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The greatest third basemen in Royals history

Is there any doubt about #1?

George Brett - Kansas City Royals

Third base. Now it’s getting easier. The Royals have had several really good third basemen. Only pitcher and outfield would boost most firepower for the Royals than third base.

The other thing about the third base position is that most of these players were drafted and developed by the Royals. I find it interesting that Kansas City scouts and coaches can identify, draft and develop good third baseman but could not do the same for second base to save their lives. After Frank White retired and before the Royals drafted and promoted Whit Merrifield, there were a lot of years in between where the Royals could not develop their own talent at second. In contrast, after George Brett retired, the Royals drafted and developed several good third basemen.

Third base is a tough place to play. You must be quick enough to handle smashes down the line, fearless enough to handle those hard-hit balls and have a strong enough arm to make the long throw to first. And hit. You’ve got to hit if you’re a third baseman. It takes a special player to man the hot corner and here was our best. One common thread I’ve seen in these lists is a lean toward recency bias. That’s not to say that players like Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and in this case, Mike Moustakas, were not deserving of being ranked higher, it’s more of a reflection that in past years, there were some really good players at their positions. You may not have seen them play, but for those of us who did, we can remember their excellence.

Honorable mention (in alphabetical order):

Mike Aviles, Kurt Bevacqua, Joe Foy, Gary Gaetti, Gregg Jeffries, Bill Pecota, Mark Teahen. Bevacqua makes the list because he was my second favorite Royal of all-time.

5. Paul Schaal

Schaal was signed by the Los Angeles Angels as an amateur free agent before the 1962 season. He made a quick jump through the Angels minor league system, spending his 19-year-old season at Quad Cities of the D League and his 20-year-old season at Class A San Jose before making the jump to AAA Hawaii in 1964. He made his debut on September 3, 1964 against the New York Yankees in a game played at Dodger Stadium. By 1965, the 22-year-old Schaal was the Angels regular third baseman. Always excellent with the glove, many baseball people of the day thought that Schaal might have won multiple Gold Gloves had he not had the misfortune to play at the same time as Brooks Robinson.

In the early years, Schaal’s problem was that he couldn’t hit. Over his six-year Angels career, from 1964 to 1968, Schaal only slashed .218/.317/.314 with 11 home runs and 105 RBI. In June of 1968, Schaal was beaned in a game against Boston and spent 12 days in the hospital. Schaal only played two more games in the 1968 season. He was plagued by balance problems for the remainder of his career, especially when looking up for pop ups. He used to joke that he would lunge and stagger after pop-ups, “like some sort of clown routine.” The Angels, fearing his career might be over, left him unprotected in the expansion draft and Royals General Manager and talent savant, Cedric Tallis, selected Schaal with the 27th pick.

Schaal split time at third in 1969 with Joe Foy and hit well, slashing .263/.346/.307 in 61 games. The Royals traded Foy after the 1969 season and Schaal manned third base until the Royals promoted another young Californian named Brett in 1974. Schaal played in 606 games for Kansas City over six seasons, 577 of those at third base and slashed .263/.360/.368 with 32 home runs and 198 RBI. He also drew 300 walks and only struck out 226 times in 2,340 plate appearances. His best season came in 1971 when he slashed .274/.387/.412 with 150 hits, 11 home runs, 63 RBI and 103 walks, all career highs, good for a 4.5 WAR season.

Kansas City traded Schaal back to California in April of 1974 to make room for Brett. Schaal used to like to say that it took a Hall of Famer to take his job. Schaal retired after the 1974 season. Schaal was always one of the more colorful Royals, always good for a story and in the mod ‘70’s sported some world class sideburns. He holds the Royals record (and possibly the MLB record) for being married nine times. Yes, Paul Schaal could not pull an outside fastball, but he could pull the ladies. In retirement, Schaal remained in Kansas City. He opened a popular pizza joint, then went back to school and became a chiropractor. Schaal passed away on September 1, 2017 after a lengthy battle with cancer.

4. Mike Moustakas

When I was making this list and saw Moose at #4, my first thought was “wow, #2 and #3 for the Royals must have been terrific players.” Moustakas was drafted in the first round (the second overall pick) in the 2007 draft. He was the first pick of the Dayton Moore era. The 2007 draft was light on stars. David Price went #1, Madison Bumgarner went at #10 and Josh Donaldson went at #48, so given that, Moore and the Kansas City draft crew got it right with Moose.

Moustakas made his Major League debut on June 10, 2011 and spent eight years in Kansas City. Like most young players, it took him time to acclimate to the big leagues. The bottom came in his fourth season, when he slipped to a .212/.271/.361 line. The Royals stuck with him and he rebounded in 2015 with a .284/.348/.470 line that included 22 home runs and 82 RBI while helping the Royals capture their second World Series title. He was injured early in the 2016 season but bounced back with strong years in 2017 and 2018.

He played 913 games at third for Kansas City and over his eight-year career slashed .251/.306/.430 with 139 home runs and 441 RBI. He was a two time All Star and was worth 13.5 WAR in his Royal career. After re-signing a one-year deal with the Royals for the 2018 season, the popular Moustakas was traded to Milwaukee in July of 2018 for Brett Phillips and Jorge Lopez. Moustakas has found his power stroke as he’s gotten older with consecutive seasons of 38, 28, 28 and 35 home runs. The 38 in 2017 was a Kansas City club record until Jorge Soler demolished it in 2019.

3. Joe Randa

Randa was drafted by the Royals in the 11th round of the 1991 draft out of the University of Tennessee. He made his Major League debut with Kansas City on April 30, 1995 but was overmatched and after hitting .146 was sent back to Omaha on July 3. He made the roster out of spring training in 1996 and was a pleasant surprise, slashing .303/.351/.433 in 110 games.

During the off-season, the Royals shipped Randa and three other players to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Jeff King and Jay Bell. Randa played one year in Pittsburgh, hitting .302 in 126 games. The Pirates lost him to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 1997 expansion draft. Arizona immediately traded Randa to the Detroit Tigers, where his average slipped to .254 in 138 games. In December of 1998, the Tigers traded Randa to the New York Mets and six days later the Mets shipped Randa back to Kansas City for Juan LeBron.

It turned out to be a great trade for the Royals as LeBron never made it out of the minors while Randa responded with a .314/.363/.473 season which included 16 home runs and 84 RBI. Over his eight-year Royal career, Randa played 939 games at third and slashed .288/.340/.428 with 86 home runs, 533 RBI and 489 runs scored. Kansas City let “the Joker” walk as a free agent after the 2004 season. Randa played two more modestly productive years before retiring after the 2006 season at the age of 36.

2. Kevin Seitzer

Seitzer was drafted in the 11th round of the 1983 draft out of Eastern Illinois University. The Royals assigned him to Butte in the Rookie Pioneer League and Seitzer hit .345. They bumped him to Charleston at the Sally League, and he hit .297. That earned him a promotion to AA Memphis where he hit .348. He started the 1986 season at AAA Omaha and hit .319 which earned him a late season call up to the big club. He made his debut on September 3, 1986 and by 1987 was the Royals regular third baseman.

He kept hitting, slashing .323/.399/.470 with a league leading 207 hits which earned him an All-Star berth and a second-place finish in the 1997 Rookie of the Year race, to Mark McGwire, who had a monster year, pounding a league-leading 49 home runs and 118 RBI. Seitzer kept hitting, going for .294/.380/.394 with 809 hits in his six-year Kansas City career. He drew 369 walks and only struck out 326 times in 3,163 plate appearances.

After an injury plagued 1991 season, the Royals let Seitzer go as a free agent. He spent the next six seasons playing for Milwaukee, Oakland and Cleveland and even enjoyed a renaissance by hitting .311 in 1995 with the Brewers and .326 in 1996 season split between Milwaukee and Cleveland. The Indians had picked up Seitzer as a late season bat in their pennant drive. He appeared in nine division series games and one World series game for the Tribe. He retired after the 1997 World Series at the age of 35.

Deion Sanders Sliding into Third Base

1. George Brett

There is little doubt that Brett is the best third baseman in Royals history. Nearly all the other positions are up for debate, but not third base. Brett is also unanimously considered the best player in Royals history and one of the best to ever play the game. He was drafted by the Royals out of El Segundo (California) high school in the second round of the 1971 draft. The 1971 draft and off-season were a wild success for the Royals: They’d picked up Freddie Patek in a December 1970 trade, then drafted Brett, John Wathan, Steve Busby, Joe Zdeb and Mark Littell. In December of 1971, they shipped some spare parts to Houston for John Mayberry. In a twelve-month span, Cedric Tallis had laid most of the foundation that would eventually lead the Royals to three consecutive American League West pennants.

Brett began his Royals career in Billings of the Rookie Pioneer League, where he hit a respectable .291 in 68 games as an 18-year-old. In 1972, Kansas City promoted him to Class A San Jose, where he collected 118 hits in 117 games, batting .274. He started the 1973 season at AAA Omaha and over 117 games, hit .284. When Paul Schaal was injured in August of 1973, the Royals called up their 20-year-old boy wonder. He got the start on August 3 against Stan “Bahnsen Burner” Bahnsen and the Chicago White Sox. Brett collected his first hit, a fourth inning single, off Bahnsen in a 3-1 Kansas City win. Brett played 13 games that summer, getting 41 plate appearances, but only hit .125.

First hit autograph by Stan Bahnsen

In April of 1974 the Royals traded Paul Schaal to the Angels, clearing the way for Brett. By June 2nd, Brett was mired in a terrific slump, hitting only .205 and worrying that he might be on his way back to Omaha. Brett, like all the great ones, had terrific physical gifts. But make no mistake, he also worked extremely hard at his craft and had a burning desire to succeed. What separates the greats from us mere mortals? Brett also had the humility to accept help and that help came in the person of Charlie Lau. Lau took Brett under his tutelage (as well as Hal McRae, Darrell Porter and others) and helped mold Brett from a very good hitter to a great hitter. Lau’s laws on hitting sound simple enough, but how many modern players would use them? It seems to me that most of the current Royals could use some lessons from Lau or would benefit by reading Ted Williams book, “The science of hitting.”

Lau’s laws were:

1. Use a balanced and workable stance

2. Use a proper grip

3. Get your weight back before striding

4. Start your bat in the launch position

5. Stride with your front foot closed

6. Maintain flat hands through the swing

7. Keep your head still and your eyes down

8. Use a fluid, tension free swing

9. You must have lead arm extension and a good finish

10. Employ solid practice habits

When you read these laws, you can see in your mind’s eye, George Brett, leaning back on his left leg, slightly crouched in his stance, striding forward, head and eyes on the ball, finishing with a one arm follow through. It was a thing a beauty. In an unrelated note, the omission of Lau from the Royals Hall of Fame is almost as scandalous as the omission of Cedric Tallis.

Brett finished that 1974 rookie season on a tear. Over the final 106 games of the season, from June 3 to October 2, he hit .298 and collected 113 hits. That was enough to lift him to a third-place finish in the league Rookie of the Year vote. In 1975, as a 22-year-old, he led the American League in at bats, hits and triples while recording his first season hitting .300 or better at .308. In 1976 he blossomed into a superstar, once again leading the league in at bats, hits and triples as well as total bases. He also won the first of his three batting crowns, hitting a controversial inside the park home run in his last at bat of the season to edge teammate Hal McRae, .333 to .332.

How do you begin to measure Brett’s greatness? The clutch playoff home runs? His run at .400 in 1980? Over his 21-year career, he led the American League in hits three times, doubles twice, triples three times and OPS three times. He appeared in thirteen consecutive All-Star games and won the American League MVP in 1980. He finished second in the MVP vote twice, in 1976 and in 1985, and should have won both times. The Baseball Writers Association of America awarded the 1976 MVP to Thurman Munson and the 1985 award went to Don Mattingly. Both played for the New York Yankees and Brett outperformed both men and should have won the award. East coast bias? You can form your own opinion.

Brett is the only player in major league history to win batting titles in three different decades: 1976, 1980 and 1990. He ended his career with 3,154 hits, which was 11th best all-time when he retired and still ranks 17th on the all-time list.

His best season was his seminal 1980 campaign, which saw him battle various injuries while leading the Royals to their first World series appearance. In 1980 Brett slashed: .390/.454/.664 with an OPS+ of 203. He clubbed 24 home runs and drove home 118 more in only 117 games. He got off to a slow start that season, as he often did, and on May 24, 39 games into the season, he was at .259. Over the final 87 games he played that summer, he slashed an astounding .431/.487/.724, collecting 147 hits and only striking out 15 times in 392 plate appearances. He hit 22 of his home runs and drove in 97 of his runs in that span. Pitchers just could not get him out. I wasn’t alive when Ted Williams hit .406 or when Joe DiMaggio hit in 56 consecutive games, but in over fifty years of watching baseball, I’ve never seen a batter hit like Brett did in the summer of 1980.

Over the years Brett provided a highlight reel of memories. Among them:

· His three-run home run in the eighth inning of Game Five of the 1976 ALCS.

· His three-home run game in the 1978 ALCS.

· His monster home run into the third deck of Yankee Stadium in Game Three of the 1980 ALCS.

· The Pine Tar home run in 1983.

· His all-around performance in Game Three of the 1985 ALCS.

· Stroking his 3,000th hit on September 30, 1992.

I’m sure I’m missing some. My favorite Brett memory occurred in the first inning of Game Five of the 1977 ALCS against the Yankees. The Royals had won 102 games that summer and from August 3 until the season ended on October 2, they had gone on a 46-15 tear. That’s a .754-win percentage in case you’re wondering. For a little over two months in that glorious summer, they literally could not be beat.

Despite that, they still had to get past the Yankees, who had a 100-win team of their own. With Ron Guidry on the mound, Hal McRae stroked a one-out single. Brett then ripped a drive to center field, which Mickey Rivers badly misplayed. Brett hustled out a triple. Brett slid hard into third and the momentum of his slide jostled Yankee third baseman Graig Nettles. Nettles made the mistake of kicking his left foot into Brett’s midsection. George came up swinging. It was a classic baseball brawl, two teams and two players who had a burning desire to win. I love how Thurman Munson fought his way into the pile and climbed on top of Brett to protect him. I love the fact that the umpires didn’t eject anyone from the game. Both sides dusted themselves off and play resumed.

George Brett and Graig Nettles Fighting

Brett retired after the 1993 season and was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999 in what was then the 4th highest vote percentage of all time. If you’re read my work before, you know how I feel about vote totals of the Hall of Fame. How could players like Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ted Williams and Honus Wagner not be unanimous selections?

Brett was elected to the Royals Hall of Fame in 1994 and his number 5 has been retired by the club.