There is a stark difference between the aging stars that ended up on the Royals in the 70s and early 80s and those that joined the team in the late 80s and 90s. In the 80s, players began changing teams at much younger ages. The Royals acquisitions of veterans between 1973 and 1985, by and large, were failures. Most of the acquisitions between 1986 and 1995 still had some tred left on their tires and a few made significant contributions in their tenure with Kansas City. The second major difference is that in the ’73-’85 period the flow of aging free agents was a trickle. In the ’86-’95 decade, it was a deluge. Grab a cup of coffee, or a beer, and settle in and enjoy the trip down memory lane.
Smith was acquired from St. Louis for outfielder John Morris on May 17, 1985 and performed admirably in helping the Royals capture the World Series crown. In ’85 Smith hit .257/.321/.366 with 115 hits and scored 77 runs. He played in 302 games as a Royal, hitting .270/.343/.386 before Kansas City released him in December 1987. The Atlanta Braves signed him in March of 1988 and he played most of the next five seasons there.
Smith was an underrated 39 WAR player for his career and was one of those guys who always seemed to be on a team in the playoffs, winning World Series titles with Philadelphia, St. Louis and Kansas City, all three titles coming in a six-year window. He is often remembered for his play in game seven of the 1991 World Series, when Greg Gagne and Chuck Knoblauch of the Minnesota Twins faked a catch and throw that deked Smith on a hit that might have scored him. Smith held at third and was later forced out at home in a game the Twins won in ten innings, one to nothing.
Despite the blunder, Smith performed well, hitting three home runs in the series. Smith finished third in the 1980 National League Rookie of the Year race, made the All-Star team in 1982 and received MVP votes in three seasons, finishing second in 1982. He played for six teams in a 17-year career, collecting 1,488 hits and a .288 career batting average.
Beniquez was one of those guys that I completely forgot that he had played for the Royals. He was 37 when he was acquired from the Baltimore Orioles on December 17, 1986 for two minor leaguers and played in 57 games for Kansas City before the Royals flipped him to Toronto for pitcher Luis Aquino. His time in Kansas City was uneventful. He hit .236/.282/.328 with only three home runs and 26 RBI.
Beniquez was a ten WAR player, who appeared in 1,500 games over a seventeen-year career, collecting 1,274 hits and batting .274. He won one Gold Glove, playing centerfield for Texas in 1977 and was a surprisingly versatile player, appearing at shortstop, third base, second base, first base and all three outfield positions during his career.
Garber was a bookend player for Kansas City, appearing for them early in his career, during the 1973 and 1974 seasons, then during the last two years of his career in 1987 and 1988. Garber was originally acquired in 1972 from the Pittsburgh Pirates for pitcher Jim Rooker. The Royals sold him to the Philadelphia Phillies in July of 1974. He was re-acquired by Kansas City on August 31st, 1987 for the famous “player to be named later” which turned out to be a catcher named Terry Bell, who saw action in all of nine career games for Kansas City and Atlanta. During his second stint in Kansas City, Garber saw action in 39 games, putting gup an 0-4 record and recording 14 saves before Kansas City released him on July 4th, 1988.
Garber was a 17 WAR pitcher for four teams over a 19-year career and is best remembered for his time as an Atlanta Brave. His best season came in 1982, when he received Cy Young and MVP votes. He appeared in 69 games and recorded 30 saves for the Braves that year.
Garber was a right-handed sidearm pitcher and a ferocious competitor. He recorded 218 career saves and went 96-113 with a 3.34 career ERA. Garber is best known as the pitcher who ended Pete Rose’s 44 game hit streak back on August 1st, 1978. Facing Rose with two outs in the ninth, in a game that Atlanta was winning by the score of 16-4, Garber threw Rose a 2-2 changeup, which Pete swung and missed. Rose never forgave Garber for throwing him that changeup, saying “he was pitching like it was the “bleeping” seventh game of the World Series.” Garber countered with, “I had an idea he was hitting like it was the ninth inning of the seventh game of the World Series.” Evidently, throwing two strike change ups is against baseballs unwritten rules.
Veteran 38 year-old Billy Buck, one of the greatest hitters of his generation, was signed by the Royals as a free agent on May 13, 1988, less than a week after he was released by the California Angels. Buckner played in 168 games over two seasons for the Royals, collecting an even 100 hits, four home runs and 50 RBI while slashing .239/.269/.316. By this time in his career, his ankles were shot, and his duty was regulated to first base and designated hitter. Buckner was a popular player with Royals fans and teammates.
In his prime, he was also one helluva player. Buckner was drafted by the Dodgers in the second round of the 1968 draft and made his debut as a 19-year-old in 1969. He stuck with the big-league club for good in 1971 and played in 773 games for the Dodgers over eight seasons before being traded to the Cubs in 1977.
Buckner was the left fielder for the Dodgers on the evening of April 8, 1974, climbing the wall at Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium in a vain attempt to snag Hank Aaron’s record breaking 715th home run. Buckner won the National League batting crown in 1980 for the Cubs, hitting .324/.353/.457. George Brett won the American League title that season with his seminal .390 campaign. Buckner and Brett shared card #1 of 1981 Topps set depicting the league batting champs. Brett was such a fan of Buckner that on June 7, 1983, he was at home on an off day, doing laundry, when he heard Cubs announcer Harry Caray say on WGN that Buckner was coming to the plate. Brett rushed into his TV room and hit his big toe on door jamb, fracturing it which caused him to miss 19 games, in what remains one of the strangest injuries for a big-league player.
For his 22-year career, Buckner slashed .289/.321/.408, with 2,715 hits and 1,208 RBI. He also stole 183 bases before his ankles failed him. Strangely enough, Buckner’s last home run was the only inside the park home run of his career, as the 40 year-old Buckner hobbled around the bases, beating the throw to home. Buckner received MVP votes in five seasons, but only made one All-Star team and surprisingly was only a 15 WAR player for his career.
Ted Power was acquired from the Cincinnati Reds in a trade that also netted the Royals Kurt Stillwell, in exchange for pitcher Danny Jackson and shortstop Angel Salazar. While Power and Stillwell were both decent players, Jackson blew up in his first year as a Red, going 23-8, as he made the N.L. All-Star team, finished second in the league Cy Young voting and picked up votes in the MVP race.
Power was a graduate of Abilene (KS.) high school and Kansas State University. My family happened to live in Abilene during the time Power was with the Dodgers and I recall seeing him around town during the winter. For a small city, Abilene has produced some notable athletes including Frank Wattelet (who played nine seasons in the NFL) and current Chicago Bear, Cody Whitehair, not to mention Dwight D. Eisenhower. You’ve possibly heard of Ike. Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces. 34th President of the United States. Built the interstate highway system. The Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene is a must see if you’re traveling down I-70.
Anyway, back to Power. Ted was a big right-hander, 6’4 215 and played for the Royals for one season (1988) appearing in 22 games, pitching eighty innings and going 5-6 as a spot starter and middle reliever. After the 1988 season, Kansas City sent Power to the Tigers for pitcher Mark Lee and utility man Rey Palacios. Power was a 7 WAR player who played thirteen seasons for eight different teams, finishing with a 68-69 mark and a 4.00 ERA.
Bannister, father of future Royal pitcher Brian, was acquired from the Chicago White Sox in a multi-player trade on December 10th, 1987 that sent prospects Melido Perez, Greg Hibbard, and John Davis to the south side of Chicago. During the prime of his career, Bannister was a solid lefty who was always good for 200 plus innings every year. By the time Kansas City picked him up, he was 33 years old and didn’t have a lot left in the tank. He did manage to go 16-14 over two seasons of work in 45 starts, pitching 264 innings before the Royals released him. Banny pitched for six teams in a 15-year career which saw him accumulate 27 WAR and make one All-Star team in 1982.
Boone came from a family of baseball royalty. His father, Ray Boone, was a two-time All-Star and World Series champion. Bob’s son’s Aaron and Bret also played in the big leagues. Bob came to Kansas City at the tail end of his career, signed as a free agent on November 30, 1988. He appeared in 171 games for the Royals, hitting .266/.348/.310. The Royals released Boone in November of 1990 upon which he retired from baseball. In his prime, Boone was one of the best catchers in the business. He appeared in four All-Star games, won seven Gold Gloves and received MVP votes in two seasons. He played for three teams in a 19-year career and was an integral part of the 1980 World Series Champion Phillies, ending his career as a 27 WAR player. He later managed the Royals, from 1995 to 1997, guiding the team to a 181-206 mark.
McWilliams was another Philadelphia refugee, acquired for the famous player to be named later (Jeff Hulse) on September 2nd, 1989. McWilliams appeared in 21 games for Kansas City, going 2-2 over forty-one innings of work. The Royals gave him his release in May of 1990. McWilliams pitched for five teams over a 13-year career. He started 224 games and went 78-90, good for 11 WAR.
At age 29, Perry wasn’t exactly an over-the-hill star when the Royals acquired him from the Braves for pitchers Charlie Liebrandt and Rick Luecken, on December 15, 1989. Perry played one season in a Royals uniform, appearing in 133 games at first base and as the designated hitter. He hit .254/.313/.361 with eight home runs and 57 RBI. Perry played for three teams in a thirteen-year career, in which he was basically a replacement level player, putting up a negative 0.1 WAR with career averages of .265//333/.376. He appeared in one All Star game for Atlanta in 1988, which was his best season.
Utility man deluxe, Tabler was acquired from the Indians on June 3rd, 1988 for pitcher Bud Black. Tabler played in 287 games for the Royals, spread over parts of three seasons. He saw time at every position on the field, except for shortstop, catcher and pitcher and preformed relatively well, slashing .279/.339/.347 with four home runs and 110 RBI in his Royal career. 1988 was his best season in Kansas City. Tabler hit .309 that summer.
For his career, Tabler played for five teams in twelve seasons, accumulating 1,101 career hits and 3 WAR. He was drafted #16 overall by the Yankees in 1976. He broke in with the Chicago Cubs in August 1981 and made the American League All Star team in 1987 as a member of the Indians. Tabler earned the nickname “Mr. Clutch” for his ability to hit with the bases loaded. Over his career, he was 43-for-88 with 108 RBI in bases loaded situations. He won a World Series with Toronto in 1992.
At 6’5, 225 pounds, Crawford was a big righthanded pitcher from Pryor, Oklahoma. Kansas City signed him as a free agent on March 7, 1989. Crawford pitched three seasons in Kansas City before retiring after the 1991 season. He appeared in 104 games for KC, putting up an 11-7 record as a middle reliever. Crawford broke in with Boston as a 22-year-old back in 1980 and pitched seven seasons in Beantown. He appeared in 277 games in his career, finishing with a 30-23 mark and a 4.17 ERA over 562 innings. He was a solid three WAR player and won game two of the 1986 World Series for Boston.