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Most Beloved (Obscure) Royals: Personalities Region

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Sometimes they made us cheer, sometimes not. But they often made us smile.

Kansas City Royals v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

We move forward in our bracket this week with the Personalities Region, comprised of the “characters and clowns” and “#AlwaysRoyal” subgroups. Many of these guys let fans get to know them a little bit during their time with the Royals, and others’ appeal is a little more difficult to pinpoint, other than they wore the right jersey for a number of years.

In the preliminaries, Doug Bird edged out Marty Pattin for the #8 seed and Rusty Meacham beat Mike Magnante in a nearly 50-50 split for the #13 seed, while Kurt Bevacqua’s victory over Rey Palacios (#15 seed) and Jeff Conine’s margin over Brent Mayne (#16 seed) weren’t nearly as close.

Here’s the bracket:

“#AlwaysRoyal” Match-Ups

#1 John Wathan vs. #16 Jeff Conine

John “Duke” Wathan spent his entire 10-year career with the Royals, which precisely matched the first championship era, from 1976-1985. He played more first base than catcher in his first couple of seasons, but got his chance to play more regularly when Darrell Porter went to drug rehab in 1980. That year, Duke put up his finest season, playing catcher, outfield, and first base, batting .305 in 510 plate appearances, and even getting a 10th-place MVP vote. He became the regular catcher for the next few years, from 1981-83, setting a stolen-base record for catchers (36) in 1982. His hitting fell off badly in ‘83, and he became a backup to Don Slaught and then Jim Sundberg, before calling it quits after the ‘85 championship season.

He took over as manager in mid-1987, after Dick Howser’s death and Billy Gardner’s firing. He compiled a .515 winning percentage as a manager before being fired during a bad start to the 1991 season. As a manager he took some heat for presiding over the team’s fade from divisional dominance as the position player core aged and the young pitching battled arm troubles. The 1990 season was particularly disappointing, a 17-win drop from the previous season, despite a free agent spending spree in the offseason that was supposed to get them past the Bash Brother A’s.

Jeff Conine secured the 16-seed by taking 57% of the vote over light-hitting catcher Brent Mayne. Conine is “Mr. Marlin,” but he started with the Royals before they lost him in the expansion draft. He came back for one unproductive season in 1998.

Poll

John Wathan or Jeff Conine?

This poll is closed

  • 81%
    John Wathan
    (222 votes)
  • 18%
    Jeff Conine
    (52 votes)
274 votes total Vote Now

#8 Doug Bird vs. #9 Bud Black

In a battle of 1970s swingmen, Doug Bird topped Marty Pattin in a close vote to earn this match-up. Bird holds fifth-place on the Royals all-time saves list, behind the obvious top four (Montgomery, Quiz, Soria, and Holland), one ahead of Kelvin Herrera, eleven ahead of 10th-place Wade Davis.

Bud Black emerged as the ace of the revamped 1984 Royals pitching staff, winning 17 games on the way to the division championship. He was the product of an absolute steal of a trade; Black was the player-to-be-named-later when the Royals sent infielder Manny Castillo to the Mariners in the spring of 1982. Black worked his way into the rotation in ‘82-’83, drawing the Opening Day start in 1984. He fell off in 1985 and was replaced by a newly healthy Dennis Leonard in the 1986 rotation. The Royals traded him for Pat Tabler in 1988, and he went on to several more productive years as a starting pitcher.

Poll

Doug Bird or Bud Black?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    Doug Bird
    (46 votes)
  • 82%
    Bud Black
    (224 votes)
270 votes total Vote Now

#4 Lou Piniella vs. #13 Rusty Meacham

Sweet Lou” became an early face for the franchise in their inaugural season of 1969, when he took home the Rookie of the Year award with a .282/.325/.416 slash line. He followed that up with a .301, 88 RBI season the next year and enjoyed his best season in 1972, when he hit .312 and made the All-Star team. He was awful (-3.1 bWAR) in 1973 and was shipped to the Yankees for veteran reliever Lindy McDaniel in the off-season. He bounced back with and had several solid seasons in the Bronx before beginning a long career as a manager.

In a battle of two skinny dark-haired middle relievers from the 1990s, Rusty Meacham emerged victorious by the slimmest of margins over Mike Magnante in the play-in match-up. Originally a 33rd-round draft choice, the Royals plucked Meacham off of waivers from the pitching-starved Tigers after the 1991 season. Rusty had been a starter in the minors, but the Royals moved him to the bullpen, where he enjoyed a fantastic 1992 season. He wasn’t as effective in subsequent years and left as quietly has he came, dealt to the Mariners in mid-1996 for an infielder that would never advance beyond AA.

Poll

Lou Piniella or Rusty Meacham?

This poll is closed

  • 77%
    Lou Piniella
    (212 votes)
  • 22%
    Rusty Meacham
    (61 votes)
273 votes total Vote Now

#5 Steve Farr vs. #12 Brian McRae

Steve Farr made his first big mark on the Royals franchise in the famed “George Brett game,” game 3 of the 1985 ALCS. Brett was the star of the game, belting two home runs and a double as well as making a stellar run-saving defensive play, but it would have been for naught had Farr not provided 4.1 innings of scoreless relief to close out the 6-5 win, pitching so well that Dick Howser never called for Dan Quisenberry. It was a sign of things to come, as Farr increasingly supplanted Quiz as the Royals ace reliever over the next three seasons. Farr faltered in 1989, turning closing duties over to Jeff Montgomery. In his final year in Kansas City, he was the second-most valuable Royal (per bWAR), posting a 13-7 record and 1.98 ERA (including 5-1, 1.47 ERA in six starts) for the bitterly disappointing 1990 Royals team. He left as a free agent after the season, serving as the Yankees closer from 1991-93.

Hal McRae tried to hold on long enough to play on the same team as his son Brian, but he retired while his son was a struggling single-A second baseman. He missed him by three years, as Brian McRae made a solid debut down the stretch in 1990, hitting .286 and making some dazzling plays in his new position, centerfield, and wearing #56 to honor his father (#11). Hal took over as manager midway through the next season, and Brian struggled over the first season and a half with his dad as his manager. He rebounded in 1993, with solid seasons in 1993-94. He was traded to the Cubs in the post-strike purge, and he enjoyed his best seasons in the National League.

Poll

Steve Farr or Brian McRae?

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    Steve Farr
    (86 votes)
  • 67%
    Brian McRae
    (179 votes)
265 votes total Vote Now

“Characters and Clowns” Match-Ups

#2 Jamie Quirk vs. #15 Kurt Bevacqua

George Brett had a reputation as sort of a wild man off the field early in his career, and Jamie Quirk was his purported wing man. Quirk was a first-round draft choice and began his career as an infielder. When he never hit well enough to justify occupying third base or DH in a lineup, he learned to play catcher, starting in 1979. Quirk had three separate stints with the Royals, in three different capacities. First, as a phenom prospect, then as a reclamation project, then as a veteran backup catcher, who worked his way into two seasons as the primary starter in 1987-88. After his playing days, he re-joined the Royals as a coach, but was fired when he was more popular with the players than manager Tony Muser (imagine that). He returned to the organization yet again in 2016-17 as manager of the Wilmington Blue Rocks.

“Dirty” Kurt Bevacqua had two separate stints with the Royals in 1973 and 1974, accumulating 409 plate appearances and a .611 OPS. He was known for his versatility and hard-nosed play. In some ways, Quirk took over Bevacqua’s role when he reached the big leagues the next year. Bevacqua won out over catcher Rey Palacios in the play-in match-up between two somewhat irrational fan favorites.

Poll

Jamie Quirk or Kurt Bevacqua?

This poll is closed

  • 84%
    Jamie Quirk
    (220 votes)
  • 15%
    Kurt Bevacqua
    (40 votes)
260 votes total Vote Now

#7 Brian Bannister vs. #10 Al Hrabosky

Son of one-time Royal Floyd Bannister, Brian Bannister was a very different pitcher. His father was a lefty strikeout artist as a young pitcher, the #1 overall pick in the 1976 draft. Brian was a cerebral righty who got by on underwhelming stuff. Brian first endeared himself to Royals fans by being a warm body acquired in return for Ambiorix Burgos, then proceeded to finish 3rd in the AL Rookie of the Year vote with a 12-9, 3.87 ERA season in 2007. His interesting thoughts about pitching and baseball fascinated Joe Posnanski so much that he began to write “Banny Log” blog posts about each of his starts. Success was short-lived for Banny, though, as he had a terrible 2008, a just-good-enough-to-stick-around 2009, and a disastrous 2010. The Royals granted him free agency after the 2010 season, and he never pitched again. Since his playing career, Banny has made a career in baseball analytics, scouting, and coaching, coming up through the Red Sox organization before joining the Giants this past offseason.

Al Hrabosky had his best seasons across the state in St. Louis, but the Royals acquired him after another bullpen-assisted disappointment in the 1977 ALCS. He pitched well for the Royals in 1978, leading the team with 20 saves. He allowed a game-sealing 3-run home run to Reggie Jackson in game 1 of the 1978 ALCS that brought the score from 4-1 to 7-1 (only one run was charged to Hrabosky, and he had two scoreless outings later in the series). He was more of a complementary piece in the 1979 season, and signed a big free agent deal with the Braves after the season. Hrabosky, of course, is best known for his “Mad Hungarian” mound antics, which were imitated by Ricky Vaughn in Major League.

Poll

Brian Bannister or Al Hrabosky?

This poll is closed

  • 56%
    Brian Bannister
    (153 votes)
  • 43%
    Al Hrabosky
    (118 votes)
271 votes total Vote Now

#3 Bruce Chen vs. #14 Jose Lima

A one-time “next big thing” for the pitching-rich Braves (the #4 overall prospect before the 1999 season), Bruce Chen was a washout by the time he reached the Royals, his tenth franchise, in 2009. He would find a home in KC, endearing himself to the fans with his humor, including the “Bruce Chen Joke of the Day,” as well as being a solid presence in very unstable Royals rotations. By the time the Royals were really ready to compete in 2014, Chen was done, released in September, just before the playoff run. He did receive an ALCS ring for his contributions to that team.

The 2003 season wasn’t just a fast start and slow fade. The team started 9-0, then 17-4, but was at 32-32 when Jose Lima, recently purchased from the independent Newark Bears, took the mound on June 15th. I saw the transaction while I was in England on a mission trip and thought, “Well, the season was fun while it lasted.” But the Royals won in walk-off fashion that day, sparking a 20-9 run that would put them up 7.5 games in the Central Division on July 17th, a day where Lima won to run his record to 6-0 with a 2.42 ERA. It was Lima Time magic. The Royals were already starting to lose ground when Lima pitched five shutout innings to reach 7-0, with a 2.17 ERA on July 27. Lima was a guy who got by with weak stuff but a lot of guts. When he was on, his pinpoint control and fearlessness made him an unlikely front-of-the-rotation starter. But his margin was razor thin, and Royals fans saw that side a lot, both down the stretch in 2003, and especially in an unfortunate return engagement in 2005. But Lima the person was a delight. If you’ve never seen his Casa Ole commercials, well, you’re welcome:

Poll

Bruce Chen or Jose Lima?

This poll is closed

  • 70%
    Bruce Chen
    (194 votes)
  • 29%
    Jose Lima
    (80 votes)
274 votes total Vote Now

#6 Jeremy Guthrie vs. #11 Nori Aoki

It would be cruel to create a “least-beloved” bracket, but if we were to make one, Jonathan Sanchez would be a likely nominee. So, like Brian Bannister, Jeremy Guthrie got a head start with Royals fans for replacing the guy he was traded for. In a trade of once-decent starters having disaster seasons, the Royals got the better end of the deal. “J-Guts” pitched well enough down the stretch in 2012 to earn a free agent contract. The Royals got two seasons of durable mid-rotation work out of Guthrie, including solid performances throughout the 2014 playoff run (though he was obviously not the ideal World Series game 7 starter). He was known for his clubhouse leadership and community presence in Kansas City (as well as a t-shirt that burned a few bridges back in Baltimore).

If the 2014 Wild Card Game were played in almost any other stadium, we’d still be talking about how Nori Aoki, who hit just one home run all season, won the game with a walk-off home run. Instead, it was a game-tying sac fly. If Juan Perez had not positioned himself almost exactly on the left field line during game 7 of the World Series, we’d be talking about how Aoki tied the game with a laser off of Madison Bumgarner in his first inning of work, scoring Omar Infante from second base. Instead, we mostly remember Nori Aoki for getting hit in the beans trying to catch a fly ball. Fate can be cruel.

Poll

Jeremy Guthrie or Nori Aoki?

This poll is closed

  • 71%
    Jeremy Guthrie
    (197 votes)
  • 28%
    Nori Aoki
    (77 votes)
274 votes total Vote Now

Share memories. Advocate for your favorites. The “Lost Causes” region is coming next.