Before tonight's game the Royals will honor the "Franchise Four", voted on earlier this season by the fans in a contest held for each team by Major League Baseball. The contest was meant for fans to select "the most impactful players who best represented the history of each franchise." Royals fans voted for George Brett, Frank White, Dan Quisenberry, and Bret Saberhagen. White will return for the ceremony tonight, marking his first public appearance for the team since his acrimonious departure from Fox Sports Kansas City.
Did the fans get it right? Here are the top candidates in Royals history, ranked by WAR:
George Brett, 1973-1993 - 88.4 WAR
.305/.369/.487 317 HR, 3,154 hits
13-time All-Star, three-time batting champ, one Gold Glove, 1980 MVP, three-time Silver Slugger winner, first ballot Hall of Famer
No brainer. George IS the franchise.
Kevin Appier, 1989-1999, 2004 - 47.3 WAR
115-92, 3.49 ERA, 1,458 strikeouts
1995 All-Star, 1993 ERA champ, franchise leader in strikeouts, ERA+ among starters
Would it surprise you that Kevin Appier is second all-time in WAR in Royals history? He was a hard-luck pitcher that didn't win a ton of games because he played for lousy Royals teams, but was one of the best pitchers of the silly-ball era. During his Royals career from 1990-1998, Ape's 3.28 ERA was eighth in all of baseball among starters. But he never pitched in any big games, unless you count this memorable game against the Yankees in the heat of the 2003 pennant race when Appier returned to Kansas City.
Amos Otis, 1970-1983 - 44.6 WAR
.280/.347/.433 193 HR, 340 SB
Five-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner
A.O. was arguably the first star in Royals history. Four times he finished in the top ten in MVP voting and he set the trend of graceful, unbelievably speedy outfielders roaming around Royals Stadium. During the decade of the 70s, Otis was 14th among all position players in WAR. He led the league in doubles twice and was the 1971 stolen base champion.
Willie Wilson, 1976-1990 - 42.2 WAR
.289/.329/.382 612 SB, 1,060 runs scored
Two-time All-Star, 1980 Gold Glover, two-time Silver Slugger winner, 1982 batting champion, 1979 stolen base leader, most stolen bases in franchise history
In an era of base-stealers, Willie was one of the elites. His 612 steals during his Royals career is the third-most in baseball over that time behind only Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines. He is twelfth in baseball history in stolen bases with 668. He led the league in triples five times and is 56th all-time in baseball history in that category. His 230 hits in 1980 is a franchise record and he is the only players in franchise history other than George Brett to win a batting title.
Bret Saberhagen, 1984-1991 - 40.8 WAR
110-78, 321 ERA, 1,093 strikeouts
1985, 1989 Cy Young Winner, 1985 World Series MVP, 1989 ERA leader, 1989 Gold Glove winner, two-time All-Star, franchise leader in ERA among starters
At his peak, Bret Saberhagen might have been the most talented pitcher in Royals history. While he was in a Royals uniform from 1984-1991, only three starting pitchers in baseball had a better ERA+. Sabes was the only World Series MVP in franchise history at the tender age of 21. The most iconic picture in franchise history is of George Brett embracing young Saberhagen after he has just finished off a complete game shutout in Game 7 of the 1985 World Series. Sabes is the only two-time Cy Young winner in franchise history.
Frank White, 1973-1990 - 34.7 WAR
.255/.293/.383, 160 HR
Five-time All-Star, eight-time Gold Glove winner, 1986 Silver Slugger winner, 1980 ALCS MVP
Frank was known as the best defensive second baseman of his era, and one of the best of all-time. His 21.4 dWAR ranks 39th best in baseball history. Frank was the star graduate of the famed "Royals Academy" and a Kansas City native who literally worked on the construction of Royals Stadium. A statue of him sits at the stadium now and his number 20 has been retired by the franchise. Frank has also served as a coach, minor league manager, a front office adviser, and a broadcaster for the team before his falling out.
Alex Gordon, 2007-present - 31.2 WAR
.269/.349/.436 132 HR, 1,116 hits
Three-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove winner, 2012 doubles leader
Gordo still has time to add to his accomplishments, especially if he re-signs with the team this winter, but his resume looks good already. The former first round pick has been fourth among all outfielders in dWAR since converting to the position full-time in 2011. Alex led the league in outfield putouts in four consecutive seasons, and in outfield assists in three consecutive seasons. In 2014, he was awarded the Platinum Glove for best overall defender.
Dan Quisenberry, 1979-1988 - 25.6 WAR
2.55 ERA, 238 saves
Three-time All-Star, five-time saves leader, five-time Rolaids Relief Man winner
The Quiz is actually twelfth in WAR in Royals history, behind Zack Greinke and Dennis Leonard. He was one of the elite relievers of the era. From 1979-1987, no one saved more games. Quiz also had the second-lowest ERA among all relievers during that time and had by far and away the best walk rate at 1.35 per-nine-innings. His 244 career saves are still 34th all-time.
Mark Gubicza, 1984-1996 - 38.3 WAR, 132-135, 3.67 ERA
Hal McRae, 1973-1987, 27.7 WAR, .293/.356/.458 169 HR
Carlos Beltran, 1998-2004, 24.7 WAR, .287/.352/.483 123 HR
Mike Sweeney, 1995-2007, 23.2 WAR, .299/.369/.492 197 HR
Paul Splittorff, 1970-1984 - 22.8 WAR, 166-143, 3.81 ERA
Jeff Montgomery, 1988-1999, 20.9 WAR, 3.20 ERA, 304 SV
Who is in your "Franchise Four"?
Josh Duggan: It's very tempting to go with Yuniesky Betancourt, Angel Berroa, Ken Harvey, and Jimmy Gobble, and I'd argue that this Franchise Four speaks more to the fan experience for anyone Gen-X or younger than the four key players of the dynastic Royals of the 1976-1985 era.
In earnest, George Brett is the clear, no doubt choice for the list. Bret Saberhagen's peak was so high that he demands to be on the list as well.
Alex Gordon is 1.4 fWAR and 3.1 rWAR less valuable than Frank White over about 55% of the playing time. While Amos Otis and Willie Wilson were both significantly more valuable, but also played significantly more than Gordon. If you prorate their WAR to Gordon's playing time, they all provided less bang for the playing time. For this exercise, I think his high performance peak needs to be considered. I honestly put Alex Gordon on the list, even if his Royal career ends this year.
Between Amos Otis, Kevin Appier, Willie Wilson, and Frank White, I'd actually lean towards Appier, who despite the lack of team success during his tenure in Kansas City delivered two of the best four seasons by a Royals pitcher by rWAR and is the second-most valuable Royal player by either measure of WAR over his career. My list then: George Brett, Bret Saberhagen, Alex Gordon, and Kevin Appier.
Shaun Newkirk: Because my pre-2000 Royals history knowledge is limited, I'll give you my "Modern Franchise Four": Alex Gordon, Mike Sweeney, Zack Greinke, David DeJesus
Alex Gordon is a no-brainer. Platinum Gold Glove winner, drafted by KC, and top five all-time in Royals fWAR by a hitter. Don't think I need to explain more. Mike Sweeney is the newly enshrined Royals Hall of Famer and the first from the modern era (post-2000). Look up Royals career hitting stat leader metrics and Sweeney is likely in the top five in all of them. Also he's got plus-plus humility and is an overall good guy.
How many times did you make an event out of watching Greinke pitch in 2009? You got home from work early, skipped the gym, made yourself a Lean Cuisine, poured a highball beverage or straight whiskey, and watched Zack dominate. He won the Cy Young and had the greatest season for a Royals' pitcher ever. I think Greinke is the best Royals' pitcher of all time despite only logging 1,100 innings with KC. David DeJesus is like putting Eisenhower on Mount Rushmore. He isn't one of the Founding Fathers or Abraham Lincoln, but he's sneakily in the top ten or so presidents of all-time and was in office during several different recessions. DeJesus was actually better than Sweeney from 2000 on and ranks 3rd in fWAR since the start of the millennium.
Joshua Ward: It's impossible to argue against George Brett. After that, though, there are probably four or five worthy guys for the remaining three spots. If we're talking about franchise players, guys who represent the organization both on the field and off of it, then at some point meaning outlives contribution. And even if Alex Gordon never trumps Amos Otis in career WAR, his impact on the organization has already been measurably greater in ushering in a new generation of fans at the outset of a franchise renaissance.
After some hemming and hawing, the final two spots for me came down to Kevin Appier, Amos Otis, and Bret Saberhagen. Appier was better long-term, but Saberhagen has the hardware (two Cy Youngs with the team, a World's Series MVP) and had the better single season of the two. It's easy to see that Appier was under-appreciated as a result of pitching for Kansas City in the wrong decade. He was robbed of the CY in 1993 and should have at least been a top five guy in 1992 (Jack Morris finished fifth with a 101 ERA+? Really?). Amos Otis should be remembered as the first star player that the Royals ever had. Four straight All-Star games in the early seventies with three Gold Gloves, he finished top 10 in MVP voting four times. Before Kansas City was even introduced to Brett, they had Otis.
I don't think there's a wrong selection between the three, but I'd give one to Appier, and if only to have balanced representation, I'd give the other to Saberhagen. So, my list, in order: George Brett, Kevin Appier, Bret Saberhagen, Alex Gordon.