Top 10 Royals of All-Time
Yeah, it’s that big of a post. Okay, maybe not. It’s just one man’s opinion, but that’s what this blog is for! Any number of approaches can be taken in submitting a best of all time list when it comes to anything. I chose to utilize the franchise encyclopedia on Baseball Reference. From there, I looked at a number of statistics in compiling my list. For a franchise that hasn’t been relevant in 25 years, there are some serious talents. Just a reminder to look at the OPS+/ERA+ which each player’s stats as they tell the story of their production relative to the era. For example, Mike Sweeney had an .861 OPS, which is .004 higher than George Brett, but who do you think was the better player? Obviously, good ol’ number five is the better player and his OPS+ reflects that at 135 to 119.
Without further ado…
#10 Bret Saberhagen – Perhaps the most talented pitcher in Royals history, Saberhagen unfortunately did not go down as the best. He is, however, the most awarded with a Cy Young in both 1985 and 1989 as well as being a part of one of the most memorable snapshots in Royals history, a shared embrace with George Brett after the final out of the 1985 World Series was recorded. Saberhagen came up as a 20-year-old in 1984 and was very good, but he became a star in that fateful 1985 season, winning 20 games. After he was traded after the 1991 season, he was never quite as good, fighting injuries. He was at his best with the Royals. It’s just a shame that he never completely lived up to his talent.
#9 Carlos Beltran – Carlos Beltran may very well be the most talented player to ever don a Royals uniform. He could do it all and he did it all with a grace that we hadn’t seen in centerfield since Amos Otis. The Royals actually have a very distinguished line of centerfielders in their organizational history and Beltran may very well have been the most talented. Had he remained a Royal for longer, he could have challenged for one of the top two or three spots on this list. When he came up as a rookie, he was electrifying as a leadoff hitter and then moved into the third spot in the lineup. He stole bases at a fantastic rate, he had a great arm, played great defense, got on base and just about anything else. He was a part of the greatest outfield in Royals history that was wasted due to the lack of a pitching staff. Though Beltran’s Royals numbers pale in comparison to what he’s done in the National League with the Astros and Mets, he was a fantastic player for the boys in blue getting better every year he was here.
#8 Paul Splittorff – Many younger fans know Splitt as one of the voices of the Royals, a job he has been amazing at for as long as I can remember (let’s disregard his health issues the last two seasons in that analysis). Prior to that, though, he was and remains the franchise’s all-time leader in victories with 166. He spent his entire career with the Royals. His numbers were dragged down toward the end with a string of sub par seasons. The thing I find most interesting about Splitt is that there is no way today that he would even get the opportunity to pitch as long as he did. His strikeout rate was just way too low, but the game was different when he pitched. Never spectacular, but always solid and an excellent rotation option. He took the ball in big games and always performed admirably.
#7 Dan Quisenbarry – As good of a pitcher as Dan Quisenberry was, he was a better human being. When he passed away from a brain tumor, the world and the Royals family lost an amazing person. In his playing career, Quiz was a five time top five finisher for the American League Cy Young, and still holds the Royals records for saves in a single season, shared by Jeff Montgomery who also is the only Royal to have more saves in a career than Quiz does. Like Splittorff, Quisenberry didn’t get the strikeout all that often, but he never walked anybody and due to that was able to limit his baserunners. He was best known for his submarine delivery by most fans, but by those who perched themselves in right field during a Kansas City August, he was the man with the fire hose who cooled everyone down. Nobody, though, was cooler than Quisenberry.
#6 Hal McRae – McRae didn’t do any one thing amazingly other than play harder than everybody on the field. The rule in place in double play situations where a runner must be able to touch second base from his slide is known as the Hal McRae Rule because McRae would go so far out of the baseline to break up double plays. He was an incredibly solid hitter and one of the best designated hitters the game has seen. His career began with the Reds, but the Royals stole him (as they often did from other teams) and he became an integral part of a juggernaut. He still holds the Royals record for doubles in a season with 54 in 1977, though 1982 is probably his best overall season. He’s also probably the best Royals manager in the last 20 years, but that’s a story for another blog post.
#5 Willie Wilson – Just looking at the raw numbers, there were better Royals than Willie Wilson, but very few were as important. In his prime, Wilson could hit like crazy and steal bases like crazy with a career high of 83 in 1979. Pretty amazing for the fourth fastest guy in his neighborhood. He won a batting title in 1982, going down to the wire with Hal McRae before pulling it out. Wilson’s best years were with the Royals, though he had some controversy while here with a bit of a cocaine issue. One thing to remember about Wilson is that he wasn’t your typical slap hitter who could run. He had a little pop in his bat as evidenced by 40 homers, 241 doubles and 133 triples as a Royal. The inside-the-park homerun was his specialty.
#4 Frank White – Some may be surprised to see #20 not in the second spot on this list. No, it has nothing to do with his abilities as an announcer, though he needs to go back to doing anything but announcing. Again, another time. Frank White went from being a decent fielding shortstop who couldn’t hit to a great fielding second baseman who couldn’t hit to a great fielding second baseman who could hit cleanup in the World Series. That is quite a transformation. The majority of White’s value came from his glove, but that evened out as his career progressed and he became not only a competent hitter, but a marginally feared one. Twice he hit more than 20 homeruns in a season and ended his career with over 400 doubles. Everyone knows how cool of a story it is that Frank White made it as a star in Kansas City. He literally helped build then Royals stadium and then became the most successful member of the Royals Academy. Now his number is retired alongside George Brett and the late Dick Howser.
#3 Kevin Appier – Here might be the biggest surprise of my list. The fact that he is a surprise underscores just how underrated Appier was throughout both his Major League career and especially his Royals career. He made an instant impact in his rookie season and never looked back, leading the league in ERA in 1993 in a season in which he should have won the Cy Young. I suspect that if the voting had been conducted today he would have won, but Jack McDowell’s 21 wins were enough to sway the voters. Planet Appier won 115 games as a Royal in two separate tours of duty with a 3.49 ERA in an extreme hitter’s era. People never figured out exactly who he was talking to on the mound, and that made him one of the most colorful players in baseball. He struck batters out and he intimidated. He gave just about everything that could be wanted out of a first round draft pick.
#2 Amos Otis – I think the numbers two through four players on this list are somewhat interchangeable, but what Amos Otis brough to the table is what caused me to put him up this high. Amos Otis was the Carlos Beltran of the early days in Royals history. He was another player absolutely stolen from another organization. He was acquired in a trade for Joe Foy and became a star with the Royals, almost overnight. As a Royal, AO, as he was known in chants by the fans, hit 193 homeruns, drove in 992 runs, stole 340 bases and absolutely wowed the crowd. Everything he did looked effortless. Because of that, he was sometimes criticized, but he was going full tilt…just with some style. He was a five-time All Star, a three-time gold glover and received MVP votes in multiple seasons. He was the Royals first star.
#1 George Brett – Who else? If Otis was the Royals first star, George Brett is and was the Royals brightest. What’s there to say about George Brett that hasn’t already been said. I could talk about his 1980 season in which he threatened .400 and won the franchise’s only MVP award. I could talk about his 1985 season that was easily his second best. He carried a sub par offense in that season and led them to the playoffs and ultimately the world title. He remains the only man in the history of baseball to win batting titles in three different decades (1976, 1980 and 1990). I’m lucky enough to say that I was able to witness his last Major League homerun. He’s the Royals all-time leader in WAR, games played, at bats, plate appearances, runs, hits, total bases, doubles, triples, homeruns, RBI, walks, runs created, times on base, sacrifice flies and intentional walks. In short, he is the Royals.
So there you have it. My top 10 all-time Kansas City Royals. As I mentioned above, this exercise just showed me how rich a history there is of baseball in Kansas City despite some very dry years in the recent past. Let’s hope the guys in the pipeline make this list even more difficult in the future!