The Kansas City Royals franchise began play in the American League in 1969, as an expansion franchise. What’s interesting about their start is that it was just two years earlier that professional baseball left Kansas City – when the Athletics moved to Oakland after the 1967 season. After this unsettling move occurred, renowned Missouri senator Stuart Symington demanded that a new professional team be planted in Kansas City. In fact, Symington went so far as to threaten Major League Baseball with legislation that could threaten their antitrust exemption, and the now-defunct “reserve clause.” Originally, MLB acquiesced and gave the city an expansion team that would begin play in 1971. But, Symington wasn’t satisfied – stating that the city shouldn’t have to wait. After more threats against the league by Symington, they finally agreed to allow two expansion teams (Kansas City and Seattle) to begin play in 1969.
The nickname “Royals” is tied to a couple different things in Kansas City. First of all, the “American Royal” livestock show and rodeo has been held in Kansas City since 1899. Secondly, with the exception of the Athletics (who moved to Kansas City with a nickname already in tact), the city’s professional teams have a history of being given names related to rulers – Kansas City Chiefs (NFL), Kansas City Monarchs (Negro League Baseball), Kansas City Kings (NBA).
The franchise was almost immediately successful. It only took them 3 seasons to have their first winning season, and in 1976 they reached the playoffs for the first time. Over the next 10 years, the Royals would reach the playoffs 7 times, achieve 2 American League championships (’80 & ’85), and win their first World Series championship in 1985. But, from that point forward, they have fallen on hard times. Since that World Series win, they have yet to reach the playoffs a single time. In fact, they have finished in last or next-to-last place 16 times over the last 28 seasons, and have only managed a winning season 7 times. Due to their relatively short existence (and poorly constructed teams for half of it), they have only retired 2 players’ jerseys, and they only have 1 player in the Hall of Fame. But, without further ado, here are the top 5 in franchise history:
5. Amos Otis (’70-’83) – this was a really tight race for the final spot between Otis and Willie Wilson. They both played primarily in center field, and they both had reasonable success in Kansas City. But, in the end, Otis’ overall production was a little better than Wilson’s. In his 14 years in KC, Otis led the league in doubles twice, and stolen bases once. He also appeared in 5 All-Star games, and won 3 Gold Gloves. He finished in the top 10 in MVP voting 4 times – his best year coming in 1973, when he finished 3rd. On the Royals’ all-time lists, Otis ranks 2nd in runs scored (1074), 3rd in hits (1977), 4th in doubles (365), 3rd in triples (65), 3rd in HR (193), 3rd in RBI (992), 2nd in stolen bases (340), 2nd in runs created (1102), and 9th in OPS+ (118).
4. Frank White (’73-’90) – White never led the league in a single offensive category. But, there’s no question who the 2nd greatest position player in Royals history is. White appeared in 5 All-Star games, and won an impressive 8 Gold Gloves (including 6 consecutive from ’77-’82) at second base. He was the MVP of the ALCS in 1985, propelling the Royals to the World Series, where they won their only title in franchise history. His number 20 was retired by the Royals in ’95. He ranks 2nd on the Royals’ all-time hits list (2006), 3rd in doubles (407), 5th in HR (160), 4th in RBI (886), and 5th in runs created (868).
3. Dan Quisenberry (’79-’88) – when it comes to recognition among all-time greats, I think the great relief pitchers in history don’t get enough credit. Perhaps it’s because there has been such a wide variety of relievers who will have a couple great years, and then a bunch of mediocre ones. Or, maybe it’s because a guy could save just 25 games for 15 years and accumulate nearly 400 saves. But, the guys who have sustained legitimate success deserve more recognition. Quisenberry is one of those. When he retired in 1990, he had the 6th most saves in baseball history (284). He still holds the record for most seasons leading the league in saves (5), and consecutive seasons leading the league in saves (4). From ’82-’85, his average season was a 2.38 ERA, 40 saves, a 1.05 WHIP, and 3.71 K/BB ratio. He appeared in 3 All-Star games in that time. He also finished in the top 3 in Cy Young voting every one of those years, including runner-up finishes in ’83 & ’84 – and, to be honest, he should have won the ’83 Cy Young. His career ERA+ of 146 is the 8th best in history among qualified pitchers, and his Cy Young share for his career ranks 32nd all-time (well ahead of Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter, whose career was remarkably similar to Quisenberry’s, yet Quisenberry dropped off the ballot in ’96 after failing to appear on 5% of the ballots). He’s at the top of the Royal’s All-Time ERA list (2.55), he ranks 2nd in WHIP (1.15), 2nd in saves (238), and 5th in K/BB ratio (2.31).
2. Bret Saberhagen (’84-’91) – if I was going to vote a guy into the Hall of Fame, I’m going to look for two things: a) was he dominant? b) was he dominant for an extended period of time? For starting pitchers, Saberhagen answers this first question with a resounding YES! But, for the second question, it really depends on your definition of “extended.” Due to some injury issues, Saberhagen’s dominance was limited to about a 5-year window, which really isn’t enough for serious HOF consideration – though, I would have expected better recognition than just 1.7% his first, and only, time on the ballot. He was still a serviceable pitcher another 9 seasons after his dominant years, but he only averaged a little more than 20 starts per season. But, those 5 years in Kansas City were very impressive. Two Cy Young awards in ’85 & ’89. He was also well on his way to a 3rd in ’87, as he was 15-3 heading into the All-Star break. But, he injured his shoulder pitching in the All-Star game, and finished the season 18-10. Even with that injury (which effected his ’88 season as well), his average season from ’85-’89 was a 16-10 record with a 3.20 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 3.59 K/BB ratio. He was also World Series MVP in ’85, when he went 2-0, allowing just 1 earned run in 18 innings, while striking out 10, and walking just 1. He ranks 4th on the Royals’ all time ERA list (3.20), 6th in wins (110), 4th in win pct. (.585), 1st in WHIP (1.13), 4th in K’s (1093), and 2nd in K/BB (3.30).
1. George Brett (’73-’93) – there is no room for debate here. Feel free to debate me all you want on the entire rest of this list. But, there’s no question that George Brett is the greatest to ever play for Kansas City. And, there’s no doubt in my mind he absolutely deserves to be in the HOF, as the only Royal representative for now. While he did play 21 seasons, which certainly helped him accumulate some stats, he was far from just an accumulator. His 3,154 hits include leading the league in hits 3 times, and winning 3 batting titles (including an impressive .390 average in ’80). He appeared in 13 consecutive All-Star games, finished in the top 3 in MVP voting 4 times, including a win in 1980, when he also led the league across the stat line – .390/.454/.664/1.118. He is one of only 4 players in baseball history to have 3,000 hits, 300 HR, and a career .300 average. He was rightfully a 1st-ballot HOFer, receiving an impressive 98.2% of the vote in 1999. He ranks 2nd on the Royals’ all-time batting list (.305 – behind Jose Offerman‘s .306 in just 1800 PA’s), 7th in OBP (.369), 4th in SLG (.487), 3rd in OPS (.857), 1st in runs scored (1583), 1st in hits, 1st in doubles (665), 1st in triples (137), 1st in HR (317), 1st in RBI (1596), 4th in stolen bases (201), 1st in runs created (1878), and 2nd in OPS+ (135).