This is a story that’s probably more suited for the Hot Stove season, but we’re at the All-Star break and with the Royals mired in one of their worst season’s ever, why not? Understand, these are just my opinions and like any top Ttn list, there is plenty of room for debate. In researching this, I was pleased to learn more about Kansas City’s rich baseball history.
To qualify, a player would have to have been born in the Kansas City metro area or spent some of his early life and high school years in the metro area. I based this ranking on the man’s playing career and not his managing career.
Ray Sadecki – Born in KCK, graduate of Ward High School. Pitched for six teams (including the Royals in 1975 and ’76) over an 18-year career, compiling a 135-131 record.
Andy Ashby – Born in KCMO, Park Hill High School, pitched for five teams in a 14-year career, compiling a 98-110 record. Was a two-time All Star.
Tom Henke – Born in KCMO, attended Blair Oaks High School in Wardsville. Pitched for three teams over a 14-year career. Led the American League in saves in 1987.
Carl Morton – Born in KCMO, pitched eight seasons for Montreal and Atlanta, going 87-92 and winning National League Rookie of the Year in 1970.
Darren Oliver – The son of former Royal star, Bob Oliver, was born in KCMO. Pitched for nine teams over a 20-year career, compiling a 118-98 record.
Casey Stengel – Born in KC MO, attended Central High School. The Old Professor, nicknamed for the city of his birth, played for five teams over a 14-year career but is better known as a manager. Won nine World Series titles as a player and manager. Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966.
Special Recognition to Alex George. Alex was a Rockhurst High grad, and his Major League career only consisted of one hit in ten at bats, but it’s the context that deserves recognition. You see, Alex George was signed by the Kansas City Athletics after his senior year in high school at the tender age of 16. A terrific athlete, he was headed to Kansas University to play basketball and baseball, until the Athletics intervened.
As told recently in the Star, the Athletics didn’t waste any time putting Alex into the lineup, sending him up to pinch-hit against White Sox knuckleballer, Al Papai. Sox catcher Sherm Lollar tried to help the nervous youngster. Their conversation went like this:
“You ever hit a knuckleball?”
“You ever see a knuckleball?”
“That’s all this guy throws. So now you know what’s coming.”
Three days later, George was in the starting lineup at shortstop, and batting leadoff. In that game, he dropped a drag bunt and beat the throw for his first and only major league hit, a real-life Moonlight Graham.
George, now 79, still lives in Prairie Village and should be treated as a local treasure. If you’ve played baseball at any level, you understand how difficult the sport is. We get lulled into a false sense watching todays big leaguers hit 95 MPH fastballs. When you’ve stood in that box and faced a live pitcher, you know how difficult it is. And Alex George was doing it at 16 years of age. In fact, when George made his debut, he was 16 year and 11 months of age, the sixth youngest person to ever play Major League Baseball. I doubt that we’ll ever see young players make the big leagues, like Joe Nuxhall, Bob Feller or Alex George once did, so to you Mr. George, a tip of the cap for a job well done.
Now on to the Ten Best.
#10 – Steve Renko
Born in KCK, Renko attended the University of Kansas where he played baseball, basketball and football. He played for seven Major League teams from 1969 to 1983, ending his career with the Royals in 1983. His career stats were 134 wins and 146 losses with a 3.99 ERA and 1,455 strikeouts. Renko pitched five career one-hitters and is a member of the University of Kansas Hall of Fame.
#9 - Johnny Kling
Born in KCMO, Kling was a catcher and later manager for the Chicago Cubs, Boston Rustlers, Boston Braves and Cincinnati Reds. Kling played from 1900 to 1913 and was an excellent defensive catcher. He set a Major League record with twelve consecutive hits and batted .272 with twenty home runs and 515 RBI for his career. Kling also purchased the Kansas City Blues of the American Association in 1933, selling the franchise in 1937.
#8 – Walker Cooper
Born in Atherton, MO, Walker was an eight-time National League All-Star who played for six teams between 1940 and 1957. He played on two World Series Championship teams and hit .285 for his career with 173 home runs and 812 RBI. In a game on July 6, 1949, Walker went 6-for-7 with ten RBI.
#7 – Mort Cooper
Born in Atherton, MO, Mort is the older brother of Walker. Mort played eleven seasons for four different teams with his best years coming as a St. Louis Cardinal. Mort was a three-time twenty-game winner, a four-time National League All Star and the 1942 MVP of the National League. Mort played on two World Series winners and closed his career with a record of 128-75 with a 2.97 ERA and 913 strikeouts.
#6 – Bob Allison
Born in Raytown, Allison was a terrific athlete. He attended the University of Kansas where he played outfield on the baseball team and fullback for the football team. Over a thirteen-year career with the Washington Senators and Minnesota Twins, Allison hit 30 or more home runs three times and hit 20 or more for eight seasons. He was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1959, was a three time All Star and hit .259 with 256 home runs and 796 RBI for his career. Allison is a member of the Twins Hall of Fame.
#5 – Rick Sutcliffe
The “Red Baron” was born in Independence, Missouri and pitched for five teams in a career than ran from 1976 to 1994. Sutcliffe was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1979, won a Cy Young in 1984, was a three time All Star and led the National League in wins in 1987. He went 171-139 with a 4.08 ERA and 1,679 strikeouts in his career.
#4 – Frank White
Frank was born in Greenville, Mississippi but grew up a short distance from Municipal Stadium, where as a teenager, he watched first the Athletics and later the Royals. White was the first person to make the majors, in 1973, after graduating from the Royals Baseball Academy. He enjoyed an outstanding 18-year career with Kansas City where he was a five time All Star, won eight Gold Gloves and was the MVP of the 1980 ALCS. White won a World Series Championship with the Royals in 1985 and retired after the 1990 season with a career .255 batting average, 160 home runs and 886 RBI. His number 20 is retired by the Royals and he is a member of the Royals Hall of Fame.
#3 – Smoky Joe Wood
Wood was born in KCMO, but raised primarily in Ness County, Kansas. Ness County also produced another solid pitcher with a great nickname, Chief Hogsett. Wood played from 1908 to 1922 and ended his pitching career with a record of 112 and 57, with a sparkling 2.03 ERA and 989 strikeouts. In 1912, Wood went 34-5. He pitched a no-hitter on August 27, 1911. He was a three-time World Series Champ and is a member of the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame. After a hand injury ended his pitching career with the Red Sox, Wood reinvented himself as an outfielder and playing for Cleveland hit .283 with 23 home runs and 325 RBI.
#2 – David Cone
Born in KCMO, and a graduate of Rockhurst High, Cone played in the local Ban Johnson League. Cone was a third-round pick by the hometown Royals in 1981 and made his debut in 1986. Cone pitched for five different teams in an outstanding 17-year career, winning 194 games against 126 losses with a 3.46 ERA and 2,688 strikeouts. Cone was a five-time All-Star, won the American League Cy Young in 1994 and played on five World Series Championship teams. Cone pitched a perfect game as a member of the New York Yankees against the Montreal Expos on July 18, 1999. Cone also holds the distinction of being traded by the Royals twice, once to the Mets and once to the Blue Jays, in what were arguably two of the worst trades in Royals history.
#1 – Albert Pujols
Born in the Dominican Republic but moved to Independence as a sixteen-year-old, where he attended Fort Osage High School. Where do you begin when describing Pujols? Pujols was not drafted until the 13th Round of the 1999 draft with pick number 402, by the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals offered Albert a measly $10,000 to sign. He declined and instead played for the Hays Larks. After tearing up the Jayhawk Collegiate League, the Cardinals came to their senses, offered him $60,000 and Pujols accepted. By 2001, Pujols was in the big leagues and was great right out of the gate, winning the National League Rookie of the Year, earning an All-Star berth and finishing fourth in the National League MVP vote.
His rookie season was a mind blower: .329 batting average, 37 home runs, 130 RBI and an OPS of 1.013. He followed that up with eleven consecutive outstanding seasons. He’s a ten-time All Star (and counting) and a three-time National League MVP and a strong argument could be made that he should have won more MVP awards. At different times, he’s led the National League in batting, home runs and RBI as well as winning two Gold Gloves.
On May 4, 2018, Pujols collected his 3,000th career hit and as of this writing he stands seventh all time in RBI and sixth all time in home runs. After eight seasons, Pujols had the second highest WAR in Major League history, trailing only Ted Williams. Pujols is the greatest player of his generation, a certain first ballot Hall of Fame pick and one of the All-time greats. Many Royal fans, myself included, find it incredulous that Kansas City missed on a once in a generation talent. Yes, I know every other team missed him as well (for TWELVE! Rounds) but Pujols didn’t go to high school 16 miles from their stadium. That’s another story for another day. In the meantime, catch him while you can, because I doubt we’ll see another like him.