There are far too many retired numbers in baseball.
The Texas Rangers, a team that was born when the Washington Senators relocated to Arlington in 1972, and has never won a World Series, has five retired jerseys. At three years older and as a member of the expansion class of 1969, the same is true for the Milwaukee Brewers. The San Diego Padres have also never won a championship and also have five numbers retired. The Montreal Expos Washington Nationals have four.
The fourth club born of the 1969 expansion, the Royals, is the most successful franchise of those listed above. They have retired three jerseys.
(For the purposes of this discussion, I’m not counting Jackie Robinson’s 42 as a number retired by individual teams. Nor am I including broadcasters or owners who have been honored by having a “number” retired. Usually those individuals are honored through their initials. San Diego “retired” founder Ray Kroc by honoring him with an RK. The Brewers did the same for broadcaster Bob Uecker. It does, however, count the Brewers’ retirement of the number one jersey for former owner Bud Selig. Really. Bud Selig has an actual number retired in Milwaukee.)
The Royals, with their limited number, have done it right when it comes to retiring jerseys. To remove a number from circulation… It’s truly the highest honor a team can confer upon a player. The Royals aren’t trying to manufacture history by inflating the number of numbers on a wall. There is a purpose behind their retirements. Solid reasoning.
In fact, the three numbers the Royals have retired each represent a distinct persona that is usually represented in these honors.
5 - George Brett
Baseball icon. Brett is an inner-circle Hall of Famer and one of the greatest to ever play at his position.
10 - Dick Howser
Successful manager. Howser led his teams to three postseasons in five years and won the 1985 World Championship.
20 - Frank White
Franchise icon. In this case, a local guy who worked construction building Royals Stadium before heading to the ahead-of-its-time Royals Baseball Academy. Second longest-tenured Royal behind Brett. White’s is a great local story, but his play elevated his honor with eight Gold Gloves and the 1980 ALCS MVP, the series where the Royals finally overcame their October nemesis, the Yankees.
Having said that, given the Royals’ recent championship history, and dearth of honorees, they’re due to add a number or two to the facade of the team Hall of Fame beyond left field. Only the Diamondbacks (2), Rockies (1), Marlins (0), Mariners (2), Rays (2) and Blue Jays (2) have fewer retired numbers than the Royals. And of the teams that have come into existence post-expansion era (1961 onwards) only the Mets have been more successful. The Royals have a history that should be celebrated. It’s time to retire another number or two.
But who will get the call?
Here are three who should be honored:
3 - Ned Yost
He owns the franchise record in victories (746) as well as losses (839). You can’t acknowledge one without the other, which is really just a fancy way of saying no one has managed more games in team history than Yost. Oh, he is also the only manager in club history to have won back to back American League pennants. His overall postseason winning percentage of .710 is not only best in Royals’ history, it is third best in baseball history among skippers who managed at least 10 postseason games.
Although his Royals winning percentage is under .500, Yost qualifies as the most successful manager in franchise history. And with Howser’s number 10 on the wall, the precedent of retiring the number of a World Series winning manager has been set.
Yost’s number three should be retired.
4 - Alex Gordon
Based on the established criteria above, once he hangs up the glove, Gordon gets his number retired as a franchise icon.
Gordon currently ranks fourth in franchise history in bWAR at 35.1 (just ahead of White at 34.8) and his seven career Gold Gloves is just one behind White for most as a Royal. Of course there are the (semi) local ties as well, playing at the University of Nebraska. He was also the author of one of the most iconic moments in team history with his ninth inning bomb in Game One of the 2015 World Series.
The issue here is that, taken overall, his offensive numbers aren’t especially notable in context of the history of the franchise. Amos Otis, Willie Wilson and Hal McRae (and in many cases, White) are frequently above Gordon when it comes to key career counting numbers. The rate stats are far less compelling. His career .752 OPS ties him with Steve Balboni for 26th best in franchise history. His adjusted OPS+ of 103 is 25th best in team history and behind players such as Mike Macfarlane, Paul Schaal and Ed Kirkpatrick. We’re not discussing retiring their numbers.
However, from 2011 to 2015 not only was Gordon was one of the top players in the game; you can make the case he was absolutely the best left fielder in that time. After a struggle to start his career, his star shone briefly, before losing some luster after returning as a free agent. Still, that peak was incredible.
26 - Amos Otis
We are intimately familiar with most of the potential honorees based on this most recent run of success. But why not continue to honor those who excelled in the early days of the franchise. Besides, no matter how you slice it, if we’re judging based on overall performance, Otis is the second-best player in team history. From 1970 to 1983, Otis was a stalwart in center field, winning three Gold Gloves while being named to five All-Star teams. He finished in the top 10 in MVP voting four times.
Otis ranks second or third in Royals’ history in nearly every key offensive counting stat: third in games played, third in plate appearances, second in runs scored, third in hits, second in total bases, third in triples, third in home runs, third in RBI, second in steals… you get the picture. Otis is also second to Brett in bWAR (44.8 to Brett’s 88.6 to give you the proper perspective… There’s Brett and then there’s everyone else.)
Otis was the Royals’ first true superstar.
While those three represent the clearest options at the moment, there are others who certainly merit consideration.
13 - Salvador Perez
The other member of the core of the championship teams besides Gordon who is still with the Royals, Perez has a case to have his number retired, but falls short at the moment. Perez is currently 10th in club history in bWAR, sandwiched between Mike Sweeney and John Mayberry.
Like Gordon, Perez has a trophy case full of defensive hardware, with five Gold Gloves. And like Gordon, he was integral to a postseason moment with his walkoff hit in the 2014 Wild Card Game. The question of the moment is how will he perform after his return from Tommy John surgery? He was on track to open the season with the team, but you have to imagine the extra time to rehab and prepare can only help in his return from injury. Should the 2020 season happen, Perez will be playing in his age 30 season, so he still has plenty of career ahead of him. Does he remain a Royal for his entire career? Will he have to move to a less demanding position? After hitting better than league average just once in the last five seasons, can he consistently regain the offense he flashed early in his career?
This decision is too early to call.
6 - Lorenzo Cain/8 - Mike Moustakas/35 - Eric Hosmer/2 - Alcides Escobar
The four, along with Gordon and Perez, formed an integral core of the championship teams and all hit free agency at the same time, after the 2017 season. (Although Moustakas and Escobar found their way back to Kansas City.) And like Gordon and Perez, all four provided individual post season highlights and made All-Star teams as Royals.
What keeps them from having their numbers retired is that they left. While the criteria of having a number retired is unwritten, it’s clear longevity with the club is a key factor. If you open the door to any one of these four, it would create a cascade of retired numbers.
23 - Zack Greinke/15 - Carlos Beltran
The Royals don’t have a retired number that fits this particular scenario, but several teams have honored players who started with them before departing and eventually landing in the baseball Hall of Fame.
Beltran did win the Rookie of the Year award with the Royals, but the reality is, his best seasons were with the Mets. His Hall of Fame candidacy, once a slam-dunk, will be interesting given the revelations of how his career ended with the Astros. But if he enters the Hall, it will be with a Mets cap.
Greinke won the 2009 AL Cy Young Award, with perhaps the most dominant pitching performance in Royals’ history. But like Beltran, he enjoyed his best seasons after departing Kansas City, in Los Angeles and Arizona. Bonus points for asking for a trade and bringing Cain, Escobar and Jake Odorizzi (who was part of the package for Wade Davis and James Shields), but it’s still not enough to earn a number retirement.