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Here are your 1982 Kansas City Royals

The best Royals team to miss the playoffs?

Kansas City Royals v Cleveland Indians Photo by: Diamond Images/Getty Images

In 1982, Dwight Clark launched the 49er’s football dynasty with “The Catch”. The baseball season got off to a cold start when an April 6th blizzard dumped up to 24 inches of snow on most of the Northeast, delaying Opening Day for several teams. The music scene didn’t improve much in 1982, but John Cougar had a couple of decent hits. He wisely went back to his birth name, Mellencamp. Journey released a little ditty called “Don’t Stop Believing” which is still sung at karaoke parties, weddings and bar closings across this great nation. The song only peaked at #73, as American listeners were enthralled by classic hits like Physical, Centerfold and Don’t you want me. Looking at the Billboard Top 100 for 1982 makes me question the musical taste of my brothers and sisters. Things were a little brighter at the theater with hits like ET, Diner, Porky’s, 48 Hours and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The Dow Jones Average closed the year at 1,046.54, the first time it ended a year above 1,000.

In baseball, Gaylord Perry won his 300th game, Rickey Henderson stole a record 130 bases and Hank Aaron was elected to the Hall of Fame. To this day I’m still astounded that nine writers did not vote for the then all-time home run king. Who are those guys? Carl “bleeping” Yastrzemski finally retired, and Satchel Paige passed away. Whitey Herzog won a World Series…with St. Louis, which defeated Milwaukee in a fine seven game series. Former Royal Darrel Porter was the MVP of the Series.

After their strange playoff appearance of 1981, the Royals made several off-season moves in an attempt to take advantage of their window. General Manager Joe Burke made seven trades in the off-season, of which only one paid off. That was the first trade he made in October of 1981 when he sent Manny Castillo to the Mariners for a player to be named later, which ended up being pitcher Bud Black. Black had a nice seven-year Royal career, winning 56 games while throwing 977 innings, good for almost 13 WAR and an ERA+ of 111.

The other trades? Not so hot. In three separate trades, Burke gave away talented youngsters Rance Mulliniks, Atlee Hammaker and Ken Phelps in return for aging pitchers Grant Jackson and Vida Blue and some spare parts.

Burke fared better in the June amateur draft. Their first-round pick, outfielder John Morris, was later traded to St. Louis in May of 1985 for Lonnie Smith, who played an integral role on the 1985 Championship team. They blew their second and third round picks before selecting a high school first baseman named Will Clark in the fourth round. Unfortunately, they couldn’t sign Clark and he went to Mississippi State and became a first-round pick with the Giants.

Burke scored big in the 19th round, when the Royals selected a high school shortstop out of Reseda, California named Bret Saberhagen. The 1982 draft wasn’t loaded with future stars, but it did produce many serviceable players. The lowest drafted player to make the majors was a young outfielder chosen by Cincinnati in the 42nd round with the 823rd pick named Jeff Montgomery. Yes, that Jeff Montgomery, who made his debut with the Reds in 1987 as a pitcher and was traded to the Royals in February of 1988. Monty as you well know, went on to save 304 games in his Kansas City career which earned him induction in the Royals Hall of Fame. The Montgomery trade remains one of the greatest heists in Royals history. Monty accumulated almost 21 WAR in his 12 year Royals career while garnering an ERA+ of 138. The player traded for Montgomery, Van Snider played in 19 games over parts of the 1988 and 1989 seasons for Cincinnati, picking up 7 hits in 35 at-bats.

In the secondary phase of the draft, the Royals used their fourth round pick on a young man named Cecil Fielder. Unfortunately, they gave up on Fielder before he matured into a home run mashing star. They traded him to Toronto for outfielder Leon Roberts. Fielder played parts of four seasons in Toronto then spent a season in Japan before turning into a star in Detroit as a 26-year-old, leading the league in home runs twice and in RBI three times. Roberts, meanwhile, hit eight home runs and 27 RBI in 112 games as a Royal.

The Royals finished the 1982 season at 90-72, which in some years would be good enough for a playoff berth, but not in 1982. They finished second to a 93-win California team.

From 1976 to 1985, The Royals won at least 90 games in six seasons. They made the playoffs in each of those seasons…except for 1982. They spent 53 days in first place, the last of which was September 19. They had a two-game lead on September 17 but lost 11 of their final 17 games to kill any hopes of a Western Division championship. There’s nothing that really stands out about their record or why they couldn’t win the division. They played well in close games, winning 26 of 43 contests decided by one run. In the end California was just a bit better. The Angels were legit. They had Bob Boone, Fred Lynn, Bobby Grich, Rod Carew, Doug DeCinces, Brian Downing, Reggie Jackson and Don Baylor. That’s eight solid bats. Their staff ERA was 3.82 and they got career years from a few pitchers, most notably Geoff Zahn, who went 18-8. The Angels picked up Tommy John from the Yankees at the trade deadline and John delivered, beating Kansas City twice in the last 11 games of the season.

The Royals had some hot bats of their own. Hal McRae had a monster year for the Royals, slashing .308/.369/.542 with 27 home runs, a league leading 46 doubles and a league best and club record 133 RBI’s. Mac had a career best 332 total bases which was good for 4.1 WAR, a 4th place finish in the league MVP race and a Sliver Slugger award.

George Brett had a down year by his standards, but still put up a .301/.378/.505 line with 21 home runs, 82 RBI, and 101 runs scored. Willie Wilson blossomed into a full-fledged superstar by racking up 194 hits while winning the A.L. batting title with a .332/.365/.431 slash line. Wilson led the league with 15 triples and stole 37 bases while winning a Silver Slugger. Frank White also had an excellent year, with a .298/.318/.469 line which included 45 doubles. The batting average and doubles were career highs for Frank. He also led American League second basemen with 361 putouts and won his sixth consecutive Gold Glove. John Wathan set a major league record with most steals by a catcher by swiping 36 bags.

Kansas City Royals v New York Yankees

The pitching staff was led by Larry Gura, who won a career best 18 games. Injuries limited Dennis Leonard to 130 innings and a 10-6 record. Dan Quisenberry led the league with 35 saves and posted a 9-7 record. Quiz appeared in 72 games and threw 136 innings all of which helped him finish third in the Cy Young voting and ninth in the MVP tally.

The Royals had some interesting games in 1982:

  • McRae and Willie Mays Aikens both had five hit games, McRae’s coming on May 29th at Texas and Aiken’s on June 6 versus the Yankees.
  • Frank White hit for the cycle against the Tigers on August 3 and did it in dramatic fashion, delivering a two-out triple in the bottom of the ninth to score Onix Concepcion to give the Royals a 6-5 victory.
  • Aikens tied a club record with seven RBI in an 11-4 Royal victory over Oakland on September 30th.

The highlight of the pitching staff was a one-hitter thrown by Vida Blue on September 13 in a game at Royals Stadium against the Seattle Mariners. He only blemish on Blue’s night was a two-out single by former Yankee Bobby Brown in the sixth inning. Blue struck out six and only walked two in a game that scored an 89.

Kansas City Royals v New York Yankees

On the Royals roster that summer was a young first baseman named Dennis Werth, whose stepson, Jayson Werth, would later go on to star for the Phillies. The community supported the Royals with almost 2.3 million fans going through the turnstiles. George Brett was the highest paid Royal, at a salary of $1 million, which seems quaint by today’s inflated standards. It’s almost laughable when compared on a salary/production basis to what some of the floating turds on the 2019 roster are making.

Five Royals made the All-Star team in 1982: Brett, McRae, White, Wilson and Quisenberry.

As for the Angels, they lost a five game Championship Series to the Brewers, who were also loaded with talent. The Brew Crew had mashers Ted Simmons, Cecil Cooper, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Ben Oglivie and Gorman Thomas. Their pitching staff was led by Pete Vuckovich and Mike Caldwell, who won 18 and 17 games respectively. Rollie Fingers had 29 saves. Vuckovich deserves special mention as he played one of the all-time great baseball movie characters, the arch villain Haywood, in Major League. Has there ever been a better line than “How’s your wife and my kids?” Also, on that 1982 Brewer team was a 27-year-old backup catcher who hit a career high .276/.324/.429 in 98 at-bats. His name? Ned Yost.