a little bit, I’d guess he would probably vote for himself for that joke Hall of Fame.
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Career with Royals: 115-92, 3.49 ERA, 1,843 ip, 1,671 hits, 138 homers, 634 walks, 1,458 Ks.
Best season: 1993, 18-8, league leading 2.56 ERA, 238 ip, 186 Ks, 179 ERA+, led league in WAR, finished third in Cy Young and probably should have won it.
Comment: Here’s a true Royals Hall of Famer. He’s one of the three best pitchers in team history … and when you consider an entire career, I’d say that he’s almost certainly the best starter in Royals history. Here are the Top 5 Royals pitchers by WAR:
1. Kevin Appier, 44.1
2. Bret Saberhagen, 37.3
3. Mark Gubicza, 35.6
4. Dan Quisenberry, 25.2
5. Dennis Leonard, 24.0
There are about four or five starters — Leonard, Paul Splittorff, Larry Gura, Charlie Liebrandt — who were all very good and about the same level. Zack Greinke was great for one year and parts of others. Saberhagen is one of the best young pitchers in baseball history. But Appier lasted for long enough that I think he’s the Royals best overall starter and one of the better pitchers of the 1990s.
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Career with Royals: .282/.329/.404 in 3,042 PAs, 45 homers, 374 RBIs, 373 runs.
Best season, 1977: .312/.361/.525 with 32 doubles, 14 triples, 23 homers, 112 RBIs, 98 runs, won gold glove, second in MVP balloting. Finished 10th in WAR.
Comment: It was kind of a one-year career. At least it was a good year.
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Career with Royals: 70-48, 3.46 ERA, 1098 ip, 1,075 hits, 66 homers, 391 Ks, 359 walks.
Best season: 1974, 13-6, 2.79 ERA in 190 innings, 4 shutouts, 4.7 WAR.
Comment: Al is a good friend, and he holds the team record for winning percentage. He actually began his career as an outfielder, and he will tell you that he had pretty much nothing as far as stuff goes. His 391-359 strikeout-to-walk suggests he’s not just being overly modest. But Al kept the ball in the ballpark, and he stayed in games, and I would say he got the most out of his ability. It’s a career that Royals fans should remember fondly.
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Career with Royals: 10-21, 1 save, 3.94 ERA, 253 ip, 247 hits, 19 homers, 116 walks, 196 Ks.
Best season: All the same — four seasons had WAR of 1.5, 1.4, 1.4 and 1.5. ERA bounced around but his value was pretty much the same throughout for four terrible teams.
Comment: Come on. I mean, no offense, but Jason Grimsley? For the Royals Hall of Fame? The only thing that I can really remember about Grimsley the ballplayer was that he could not finish saves. He seemed to have some kind of mental block about it. He would look thoroughly dominant in the seventh or eighth inning. Then, ninth inning, blow up. I know, I don’t usually buy into this sort of thing but with Grimsley it seemed real — scouts said he gripped the ball harder in key situation and threw too hard so that his fastball lost movement. It seemed as reasonable a theory as any other because the guy saved one game in four years.
On the personal side, I do have one story. Jason was a gruff guy, and he had some weird things happen to him (once, I recall, a plane crashed into his house) and of course he had the PED connection that made his name somewhat famous. But one spring training, I brought my oldest daughter Elizabeth. She was probably 1 1/2 or so, and I left her with my wife for a while. When I came back, I saw a Royals player in full uniform, sitting in the dirt playing with Elizabeth. Yes. Jason Grimsley.
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Career with Royals: .250/.308/.480 with 109 homers, 81 SBs in 2010 PAs.
Best season: In 1990, he hit .278/.342/.523 with 28 homers in 456 PAs.
Comment: I actually think there’s a good reason to put Bo Jackson into the Hall of Fame though he wasn’t a great player. He was, after all, a phenomenon. And it is true that in 1990 the light seemed to be turning on, and without the injury there really is a chance that Bo would have turned into a fabulous baseball player. Certainly no player in baseball history ever maxed out the more exciting tools — speed, power and arm — quite like him.
Again, Halls of Fame are there to celebrate the team. I think the memory of Bo Jackson does celebrate the Kansas City Royals.
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Career with Royals: .256/.327/.439 with 103 homers in 3,150 PAs.
Best season: In 1993, he hit .273/.360/.497 with 20 homers and 27 doubles. Two other years led league in HBP.
Comment: Here’s a guy I could endorse for the Royals Hall … not because he was a great player, but because he was a good one for a long time for the same team. MacFarlane played 11 years for the Royals, and you might know that he was the player who inspired Bill James to rank every position 1 through 100 in the New Historical Abstract. Bill and a friend were watching MacFarlane play, and Bill said: “I’ll bet he’s one of the 100 best catchers ever.” The friend disagreed. In the end, Bill did indeed rank him in the Top 100.
Anyway, I cannot argue that Mike MacFarlane was a great player — he was not. But he was a big part of the Royals for a long time, and I certainly think that there’s room for a very good 11-year catcher in the Royals Hall of Fame.
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Career with Royals: 23-37 with 4.81 ERA, 527 1/3 ip, 158 walks, 330 Ks.
Best season: In 2003, went 10-8 with 3.77 ERA and 4.9 WAR.
Comment: Darrell May … kind of unbelievable that the Royals would put him on this list. May had one useful season with the Royals which he followed up with a disastrous one. I remember him mainly for the way he was always jogging, and for the one time he complained that things were going so bad he could not even get a no-decision.
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Career with Royals: .244/.305/.322 with 20 homers in 2200 plate appearances.
Best season: His total WAR with Royals was -0.5 so he never really had a best season.
Comment: I never fully realized just how bad an offensive player Brent Mayne was. No, I mean, it’s kind of shocking to me. I remember Brent being impossibly slow — we once asked Royals manager Tony Pena if he could beat Mayne to the mound running from the dugout, and Pena said: “I will not answer that.” Then he smiled and said: “By 10 feet,” and ran out to the field.
Anyway, Mayne was a really bad hitter. But he was a really nice guy, and to this day I get emails from him, though I will admit the emails are titled “Brent Mayne’s The Art of Catching” and I think he sends them to lots of people. I thought Mayne was a pretty decent defensive catcher, though his defensive numbers are not too stellar. Anyway, his latest tip — I don’t think he would mind me passing it along — states that a catcher must communicate.
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Career with Royals: .306/.385/.419, 78 stolen bases over three seasons.
Best season: 1998, best season overall, hit .315/.403/.438, led league in triples, won himself a startlingly big contract with the Boston Red Sox.
Comment: Really? They’re asking fans if they want to put Jose Offerman in the Royals Hall of Fame? See, this is the lack of self-awareness I’m talking about. Offerman goal in Kansas City was to put up some numbers so he could sign a big contract — not an unworthy goal, but it’s hardly something you build exhibits around. He put up those good numbers in 1998, though it was the kind of season that reminds me of something someone once wrote about Kevin McReynolds: “He had 85 RBIs, and even the most passionate Mets fan probably doesn’t remember a single one of them.” Offerman’s year earned him that fat contract with Boston, and good for him — but you don’t embarrass yourself by putting the guy on the Royals Hall of Fame ballot later.
Career with Royals: .271/.375/.435 over four seasons with the Royals.
Best season: 1979, could have won the MVP, hit .291/.421/.484 with 20 homers, 112 RBIs, 101 runs scored.
Darrell Porter had one truly great season with the Royals — probably not enough for the team Hall of Fame, though I’d let voters decide — but looking up Porter’s career reminded me that George Brett could have won four MVP awards. And this reminder led me to write an excessively long and winding interlude which I split off as a separate post to be put up later today … about the best offensive players on World Series teams.
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Career with Royals: .288/.340/.428 over 8 seasons with the Royals.
Best season: 1999 (.314/.363/.473) or 2003 (.291/.348/.452).
Comment: Another solid player who was good for an pretty long time … if you want, you can make the MacFarlane argument for him, though I think Mac goes in first.
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Career with Royals: .294/.380/.394 with 33 homers in 6 seasons.
Best season: 1987 when he got 207 hits and hit 15 homers as a rookie. Hit .323/.399/.470 that year. But 1988, though his numbers look down (.304/.388/.406), his year was almost as good.
Comment: He looked like he had a chance to be a very good hitter after those first two seasons, but things kind of tapered off after that for him. It’s a shame because few have ever worked harder on learning the art of hitting than Seitzer. He is now the Royals hitting instructor, and whether or not he gets the team hitting he can always take solace in the fact that he worked with me on my hitting before my appearance at Royals fantasy camp a few years back. And believe it or not former Royals players STILL talk about how surprised they were by my play (though, admittedly, this was probably because they fully expected me to hit myself in the head with the bat).
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Career with Royals: 11-12, 4.73 ERA in 3 seasons.
Best season: 1998 went 6-4 with a 3.48 ERA, 4 saves, 95-34 K to W. Followed that up with a fantastically awful season, a 1.712 WHIP, 13 homers in 75 innings, 6.09 ERA.
Comment: OK, this might be the worst one. It’s a battle, but this might be it. Scott Service. I cannot even conceive of who came up with the idea of putting Scott Service on the Royals Hall of Fame ballot. I’m sure there was some rule they used, something like “every player with three years experience with the Royals automatically goes on the ballot” or whatever. I don’t care. Scott Service was an occasionally useful pitcher who played for nine different teams and had a career 0.3 WAR, which makes him only the second most valuable player of his era actually named Scott Service (though the other spelled it “Servais.”).
Career with Royals: .257/.335/.422 in 4 seasons.
Best season: None, but had a memorable three week stretch during the 2003 season when he hit .382/.453/.671 with five homers and carried the Royals when they desperately needed him to. Drove in 19 runs and scored 18 more in that 22 game stretch.
Comment: Then again, this might be the worst one. Now, I will admit up front that, unlike pretty much every other player on this list, I did not like Michael Tucker. Well, more to the point, he didn’t like me. He once yelled me out of the clubhouse for some vague offense to his literary sensibilities. He was hardly the only one who lit into me through the years, but I would say he was the only one who ever did it for reasons that were never exactly clear. Anyway, in four years with the Royals, Michael Tucker managed to be one win better than a replacement player.
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Career with Royals: .262/.318/.343 with 21 homers in 10 year career, all with Royals.
Best season: 1980 when he hit .305/.377/.406 in 126 games. In 1982, his only other year when he got 500 PAs, he hit .270/.343/.328 but set record for stolen bases by a catcher with 36.
Comment: There are just mismatches in life. John Wathan was a fast and athletic catcher. The allowed him to set that quirky record for most stolen bases by a catcher, but it did not allow him to be an every day player for very long. There are expectations for catcher — and Duke (as they called him for his dead on John Wayne impression) did not hit for power and for much of his career he was ASTONISHINGLY free swinging.
No, I mean it’s really astonishing. In 1978, he came up 203 times and walked THREE TIMES. And one of those was intentional. He was a well-liked player who became the Royals manager and has been involved with the team ever since his retirement. One of the real good guys. But I don’t think he would see himself as a Royals Hall of Famer.
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U L Washington
Career with the Royals: .254/.316/.347 in 8 seasons.
Best season: 1982 hit .286/.338/.412 with 10 homers in 487 PAs. Stole 40 bases the next year.
Comment: U L Washington in the Royals Hall of Fame? No, I can’t see it. The toothpick, though? Definite yes.
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Career with the Royals: 14-9, 5.32 ERA, 4 seasons.
Best season: None. Only positive WAR season was 2000, when he threw only 34 1/3 innings.
Comment: Well, sadly, it ends with Kris Wilson. I have rarely rooted harder for a player than I did for Kris. He was a bulldog of a guy, a force of nature really, someone who I really thought deserved to have better stuff than he had. He worked so hard, cared so much, wanted it so badly. He pitched fearlessly, with command of his stuff, and I so wanted it to work out for him. Unfortunately, his stuff just wasn’t good enough, and he hung around for four rough seasons only because the Royals were terrible and everybody liked him. If there was a Hall of Fame for athletes who deserved better, Kris would be first ballot. But putting him on the Royals Hall of Fame ballot just makes me kind of sad.