Players have bounced from team to team since the very early days of professional baseball, when the first trade was executed in 1886. With the advent of free agency in 1976, players moved around even more. So fans can be forgiven a bit in forgetting some of the names paraded on the field in their hometown.
Joe Posnanski recently highlighted what he called “the best irony jerseys”. As he described them, “it's the jersey of a really good player who is known for playing on other teams, a player nobody remembers played for your team.” Well the Royals have plenty of players like that. Here is a list of the all-time “that guy played for the Royals?” team
Catcher: Benito Santiago
The Royals got off to an amazing start in 2003 despite a roster full of has-beens, never-weres and Carlos Beltran. They hung on for dear life to first place until finally succumbing to the Twins and finishing with 83 wins - a disappointing season in most cities, but at that time it was darn near cause for a parade in Kansas City. The Royals wanted to build off that success without sacrificing the future, so they looked for some gambles on veterans on the free agent market.
Benito Santiago was a five-time All-Star who was just two seasons removed from hitting behind Barry Bonds for the National League champion Giants in 2002. He was now 39-years old, but the Royals rolled the dice and signed him to a two-year, $4.3 million deal. Santiago played capably, hitting .278/.312/.434 with six home runs in 49 games. On June 18, Santiago homered, but was later hit by a pitch, fracturing his left hand. He would miss the rest of the season, and the Royals were lucky enough to find a sucker to take on his contract, trading him to the equally hapless Pirates for young Leo Nunez (Juan Carlos Oviedo).
Don Slaught had a solid 16-year Major League career, catching for the 90s-era Pirates teams in the playoffs, but he began his career playing in KC. Pat Borders went from a World Series MVP with the Blue Jays, to catching 52 games with the Royals in 1995. Manny Pina is enjoying a breakout season with the Brewers this year, but his first five career MLB games came with the Royals.
First Base: Carlos Pena
There was a rumor that the Royals were interested in Carlos Pena when he was released by the Tigers in 2006. Or maybe it was when he was released by the Yankees that year. Or the Red Sox. In any case, the rumor was that the Royals were such a terribly-run organization that Pena had no interest in coming to KC, even if he was close to bouncing out of Major League Baseball. He instead signed with the Rays and his career took off. He went to the World Series in 2008 and led the league in home runs in 2009.
By 2013, he was at the end of his career, but the Royals were the ones beginning to take off. Having thrust themselves into quasi-contention, the Royals sought a bench bat to help them win late September games. Pena did sign with the Royals this time, getting into four games, batting three times, and failing to put the ball in play.
Lee May was a huge slugger for dynasties in Cincinnati and Baltimore, but ended his career with 68 games with the Royals. George Scott was a three-time All-Star, home run champ, and Gold Glove winner who spent 44 games in a Royals uniform. Before he was a punchline on Seinfeld, Ken Phelps was drafted by the Royals and played 24 games in Kansas City. Hal Morris hit .309 for the Royals in 1998, but absolutely no one here remembers who he was.
Second Base: Miguel Tejada
Miguel Tejada was an MVP with the Oakland Athletics, leading to a big deal with the Baltimore Orioles, where he once led the league with 150 RBIs. But he couldn’t find a big league deal in 2012, spending part of the year in the minors before requesting his release when it was clear he wouldn’t get called up. In 2013, the Royals offered a minor league deal with the Royals, and made the team as a utility infielder. He played adequately in 53 games, but in August, he was suspended 105 games for amphetamines, so he decided to call it a career.
Jerry Adair was a slick fielder for some great teams in Baltimore and Boston, but was the very first second baseman in Royals history. Kurt Bevacqua is known for his crazy-good performance in the 1984 World Series with the Padres, but he actually had two short stints with the Royals. Ben Zobrist may be well-remembered for his time in Kansas City, but just 4% of the games in his career were spent in Royal blue.
Shortstop: Jay Bell
Bell was a big part of some great Pirates teams in the 90s, but when they went into firesale mode, they practically gave Bell and teammate Jeff King away to the Royals in a trade for Joe Randa, Jeff Granger, Jeff Wallace, and Jeff Martin, probably the most “Jeffs” ever involved in one trade. Bell set the single-season club record for most home runs by a Royals shortstop with 21, but left after just one season to win a championship in Arizona.
Bucky Dent is best known for his home run in the 1978 play-in game for the Yankees against the Red Sox, but his last 11 games came with the Royals. Rance Mulliniks had a 16-year career, mostly with the Blue Jays, but they acquired him from Kansas City where he had played 60 games. Andres Blanco has carved out a decent career as a utility player, but came up with the Royals, playing 78 games for them.
Third Base: Jose Bautista
One of the most hated opponents in Royals history actually spent about a week in Royals blue. Bautista came up with the Pirates, but in 2003 the club made some puzzling roster protection decisions, and lost five players in the first six picks of the Rule 5 draft, including Bautista to the Baltimore Orioles. He was making the leap from High A ball, and with the Orioles unable to send him to the minors for more seasonsing, they placed him on waivers. The Rays picked him up, but they couldn’t keep him for more than four weeks, and the Royals claimed him off waivers.
Bautista played in 13 games for the Royals, getting just five hits. A month later they were able to deal him in a three-team trade that got Bautista back to the Pirates, netting the Royals a slugging first base prospect from the Mets named Justin Huber.
Dean Palmer spent about a year and a half with the Royals, making a run at the franchise single-season home run record. Gregg Jefferies is known for being the main asset in the Bret Saberhagen deal, but he spent just one year in Kansas City. Danny Valencia played just 36 games for the Royals but was rumored to have been a clubhouse problem, so they shipped him to Toronto.
Left Field: Kirk Gibson
Kirk Gibson was a World Series hero in 1988 with the Dodgers, but injuries were also an issue for him, so by 1991 he was left to sign a two-year deal with the Royals. He was brought in to add power, and he did that at first, smashing six home runs in his first 14 games with the Royals. But by May his batting average was hovering over the Mendoza Line and his defense was awful by this point - he misplayed a ball that nearly cost Bret Saberhagen a no-hitter that year until it was rightfully ruled an error. The next year, when Gibson was told he would be in a reserve role, he demanded a trade and got his wish when he was shipped to Pittsburgh for pitcher Neal Heaton.
Chuck Knoblauch’s career and life were spinning out of control when he latched on with the Royals in 2002, hitting just .210 in 80 games. Dave Henderson was known for his post-season heroics with the Red Sox and Athletics, but he ended his career with 56 games in Kansas City. Rondell White was a long-time Expos outfielder the Royals were able to pick up at the 2003 July trade deadline, one of the rare time they were buyers.
Center Field: Omar Moreno
Omar Moreno twice led the league in stolen bases, and nearly stole 100 bases one year with the Pirates, so he seemed like a perfect fit in Kansas City. The problem was by the time he made his way into a Royals uniform at age 32, he no longer had his wheels and couldn’t get on base enough to swipe many bags. He signed with the Royals in September of 1985 to replace the injured Willie Wilson as the club made their post-season push. He appeared in 24 games, didn’t steal a single base, and was left off the World Series roster.
Cesar Geronimo was a four-time Gold Glover for the Big Red Machine, but his last three years were in Kansas City. Ruppert Jones was the first All-Star in Mariners history, but they selected him in the expansion draft from Kansas City, where he had played 28 games. Coco Crisp vowed to steal 50 bases with the Royals, but he didn’t even play 50 games for them in 2009.
Right Field: Juan Gonzalez
People seem to think Gonzalez only spent one game in a Royals uniform and got hurt, but that was what happened after he left Kansas City, when he signed with Cleveland in 2005. The two-time MVP famously turned down an eight-year, $140 million contract offer from the Tigers in 2000, but injuries forced him to look for work in 2004. He was still a good hitter - when healthy - so the Royals rolled the dice off their magical 2003 season and signed him to a one-year, $4.5 million contract.
Gonzalez got off to a hot start, and even after cooling off a bit, was hitting .276/.326/.441 by mid-May. But he strained his back, and that would end his season, after just 33 games with the Royals.
Vada Pinson was probably a borderline Hall of Fame-caliber player, mostly with the Reds, but ended his career with two seasons in Kansas City. Jose Cardenal spent 18 years in the big leagues, but is remembered in Kansas City for striking out in the ninth with the bases loaded to end Game Five of the 1980 World Series. Juan Samuel was a three-time All-Star who actually had two separate stints with the Royals, neither of which I can recall at all.
Designated Hitter: Harmon Killebrew
There are a ton of good designated hitter options, as great players bounce around the league at the DH position toward the end of their career. But I will agree with Joe Posnanski that Harmon Killebrew was the one you forgot ever played in Royals blue.
Harmon Killebrew was a Hall of Fame slugger who smashed 559 home runs for the Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins, leading the league six times. He was 1969 American League MVP and took the Twins to the playoffs three times, including winning the 1965 American League pennant. He was the face of the Twins when the first moved to Minnesota and one of the most feared sluggers in baseball throughout the 1960s.
But in 1975, he was at the end of his career, and the Twins let him go in January. The Royals, a team on the rise but looking for some veteran leadership, signed him the next week. It had to have been weird at the time - it would be like if George Brett had just decided to sign with the Texas Rangers in his last year. “Killer” hit just .199 with the Royals with 14 home runs in 106 games. What’s crazy is this is what 39-year old Harmon Killebrew looked like with the Royals. I am 39 years old right now and he looks like he’s old enough to be my grandpa.
Orlando Cepeda was another Hall of Famer who briefly DH’d for the Royals. Tommy Davis was a two-time batting champ with the Dodgers, but ended his career with eight games in Kansas City. Bill Buckner was best known for his error in the 1986 World Series, but he was in Kansas City just a few seasons later. Former National League MVP Terry Pendleton spent the last 79 games of his career with the Royals.
Starting Pitcher: Gaylord Perry
Perry is a bit unfair since he played for everyone at the end of his career. After the age of 38 he played for the Padres (winning a Cy Young at age 39), Rangers, Yankees, Braves, Mariners, before reaching the end of the line with the Royals at age 44. Perry had won 310 Major League games by the time he was claimed off waivers by the Royals. He joined a rotation that already had 38-year old Steve Renko, 36-year old Paul Splittorff, 35-year old Larry Gura, and 33-year old Vida Blue. Perry did toss the last complete-game shutout of his career in September that year, but finished his Royals career 4-4 with a 4.27 ERA in 14 starts.
Mike McCormick won the 1967 Cy Young Award with the Giants, but pitched just 9 2⁄3 innings for the Royals. Atlee Hammaker was an All-Star with the Giants as well, after he had been dealt to them by the Royals. Tom Browning started 298 games with the Reds - and two with the Royals. Sidney Ponson started the 2009 home opener for the Royals, one of just nine starts he made for Kansas City. Jake Odorizzi was in the big James Shields/Wade Davis trade, but made two starts for the Royals before that.
Relief Pitcher: Mitch Williams
Mitch Williams was an All-Star closer known for as “Wild Thing” for his mullet and his lively fastball that would have a hard time finding the strike zone. Williams saved 192 games in his career and rose to fame with the rough-around-the-edges 1993 National League champion Philadelphia Phillies, where he gave up the walk-off home run to end the 1993 World Series to Joe Carter.
That pitch pretty much ended his career. He bounced around from the Astros to the Angels the next two seasons, then failed to make the Majors in 1996 as he tried to comeback with the Phillies again. The Royals gave him a shot in 1997, and he gave up eight runs in 6 2/3 innings and called it a career.
Gregg Olson beat out Royals pitcher Tom Gordon for Rookie of the Year, but Olson would end up in Kansas City for two different stints. Lee Smith never officially appeared in a game for the Royals, but their Major League camp was the last one he ever attended, which gives us this great picture. Hideo Nomo was the first big Japanese free agent to come to the United States, but he had been out of the big leagues for two full seasons when the Royals let him pitch 4 1⁄3 innings for them in 2008. There were no “Joba Rules” by the time Joba Chamberlain pitched for the Royals in 2015.