Durham is no longer an All Star, but he's a solid veteran who hit nearly .290 last year, has post season experience (including last season) and is only a few seasons removed from a 26 homers, 93 RBI, .293 average and .898 OPS season.
And the Cardinals literally ran out of second basemen after running Adam Kennedy out of town.
Shouldn't this be a "Two Great Tastes that Go Great Together" Reeses Peanut Butter Cup moment?
There MUST be a competent infielder in the Cardinals farm system that they can groom at AAA while Durham holds the spot steady for a year. Meanwhile the Cardinals make another playoff run.
And we're not talking about a Manny Ramirez contract here. It's between this and playing shuffleboard.
The Oscars are over and with opening day on April 5, time is running out to finish my Home Grown vs. Acquired Series. Oh I can make my goal of all 30 teams before opening day... but I can't afford to slouch!
Today we take a look at The Kansas City Royals.
It is almost surreal to me that the Royals have become a symbol for small market futility, poor management and total irrelevance. They are one of two American League teams to not make the post season since the playoffs expanded in 1995. (The Blue Jays are the other team.) And since 1995 they have had only one winning season... a stunning 2003 run at the Division which turned out to be the very definition of a fluke.
They don't spend money, are starless and have made terrible trades. (They recently had Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran and Jermaine Dye in their outfield... and dealt them away and got no impact players in return!)
This is the same organization that when I was growing up was the very essence of excellence, super stars and shrewd front office moves.
When I was a kid, it was a given that the Royals were going to contend. The Royals were formed in 1969 to replace the departed A's. The Kansas City A's were a joke who sent all of their high priced players to the Yankees (I guess that is not a new development.)
The new Royals, run by Ewing Kaufmann, became the model expansion team. They put a winning product on the field by their third season. They developed stars and by 1976 were a playoff team.
From 1976 to 1985, they played playoff baseball in 6 out of 10 seasons, finishing in second place the other 4 years.
They had some of the brightest and most recognizable stars in the game. They had a rivalry with the Yankees that was as intense as the current one with the Red Sox.
And when the championships stop coming, they still had a superstar player that captured the imagination of the country with his excellence in two sports.
How smart a team were the Royals? Every other team built an multipurpose cookie cutter stadium in the 1970s. The Royals and Chiefs instead have a baseball only stadium next to a football only stadium.
No need to tear down their parks and spend hundreds of millions of dollars on new parks.
New management might bring about a bright future for the Royals... but today let's look back to when the Royals were regal (and with the help of Don Denkinger, they were kings for a year!)
No catcher has caught more games in a Royals uniform than Mike MacFarlane.
He was a good defensive catcher with some pop and willing to take one for the team. Twice he led the league in being hit by a pitch.
He must have really loved Kansas City, because he played 1995 in Boston. He got to play in front of rabid fans and played in the post season for the first time... and he left Boston to return to Kansas City.
The Royals couldn't find a taker for Mike Sweeney before the 1999 season. He was a catcher who couldn't stay healthy and had no apparent trade value. They were stuck with him.
Tough break. They put him at first base and he blossomed into a legit All Star. He found him among the batting leaders, nearly led the league in RBIs and was one of the few bright spots on some lousy Royals teams and was one of the legit nice guys in the league.
He wound up playing 13+ seasons for the Royals and was given a lengthy standing ovation during his last game in KC.
Frank White was up for the Royals managing job going into the 2008 season. A quick peak at his resume shows he would probably be ready to make the leap to managing. He was a first base coach for the Royals and Red Sox. He was a minor league manager in Wichita and worked in the Royals front office.
How about his connection to the Royals?
Well he played 18 years in Kansas City, won 8 Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger, was named to five All Star teams, was the MVP of the 1980 ALCS leading the Royals to their first World Series and singled home a run in the Game 7 World Series clincher in 1985. The Royals retired his number and erected a statue to him.
And with that resume, he didn't get the job. Go figure!
George Brett was such a great hitter for so long that he basically spanned a pair of decades as the best hitter in the game. Seriously his stats were so insane that it is almost futile to review them.
The 1980 MVP, four more Top Ten MVP finishes, Silver Slugger Awards, Gold Gloves, batting titles in three different decades, OPS leader three times, 3154 hits, Hall of Famer... and such a clutch force that Billy Martin waited for him to hit a game winning homer before pointing out he had too much pine tar.
He didn't do it at the start of the game. He KNEW he'd hit a big homer.
What else can be said about him? Watch this clip of him. Seriously... it's one of the funniest pieces of video you will ever see. Watch how the young kids try to move away from their idol as this story gets more and more graphic.
One more thing... George Brett was the favorite player of my friend, the brilliant comic Tami Vernekoff. Check out her clips and think of George!
Bo Jackson mania was really only about 4 years long... but man weren't they fun? It wasn't just that he hit homers... they soared to straight away center like the one he hit in the 1989 All Star Game.
He didn't just make great catches, he ran up the wall like he defied gravity. He didn't just throw out base runners from left field, he made perfect throws and then did a little gunslinger motion afterward. He didn't just strike out, he'd break the bat over his head.
And he didn't just dabble in football, he single handedly destroyed Brian Bosworth's credibility.
There have been other two sport stars, but none were as super natural as Bo.
When Ken Burns put together a montage to show that baseball was still fun during the turbulent late 1980s and early 1990s in Baseball, he focused on highlights involving Ozzie Smith and Bo Jackson. It was apt.
The fate of Carlos Beltran with the Royals illustrates the downfall of the once proud team clearly.
Kansas City had this premier talent on their books. He was the AL Rookie of the Year in 1999. He had power, he had speed, he hit for a high average and played Gold Glove caliber defense. He was a potential MVP candidate in Kansas City.
If Ewing Kaufmann were still running the team, he'd build the team around him, especially after the Royals made a surprising run for the 2003 Division Title with Beltran in the lead.
Instead they went into the 2004 season, his walk year, knowing he needed to be dealt. He was the prime trade chip in the game. In the end they got Mark Teahen, John Buck and someone named Mike Wood.
Not exactly getting top value for him.
OK, Beltran only played a handful of games in right field, but I wasn't about to move Willie Wilson!
The Late Al Cowens was a solid hitter with some speed who for one season was one of the elite players. In 1977 his stats exploded. His 23 homers were 19 more than his previous career high. His 112 RBI nearly doubled his total in 1976. His average soared to .312 and his slugging was .525.
He finished the MVP race as the runner up to Rod Carew and homered in Game 1 of the ALCS to help put the game away.
His stats returned to normal the next year and was dealt to the Angels after the 1979 season. Whatever he did in 1977 worked. Maybe he had a wish granted by a genie.
Here's another former Royals ace whose Hall of Famer trajectory was cut short by injuries. The Brooklyn native was a three time 20 game winner who consistently found himself among the league leaders in wins, strikeouts and innings pitched.
In the post season threw a complete game victory in Game 3 of the 1977 ALCS that put the Yankees on the edge of elimination. But he also blew a rare save opportunity to clinch the pennant in Game 5 and allowed the Yankees to come back and win the pennant.
He made up for that loss by out dueling Rudy May in Game 2 of the 1980 ALCS to once again put the Yankees on the brink of elimination. The Royals would clinch it this time.
He was hurt and missed most of the 1985 World Championship season. I'm sure the champagne still tasted good.
Splittorff was a solid and effective left handed starter. He was a 20 game winner for the 1973 Royals and won 19 for the 1978 Division Champs. But for whatever reason he seemed to come up big against the Yankees.
So much so that Billy Martin benched Reggie Jackson in Game 5 of the 1977 ALCS because Splittorff was starting. Think about that... the smart move was to NOT play Reggie Jackson in a big playoff game. He had held Reggie hitless in Game 1 and pitched 7 strong innings in game 5 and was in line for the win (but the pen blew the game.)
Had the Royals won, Splittorff's name would have been one of the most hated in Yankee history. (And Billy Martin would have been fired before you could say "The Bronx is Burning.")
The Royals had so many talented young pitchers coming through their system in the mid 1980s that it looked like they were going to remain a post season powerhouse into the 1990s.
While that didn't quite happen, one of their pitchers, Gubicza got to show his talents over 13 seasons in Kansas City.
He was a 20 game winner and Cy Young candidate in 1988. And came up big in the 1985 ALCS. With the Royals down 3-2 and in Toronto, Gubicza pitched into the 6th inning of Game 6, got the win and allowed the Royals to force the deciding game 7.
Now a broadcaster, I wish the back of his card said "The Middle C is silent."
With the Gubiczas, Saberhagens and Jacksons of the world, I guess the Royals felt a young arm like David Cone was expendable. So after 11 nondescript games out of the pen in 1986, he was dealt to the Mets for Ed Hearn.
Hearn played 13 games for the Royals. Cone became a 20 game winner for the Mets. Whoops!
Well good things came to those Royals fans who waited. Cone returned to the Royals after being a part of the 1992 World Champion Blue Jays. In the strike shortened 1994 season, he won 16 games and took home his lone Cy Young Award.
He was then traded again for a package headlined by Chris Stynes. Whoops! AGAIN!
I keep harping on the fact that bullpen closers fascinate me. The late Dan Quisenberry was one of my favorite, throwing with that crazy motion. He was also the missing link for the Royals quest to beat the Yankees and make the World Series.
In 1976 Mark Littell blew Game 5 of the ALCS. In 1977, Dennis Leonard blew a potential pennant winning save situation. In 1978, Doug Bird coughed up a critical series turning homer to Thurman Munson.
In 1980? Dan Quisenberry saved Game 2 and won Game 3 of the ALCS.
He also clinched the 1985 pennant. Nobody else has ever clinched a pennant for the Royals. He was the last piece in the puzzle.
Now I just kind of trashed Doug Bird in my previous post for Quisenberry.
But Bird was a good reliever for the Royals, saving 20 in his rookie year of 1973. He was a durable pitcher who closed, started and gave Kansas City solid middle relief. With the Royals on the verge of elimination in Game 4 of the 1976 ALCS Bird pitched 4 1/3 solid innings to keep the Royals alive.
Bird may not have been an All Star like Quisenberry... but he did force that series to a game 5.
Oh boy. Best not to mention Game 5 to Mark Littell.
Besides it isn't fair to judge Littell solely from his pitch to Chambliss.
He got some MVP votes in 1976 as he saved 16 games, won 8 and posted a 2.08 ERA over 104 relief innings. And there was a long delay before he threw that final pitch to Chambliss... maybe he thought it was a warm up pitch.
I would argue that Mike MacDougal was one of the big reasons the Royals had a remarkable turnaround for the 2003 season. He was put into the bullpen after recovering from a concussion and fit well into the role.
He put together an All Star season in 2003, notching 24 saves by the All Star break. And the Royals who were a 100 loss team the year before had a three game lead in mid August and were still tied for the lead in late August. I think no small part of the turn around in confidence was knowing the games weren't going to be blown.
They trusted "Mack the Ninth."
MacDougal's effectiveness waned by the end and was on the disabled list for various reasons (including recurring flulike symptoms) in 2004... and the Royals plunged again.
Baseball America clearly loved him too when he was named Minor League Player of the Year in 1988. And Royals fans loved him when he came up in 1989. He could do a little bit of everything.
As a rookie he gave the Royals solid middle relief the first half of his rookie year. By the All Star Break he ran up a 10-2 record out of the pen. And he wasn't a 1 inning and out reliever. He regularly gave the Royals 2 or 3 innings.
On April 12th he gave the Royals 6 2/3 innings of shutout relief with 10 strikeouts.
The Royals put him in the rotation where he did well, but never dominated. The Red Sox later figured out his best value was out of the pen.
And last year he earned a World Series ring with the Phillies, although injuries kept him off the roster. I'm sure he loved the experience. .. just like that girl loved him.
As I wrote in my Brewers piece I thought Kevin Seitzer was going to be a star. He looked like a batting title contender and he would join Gubicza, Saberhagen and Bo Jackson as the next generation of Royals stars, winning titles left and right.
It didn't happen, but there's no shame in being the Rookie of the Year runner up, an All Star and the man who led a very potent American League in hits for 1987.
When Red Sox fans screamed about Johnny Damon's lack of loyalty after signing with the Yankees, I'm sure it was amusing to Royals fans. After all, Damon only played 4 years in Boston but played 5 1/2 seasons in Kansas City.
If he needed to show loyalty, it would be to the team that drafted him and the one where he developed into a .300 hitter, a 40 stolen base guy and an MVP candidate.
But that would be asking my fellow Red Sox fans to be logical and think things through... which we know isn't happening.
He played part of 10 seasons with the Royals, getting some points in the 1980 MVP vote. He was a catcher with speed (he stole 36 bases in 1982) and has played in October for every single playoff team.
But it is more than that... he broke in with the Royals in 1976. The Royals had never made the playoffs before. They did in 1976.
Then they make the playoffs 7 times in 10 years. He played his last game in the 1985 World Series.
And the Royals haven't played a playoff game since. Is it the Curse of John Wathan? (I doubt it, he managed the team for 5 years and has been involved with the club. I think it has more to do with bad management than Wathan.)
There were so many pitchers I wanted to add here. Kevin Appier, Steve Busby even unlikely 2 time All Star Jose Rosado... but I am going with Danny Jackson on the strength of two gigantic wins in the 1985 post season.
The Royals lost what looked like a backbreaking Game 4 of the 1985 ALCS. In years past they would have been eliminated but now the series was best of 7. The Blue Jays were on the verge of a pennant and Bret Saberhagen was unable to pitch. Danny Jackson took the hill in Game 5 and saved the season.
He threw a complete game shutout, wiggling out of jams in the 5th and 6th and threw a perfect final three innings. With new life the Royals would win the pennant.
In game 5 of the World Series, once again down 3-1 and this time on the road in St. Louis, the Royals handed the season to Jackson.
He let up a first inning run and escaped a bases loaded jam in the third but then settled down. Once again he went the distance, letting up only 5 hits and 3 walks, and sent the series back to Kansas City where all Hell broke loose.
I know his best years were in the National League. I know Appier and Busby put up better numbers. Appier and Busby never had to take the mound with the team down 3-1 in the series... let alone twice in the same post season!!!
Man those are some good players. It reminds you of what a factory of stars Kansas City used to be. But we know of all the players who left Kansas City... how many CAME to KC?
Porter was an intense player. He came over to Kansas City from Milwaukee and fit in with the likes of George Brett. He became an All Star and played in the playoffs for the first time in his career.
He also was abusing alcohol, cocaine, ludes and who knows what else and was paranoid that the league was on to him. He was nicknamed Double Barrel Darrell not for his on field exploits but because he walked around with a shotgun at night, terrified of his personal demons.
He cleaned up his act in rehab, one of the first players to step forward and be honest about his abuses.
I almost put Willie Mays Aikens on here and I am sure there will be some who will try and convince me to change my mind. But I'm sticking with Mayberry.
He helped lay down the winning foundation in Kansas City, being a consistent 100 RBI man, an All Star and in 1975 was runner up to Fred Lynn in the MVP vote when he was second in the league in RBI and OPS and third in home runs.
I know Aikens brief career was great... Hey, these lists aren't easy!
It's hard to imagine Royals fans booing Frank White, but they initially did. Why?
Because Cookie Rojas was the Royals All Star during their first winning seasons. He was a .300 hitter and solid all around second baseman. In the 1972 All Star Game hit a go ahead home run off of Bill Stoneman.
He was a terrific Royal, but he knew when to step aside for Frank White.
Freddie Patek has become a beloved symbol of a fast little white guy. He was 5'5" (possibly 5'4") and had a high pitched voice. I'm sure he got his share of grief for that.
They called him "The Flea." I'm sure he loved that. Guess what? He was also a three time All Star, had a top 10 MVP finish in 1971, led the league in stolen bases in 1977 and batted ,389 with an OPS of 1.067 in the 1977 ALCS.
Yeah yeah yeah, I know about the explosion... the "put that in your f---ing pipe and smoke it" rant he gave as manager.
But he was a great player in his own right. A three time All Star who finished fourth in the MVP vote in 1976 and 1982, he was a reliable run producer while not being a prolific home run hitter (he hit 20+ only twice).
And had some post season highlights. He homered in the first inning of Game 1 of the 1977 ALCS, putting the Yankees on their heels. And overall he batted .444 with an OPS of 1.302 in the series.
By the way, if you haven't seen the rant... here it is.
You can't accuse the Royals of sitting on their laurels after winning the 1985 World Series. They looked like they were building a great staff and a new great line up... and stole a potential MVP from the Mariners in Danny Tartabull. He was a 30 homer threat with a high average and solid OPS numbers and timed his best season for his walk year.
Alas the days of Royals retaining their stars were over and he went to the Yankees, where his lone highlight was a funny cameo on Seinfeld.
Balboni was everything wonderful about old time pre steroid sluggers. He was a fat dude. He didn't look like a beer league softball player... he looked too out of shape to be a beer league soft ball player.
But he could slug one out. He hit 36 homers for the World Champion in 1985.
He was George Wendt in a uniform. He made you feel good watching him play because you'd literally think "Jesus, I'm in better shape than THAT!!!"
I don't know why Billy Martin didn't like Larry Gura. He didn't pitch much under Martin in the second half of 1975 with the Yankees and while he wasn't Sandy Koufax he did get a few complete game wins.
But Martin hated him and off he went to Kansas City. First he pitched well as a spot starter and middle reliever, then becoming an 18 game winner twice.
He became an All Star and had a few post season highlights, including throwing a complete game victory in Game 1 of the 1980 ALCS against the Yankees.
And yet Martin still hated him. One of my favorite things in The Bronx is Burning was John Turturro as Billy Martin yelling "You Suck Larry Gura" from the bench.
Some people think I put too much stock in post season success when compiling these rosters. Maybe, maybe not. I know a glance at Charlie Liebrandt's playoff resume shows a lot of hard luck and heart breaking losses. Whether it was the shelling he took in Game 1 of the 1985 ALCS. Or the hard luck losses in Game 4 of that ALCS and Game 2 of the World Series, when he had shutouts going into the 9th inning both times only to lose the game.
Not to mention his extra inning losses for the Braves in the 1991 and 1992 World Series.
But another way to look at his career is that he was always participating in the post season... and along the way put up some terrific seasons, including his 17 win season in 1985 where he posted a 2.69 ERA over 237 2/3 innings.
And lest we forget he came out of the bullpen and threw 5 1/3 solid innings in Game 7 of the 1985 ALCS to win the pennant.
A quick glance of the box score of Game 6 of the 1985 ALCS would show Mark Gubicza getting the win and Dan Quisenberry getting the save.
But the real pitching hero was Bud Black. A 17 game winner in 1984, he went back and forth out of the bullpen and rotation in 1985. When Game 6 rolled around, the Blue Jays had a 3-2 edge and were playing at home. Gubicza was starting in place of the injured Bret Saberhagen and was holding his own.
But with the score 5-2 KC in the bottom of the sixth, Toronto put two on with one out. Bud Black was brought in to face Al Oliver, but the Blue Jays sent up Cliff Johnson who singled home a run. A wild pitch brought the tying run into scoring position and Black had to face George Bell, Ernie Whitt and if one of them got on, Jesse Barfield.
Basically the pennant was riding on that moment. And he got both Bell and Whitt to pop out. Then in the seventh worked around an error and a walk to preserve the lead. Then in the eighth worked around a single to keep the Blue Jays off the board. In the ninth he got two outs but let up a pair of singles.
Dan Quisenberry, came in, struck out one batter, and got the save and the glory. Black with his 3 1/3 innings of shut out ball with the pennant on the line got Gotch.
Fitzmorris was an expansion draft pick for the Royals and he developed into a reliable starter. Between 1974 and 1976 he averaged 15 wins and helped put away the 1976 Division with 8 solid innings in a 2-1 win over the Rangers on September 24th, 1976.
After going to Cleveland and coaching in the minors he moved his family back to Kansas City where he hosts Hot Stove talk shows.
There must be something about Kansas City that gets everyone to move back there.
I guess after two straight years of losing to the Yankees in the 9th inning of the final ALCS game that the Royals had had enough. They needed a Bullpen ace. So they sent Mark Littell (he of the Chris Chambliss homer) and future broadcaster Buck Martinez packing for The Mad Hungarian.
He saved 20 games for the 1978 Division Champs. But in the ALCS Whitey Herzog brought in Doug Bird instead of Hrabosky with a lead in the 8th inning of Game 4. Munson homered and the lead was gone. Hrabosky never got his chance to close out the big game against the Yankees.
What a waste of a closer with an awesome nickname.
The Royals went into 1990 thinking they had the pitching staff to topple the World Champion A's. And why not? They had terrific young pitcher like Kevin Appier, Mark Gubicza and Tom Gordon. They had a solid young closer in Montgomery and they had Bret Saberhagen, who won the 1989 Cy Young Award. And for good measure they signed Mark Davis who won the 1989 NL Cy Young.
2 Cy Young Winners? What could go wrong? EVERYTHING!
Davis flopped, Saberhagen stumbled and the Royals finished next to last, 27 1/2 games out.
Well, not everything went wrong. Montgomery held up his end of the bargain, saving 24 of their 75 win, logging nearly a strikeout an inning. He went on to be a three time All Star and the 1993 Rolaids Relief Award winner. He pitched for 12 years in Kansas City and is the teams all time Saves leader.
If everyone else did their job as well as Montgomery did in 1990, they would have won the World Series!
The veteran sidearmer had already played for 12 years and 6 teams when he wound up a Royal in 1970. He had a little bit left in the tank. He won 9 games and saved 12 more in only 36 appearances after coming over in July.
He saved 23 games in 1971 and assumed the role of Bullpen ace. On September 19, 1971 he got the final out in a 5-2 win over the Twins, nailing down the 82nd win of the season.
He wasn't there for the glory years, but he made sure the Royals did in 3 years what the A's could never deliver in 13 years: They had a winning season.
Gaetti was a post season hero and a Gold Glove All Star with the Twins in the 1980s, but when he went to the Angels in 1991, his career fell into the tank. After 2 1/2 lackluster seasons he was flat out released in 1993.
It was to the Royals benefit. He revived his career in Kansas City, stroking 14 homers in 82 games during the second half of the 1993 season. He was having his best season in six years when the 1994 strike hit, but kept on hitting the next year.
He hit 35 home runs, driving in 96 runs, won the Silver Slugger Award and finished 10th in the MVP voting.
All the while I am sure the Angels front office thought "Where was THAT when we needed it?"
Sweet Lou was one of the first Royals stars as he won the Rookie of the Year in the teams first season. He made his lone All Star team as a Royal, contended for the batting title as a Royal. Played for the Royals when they started playing winning ball.
He looked like he was going to be there when they became a playoff team. He was there. He was just played for the Yankees when they beat the Royals three straight seasons for the pennant.
And who did the Royals get for Piniella? Lindy McDaniel, who was washed up by 1975. No doubt one of the worst deals in Royals history.
Sundberg was a regular All Star and one of the best defensive catchers of the 1970s and 1980s while playing on mediocre Texas teams from 1974 to 1983. He came over to Kansas City from Milwaukee in time for the 1985 playoffs, his first taste of post season baseball. In Game 7 of the 1985 ALCS, Sundberg came up to bat in the 6th. The Royals were up 2-1 but there were two outs with the bases loaded and Dave Steib was on the mound.
Sundberg tripled to right scoring all three... including Steve Balboni from first! He broke the game open and sent the Royals to the World Series.
Safe to say he made the most of his one opportunity for playoff glory.
I am sure there are other Royals I could have included, especially Willie Mays Aikens, in the 25th Man role. But nobody got a hit as big as Iorg in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series.
Yes... that game.
Yes I know, Denkinger blew the call and Jorge Orta should have been called out to lead off the 9th. But Denkinger didn't cause Jack Clark to let a pop up drop and give Steve Balboni a second chance. And Denkinger didn't make Darrell Porter commit a passed ball putting the tying and winning runs in scoring position. The Cardinals were rattled with one out and the bases loaded in the 9th inning. But they were still up 1-0 when Iorg came to the plate. If he hit into a double play, the St. Louis Cardinals would have won the 1985 World Series.
Instead Iorg singled home two runs for the win and the rattled Cardinals would lose 11-0 in the finale.
Blown call or not, that hit is probably the greatest Royals highlight of all time... which is worth a spot on this roster!
WHO WOULD WIN A HEAD TO HEAD SERIES?
The acquired team would have some pop and the bullpen would be really deep... but who are we kidding?
Do you think they could beat a Royals team with Brett, Leonard, Saberhagen, Cone and Quisenberry?
Even if the other team gets a hit, Bo would throw them out from left!
VERDICT: THE HOME GROWN TEAM WINS... AND GEORGE BRETT USES JUST ENOUGH PINE TAR.