The Royals didn’t bring in free agents for many years after players won the right to change teams. But by the 90s, the farm system had stopped producing as much talent, and Ewing Kauffman stepped up his efforts to win one more championship in his lifetime. That brought more aging veterans to Kansas City in an effort to put the team over the top.
We continue our series looking back at older stars in Kansas City by remembering those that were Royals in the early 90s. You can see older players that played for the Royals in the late 70s and early 80s and those that played in Kansas City in the late 80s.
A right-handed pitcher who was signed as a free agent on May 9, 1990, appeared in 28 games for the Royals over parts of two seasons at the end of his career. He posted a 4-3 record with a 3.22 ERA over 86 innings. McGaffigan played for five teams in an 11-year career. He finished as a 10 WAR player, with a record of 38-33 and a 3.38 ERA over 833 career innings. McGaffigan was also one of the worst hitting pitchers of all time, with six hits in 126 career at bats (.048).
Storm Davis and Mark Davis
I must list these two pitchers together as everyone who was following the Royals in 1989 recalls the excitement that surrounded their signing. In one last bid to bring a World Series title to Kansas City, owner Ewing Kauffman opened his checkbook and signed Storm Davis to a free agent contract on December 7, 1989 and then on December 11th, signed Mark Davis. When the signings were announced, I remember thinking that the Royals just won the 1990 World Series. Wrong!!
Storm Davis was coming off a career year with the Oakland Athletics in which he went 19-7 over 31 starts. Mark Davis was the reigning National League Cy Young winner, having appeared in 70 games for the San Diego Padres, amassing 44 saves to the tune of a 1.85 ERA. Storm Davis leveraged his career year into a three year, six-million-dollar contract with the Royals, while Mark Davis leveraged his career year into a $10 million-dollar contract.
Both pitchers were tremendous flops in Kansas City. Storm Davis pitched two seasons in KC and went 10-19 with a 4.85 ERA before the Royals cut bait and unloaded him on the Orioles for Bob Melvin. Storm Davis had broken in the Baltimore as a 20-year-old in 1982 and played for five teams in 13 seasons. He ended as a 17 WAR player, with a career record of 113-96 and a 4.02 ERA over 1,780 innings. He played for two World Series champions, the Orioles in 1983 and the A’s in 1989. His adopted brother, Glenn Davis, was a star first baseman for the Astros and the Orioles.
Mark Davis was even worse in a Royals uniform. He appeared in 95 games over parts of three seasons, going 9-13 with only seven saves in 167 innings of work. It didn’t take long for Royals brass to lose confidence in him and turn the closer role over to Jeff Montgomery. Despite his struggles in Kansas City, the Royals saw fit to hire him as their minor league pitching coordinator in 2010.
Mark Davis played for six teams in a 15-year career, finishing with a 51-84 mark with 96 saves and a 4.17 ERA. He was an eight WAR player and appeared in two All-Star games. After his breakout 1989 season, he only saved 11 more games in the final eight seasons of his career. The Royals unloaded him on the Braves on July 21, 1992 for Juan Berenguer.
Berenguer, a scrappy right-handed pitcher who bears some resemblance to Kenny Powers, had two stints in Kansas City and I don’t recall either one of them. The first occurred when he was traded to KC from the Mets for two players, one being Marvell Wynne. During the 1981 season, Berenguer appeared in eight games, going 0-4 before the Royals sold him to Toronto. Having decided at some point that they needed more Berenguer, the Royals traded the beleaguered Mark Davis straight up to Atlanta for the final 19 games of the Berenguer era. The second go-around wasn’t any better than the first, as Juan went 1-4 with a 5.64 ERA before the Royals mercifully Juan goned him and he retired from baseball.
Berenguer pitched for seven teams in a 15 career that saw him go 67-62 over 1,205 innings while posting a 10 WAR. Berenguer won two World Series titles, one with the 1984 powerhouse Detroit Tigers and another with the 1987 Minnesota Twins.
Martinez was acquired from Pittsburgh for Victor Cole on May 3rd, 1991 and only appeared in 44 games for the Royals and didn’t do much: .207/.351/.355 with four home runs and seventeen RBI. The Royals traded him to the Reds for Todd Benzinger (see below). Martinez broke in with the Cubs in 1983 and was always a favorite of Harry Carey. He played for six teams in a nine-year career and was a surprising 11 WAR player, slashing .245/.337/.408 with 108 home runs and 424 RBI.
First baseman Benzinger was acquired from the Reds for Carmelo Martinez on July 11, 1991. He played 78 games for Kansas City in 1991 and hit a respectable .291/.338/.386 with two home runs and 40 RBI. Over his nine-year career, he played for five teams and hit .257/.301/.386. He somehow managed to be a negative 3 WAR player. Benzinger gained acclaim for ending Oral Hershiser’s record 59 inning scoreless streak with an RBI single. He also won a World Series title with the Reds in 1990. The Benzinger era ended in Kansas City on December 11th, 1991 when he was traded to the Dodgers for Chris Gwynn.
Standing 6’3 and 215 pounds with a three-day growth of stubble and his Viking hairdo, Kirk Gibson was a beast of a man. The Royals signed him as a free agent on December 1, 1990, hoping Gibson had a little more magic left in his bat. He played 132 games for the Royals in the 1991 season, slashing .236/.341/.403 with 16 home runs and 55 RBI and 18 stolen bases before the Royals shipped him to Pittsburgh for pitcher Neal Heaton in March of 1992.
Gibson was an All-American wide receiver for Michigan State before the Detroit Tigers drafted him with the sixteenth pick in the first round of the 1978 draft. Gibson was also drafted by the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals. He played for four teams in a 17-year career, going .268/.352/.463 with 255 home runs, 870 RBI and 284 stolen bases. He was a 38 WAR player and won the National League MVP in 1988. He picked up MVP votes in four seasons and hit two of the most iconic home runs in World Series history. The first came in Game 5 of the 1984 Series against longtime tormentor Goose Gossage, when Gibson sent a shot into the upper deck of old Tiger Stadium to secure the Tigers win. Padres manager Dick Williams said the shot “damaged several seats in consecutive rows.” The second home run of course was his one-handed, limping walk-off, on a back-door slider, against Dennis Eckersley which won game one and helped propel the Dodgers to the World Series title.
Despite being a fabulous ballplayer, Gibson was notorious for being rude and crude to female journalists and often, with the implicit approval from his Tiger manager Sparky Anderson, bullied male journalists in the Tiger locker room.
Cromartie was signed as a 37 year-old free agent on April 5, 1991, after playing the previous seven seasons in Japan. Cromartie appeared in 120 games during the 1991 year and hit quite well: .313/.381/.420 while playing all three outfield positions and a handful of games at first base. He retired after the 1991 season.
Cromartie broke in with Montreal in 1977 and played nine years for the Expos. He left for Japan in 1984 and played for the Yomiuri Giants. He accumulated 1,104 hits and slashed .281/.336/.402 in his big-league career. Cromartie was even better in Japan, slashing .321/.372/.558 with 171 home runs and 558 RBI while winning the Nippon MVP in 1989.
Puhl was a sweet-swinging lefty outfielder, signed by the Royals as a free agent on April 25th, 1991. He only appeared in 15 games as it was evident that there wasn’t anything left in his 34 year-old bat. He went 4-for-18 in KC with three RBI before being released.
Puhl did spend 14 years with the Houston Astros and was a fine player, racking up 1,361 hits and slashing .280/.349/.388. he was an All Star in 1978 and ended his career as a 28 WAR player.
Iowa native Mike Boddicker signed as a free agent on November 11, 1990. He pitched parts of two seasons in Kansas City, going 13-16 with a 4.38 ERA over 267 innings before being sold to Milwaukee in April of 1993.
Boddiker played for four teams in an 11 year career. He finished with a 134-116 record with a 3.80 ERA over 2,123 innings. He was a 31 WAR pitcher and won the ALCS MVP for the 1983 World Series champion Orioles. He led the American League in wins (20) and ERA (2.79) in 1984. He finished third in the 1983 Rookie of the year vote and won a Gold Glove in 1990. He is a member of the Orioles Hall of Fame and settled down in the Kansas City area after his playing career.
Joyner was a sweet hitting, 30 year-old first baseman when the Royals signed him as a free agent on December 9th, 1991. Joyner played parts of four seasons in Kansas City and played well, slashing .293/.371/.434 with forty-four home runs and 271 RBI. In December of 1995, the Royals traded Joyner to San Diego for a package that included Bip Roberts.
Joyner played for four teams in a sparkling 16-year career that saw him hit .289/.362/.440 with 204 home runs and 1,106 RBI and 2,060 hits. He was an All-Star in 1986 and finished second in the 1986 Rookie of the Year voting and was a 36 WAR player. He garnered MVP votes in 1986 and 1987 and had one of the all-time great baseball nicknames: Wally “Absorbine” Joyner.
Wilkerson was a versatile utility player when the Royals signed him to a free agent contract in January of 1992. He played 123 games during the 1992 and 1993 seasons and slashed .241/.282/.296 while seeing time at shortstop, second base and third base. He played for four teams in an 11 year career, hitting .245/.286/.305 and ended as a one WAR player.
Samuel was another versatile player who had two stints in Kansas City. The first came when the Royals signed him as a free agent in August of 1992. The second stint came when the Royals acquired him in a trade with the Tigers for Phil Hiatt in September of 1995. Through all of those machinations, Samuel only played 44 games in a Royals uniform, hitting .257/.322/.382.
For his career, he was a 17 WAR player who played for seven teams in 16 seasons. He’s mostly remembered as a Phillie, the team he broke in with in the 1983 season. Samuel slashed .259/.315/.420 for his career with 1,578 hits and 396 stolen bases. He was a three time All Star, finished second in the N.L. Rookie of the Year vote in 1984 and received MVP votes in two seasons.
Gagne was signed as a 31-one-year-old free agent in December 1992 after being released by the Minnesota Twins. The Royals gave him a $10.6 million contract for three years and he earned every penny of it. Gagne played shortstop for the Royals for three seasons (’93-’95) and slashed .266/.317/.392 with 23 home runs and 157 RBI while playing in 386 games. He played well enough in 1993 to pick up some MVP votes.
Gagne was a 26 WAR player who played for three teams in a 15-year career (ten of those with the Twins). He was a solid defensive shortstop who accumulated 1,440 hits and slashed .254/.302/.382 with 111 home runs and 604 RBI. He was originally drafted by the Yankees and was part of two World Series championship teams in Minnesota (1987 and 1991). He once hit two inside-the-park home runs in the same game was is a member of the Twins Hall of Fame.
Kansas City signed Gaetti in June of 1993 after his release by the Angels at the age of 34. It appeared that Gaetti was washed up, but he found the fountain of youth in Kauffman Stadium. Gaetti played 309 games in Kansas City over the three seasons (1993-95), playing third base alongside his former Twins teammate Greg Gagne. Gaetti shined in Royals uniform, slashing .267/.323/.491 with 61 home runs and 199 RBI. He nearly eclipsed the revered Balboni home run record when he slammed 35 dongs in 1995, en route to winning the Silver Slugger.
Gaetti made his debut with the Twins in 1981 and played for six teams over a 20 year career. He was a 42 WAR player who ended with 2,280 hits, 360 home runs, 1,341 RBI and a slash line of .255/.308/.434. He was fifth in the 1982 Rookie of the Year vote, won four Gold Gloves and picked up MVP votes in four seasons. He was a two time All-Star and the MVP of the 1987 ALCS. He hit a home run in his first major league at-bat and won a World Series Championship with the Twins in 1987. He even pitched in three games late in his career with the Cardinals and the Cubs. He retired in 2000 after at the age of 41 after a five-game stint with Boston. Gaetti is a member of the Twins Hall of Fame and had one of the all-time great baseball moustaches. He remains one of the Royals best free agent signings.
The Royals signed Brooks to a minor league deal in January of 1993 at the age of 36 and he made the club with a strong spring training showing. He played in 109 games over two seasons (1993-94) and hit .271/.304/.358 though his power was gone by then. Brooks was originally drafted by Kansas City with the fifth overall pick in the 1976 draft but did not sign. In what must be some kind of baseball record, Brooks was drafted six different times between 1974 and 1978, with five of those selections made in the first round. He was selected with the 5th, 14th, 2nd, 3rd and 3rd pick in successive drafts but elected to remain at Arizona State until finally signing with the Mets after the 1978 draft.
Brooks played for five teams in a 15 year career which saw him amass 1,608 hits with 149 home runs and 824 RBI and finish as a 13 WAR player. He was third in the 1981 Rookie of the Year vote, made two All Star teams and won two Silver Slugger awards.
The Royals acquired Coleman in a trade with the New York Mets in exchange for Kevin McReynolds. The speedy Coleman played in 179 games for KC and hit .259/.311/.365 with 76 stolen bases. The Royals traded Coleman to Seattle in August of 1995 for a player to be named later.
Coleman burst onto the scene in 1985 with St. Louis, unanimously winning the leagues Rookie of the Year award. He stole over 100 bases in each of his first three seasons. He’s the only ballplayer in major league history to accomplish that feat. He collected 1,425 career hits while playing for six teams in a 13 year career. His career numbers were: .264/.324/.345 with 752 stolen bases, which still ranks sixth all-time. Coleman was famously injured in the 1985 NLCS when he was rolled up in a tarp, injuring his knee and causing him to miss the 1985 World Series. Royal fans have to wonder if the 1985 World Series may have turned out differently had Coleman played. Coleman was a 12 WAR player and is a member of the Cardinals Hall of Fame.
Hendu was signed as a free agent in January of 1994. He appeared in 56 games for the Royals, but only hit .247/.304/.404 before his release in October of 194.
Henderson played for five teams in a 14 season career and ended as a 28 WAR player. He broke in with Seattle, but his best years were with Oakland. Known as a clutch playoff performer, he hit .298 in 121 post season at bats with seven home runs, including one of the biggest home runs in Red Sox history, a two-out, two-strike, two-run bomb in the 1986 ALCS to save the Red Sox season. He won his lone World Series title with Oakland in 1989. Unfortunately, Henderson died of a heart attack at the age of 57 in December of 2015.
Borders was a scrappy catcher who signed with the Royals in April 1995 as a free agent. He played in 52 games for the Royals but hit only .231 with four home runs and 13 RBI before being traded to the Astros for pitcher Rick Husimann. His time with KC is best remembered for getting pulverized in a home plate collision by Kirk Gibson, in what surely must have been the last violent collision of two geezers in baseball history.
Borders played for nine teams in a 17 year career, hitting .253/.288/.375. He did hit .315 in 111 post season at bats for Toronto and was the MVP of the 1992 World Series. He’s one of only four players to win a World Series and an Olympic Gold medal in baseball.
Browning was signed as a free agent in April 1995, at the age of 35. He was trying to comeback from a gruesome broken arm. The comeback didn’t last long, as Browning went 0-2 with a 8.10 ERA before retiring.
Browning played 11 seasons total (10 with Cincinnati) and when he was healthy, he was a terrific pitcher. He put up 20 WAR and went 123-90 with a 3.94 ERA in 1,921 innings with 1,000 strikeouts. He finished second in the N.L. Rookie of the Year vote in 1984, was an All Star in 1991 and won a World Series with the Reds in 1990. He pitched at the time, only the 12th perfect game in major league history on September 16th, 1988 against the Dodgers. Browning is a member of the Reds Hall of Fame.