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Most Beloved (Obscure) Royals: Final Four

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Who will advance to the final?

Kansas City Royals Photo by Tim DeFrisco/Getty Images

What makes a player a favorite? Usually it’s that they’re good. After all, you are mainly rooting for laundry (as the saying goes), and the players that bring glory for the logo to which you’ve attached yourself become your favorites. The most revered players in Royals history are mostly really good players who wore the jersey a long time and who also brought the team championships: George Brett, Alex Gordon, Frank White, Hal McRae, Salvador Perez, Bret Saberhagen, Dan Quisenberry, etc.

The tier of players that were in this bracket usually had at least one of those elements missing. They weren’t especially good players, they didn’t play long for the Royals, or they played for teams that weren’t too glorious. As we reach the final four, you see that the players who remain are strong in some of these areas and missing other elements that make them a legend.

Ben Zobrist was a great player for a championship team, but was a Royal for only three months. John Wathan played for great teams, but was mostly a role player. Jim Eisenreich and Tom Gordon were good (not great) players who played in an era of mediocrity (not champions or lovable losers). Each also carries interesting tidbits to endear themselves to fans.

Seeing this bracket unfold has been interesting. I’ve been surprised at some of the results. I hope you’ve enjoyed taking part as well.

Final Four: Fleeting Glory vs. Personalities

#11 Ben Zobrist (Postseason Heroes) vs. #1 John Wathan (#AlwaysRoyal)

Ben Zobrist

What makes him a favorite: Zobrist was a favorite of analytic fans for years. He was the perfect pick-up for the Royals in 2015, spelling Alex Gordon during his injury, then providing the on-base ability and doubles power that made the Royals lineup relentless. He hit .303/.360/.453 in the postseason with eight doubles.

What makes him obscure: Even including the postseason, he came to the plate fewer than 350 times in a Royals uniform. To most fans, he will be remembered as a Tampa Bay Ray, and, secondly, as a Cub, where he won a World Series MVP the next season.

Endearing Extras: After the World Series, Zobrist welcomed a new baby daughter, naming her Blaise Royal Zobrist.

2015 World Series Game Five: Kansas City Royals v. New York Mets
Zobrist with the daughter not named after the team

John Wathan

What makes him a favorite: Wathan was the type of player that’s often popular with fans. He filled in all over the field, he hit around .300 most of his early years as a part-timer, and he posted a .305 mark in 1980, when pressed into a larger role due to All-Star Darrell Porter being in drug rehab for a couple of months. He was a lifelong Royal. His first year on the team, they won the division for the first time. His final year with the team, they took home their first World Series.

What makes him obscure: Wathan was not a star player by any means, and he only topped 500 plate appearances twice. Two of his three seasons as the primary starting catcher, he hit very poorly. He settled back into a bench role afterward and did not play well.

Endearing Extras: He set the single-season record for steals by a catcher at 36 in 1982, a record that still stands. He stole 92 bases from 1980-83 and was caught only 25 times. He managed the Royals from mid-1987 through early 1991. Some of those seasons were considered disappointments, but he finished with a winning record overall. Nicknamed Duke.

John Wathan
My grandpa wasn’t a fan of Wathan the manager. The way he wore his hat triggered him. “Looks like he’s trying to touch the bill of his cap with his bottom lip!”
Photo by Jerry Wachter/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images

Poll

Ben Zobrist or John Wathan?

This poll is closed

  • 30%
    Ben Zobrist
    (196 votes)
  • 69%
    John Wathan
    (457 votes)
653 votes total Vote Now

Final Four: Lost Causes vs. Random

#1 Tom Gordon (Next Big Thing) vs. #3 Jim Eisenreich (Surprises)

Tom Gordon

What makes him a favorite: Tom Gordon obliterated the minor leagues (combined 29-6 record, 2.05 ERA, 11.8 K/9). Of all the great pitchers the Royals graduated in the mid-to-late-80s, Gordon might have been the most anticipated. He had a good, hard fastball and an absolute hammer for a curve. His debut season was exciting, when he won 17 games, moving from the bullpen to the rotation midseason.

What makes him obscure: After his solid sophomore season in the rotation, he moved back and forth between the rotation and bullpen in 1991-93, before settling in the rotation in 1994-95, but with mixed results. He moved on to a long career as a closer and set-up man with seven other teams, retiring at the age of 41, fourteen years after his last game as a Royal.

Endearing Extras: He had a cool nickname: Flash Gordon.

Kansas City Royals
That ball is about to be at your knees
Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Getty Images

Jim Eisenreich

What makes him a favorite: Eisenreich began his Royals career as a feel-good story of someone overcoming a rare condition (Tourette’s Syndrome) and returning to the big leagues. And then, a couple of years later, he was actually good! From 1989-91, he hit .290/.337/.414, accumulating 4.2 WAR in just under 500 plate appearances per season.

What makes him obscure: He only had two seasons as a Royal where he had more than 500 plate appearances. He hit quite poorly in 1987-88, and was well below average in 1992, his final year as a Royal. Like the others on this list besides Wathan, he made a name for himself more in other uniforms, reaching the World Series with the Phillies in 1993 and winning a ring with the Marlins in 1997.

Endearing Extras: In 1990, he was the first recipient of the Tony Conigliaro Award, which is given annually to a Major League Baseball player who has overcome a significant obstacle in life. Eisenreich has returned to live in the Kansas City area and runs the Jim Eisenreich Foundation for Children with Tourette’s Syndrome whose goal is to help children with TS to achieve personal success.

Kansas City Royals Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Poll

Tom Gordon or Jim Eisenreich?

This poll is closed

  • 48%
    Tom Gordon
    (317 votes)
  • 51%
    Jim Eisenreich
    (339 votes)
656 votes total Vote Now