Years ago, former Kansas City Star columnist Joe Posnanski used to write a story each spring detailing why this would be the year the Royals would win. A lot of people thought he was doing it as a joke, and maybe he was, but I think he truly believed what he was writing. I believe that for the 15 or so years that Posnanski wrote for the Star, the Royals only had one winning season, that being the semi-magical 2003 season.
I’m not going to write about how this might be the Royals' year. We have plenty of other talented and capable writers at Royals Review to cover that. Instead, I’m going to make it my annual mission to write a story about why the Royals' first General Manager Cedric Tallis should be in the Royals Hall of Fame. I vow to keep writing about this injustice every year until it is rectified. Or until readers fill my inbox with cries of mercy, begging me to move on to another topic.
I’ve written about Tallis several times before and will try to find some new ground each year. Tallis, a veteran of World War II, started out at the lowest rungs in minor league baseball, beginning in 1948. He learned the business while running clubs in Georgia, Alabama, Vancouver, and Seattle before finally getting his first major league job with the expansion California Angels. During this time, the ambitious Tallis, was networking with other up-and-coming baseball executives and learning how to build an organization. It all came to fruition when Ewing Kauffman’s bid won the rights to the Kansas City Royals, one of the new expansion teams beginning play in the 1969 season. Kauffman hired Tallis, who was 53 at the time and stated that “outside of finances, he will run the club.” Kauffman also outlined an ambitious plan to propel the new club into the playoffs within five seasons. Remember this, as it will come into play later.
At the time of his hire, the Royals had nothing. No infrastructure other than aged Municipal Stadium. No farm teams, no marketing, no front office. Absolutely nothing. One of the first things Tallis did was bring in two old baseball friends, Charlie Metro and Lou Gorman. The three then put together what came to be called “The Kansas City Royals Instructional Manual”, a guide which covered how everything in the future organization would be ran. The trio got many ideas from two other highly successful organizations, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Baltimore Orioles.
Tallis continued to bring aboard the talent. Among his next hires were future General Managers John Schuerholz and Herk Robinson as well as super scout Syd Thrift. He hired Hall of Famer Joe Gordon to be the Royals' first manager. He petitioned the American League owners to allow the Royals to participate in the 1968 amateur draft, something that was not part of the original expansion agreement. The owners allowed Kansas City and Seattle to participate, but get this, they didn’t get their first selections until the fourth round!
Tallis garnered one huge score in that first draft. In the 25th round, he selected a tall left-handed pitcher from Morningside College in Iowa whose name still dots many of the Royals career records list: Paul Splittorff. Tallis also selected Dane Iorg in the 16th round but was unable to sign him. Iorg would eventually end up back in Kansas City at the tail end of a ten-year career and earn a place in Royals lore when his ninth inning single gave the Royals an improbable win in Game six of the 1985 World Series, which in some ways brought the Tallis dream full circle.
In October of 1968, the Royals and Seattle Pilots engaged in the expansion draft. The two teams went in different directions with the Pilots focusing more on older, established players while the Royals went for younger players with less experience and more upside. Of the 30 selections made by Tallis, 20 ended up playing significant roles on early Royals teams. In addition, he used draft capital in some of his brilliant future trades, flipping four choices over the years for players who would be significant franchise cornerstones. And if that weren’t enough, the Royals eventually ended up with three of Seattle’s picks, Lou Piniella, Steve Hovley and Marty Pattin. Tallis pretty much crushed the expansion draft. His only misses were whiffing on Jim Palmer, before the Orioles pulled him back and missing on Lou Piniella and pitcher Mike Marshall, who the Pilots took with the 28th and 53rd pick respectively.
Longtime Royal scout Art Stewart once said that as a GM, Tallis “had guts”. That he did. He started wheeling and dealing almost immediately, swapping his 49th pick in the expansion draft, future Hall of Fame closer Hoyt Wilhelm to his former team the Angels for Dennis Paepke and Ed Kirkpatrick. Paepke never developed, but Kirkpatrick, a one-time bonus baby, was an early Royal star. Eventually, Tallis traded him as well, in a 1973 deal to the Pirates for pitcher Nelson Briles. In April of 1969, just a week before the season started, Tallis sent John Gelnar and Steve Whitaker, both expansion picks, to Seattle for Lou Piniella. Piniella would go on to win the American League Rookie of the Year. This became a common thread for Tallis, making deals in a furious effort to upgrade his team.
Tallis conducted his second draft in June of 1969 and came away with two players who would play significant roles in the Royals' early pennant-winning seasons: Doug Bird in the 3rd round and Al Cowens in the 75th round. Has there ever been a better 75th-round pick than Cowens? He blossomed into a star in 1977, finishing second in the A.L. MVP vote. Unfortunately, an Ed Farmer fastball to the face in a 1979 game derailed a once-promising career for Cowens.
Tallis’ legend really started to take off after the Royals' first season. In December of 1969, he sent one of his best position players, Joe Foy, to the New York Mets for pitcher Bob Johnson and a young outfielder named Amos Otis. Johnson had one solid year as a starter, setting a club record for strikeouts in a season that stood for years. Otis ended up being a five-time All-Star and an inductee into the Royals Hall of Fame. The trade was the first of several unbelievably lopsided deals that Tallis pulled off. Reading the list, it almost defies belief how much talent Tallis and his staff were able to draft and acquire.
1970 regular and secondary draft: Greg Minton, Jim Wohlford and Tom Poquette.
June 1970 - Traded utility infielder Fred Rico to St. Louis for Cookie Rojas.
July 1970 - signed Frank White and Ron Washington as amateur free agents.
December 1970 - traded Jim Campanis, Jackie Hernandez and Bob Johnson to the Pirates for Bruce Dal Canton, Jerry May and Freddie Patek.
1971 regular and secondary draft: John Wathan, George Brett, Steve Busby, Joe Zdeb and Mark Littell.
October 1971 - purchased Richie Scheinblum from the Texas Rangers.
December 1971 - traded pitchers Lance Clemons and Jim York to the Astros for John Mayberry.
1972 regular and secondary draft: Jamie Quirk and Dennis Leonard.
August 1972 - signed UL Washington as an amateur free agent.
November 1972 - traded Roger Nelson and Richie Scheinblum to Cincinnati for Wayne Simpson and Hal McRae.
1973 regular and secondary draft: Ruppert Jones and Bob McClure.
He had some misses as well. In 1973 he had a bad run by trading Tom Burgmeier to Minnesota for Ken Gill. He sent Dick Drago to Boston for Mary Pattin, which ended up being a wash. And most famously, sent Lou Piniella to the Yankees for Lindy McDaniel in what was probably his worst trade.
In his last draft, the 1974 draft, Tallis selected Willie Wilson, Scott Sanderson and Sammy Stewart. The team was unable to sign Sanderson and Stewart, who both went on to decent careers. Wilson ended up in the Royals Hall of Fame. In fact, of the 18 players enshrined in the Royals Hall of Fame, Tallis selected, signed or traded for 11 of them, by far and away the most of any Royals General Manager.
The Royals, assembled by Tallis, finally won their first American League West crown in 1976. Unfortunately, Tallis wasn’t around to see it, having been fired in June of 1974 and replaced by Joe Burke, who is in the Royals Hall of Fame. Burke made a few good draft choices and a couple of decent trades, one being the trade with Milwaukee, sending three of Tallis’ choices, Wohlford, Quirk and Bob McClure to the Brewers for pitcher Jim Colborn and catcher Darrell Porter. Colborn won 17 games for the 1977 team and threw a no-hitter. Porter blossomed into a star, becoming an offensive powerhouse in his four seasons in Kansas City. Porter’s 1979 season remains one of the greatest offensive seasons in Royals history. He slashed .291/.421/.484 with 20 home runs, 112 RBI, 101 runs scored and 121 walks, all good for 7.6 WAR. Burke also picked up Larry Gura from the Yankees for Fran Healy. And he eventually fired Jack McKeon and hired Whitey Herzog. For Burke, that was pretty much his entire Royals resume.
After being dismissed by the Royals, Tallis landed in New York, working for George Steinbrenner and the Yankees, where he won a World Series. In 1982, he moved onto the Tampa Bay Baseball Group, which was established to bring a major league team to the Tampa area. Tragically, Tallis was felled by a heart attack on May 8th, 1991, in Tampa, putting an end to a brilliant 43-year baseball career.
Now the big question. Why isn’t Tallis in the Royals Hall of Fame? After all, he built a model franchise from the ground up, including the establishment of the Royals Baseball Academy and the early groundwork for what became Royals Stadium. His charges produced a winning record of 85-76 in just their third year of existence and by 1973, were challenging the mighty Oakland Athletics for division supremacy.
There are several theories on what caused the rift that sent Tallis packing, the most likely being Ewing Kauffman’s hiring of Jack McKeon to manage the Royals in 1973. Tallis, and many players, had been staunch supporters of manager Bob Lemon, who Kauffman fired after the 1972 season. Kauffman stated that the team wanted to have a younger man running the club, a remark that eventually cost him some money in an age-related lawsuit by Lemon. After all, Lemon was only 51 when dismissed by the Royals. By comparison, McKeon was 42 when he got the top spot. McKeon and Tallis clashed in June of 1973 when McKeon popped off in the press that the reason the Royals weren’t doing better was because Tallis had failed to secure several needed players who had been available. Several players, most notably Lou Piniella and Steve Busby, chafed under McKeon’s leadership, which eventually led to the ill-fated Piniella deal. Tallis never embraced the McKeon hiring, much to the chagrin of his boss.
Another cause of tension was the fact that Tallis never fully embraced the Royals Baseball Academy. To Tallis, the Academy was an expensive and unreliable use of financial resources, which Tallis thought would have been better used in minor league player development. Ewing Kauffman though, loved his Academy and the difference of opinion hung between the two men. The academy operated for five seasons and only produced three major league players: Ron Washington, UL Washington and Frank White. Like it or not, Tallis had a very valid point.
Was there some other reason, unknown to us, that is keeping Tallis out of the Royals Hall of Fame? Was the blood so bad between Ewing Kauffman and Cedric Tallis that Kauffman laid out some type of order that Tallis was to never be honored? Short of that, my theory is that the two men allowed their strong personalities to come between them. Kauffman was losing money each year with the early Royals teams and the stock market decline of 1973-74 had pummeled the stock price of Kauffman’s Marion Labs, which further amplified Mr. Kauffman’s financial anguish and limited his ability to put together the last pieces of a championship team.
Tallis also clashed with Charles Truitt, the Royals VP of Finance. When Truitt retired, Mr. Kauffman hired Joe Burke as his replacement, signally to Tallis that his time was nearing an end. This is a model that the current Royals have used by bringing in first Ned Yost and later Mike Matheny. It’s an easy line to follow that Burke probably had a better sense for office politics and knew what to do and say to please the guy who signed his paychecks. One example of this was once Burke took over as GM, he almost immediately gave McKeon a two-year contract extension. Forget the fact that the extension didn’t work out well. Mr. K was a Jack McKeon guy. Burke, to his credit, knew who buttered his bread.
It always amazes me to look at the cumulative WAR on the biggest Cedric Tallis deals. When you add up the Kirkpatrick, Piniella, Otis, Rojas, Patek, Mayberry and McRae trades and the signing and draft picks of Splittorff, Busby, Brett, White and Wilson, you have an astounding 356 WAR over what was given up, As Royal fans, we will never see a run like this again in our lifetimes. Whatever the reason for keeping Tallis out of the Royals Hall of Fame, it’s time for the club to either induct the man or give an honest explanation of why he’s being excluded.