Kansas City Royal: Greatest All-Time Team

Kansas City Royals (1969-Present)

American League (1969-Present)

American League Champions: 1980, 1985, 2014, 2015

World Series Champion: 1985, 2015

Kansas City has a rich baseball history. The original 19th century Kansas City Blues were in the Western League in 1900, when Ban Johnson decided to turn it into a Major League, and create the American League. He wanted a team in the Nation’s Capital, and the Western League did not already have one there. He convinced the owners of the Blues to move the club to Washington, so in 1901 the Kansas City Blues became the Washington Senators. Immediately a new ownership group formed a new team in Kansas City, and again named it the Blues. This club became a mainstay in the Minor League American Association until 1955.

The Blues were one of the more stable Minor League teams throughout the first half of the 20th century. It’s loyal fan base was one of the main reasons the owners of the Philadelphia Athletics chose Kansas City when they moved the franchise prior to the 1955 season. Kansas City was very supportive right after the move, the Athletics drew over a million fans their first two years, but the team was awful, and by 1962 attendance had shrunk by more than 50%. 

Charles Finley bought the Athletics in 1960 and immediately began threatening to move the franchise. He signed a contract with the state of Kentucky to move the team to Louisville, but was blocked by the other American League owners. In 1964 he attempted to move the team to Oakland, but again the other owners stopped him. Finally in 1967, his contract with the Kansas City Municipal Stadium expired, he got the minimum of seven affirmative votes from the other American League owners, and was allowed his move to Oakland. 

Kansas City also had a strong presence in the Negro Leagues. The Kansas City Monarchs were one of the powerhouse teams in that league from 1920 to the collapse of the league in 1955. Jackie Robinson was a Kansas City Monarch when Branch Rickey signed him to a Major League contract in his attempt to implement his “Great Experiment”. Unfortunately for the Negro Leagues, the breaking of the color line in Major League baseball would lead to the destruction their League.

After the departure of the Athletics, Kansas City was without a Major League franchise. The city and the state of Missouri threatened trouble for Major League baseball after the move. Missouri Senator Stuart Symington got involved, threatened to end baseball’s antitrust exemption and to eliminate the reserve clause. American League President Joe Cronin tried to ease the dispute by offering Kansas City an expansion franchise sometime in the 1970s. The Kansas City contingent wouldn’t relent, and continued to pursue legal action. Finally Major League baseball agreed to add four teams in 1969, and Kansas City would get one of the American League franchises, thus was created the Kansas City Royals. 

Ewing Kauffman purchased one of the four new expansion franchises in 1968. This was very fortunate for Kansas City baseball fans. Kauffman had money, and he spent it wisely. The Royals became the model for building an expansion franchise. He invested in an outstanding player development program, and built his team on youth, not aging former stars.

Dennis Leonard, Frank White, Dan Quisenberry, Willie Wilson, Al Cowens, and the great George Brett came up through the innovative academy system introduced by the Royals. They completed their team by acquiring surplus young talent from other clubs. Amos Otis came from the Mets in 1970, Fred Patek from Pittsburgh in 1971, John Mayberry from the Astros in 1972, and they acquired Hal McRae from Cincinnati in 1973. Young talent that grew together into a coherent unit that would become the envy of the American League.

The Royals had their first winning season in their third year of operation, and became a consistent contender in the American League West by 1975. For the next 15 years they would win 7 division titles, two American League Championships, and the World Series in 1985. Only twice during this run did they finish worse than second in the division. This was an incredible achievement, considering the size of the Kansas City market. The one most responsible for it was Ewing Kauffman. 

When Kauffman’s health started to fail him in the early 1990s (he would pass away in 1993) the team began to struggle. Kauffman set up a complicated succession plan attempting to keep the team in Kansas City after his death. Eventually Wal-Mart executive, David Glass purchased the team with a promise to stay put. 

The team did stay in Kansas City, however, their performance on the field shrank to historic lows. From 1994, the year after Kaufman’s death, to 2012 the Royals would have one winning season (83-79 in 2003). They would lose over 90 games 12 times, four of those were 100 or more. 

The Royals hired Ned Yost to manage the team in 2012, and concentrating on obtaining young talent climbed back into contention for the first time in nearly 20 years. From a Wild Card spot they advanced to the World Series in 2014, only to lose in seven games to the San Francisco Giants. 2015 would be a different story. They would win their first Division Title since 1985, then finish off the resurgence with a World Series Championship.

As 2020 approaches they again are struggling to remain competitive, renewing the question of the survivability of small market franchises in Major League baseball.

Catcher

Mike Sweeney (1995-2007) came up as a catcher. He was so bad behind the plate that he couldn’t hold the job for an entire season. They totally gave up on him as a catcher after his third year, but he could hit. The rest of his eight years in Kansas City were split between first base and designated hitter. The current occupant behind the plate, Salvador Perez (2011-Present), is a real catcher. While not as productive as Sweeney as an offensive force, he is way ahead of him behind the plate. This is not a gut wrenching decision. We’ll take Salvador Perez (2011-Present) and consider Sweeney at first base.

First Base

Manager Whitey Herzog blamed John Mayberry (1972-1977) individually for the Royals failure to defeat the New York Yankees in the 1977 American League Championship Series. He had been a stalwart on the club that had risen to the top of the baseball world in the early 1970s, but had fallen off badly in 1976. There were rumors about drug use, and Herzog shipped him off to Toronto in 1978. His competition at first base is Eric Hosmer (2011-2017) and the previously mentioned, Mike Sweeney (1995-2007). According to the formula we use, Hosmer was only half as valuable to Kansas City as Mayberry was, and Sweeney was such a good first baseman that he was soon made a designated hitter. This is tough. Hosmer and Sweeney were good teammates, as was Mayberry for his first four years. We’ve stated all along that production is what matters most, so with some reluctance we’ll select John Mayberry (1972-1977). 

KANSAS CITY, MO – CIRCA 1977: John Mayberry #7 of the Kansas City Royals bats against the New York Yankees during a Major League Baseball game circa 1977 at Royals Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. Mayberry played for the Royals from 1972-77. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Second Base

Frank White (1973-1990) was an eight time Gold Glove, a five time All Star. Not much of an offensive threat, but wonderful with the glove. He’s the only viable candidate for the Royals at second base.

Third Base

George Brett (1973-1993) is the greatest third baseman in American League history. 

Shortstop

Alcides Escobar (2011-Present) was a workhorse with the Royals when they won back to back American League pennants in 2014 and 2015. He won the ALCS MVP in Kansas City’s World Championship year in 2015. He’s chasing the tiny shortstop who handled the position in the franchises first decade. By the formula we use Fred Patek (1971-1979) is still slightly ahead. That confirms our subjective opinion.

Left Field

The three best outfielders in Royals history are: Amos Otis (1970-1983), Willie Wilson (1976-1990), and Alex Gordon (2007-Present), in that order. The problem is where do you play them. Otis and Wilson were primarily center fielders, and Gordon was a left fielder. None of the three played right field. The other dilemma is what to do with Hal McRae (1973-1987)? McRae was a monster at the plate, but he only played 478 (361 in left) in the outfield, and was a DH 1,426 times. Otis seems like an obvious choice in center, but he’s the only one with the arm to play right. If we put McRae in left, and leave Gordon out, we trade a Gold Glove left fielder for a career DH. We could put Wilson in left, Otis in center and Carlos Beltran (1998-2004) in right. That would shore up the defense, but Beltran’s contributions with Kansas City is significantly less than both McRae and Gordon. It comes down to which one of the three left fielders could adequately handle right field? That seems obvious… Alex Gordon. 

Center Field:

Amos Otis (1970-1983) 

UNSPECIFIED – CIRCA 1981: Amos Otis #26 of the Kansas City Royals bats during an Major League Baseball game circa 1981. Otis played for the Royals from 1970-83. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Right Field:

Alex Gordon (2007-Present) 

Pitchers:

By the formula we use, Bret Saberhagen (1984-1991) and Kevin Appier (1989-1999) are just about even. They are definitely #1 and #2, it’s just we’re not sure what order. Since  Bret Saberhagen (1984-1991) won two Cy Young Awards while hurling for the Royals we’ll make him #1 and Kevin Appier (1989-1999) #2.

#3 will be the sidearm relief ace from the 1980s, Dan Quisenberry (1979-1988). He led the American League in saves five times with ERAs between 1.94 and 3.09.

#4 is between Dennis Leonard (1974-1986) and Mark Gubicza (1984-1992). Leonard was a real stud from 1976 to 1980, winning 20 or more games three times while throwing between 259 and 294 innings. He blew his arm out in 1982, and his time as a productive pitcher came to an abrupt end. Mark Gubicza’s (1984-1992) time in Kansas City was quite different. He never threw the kind of innings that Leonard did, but he was a consistent contributor for 13 years. In their time in Kansas City Mark Gubicza (1984-1992) contributed 2,223 innings and a record of 132-136, while Dennis Leonard (1974-1986) had 2,187 innings and a 144-106 record. The metrics we use put Mark Gubicza ahead, but subjectively we think it’s Dennis Leonard (1974-1986).

KANSAS CITY, MO – OCTOBER 1985: Dennis Leonard of the Kansas City Royals pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals during the World Series at Royals Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri in October of 1985. (Photo by Focus on Sport via Getty Images)

Manager

Dick Howser (1981-1986) and Ned Yost (2010-2016) were in charge when the Royals won their two World Series Championships. You would think the choice here would be between those two. It isn’t. Yost is completing his 9th year leading the Royals. In that time, Kansas City has had three winning seasons, with an overall winning percentage of .472. He went to the World Series two years in a row, but his teams only won 90+ games once (2015). Howser’s record is similar. In his six years the Royals won two Western Division Titles and had 90+ wins twice. His teams did win more games than they lost (404-365), but he fielded a team that was put together by Dorrel “Whitey” Herzog (1975-1979). Herzog took over for Jack Mckean midway through the 1975 season, the Royals responded by going 41-25 the rest of the way and fell just 7 games short of the defending World Champion Oakland Athletics. After leading Kansas City to three American League West Titles and a overall record of 410-304, Whitey left for St. Louis, where his teams would win three National League Championships in the 1980s. It’s not a mismatch, but Dorrel “Whitey” Herzog (1975-1979) record is just better. A final note on Dick Howser (1981-1986) that young fans might not know. He led the Royals to the World Series Championship in 1985, therefore he was selected to manage the American League All Stars in 1986. During the game he didn’t feel right, had headaches and trouble making decisions. That would be the last game he would ever manage. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and his battle with the tumor was a major story in baseball for the next two years. He attempted a comeback with the Royals in 1987, but soon gave up the job in February and then lost his battle in June of that year. He was only 51.

MVP

“The only way to pitch to him is inside, so you force him to pull the ball. That way when he hits his line drive it won’t be at you.” This was the view of pitchers when facing George Brett (1973-1993). No controversy on this choice. 


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