The Mount Rushmore of the Kansas City Royals

1985 Donruss #297 Willie Wilson - what a great photo, showing Wilson's eyes locked on the incoming pitch as he's about to lay down a drag bunt

We finish the 1969 round of expansion with the Kansas City Royals. Just as a reminder, we’re trying to figure out which four Royals we’d put up on a monument for the team. The selection criteria are entirely up to you–best player, best performer, best embodiment of the team…

The Royals started on fire, with 3 second-place finishes in the first 6 years, followed by 4 first-place finishes in the next 5 years. After losing the World Series in 1980, they finally won it all in 1985. Sadly, in the subsequent 27 years they haven’t made the playoffs at all and haven’t even sniffed the post-season since the late 1980s.

There are an awful lot of players for this franchise who deserve consideration. Let’s dig in.

Let’s take a peek at the Wins Above Replacement leaders among batters for the Royals franchise:

Rk Player WAR/pos From To
1 George Brett 84.0 1973 1993
2 Amos Otis 41.2 1970 1983
3 Willie Wilson 40.1 1976 1990
4 Frank White 31.1 1973 1990
5 Hal McRae 24.8 1973 1987
6 Carlos Beltran 23.1 1998 2004
7 Mike Sweeney 20.7 1995 2007
8 John Mayberry 19.2 1972 1977
9 Freddie Patek 18.1 1971 1979
10 David DeJesus 16.6 2003 2010
11 Kevin Seitzer 16.4 1986 1991
12 Johnny Damon 15.9 1995 2000
13 Darrell Porter 15.8 1977 1980
14 Joe Randa 12.5 1995 2004
15 Mike Macfarlane 11.8 1987 1998
16 Alex Gordon 11.8 2007 2012
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/22/2012.

Lots of good names here. The first 5 are pretty obvious. Carlos Beltran is sort of easy to forget as a Royal, but Mike Sweeney isn’t. For all the team’s losing seasons, Sweeney was a mainstay. Going all the way down to Alex Gordon, every other guy here was an important contributor although most (save Macfarlane) didn’t play with the team for too many years.

And how about some other memorable players who didn’t even make the above list?

1991 Fleer #572

Danny Tartabull just missed the above list, coming in at #17 for the franchise. He put up some monster years for the team, especially his last one in 1991 when he led the league in SLG and posted a whopping 171 OPS+.

1988 Donruss #220

Bo Jackson is only 30th in WAR for the team, thanks to a low batting average, lots of strikeouts, and (believe it or not) below-average defense. But he was electric and had a number of memorable moments.

1983 Topps #136

Willie Aikens is actually exactly tied with Bo Jackson in WAR with the Royals, despite playing just 4 seasons with the team. Of those 4 years, two were really good and two were awesome. But what Royals fans remember was his triple and FOUR homers in the 1980 World Series, leading to 8 RBI. In 3 post-season series with the team, Aikens hit .375/.490/.725…an incredible performance.

Let’s turn to pitchers:

Rk Player WAR From To
1 Kevin Appier 45.0 1989 2004
2 Bret Saberhagen 38.8 1984 1991
3 Mark Gubicza 35.5 1984 1996
4 Zack Greinke 24.8 2004 2010
5 Dan Quisenberry 24.6 1979 1988
6 Dennis Leonard 23.3 1974 1986
7 Charlie Leibrandt 21.5 1984 1989
8 Jeff Montgomery 19.9 1988 1999
9 Paul Splittorff 19.5 1970 1984
10 Larry Gura 16.7 1976 1985
11 Steve Busby 15.1 1972 1980
12 Tom Gordon 14.7 1988 1995
13 Al Fitzmorris 14.2 1969 1976
14 David Cone 13.4 1986 1994
15 Dick Drago 12.3 1969 1973
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/22/2012.

Appier is one of the most underrated players of the last 20 years. He’s the second most valuable player the franchise has ever had. Pretty much all of the team’s really notable pitchers are on the list above, but there’s one other guy worth mentioning:

1990 Topps #661 -

The late Dick Howser led the team to its only championship in 1985, as well as a second-half turnaround in 1981 and another playoff appearance in 1984. He stepped down due only to illness, and who knows what the late-80’s, early 90’s Royals would have done had Howser still been there.

This is going to be one of the toughest votes so far, I think. Please choose 4:

48 thoughts on “The Mount Rushmore of the Kansas City Royals

  1. 1
    Nick Pain says:

    Bo knows granite carving.

  2. 2

    I went with Brett (obviously), Wilson, Appier and Saberhagen, but Otis and Quisenberry would be excellent choices as well.

    • 4
      dj says:

      I think Otis is a shout-out as the bridge from formative to competitive years and Appier as one of the few bright spots of the ’90s. Forgot Appier’s WAR was so high.

      • 45
        Robert says:

        Not really impressed with WAR as a stat,but,for quality and longevity, I won’t even mention Brett because he is in another world. Thus, Amos Otis, playing in the early years on bad teams,Seitzer was fabulous for years, Sweeney and Quizenberry, again, for being practicaly career Royals. Honorable mention goes to Jeff Montgomery.

    • 11

      I ended up going with Brett, Appier, Saberhagen, and Otis, though I felt pretty bad about it.

      I wanted to get Quiz and Howser on there. Most managers I wouldn’t care to add (unless we’re talking Baltimore). But some of my Wins Above Expectancy for managers research showed Howser was among the best ever at getting the most out of his talent. Not sure how reliable that stuff is yet, but it did make me think about adding him here.

  3. 3
    dj says:

    Brett, Willie Wil, Quiz, Amos Otis. Remember, the Royals offered “lifetime” contracts to George, Willie & Dan slightly below their prime. Amos Otis was the club’s first near-star, at least the fan favorite of the early expansion years (no slouch in the WAR dept, either). Quiz was one of the dominant relievers in the game for the early/mid ’80s. Willie Wilson also accumulated a sizable chunk of WAR as well. Nice post – this was fun.

  4. 5
    Ed says:

    Wow, this one is really tough! Brett is the one obvious candidate. After that I went with Otis (highly underrated), Saberhagen (2 Cy Youngs trumps Appier) and Quisenberry (dominant when being a closer still meant something).

  5. 6
    Library Dave says:

    I wonder if Joe Posnanski will show up to cast a write-in vote for Yuniesky Betancourt.

  6. 7

    Brett and White were no-brainers for me. I then went with Amos Otis over Hal McRae, and Dan Quisenberry over Dennis Leonard. I would not pick Saberhagen, who played “only” eight seasons as a KC Royal. By comparison Leonard, Kevin Appier, Mark Gubicza and Paul Splitorff wore Royals blue for 12, 13, 13 and 15 seasons

  7. 8
    Ed says:

    BTW, as someone who grew up during the Royals heyday, I have to say it’s really sad what’s happened to this franchise. They haven’t made the playoffs since ’85, haven’t won 90+ games since ’89, only one winning record in the past 17 years. Even though I’m an Indians fan, I would be quite happy to see the Royals once again become a competitive franchise (same thing for the Pirates).

    • 10
      Lawrence Azrin says:

      The Royals are 273 games under .500 for their existence, the last time they were over .500% lifetime is sometime in the 2002 season. They went over .500 lifetime early in the 1977 season.

  8. 9
    Hartvig says:

    I agree this was a tough one.

    My 2 no-doubt automatics were Brett & White. Saberhagen & Appier were a coin toss- I went with Appier because he represented a different era than Brett & White. My final pick was the Quiz because I like his sense of humor but 5 minutes from now I have have chosen differently. Bo Jackson was one of the most electrifying talents I have ever seen. Hal McRae was a leader and integral part of the most successful era the team has had plus he had a successful run as manager. Greinke was both a great story and talent. Howser was also a compelling story. Otis was the consummate professional.

    I’m also struck by how many of their best players sort of self-destructed. Willie Wilson put up some eye-popping numbers but then got into drugs and decided to change his batting style (not that the 2 issues are necessarily related). Mayberry, Aikens and Porter all had issues with drugs or alcohol. Greinke’s psychological issues are well documented as were Gordon’s efforts to establish himself when so much was expected of him.

  9. 12
    Darien says:

    I went for Brett, Wilson, Saberhagen, and Quisenberry. They’re all terrific players, but they’re also all players who stick out in my mind — and players who make me think “Royals.” Carlos Beltran (in contrast) is one of my favourite players, but, as mentioned in the post, I never even remember he was ON the Royals.

  10. 14
    Jason Z says:

    To me Brett and White are also easy choices. Than it gets tough.

    Even though Dennis Leonard and Paul Splitorf (owned the Yankees as
    I remember, wonder if the data reflects this?), mirror the rise and
    glory years of the franchise, which are 76-85…I am going with
    Saberhagen and Quiz.

    Much apologies to the 2 above, Amos Otis and Hal McRae.

  11. 15
    Phil Gaskill says:

    Brett. Otis. Appier. Quisenberry.

  12. 16
    RichardKC says:

    I went with Brett (obviously), White, Quiz, and Sweeney. The main reason I chose Sweeney was because he was a captain. However, I think Wilson, Otis, Appier, and Saberhagen all are good choices, too, although I remember the last 2 as spending significant time with other teams. I’m kind of surprised White is currently only 4th in the voting.

  13. 17
    Phil says:

    Brett, Quiz, McCrae, Saberhagen. Lots of runners-up.

  14. 18
    Phil says:

    What constitutes unanimity–is it 100% or 25%? I would think Brett gets full support here.

    • 19
      Andy says:

      25%, assuming that every single person who entered voted for 4 people and not fewer.

      • 20
        Lawrence Azrin says:

        I was wondering the same thing about the Padres and Tony Gwynn, so I added up the votes. There were 817 total votes cast, and 209 for Gwynn. This means that some people cast less than four votes; if everyone voting for Gwynn cast four votes, that would be 836 total, not 817.

      • 21
        Phil says:

        That’s what I thought, but Brett’s sitting at 25.27% right now…

      • 22
        Phil says:

        Okay, now I get it–a couple of people didn’t fill out a full slate for the Royals.

        • 23
          Lawrence Azrin says:

          I’d say that of all the teams we’ve done a Mt Rushmore for (so far), Brett is the one who most deserves to be unanimous.

          • 25
            Nash Bruce says:

            I dunno….Ken Brett really wasn’t a Royal for that long. Looking at his offensive stats, though(!), I’d bet that the other brother was a pretty fair hitter as well. What’s his name again?

  15. 24
    Paul E says:

    What? No Steve Busby?

  16. 26

    Brett, White, McRae, Quiz.

    I wanted Saberhagen and Otis, but McRae was a Royal for 15 years with a 125 ops+, and was there for ALL of their glory years.

    And Quiz’ peak may have only been six years, but he was THE MAN, whereas Sabes was only the man in odd-numbered years.

    • 27
      Lawrence Azrin says:

      I voted Brett, White, Saberhagen, and Appier, but you have convinced me of the error of my ways.

  17. 28
    tag says:

    Brett, AO, Quiz and Bo. I probably have to justify the last one so here goes:

    Bo was mythic. He only played for the Royals for five seasons, was obviously not a great hitter or fielder and probably, even had he eschewed his football hobby, could not have overcome the bad habits he had developed. But he transcended these limitations. Very good baseball players come and go. They are the lifeblood of the sport and we are indebted to them. But you don’t make one of the greatest advertising campaigns of all time about Kevin Appier. You don’t make a pilgrimage to Kansas City to see Frank White field a ground ball. (I even had friends come to Chicago to see a broken-down Bo.)

    By the time Bo joined the Royals professional baseball had been in existence for well over 100 years, but Bo did things on the field that no one had ever seen before. As I related in another post, I watched him tag up and score from third on a glorified popup. Standing up. We all saw him in the All-Star game. Not only did he take Big Daddy waaay deep, he hit into a classic Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance – except in this case Tinkers was Ozzie f***ing Smith and Evers was Ryne f***ing Sandberg (I mean, we’re talking God’s double-play combination here) – and except in this case he beat the relay. It was simply preposterous. Bo didn’t live up to his potential – how could he have? – but he was the last guy to make anyone care about KC and for that he deserves to be a Royal rocker.

  18. 29
    richard chester says:

    If this will help anybody Brett and White were teammates together for 18 years, more than anyone but Trammell and Whitaker.
    Also Brett, White and McRae were together for 15 years as were Brett, White and Wilson, Only Jeter, Posada and Rivera were 3 teammates who were together for longer than that.

  19. 30
    bstar says:

    I went with Brett, Appier, Saberhagen, and Willie Wilson. Wilson was the last choice, and a biased one, because I love speedsters like Wilson who stole a ton of bases and hit a lot of triples. Wilson is third since 1940 in career triples with 147, trailing only Stan Musial(177) and Roberto Clemente(166).

    • 33
      bstar says:

      Willie Wilson also held the single-season record for at-bats in a season (705 in 1980) for 27 years before Jimmy Rollins surpassed him in 2007 with 716. Wilson broke the record held by another Phillie, second baseman Dave Cash, who had 699 at-bats in 1975. I know, I know, a meaningless counting stat. In fact, you have to play on a good offensive team and walk an inordinately low amount of times to have this record. But, hey, I was twelve years old in 1980 so I thought it was cool.

      • 36
        Ed says:

        I would have guessed Ichiro as the new record holder but he’s in 3rd place with 704 (2004). Juan Samuel is the only other player to break 700 (701 in 1984). Honorable mention goes to Woody Jensen in 1936 with 696 PAs in only 153 games.

  20. 31
    Steven says:

    George Brett, Frank White, Dan Quisenberry and Cookie Rojas. White was the graduate of the Royals Baseball Academy. Rojas,well, he was involved in trades that included two favorites of mine: Curt Flood and Ted Abernathy. Quisenberry belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Really Nice People Hall of Fame. Brett-well, he’s George Brett, HOF.

  21. 32
    e pluribus munu says:

    I went with Brett, White, Saberhagen, and Quisenberry – I admired Howser’s teams (and Howser) and that’s what the Royals mean to me, and I admired Quisenberry for his pitching motion, his success, and who he was.

    I waiting for awhile, hoping a Royals loyalist would write – when I voted on the Brewers, I spent a long time thinking about Gorman Thomas and decided, naaah. Then tag, who really knew the Brewers and what he was talking about, posted, and I thought, what do I know? Probably the same here.

    But I did think about writing in U L Washington – imagine the sun glinting off his granite toothpick!

    • 39
      tag says:

      Yes, e pluribus, you had to love U.L.’s toothpick. A lot more photogenic than a chaw of tobacco or today’s sunflower seeds.

      I always thought Howser was good, but the White Rat had the real baseball gray matter in my book. He looked at the architectural innovations then current, understood what they meant (or could mean) for a team and built his roster around them. Willie Wilson was prototypical of his type of player, though middle infielders like Frank White who could cover a lot of ground were also essential. Of course he really hit his stride in St. Louis, where those Cardinals used to speed up the planet’s spin as they stole second or motored from first to third. And he was articulate about his philosophy, like Earl. To me those two, with their polar approaches, opposite sides of the same coin, represent the best managerial minds of our time.

      • 42
        e pluribus munu says:

        Very interesting observations about Herzog, tag. By “those two” do you mean Weaver and Herzog? (Seems right.) I don’t really know how either of them may have come by his skills as managers – I don’t see any clear “bloodline” in their records (the McGraw-Stengel lineage sort of thing).

        Successful skills as a manager is an endlessly interesting topic – there’s no one model, so many skills in play, all sorts of ways to fit or not fit a specific team or franchise. Remembering your comments about Leland the other day, I hope HHS will find time for a post on managers at some point that you would clearly have a lot to contribute to – perhaps after we all get done carving all these mountains for Andy (so many heads to go!).

  22. 34

    One good thing that came from artificial turf was U L’s toothpick.

  23. 40
    Dan says:

    Question, did anyone not vote for George Brett?

  24. 41
    Tmckelv says:

    They have had a lot of great players. This is hard.

    Brett is the only REALLY obvious one.

    Next is Quiz, then Saberhagen.

    The last spot is really tough, but I will choose Appier for 2 reasons…1) because he represents all of the good players on unsuccessful teams the last couple of decades and 2) he does have the 2nd highest WAR in team history.

    Appier just beat out a bunch of 1970s-1980s guys (Howser, Herzog, Otis, White, McCrae, Patek, Leonard, Splitorff, Aikens, Mayberry, Wilson).

    Special Acknowledgement for Bo Jackson (for breaking bats over his knee), Steve Balboni (for being Steve Balboni) and Clint Hurdle (for his Sports Illustrated cover).

  25. 43
    Tmckelv says:

    Andy, nice job picking out the baseball cards – the Wilson and Aikens cards are great. That 1985 Donruss Wilson card shows why it is a great set (beautiful black border) and why it is a PITA to keep mint (unforgiving black border).

  26. 44
    Max says:

    I went with Frank White over Amos Otis for my fourth spot (Brett, Quiz, Sweeney being the other three) strictly because of Otis’ status as yet another young Met traded away in the early 70’s for nothing. Joe Foy…bah! Can one be vindictive over something that happened before he was born? You’re damn right he can!

  27. 46
    FountainCityMagic says:

    Not one person mentioned the most obvious one… Ewing Kauffman. Had he never passed this team NEVER would’ve gone through the losing we have all endured.

  28. 47
    NorthMoRoyal says:

    Brett, White, Quiz, and Wilson

  29. 48
    Kris Nelson says:

    Brett, Howser, Wilson, White

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