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The greatest outfielders in Royal history

Bo knows.

MLB Photos Archive Photo by Louis Requena/MLB via Getty Images

Outfield is a position that the Royals have been blessed with talent over the years. Some of it was drafted, some of it was acquired in trades. The Royals have also lost their fair share of outfield talent, including their all-world outfield of Damon, Dye and Beltran which started to unravel in 2000, and more recently, with the loss of Lorenzo Cain. They’ve had outfielders who were exciting to watch, they’ve had some who were vastly underrated, and they’ve had one who was known worldwide by his first name. In just about every year of their history, the Royals have had at least one outstanding outfielder. After reviewing all the candidates, I selected who I believe to be the top six. Here is my take.

Honorable Mention (in alphabetical order): Al Cowens, Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, Jarrod Dyson, Bo Jackson, Lou Piniella, Danny Tartabull.

MLB Photos Archive Photo by Louis Requena/MLB via Getty Images

Before we do the countdown, I must write a few words about Vincent Edward “Bo” Jackson. Bo was not in the top six Royal outfielders. His career wasn’t long enough, and the stats weren’t quite good enough, but Bo was the most entertaining to watch. Bo was actually drafted three times: By the Yankees in the 2nd round of the 1982 draft, by the Angels in the 20th round of the 1985 draft and finally by the Royals in the 4th round of the 1986 draft. Bo as you well know had been a football star at Auburn University, a Heisman Trophy winner and the #1 overall pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1986 NFL draft. Bo refused to sign with Tampa, based on the feeling that the club had sabotaged his senior baseball season by having him visit the team facilities, which was in violation of an NCAA rule. So, Bo vowed to play professional baseball. The Royals wisely drafted and signed him.

He started the 1986 season at AA Memphis and after only 53 minor league games, made his major league debut on September 2, 1986. He collected a hit in his first at bat against future Hall of Famer Steve Carlton. Even that hit was legendary. Bo hit a routine ground ball to second baseman Tim Hulett, who made the play and the throw only to see that Bo was already past the bag at first. Royals Hall of Famer John Mayberry said, “Nothing that big should move that fast!”

Bo was a big man, he was listed at 6’1 and 220 pounds, though he looked bigger. And he was fast. He once ran a 100-yard dash in 9.54 seconds. It was a meteoric rise for an athlete who had somewhat minimal baseball experience. But that was Bo Jackson. He started the 1987 season in Kansas City and put up decent numbers: 22 home runs, 53 RBI and a .235 batting average. He really came into his own during the 1989 season when he smashed 32 home runs and drove in 105. He also struck out a league leading 172 times, but you must admit, a lot of those strikeouts were fun to watch.

Negro League legend Buck O’Neil said that he heard a special crack of the bat three times in his life. The first when he was a boy and he watched Babe Ruth take batting practice. The second time was as a player in the Negro leagues and the player was Josh Gibson. The third time was Bo Jackson taking batting practice after signing with Kansas City. Bo had not swung a bat in months. He hit the first pitch he saw off the base of the scoreboard in dead center field, a shot estimated at 450 feet. Avron Fogelman, the co-owner of the Royals, shouted “get me that ball!”. Bo promptly hit the second pitch he saw to almost the same spot. “Get me that ball, too!” Fogelman said.

And for Bo, the legend just kept on growing. In his fifth professional game, he collected four hits. Before his seventh game, Bo liked the feel of one of Willie Wilson’s bats, so he declared it his. Leading off the fourth inning, against Seattle starter Mike Moore, Jackson blasted a home run to deep left-center, estimated at 475 feet. The longest home run in Royals-Kauffman Stadium history.

I saw Bo play only once in person. I will admit, I went to this game just to see Bo Jackson play. It was a late season game in 1988 against the Minnesota Twins. When I went to the ticket counter, I specifically asked the clerk for the two seats at the very tip of the upper deck seats overlooking left field. From that vantage point, we were looking almost straight down on Bo. Pitching that game for the Twins was lefty Frank Viola, who was on his way to a 24-7 Cy Young winning season. Bo was batting eighth. Leading off the third, Viola got Bo swinging. The Royals got the line moving in the fourth, which brought up Bo with one out and two runners on. The crowd of 41,097 sensed something big could happen and it did. Bo connected and sent the ball out of the park, to straightaway center field, about halfway up the grass to the scoreboard. Baseball Reference calls the home run “a fly ball to Deep CF” which would be accurate, and an understatement both. I estimate it traveled about 430 feet. The Royals won that game 4-3 and everyone went home happy.

How do you describe Superman? Bo was a humble and fun star. His Nike commercials were a hoot. Bo don’t know Diddly.

Here are a few other highlights of his baseball career. I’ll probably miss some.

  • His three-home run game in Yankee Stadium, followed by a standing ovation from the Yankee faithful.
  • His throw from the left field wall to first base to double up Carlton Fisk.
  • He used to break bats over his leg. Have you ever tried this? If you do, save the ambulance a trip and attempt it in the parking lot of your local hospital, which is where you’ll end up.
  • His home run against Nolan Ryan, which at 461 feet was the longest in the history of Arlington Stadium. “They better get a new tape measure.” Bo said after the game.
  • His run up the left-center field wall in Baltimore after catching a line drive.
  • He once ran over Oriole catcher Rich Dempsey, who broke his thumb on the play. “I held him to fewer yards than Brian Bosworth.” deadpanned Dempsey.
  • He led off the 1989 All-Star game with a 448-foot home run and won the MVP. “I got a piece of it.” Bo said after the game.
  • Finally, The Throw. The throw happened on June 5, 1989. The Royals were tied with Seattle in the bottom of the tenth. Harold Reynolds was on first when Scott Bradley drilled a double to left. Reynolds was running on the pitch and there was little doubt he would score the winning run. Bo fielded the ball and threw a laser, 300 plus feet, in the air, to catcher Bob Boone who nonchalantly applied the tag to the incredulous Reynolds. Seattle manager Jim Lefebve came out and argued the call, if for no other reason than he couldn’t believe what had just happened. Even the umpires were flabbergasted. “That was just a supernatural, unbelievable play,” Lefebve would say. “I just caught the ball, turned and threw,” Bo grumbled. “End of story. … It’s nothing to brag about. Don’t try to make a big issue out of it.”

Bo Jackson’s Royals career only lasted 511 games, where he slashed .250/.308/.480 with 109 home runs and 638 strike outs in 2,010 plate appearances. His baseball career essentially ended after suffering a hip injury during a January 1991 NFL playoff game. The Royals released him on March 18, 1991. He came back and played parts of the 1991 and 1993 seasons with the Chicago White Sox and 75 games with the California Angels in 1994 before calling it a career. I’ve never seen another player quite like Bo Jackson. Now to the best.

6. David DeJesus

When I look at DeJesus career, all I can think is “poor David DeJesus”. The guy was drafted by the Royals in the fourth round of the 2000 draft, out of Rutgers, made his major league debut with Kansas City on September 2, 2003 and then had the bad luck to play for some of the crappiest Kansas City teams to ever take the field. In his eight-year Royal career, the team lost over 100 games in three seasons. They lost more than 90 games in three other seasons and lost 79 and 87 in the other two. He played for three different managers in those eight years, including two who would probably make the bottom five list. It was a dark time for Kansas City baseball.

I’ve always thought that DeJesus never got his national due because he played for such putrid teams. Through it all, DeJesus played exceptionally well. His career slash for the Royals was: .289/.360/.427 with 61 home runs, 390 RBI and 971 hits. He was a good contact hitter with a decent eye, drawing 314 walks while only striking out 489 times in 3,799 plate appearances. He was a solid outfielder, playing all three outfield positions and only committing 12 errors in his entire Royal career.

He finished sixth in the 2004 Rookie of the Year vote with teammates Zack Greinke taking fourth and John Buck at #8. Future Royals were also represented in that ROY vote with Alex Rios (5th) and Ross Gload (7th). DeJesus had a nice stretch from 2005 to 2010, with the 2008 season probably being his best at the plate, as he went for .307/.366/.452 with 12 home runs and 73 RBI. DeJesus rarely led the team in offensive categories, though he was almost always in the top three in nearly all offensive categories. He did lead the Royals in batting average three times, hits twice and triples for five consecutive seasons and was worth 18.1 WAR over his Royal career. Dayton Moore traded DeJesus to Oakland in November of 2010 for pitchers Justin Marks and Vin Mazzaro, who combined for -1.1 WAR in their Royal careers. DeJesus played for eight more seasons, worth 5.0 WAR before hanging it up after the 2015 season.

5. Lorenzo Cain

Cain was drafted in the 17th round of the 2004 draft by the Milwaukee Brewers. Cain was a bit of a project as he didn’t play high school baseball until his sophomore year, and then only because he didn’t make the basketball team. He made his Major League debut for the Brewers on July 16, 2010 and played in 43 games for the Brew Crew that summer. In December of 2010, he was shipped to Kansas City as part of the Zack Greinke trade.

Even though he had significant Major League experience, the Royals optioned him to Omaha, where he hit .312 in 128 games before getting a six-game cup of coffee with the Royals at the end of the season. 2011 was a strange year for Royal outfielders. I call it the 87 year. All three Royal starters, Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur all ended the year with 87 RBI. Those three played in 151, 155 and 153 games respectively, so there wouldn’t have been a lot of playing time for Cain, unless Dayton Moore had traded Cabrera or Francoeur for pitching help. Jarrod Dyson got into 26 games and somehow the Royals found 113 plate appearances for Mitch Maier.

In 2012, Cain battled injuries but managed to hit .266 in 61 games. Cain really didn’t blossom until 2014 and the 2015 season was his best as a Royal, when he slashed .307/.361/.477 with 16 home runs and 72 RBI, both career highs. He also played sterling defense and quickly became a fan favorite with his exuberant personality. He made his first All-Star team that season and finished third in the MVP vote behind Josh Donaldson and Mike Trout. Cain’s star shone especially bright in the playoffs and World Series. He made several jaw dropping catches against the Angels and Orioles and was solid at the plate (.553 against Baltimore) which earned him the ALCS MVP award. Over his seven-year Royal career, Cain was worth 25.1 WAR and his defense was on par with the best to ever play in Kansas City. Cain became a free agent after the 2017 season and the Brewers wasted little time reclaiming their prodigal son, signing him to a five-year, $80 million dollar contract.

4. Carlos Beltran

When you look at all the outfielders who have ever played in Kansas City, Beltran is arguably the best and only lands at #5 due to his relatively short tenure (seven years – five full seasons, two partial seasons) compared to those above him. But what a career it was. Beltran was drafted by Kansas City in the second round of the 1995 draft and made quick work of the Royals minor league system, making his professional debut on September 14, 1998 at the age of 21. He exploded onto the scene in 1999, playing in 156 games and slashing .293/.337/.454 with 22 home runs, 108 RBI and 112 runs scored, while racking up 194 hits and playing an outstanding center field. That performance earned him the American League Rookie of the Year, as he collected 26 of the 28 first place votes. Pitcher Freddy Garcia got one vote, which is understandable as he went 17-8. The other first place vote was a shameless homer who voted for Boston’s Brian Daubach.

1999 kicked off five years of excellence for Beltran in which he slashed .288/.351/.479 with 108 home runs, 458 RBI, 809 hits, 483 runs scored and 147 stolen bases. He was worth 24.8 WAR in his Royal career which came to an ignominious end on June 24th, 2004 when General Manager Allaird Baird made one of the worst trades in Royals history, sending Beltran to the Houston Astros as part of a three way trade in which the Royals received Mark Teahen, Mike Wood and John Buck. And cash. They could have kept Beltran for $1 million more dollars, but the franchise was in such a state of disarray, that even that amount, pocket change by today’s standards, could not be met.

The United States got to know Carlos Beltran that October when he slugged eight home runs in the playoffs for the Astros. To many Kansas City fans, Beltran looked like that beautiful and talented girl who blossomed once you kicked her out of your life. Beltran parlayed that playoff performance into a monster free agent deal with the New York Mets. Beltran retired after the 2017 season, his 20th. He will most certainly be inducted into Cooperstown, if not in 2022, then shortly after. Will he go in wearing a Royal cap? For a brief time, he was ours.

3. Alex Gordon

Alex Gordon was destined to become a Kansas City Royal. As a child, growing up in Nebraska, his family were Royal fans. He later attended the University of Nebraska, where he won the 2005 Golden Spikes Award as the top college player in the nation. The Royals drafted Gordon with the second pick of the first round of the 2005 draft and though the 2005 draft was long on talent, it would be hard to argue with the pick of Gordon.

He made his much-anticipated debut on April 2, 2007 as a third baseman and struggled. In retrospect, the numbers weren’t that bad: .247/.314/.411 with 15 home runs and 60 RBI as a 23-year-old. The weight of expectations though is a heavy yoke and by 2010, Gordon’s production had dipped significantly and there were whispers that he was a bust. On May 2, 2010, the Royals and Gordon did something almost unthinkable. With his batting average at .194, Gordon agreed to be sent back to AAA Omaha with the directive to learn a new position (leftfield) and to rebuild confidence in his swing. In 68 games at Omaha, he slashed .315/.442/.577 and by July 23 was back in the Royals lineup.

The move lit a fire under Gordon, and he reported to camp in 2011 promising to dominate. And he did. He turned in a .303/.376/.502 season with 23 home runs and 87 RBI, all career highs. His defense was spectacular, earning him the first of his seven Gold Gloves. In 2011 he led all major league outfielders with 20 assists. There was nothing prettier than watching Gordo making another spectacular catch or seeing him gun down any base runner foolish enough to run on his arm. Along the way, Gordon played in three All-Star games and starred in two World Series. His Game One, ninth inning home run off New York Mets closer Jeurys Familia remains one of the most iconic home runs in Royal history.

In January of 2016, the Royals signed Gordon to a four-year, $72 million dollar deal, which looked like a steal at the time. On May 22, 2016, while chasing a foul ball, Gordon collided with Mike Moustakas. Both players were injured, Moose with a torn ACL and Gordon with a scaphoid fracture in his right wrist. The respective injuries tanked the Royals 2016 season, and many speculate that the injured wrist hampered Gordon at the plate in 2017. Gordon enjoyed a nice rebound season in 2019, slashing .266/.345/.396 with 13 home runs and 76 RBI.

Over his 13-year Kansas City career, Gordon has collected 1,609 hits good for a line of .258/.339/.413 with 186 home runs and 738 RBI. He has also garnered 98 outfield assists. Over his career, he has played seven different positions, only missing catcher and second base. He is currently a free agent and some fans believe he may return on a team friendly one-year deal. If not, everyone who has seen him play knows that they witnessed one of the all-time Royal greats.

World Series - New York Mets v Kansas City Royals - Game One Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

2. Willie Wilson

Wilson was a highly regarded high school athlete who starred in basketball, football and baseball. He had signed a letter of intent to play football at the University of Maryland before the Royals intervened by drafting him in the first round (18th overall) in the 1974 draft. Once again, the Royals got this draft right. There were a few good players drafted before Wilson: Lonnie Smith, Dale Murphy, Garry Templeton and Lance Parrish, and only one star drafted after Wilson – Rick Sutcliffe, but of all of them, I’d take Wilson every day of the week. Wilson rapidly rose through the Royals minor league system: Gulf Coast in 1974, Waterloo in 1975, Jacksonville in 1976 and a stint in Omaha in 1977. He made his Major League debut on September 4, 1976. He collected his first hit on September 10, a seventh inning single off Minnesota Twins pitcher Jim Hughes. In 1977, Wilson got another cup of coffee, a 13-game stretch at the end of the Royals glorious summer of 102 wins.

Wilson arrived for good in 1978, playing in 127 games primarily in left field, and though he only hit .217, he did steal 46 bases. Stardom arrived in 1979. Wilson played in 154 games and slashed .315/.351/.420 with a league leading 83 steals. He became a full-blown superstar in 1980 when he set a then major league record with 705 at bats. He also led the American League in runs (133) hits (230) and triples (15) while slashing .326/.357/.421 and stealing 79 bases. He finished 4th in the MVP race, which was won by teammate George Brett and his historic .390 season. Wilson also won the first of his two Silver Slugger’s and his only Gold Glove.

Wilson had another spectacular season when he won the American League batting title with a .332/.365/431 line. He collected 194 hits, stroked a league leading 15 triples and added 37 stolen bases. He made the first of his two All-Star teams and won his second Silver Slugger.

Looking over his stats, I believe Wilson never got the recognition he should have, especially when it comes to All-Star games. In a ten year stretch from 1979 to 1988, Wilson averaged 173 hits and 51 stolen bases per year with a batting average of .294, while playing outstanding defense.

Over his 15-year Royal career, the switch-hitting Wilson slashed .289/.329/.382 with 1,968 hits, 133 triples and 612 stolen bases all good for 42.4 WAR. His post-season play was decent, though most remember his struggles in the Royals first World Series against Philadelphia, when Wilson hit only .154 with 12 strikeouts in 26 at-bats. He redeemed himself in the 1985 playoffs and World series by hitting .310 against Toronto and .367 against St. Louis.

Wilson was a big man, 6’3 and 190 lbs, but never hit much for power with only 41 career home runs. He more than made up for that with his speed as his 668 career stolen bases still ranks 12th all-time in major league history. On June 15th, 1979, Wilson became the first Royal in club history to hit home runs from both sides of the plate in the same game when he pulled the feat against Milwaukee in a game at County Stadium. In that game, a 14-11 slug fest won by the Royals, batting right handed, Wilson stroked a three-run shot over the wall in left in the sixth inning to make the score 11-6 Milwaukee. Going into the top of the ninth, Kansas City still trailed 11-6 when with two outs and batting from the left side, Wilson ripped another three run home run, this one an inside the park job against future Royal Bill Castro which gave Kansas City a 14-11 lead, capping an eight run rally.

As with most players, they begin to lose their skills in their early 30’s and Wilson was no different. Wilson’s contract expired after the 1990 season and at age 34, the Royals let him walk. He signed with Oakland, where his average dipped to .238. He finished his career with two seasons with the Chicago Cubs before hanging it up after the 1994 season at the age of 38.

Wilson was inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame in 2000.

Sliding home: What does one do while waiting to see if the rain will stop at a baseball game? Well; Photo by David Cooper/Toronto Star via Getty Images

1. Amos Otis

Otis, known to Kansas City fans as A.O., was originally drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 5th round of the 1965 draft. The New York Mets selected Otis from the Red Sox in the 1966 minor league draft and Otis made his major league debut with the Mets on September 6 of 1967 as a 20-year-old. He collected his first hit, a fifth inning single, on September 14 against future Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, part of a 3-for-4 day at the plate.

Otis spent the entire 1968 season at the Mets AAA team in Jacksonville. He opened the 1969 season with the big-league club before being sent to their AAA team in Tidewater in late June, sporting a .136 batting average. He was recalled in September and played in 12 more games during the Mets pennant stretch. He was left off the Mets postseason roster as the “Amazing Mets” captured the World series title. Otis clashed with Mets manager Gil Hodges, who wanted to turn him into a third baseman. The Mets desperately wanted a third baseman and tried to swing a deal with Atlanta for Joe Torre but refused to give up Otis as part of the deal. Enter Royals General Manager and trade wizard Cedric Tallis, who convinced the Mets to give him Otis AND pitcher Bob Johnson in exchange for the Royals third baseman Joe Foy. The trade was finalized on December 3, 1969 and remains one of the most lopsided heists in Royals history.

Foy played 140 more games for the Mets and the Senators and was out of baseball after the 1971 season. Johnson pitched one season in Kansas City, throwing 214 innings and striking out 206 batters in what became a 4.5 WAR season for him. Tallis leveraged Johnson’s career year into a trade to Pittsburgh for Freddie Patek. Those deals almost boggle the mind. Just by flipping Joe Foy, Tallis waved his magic trade wand and created almost 76 WAR for the Royals.

Otis immediately became the Royals starting center fielder and in 1970 made the first of four consecutive All-Star teams. What was his best season? Was it 1971, when he slashed .301/.345/.443 while slugging 15 home runs, driving home 79 and stealing a league leading 52 bases while winning his first Gold Glove? Or was it 1978, when Otis went off for .298/.380/.525 with 22 home runs and a career best 96 RBI, which included 32 stolen bases and a 4th place finish in the American League MVP vote?

During his Kansas City career, which stretched for 14 seasons, Otis led the league in doubles twice and stolen bases once. He hit better than .300 two seasons and was selected to five All-Star teams and won three Gold Gloves. His Kansas City career line was: .280/.347/.433 with 1,977 hits which included 193 home runs and 992 RBI as well as 340 stolen bases. Otis was more than a bat. He was fast and graceful in the field, using deceptive speed to cover large swaths of center field. In the ten-year span between 1970 and 1979, Otis averaged 368 putouts per season.

Otis also performed well in the playoffs, hitting .429 in the 1978 ALCS against New York and .333 in the 1980 ALCS followed by a .478 showing against Philadelphia in the 1980 World Series. Otis was lost to an ankle injury in the first inning of Game one of the 1976 ALCS. Many fans thought that with a healthy Otis, the result of that series might have been different.

On September 7, 1971, he became the first player since 1927 to steal five bases in a game. He scored the final run ever at Municipal Stadium in a game played October 4, 1972. On September 12, 1977, Otis helped eight young men who were stranded after a Royals game by what was known as the Brush Creek flood, which left 25 people dead.

The Royals informed Otis after the 1983 season that he was no longer in their plans and he finished his career with a 40-game stint with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Otis and Steve Busby were the inaugural selections into the Royals Hall of Fame in 1986.