The Royals have stumbled out of the gate poorly this season, dropping 14 of their first 21 games with the worst offense in baseball. While things have gone much worse than many fans expected, this is far from the worst and most disappointing start to a season. That title belongs not to the awful teams of the 2000s, but for one team that was hoping to contend following a major splash at the Winter Meetings. The worst start in club history belongs to the 1992 Royals.
The 1992 season was the first full season under new manager Hal McRae, who had taken over mid-season the year before from fired skipper John Wathan. The team responded much better under McRae, going 66-58 after he took over, peeking their head over .500 to end the year at 82-80. Herk Robinson was the General Manager, having moved over from the business side of the organization following the surprising departure of longtime General Manager John Schuerholz in 1990.
Robinson was looking to make a splash at the 1991 Winter Meetings, but he had a reputation at that time of backing out of deals at the last moment. He had a club that was transitioning from the 80s-era Royals, and with owner Ewing Kauffman in his mid-70s, the pressure was on to provide won more championship ballclub in his lifetime.
With slugger Danny Tartabull departing as a big free agent to the Yankees, Robinson felt he needed to jumpstart the offense. He was able to take advantage of a squabbling Angels front office and signed All-Star first baseman Wally Joyner to a bargain deal. He was able to dump free agent bust Storm Davis and light-hitting first baseman Todd Benzinger, and later that spring would dump veterans Kirk Gibson and Kevin Seitzer as well.
But his signature move that winter would stun the baseball world and outrage Royals fans. Robinson agreed to move two-time Cy Young winner Bret Saberhagen and utility infielder Bill Pecota to the Mets for infielder Gregg Jefferies, infielder Keith Miller, and outfielder Kevin McReynolds.
The consensus among the baseball minds at Miami Beach was that the Mets had committed a blatant robbery.
-Dave Nightengale, The Sporting News
The Royals had landed a much-heralded bat in Jefferies, who was regarded as one of the best prospects in the game at one point, but had failed to live up to much of his promise. McReynolds had a solid bat and could run a bit, but had a reputation for a low motor. Miller was a gritty utility player nicknamed “Pigpen”, but was often injured.
Still, the Royals had a talented club, with George Brett still anchoring the lineup, speedy Brian McRae, son of the manager, patrolling centerfield, and power-hitting catcher Mike MacFarlane. The pitching staff featured one of the best starters in baseball in Kevin Appier and one of the best closers in Jeff Montgomery. The A’s dynasty was seemingly crumbling, and the American League West Division seemed up for grabs. The Sporting News picked the Royals to win the division.
“Why pick Kansas City out of a cap to win in the A.L. West? The Royals' pitching is solid enough but there's an additional reason: The Kansas City club has been tailored to fit its ballpark like a $900 suit."
The roster was mostly set in spring training, but McRae had to make decisions on where to put his chess pieces. Hal had to convince his former teammate and future Hall of Famer George Brett to move down in the lineup from #3 to #5 so Joyner could hit third. Some pundits questioned his decision to have Keith Miller start in left field, rather than at second base where Terry Shumpert had struggled with the bat for years. Many felt that Jim Eisenreich - who hit .301 the previous season - was a better option for left, or even Gregg Jefferies, who was a major defensive liability at third base.
McRae stuck to his guns and the team opened the season with a six game West Coast road trip to Oakland and Seattle. Ace Kevin Appier got the first assignment and left after six innings with a 2-1 lead. Luis Aquino coughed up the lead in the seventh, but the Royals battled back and led 3-2 in the eighth. Aquino gave up a single and a walk to open the bottom of the inning, and McRae brought in Montgomery to end the threat. The usually reliable Monty allowed a pair of singles to bring home three runs in a 5-3 Oakland win.
Kansas City Royals 0-1, 1 GB
The Royals were a bit short-handed on pitchers as Aquino was ill, and starter Mike Boddicker left to be with his wife for the birth of his child. The A’s took a 3-0 lead off emergency starter Tom Gordon, but the Royals scratched back, and in the eighth, George Brett tied it 3-3 with a solo home run off Rick Honeycutt. The game went into extras, but McRae kept lefty reliever Neal Heaton in the game. In his seventh inning of relief work, Heaton gave up a walk-off home run to Rickey Henderson to end the game.
Kansas City Royals 0-2, 2.5 GB
A’s starter Ron Darling shut down the Royals for eight innings, only giving up a two-run home run to Jim Eisenreich in the ninth in a 5-2 Oakland win.
Kansas City Royals 0-3, 3.5 GB
Reliever Mark Davis was a huge free agent bust for the Royals, so in 1992 they tried to salvage his value by making him a starter. It did not work. He was drilled by the Mariners for seven runs in less than six innings of work in a 9-3 loss.
Kansas City Royals 0-4, 4 GB
In a thrilling pitcher’s duel, Kevin Appier matched Randy Johnson for six innings, with both throwing goose eggs on the board. Pete O’Brien led off the seventh with a home run however, and that would be all “The Big Unit” would need. Johnson struck out 11 Royals in a four-hit complete game shutout in a 1-0 win.
Kansas City Royals 0-5, 5 GB
The Royals managed just four hits again the next night, but this time it was against Erik Hanson. Mike Boddicker was effective in his first start, allowing just two runs, but the Royals fell again 2-1 to the Mariners.
“I'm not ready to turn over the spread yet, but maybe in a week I'll have to turn over the food and get it all over the floor and on the guys' clothes."
Kansas City Royals, 0-6, 5.5 GB
The Royals increased their hit total - to five! The game was scoreless through six for the home opener, but reliever Joel Johnston gave up a two-run home run to Jose Canseco. That would be all starter Mike Moore would need in a 6-1 Oakland victory.
Kansas City Royals, 0-7, 6 GB
Mark Gubicza was sharp, but the Royals found themselves down 1-0 going into the eighth with future Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley looming. Rick Honeycutt came in and was a disaster, committing an error, and allowing two runners to score on wild pitches. The Royals had finally won their first game of the year, 3-1 over Oakland
Kansas City Royals, 1-7, 5 GB
Maybe the win was the spark this team needed? They got off to a 6-1 lead off Joe Slusarski. But Mark Davis would give that lead up and Mike Magnante and Joel Johnston would led the game get out of hand. Oakland wins 10-6.
Kansas City Royals, 1-8, 6 GB
A lineup shake up wasn’t enough to spark the Royals. Brian McRae was moved out of the leadoff spot in favor of Keith Miller. It was another four-hit effort for the Royals - sound familiar? Dave Stewart kept the Royals in check and scoreless through nine innings, but Kevin Appier matched him every step of the way. In the tenth, former Royals outfielder Willie Wilson lofted a fly ball to left. Miller, the man many people said should be playing second, dropped it, allowing the game-winning run to score.
Kansas City Royals, 1-9, 7 GB
The Angels were the next to come into town and they ripped Mike Boddicker for six runs in five innings, a start which got Boddicker demoted to the bullpen. The Royals managed just three hits in the 8-1 loss. Kevin McReynolds was bumped down in the lineup from cleanup to #6 in the lineup after hitting just .139 to start the year.
"If anything I've given him every reason to do this."
Kansas City Royals, 1-10, 7 GB
The Royals scratched back to tie the game in the eighth. But Jeff Montgomery gave up a two-run single to Hubie Brooks in the tenth in a 5-3 Angels win.
Kansas City Royals, 1-11, 8 GB
Mark Gubicza was drilled by the Orioles, but at least the Royals managed to get more than eight hits for just the fourth time all season in a 10-4 loss.
“I'm embarrassed for the job I've done for the team this year....We're embarrassing ourselves and the organization."
Kansas City Royals, 1-12, 8 GB
McRae finally relented and moved Miller to second base, opening up left field for Eisenreich, as Terry Shumpert was demoted. It didn’t matter. Kevin Appier was once again a hard-luck pitcher, giving up just two runs, but getting bested by veteran Rick Sutcliffe, who held the Royals to just six hits in a complete game 2-1 victory. After the game, Hal McRae went into a tirade in the clubhouse.
"I've come away with nothing. I"ve come away with less than nothing because I've got a loss. Unbelieveable.'
Kansas City Royals, 1-13, 9 GB
Mark Davis was pulled in the third inning as Mike Mussina shut down the Royals in an 8-1 Orioles win. Davis left the game with a 9.49 ERA for the season.
Kansas City Royals, 1-14, 9.5 GB
The Royals traveled to Toronto, but forgot their bats, as Juan Guzman allowed just two hits over the first eight innings. George Brett hit a two-run home run in the ninth, but the Royals fell just short in a 4-3 loss
"I don't worry about myself and I don't fear for my job. I'm not an insecure person."
Kansas City Royals, 1-15, 9.5 GB
The Jays would go on to become champs that year thanks to a terrific start in 1992. Mike Magnante, who was replacing Boddicker in the rotation, held them in check for four innings, but the middle relief fell apart as the Jays got to Curt Young for three runs in a 6-4 Toronto win.
Kansas City Royals, 1-16, 10.5 GB
On Sunday, April 26, the Royals won a laugher, a 9-0 blowout over the Jays. They would win six of their next ten and right the ship a bit, even enjoying a winning month of June. But the start was the worst in franchise history. In all, they had dropped 16 of 17 to start the year. They had been outscored 87-39. They hit .202/.273/.295 as a team and averaged 2.3 runs per game.
The bats eventually warmed up. Kevin McReynolds was league-average that year. Gregg Jefferies and Keith Miller were also league-average, although fans were still furious about the Saberhagen deal. The Royals avoided finishing last in the league in runs scored, despite a pitiful home run total of just 75. Jeff Montgomery would be sensational that season, with a 2.18 ERA and 39 saves. Kevin Appier would post a 2.46 ERA - and win just 15 games.
But the poor start was too much to overcome. The Royals went 72-90, their first 90-loss season since 1970. Hal McRae had to face tough questions all season (his infamous tirade would not be until the next season), and the Royals found that they had to re-tool. The 2017 Royals have some work to do, but at least they have not dug themselves into the hole that the 1992 club faced.