Second base has always been a position that’s fascinated me. Back in the day when I still played some ball, I started out as a pitcher. That lasted until I discovered the slider and a month later blew out my elbow at the age of 13. Back in those prehistoric days, parents didn’t send their kids to the med center for Tommy John surgery. In fact, the first Tommy John surgery wouldn’t even take place for another year, so I had to find another position. One that required a short throw.
So, I settled on second base. For two long seasons the throw from second to first was all I could manage. A throw to home? That was a one-hopper. So, I learned the intricacies of the position: how to chase down popups behind first, the proper positioning for the cutoff throw, how to turn the double play and how to block a would-be base stealer from the bag.
Even though George Brett was my favorite player, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the guys who played second base for the Royals. Second base has been an interesting position for the Royals. They’ve had some very, very good second basemen and some that were a complete waste of time and money. During most of the Ned years, second base was a black hole of despair, as the Royals gave considerable time and at-bats to players like Omar Infante, Elliot Johnson, Chris Getz, Chris Owings, Tony Abreau, Emilio Banafacio, Pedro Ciriaco, Ryan Goins, Johnny Giavotella and Jayson Nix. The team probably gave up on Giavotella to early, but the rest of that bunch is a whole lot of awful. That ended when Whit Merrifield finally forced the Royals to give him a shot.
Honorable Mention (in alphabetical order):
Christian Colon, Carlos Febles, Keith Lockhart, Keith Miller, Bip Roberts, Ben Zobrist
5. Mark Grudzielanek
Has there been another player with a name as hard to spell as Grudzielanek? Probably. I just hope the Royals never sign him. Grudzielanek was drafted in the 11th round of the 1991 draft by the Montreal Expos. He made his Major League debut on April 28, 1995 at the age of 24 and by 1996 had established himself as one of the best second basemen in the National League. He made his only All-Star team in 1996 and in 1997 led the league with 54 doubles.
Grudzielanek could always hit, racking up 2,040 hits over a fine 15-year career, good for a lifetime .289 average. The Royals signed him as a free agent in December of 2005 and it was one of their better decisions as Grudzielanek slashed .300/.339/.412 in 336 games as a Royal. Grudzielanek was also excellent with the glove, only committing 72 errors in 5,267 career chances. He won the only Gold Glove of his career during his first year in Kansas City. His Kansas City career spanned from 2006 to 2008. Grudzielanek retired from baseball after a short stint with Cleveland in 2010.
4. Jose Offerman
Offerman was signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers as a 17-year-old amateur free agent in July of 1986. He made his debut in August of 1990 as a 21-year-old. It didn’t click for Offerman until 1995, when he hit .287 and made his first All-Star team. He became a free agent after that season and Kansas City signed him to a three-year, $4.7 million dollar deal. It was money well spent, as Offerman slashed .306/.385/.419 in his Kansas City career, while playing 291 games at second and 124 games at other positions. He led the American League in triples with 13 in 1998 and was worth 9.7 WAR over his Royal career. When his Kansas City contract expired, he signed a four-year, $24.2 million dollar deal with the Boston Red Sox. The Royals were wise to let him walk, as his best years as a pro were the years he played in Kansas City.
3. Cookie Rojas
Octavio Victor “Cookie” Rojas had one of the most interesting major league careers of any player in my lifetime. Cookie was born in La Habana, Cuba in 1939 and signed by the Cincinnati Redlegs in 1956. Yes, they were known as the Redlegs in those days. Cookie made his debut with the Redlegs on April 10, 1962 at the age of 23. After the season ended, Cincinnati traded Rojas to the Phillies for Jim Owens.
Rojas had a fine seven-year career with the Phillies, even making the All-star team in 1965 and picking up some MVP votes that year. In October of 1969, Rojas was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals along with slugger Dick Allen and Jerry Johnson for Byron Browne, Tim McCarver, future Royal Joe Hoerner and Curt Flood. The trade was arguably the most famous trade in baseball history as Flood refused to report to the Phillies, and petitioned Commissioner Bowie Kuhn to declare him a free agent. In January of 1970, Flood filed a $1 million dollar lawsuit against Kuhn and Major League Baseball, alleging violation of federal antitrust law. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, where Major League Baseball won the case, but ultimately it led to the elimination of the reserve clause which in turn ushered in player free agency. Baseball has never been the same.
Rojas didn’t last long in St. Louis. By June of 1970, with Rojas hitting a paltry .176, Royals General Manager Cedric Tallis sent infielder Fred Rico to the Cards in exchange for Rojas, another of Tallis’ brilliant trades that eventually led the Royals to the top of the American League West. Maybe it was the change of scenery. Maybe it was the barbecue. But something happened to Cookie Rojas in Kansas City. He had a rebirth at the age of 31. He hit .260 for the remainder of the 1970 season and provided the young Royals with badly needed veteran leadership. And he kept hitting. He hit .300 in 1971, his first .300 season since 1965. He also made the first of four consecutive All-Star teams.
Starting in 1971, Rojas teamed with another National League castoff shrewdly acquired by Tallis, Fred Patek, to form one of the greatest double play combos’ in baseball history. Over his eight-year Royal career, Rojas slashed .268/.314/.346 with 824 hits, 323 runs while only striking out 236 times in 3,354 plate appearances. Rojas also won the first and only argument with an umpire that I’ve ever seen. I believe the year was 1973. The runner had been called safe on a close play at second. Rojas argued with the second base ump and after about three minutes of discussion, the umpire reversed his call and called the runner out. This was so unusual in that day and age, before replay, that the NBC Nightly News ran a short clip of the reversal. As his 16-year career ended, Rojas mentored his eventual replacement, Frank White. Rojas ended his Kansas City career after the 1977 season was a 7.2 WAR player for the Royals. He was inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame in 1987.
2. Whit Merrifield
I really struggled with this pick. Should Cookie be #2 based on his eight-year career? At the end of the day, I pick Whit only because if I had a choice of picking between the two players, in their prime, who would I select? Both were versatile players who were willing to play multiple positions. Cookie might have been a little better with the glove, but Whit is superior with the bat and on the bases. So as the Royals second greatest second baseman, I’m going with two-hit Whit.
Merrifield was drafted in the ninth round of the 2010 daft out of the University of South Carolina, where Whit had led the Gamecocks to the College World Series title in 2010 when he hit a walk-off single in the evelventh inning of the championship game.
Merrifield hit well in the minors, .274 over 725 games, but nothing that made the Royals think they had a future star on their hands. The Royals finally gave him a chance, almost reluctantly it seems, and Whit made the most of it. He made his debut on May 18, 2016 at the age of 27. He slashed .283/.323/.392 over 81 games that first season, which looked like gold compared to the pinched turds the Royals had been playing at second over the past decade. He solidified his status as a rising star with an excellent 2017 campaign - .288/.324/.460 with 19 home runs, 78 RBI and 80 runs scored.
And Whit got better each season. He collected 88 hits in 2016, bumped that to 169 in 2017 then to consecutive league leading totals of 192 and 206 in 2018 and 2019. He also led the American League in steals with 34 in 2017 and 45 in 2018 and led the league in triples with 10 in 2019. He made his first All-Star team in 2019. For his career, he has been worth 15 WAR and at age 30, he could have several more decent years in front of him. In just 546 career games, Merrifield has collected 655 hits.
1. Frank White
Frank White is the ultimate Kansas City Royal story. As a teen, he grew up just blocks from Municipal Stadium. He worked on a construction crew that helped build Royals Stadium. He signed a free agent contract with the Royals in July of 1970 and was assigned to the Royals Baseball Academy. He later became the first graduate of the Academy to make the major leagues. He made his debut in June of 1973 at the age of 22, and in the early days, he played several positions all over the infield.
When Cookie Rojas retired after the 1977 season, White permanently moved to second base and over his 18-year big league career, all with Kansas City, he played a club record 2,144 games at second. His career slash was: .255/.293/.383 with 160 home runs and 886 RBI. He recorded 2,006 hits and scored 912 runs and was good for almost 35 WAR in his career.
White made five All-Star teams, won eight Gold Gloves (six of them in a row) and one Silver Slugger. He was the MVP of the 1985 American League Championship Series and helped the Royals win the 1985 World Series. White was always strong with the glove, only committing 179 errors in 11,174 chances. Nothing was prettier than seeing White time his leap and snag a line drive out of the air, robbing a batter of an almost certain hit. White retired after the 1990 season and was inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame in 1995.