Voting has officially opened for the 2023 Royals Hall of Fame! The Royals Hall of Fame may not be the great honor that the MLB Hall of Fame is, but it still should be considered quite prestigious. To that end, the Royals have submitted six strong candidates for your consideration. Here are the cases to be made for each of them.
Key stats: 7 years played, .287/.352/.483/.835, 111 OPS+, 164 SB
Beltrán may very well be elected into the national baseball Hall of Fame this season. If not this year, then likely soon. However, that vote will be based on the totality of his career. When deciding whether to elect him to the Royals HoF it makes sense to consider only his contributions in Kansas City. His stats in Kansas City were actually the weakest of his career until his final two years with the Rangers and Astros, but even they - as you can see above - were pretty impressive.
Beltrán won Rookie of the Year for Kansas City in 1999 and received MVP votes during the fluke season of 2003. He also famously, or perhaps infamously, could have been a Royal for years longer if David Glass hadn’t been so dang cheap. If that had happened, who knows, maybe he would have carried the Royals into contention - the return the team received when trading him certainly didn’t help. He might, at the very least, have become the second MLB player to enter the MLB Hall of Fame while wearing a Royals cap.
Per Baseball Reference, Beltrán is the fourteenth most valuable player in the Royals’ history. He is also fourth all-time in OPS, eighth in stolen bases, and first in stolen base percentage. He represented a power and speed combination that the Royals may never see again.
Key stats: 8 years played, .295/.359/.449/.808, 119 OPS+, 276 2B
Billy Butler will almost certainly not make it into the MLB Hall of Fame, his career pretty much cratered after it began a downward slide in 2014 and the Royals allowed him to leave in free agency. Billy was not a particularly strong defensive first baseman, but he always felt his offense played better when he took the field than when he played designated hitter. The numbers bear that out, by the way, as he had a 112 split OPS+ as a first baseman vs a 94 split OPS+ as a DH. Would Billy’s career have been lengthened if anyone had given him an opportunity to play first after he hit 30? We’ll never know.
Butler was one of the best pure hitters to ever grace Kansas City with his presence. All he did was hit and hit and hit. He was also a fan favorite with the nickname “Country Breakfast” and his own line of barbecue sauces as he tried to make himself a true part of Kansas City.
Butler’s numbers stand up against some of the best KC has to offer, too. He owns the fourth-best career batting average, and finds himself in the top ten of hits, doubles, home runs, and extra base hits as well. His 2009 campaign saw him hit 51 doubles, the second-most in Royals’ history. He may not have been as flashy as others on this list, but Kansas City has always shown an ability to appreciate things whether they were flashy or not.
Key stats: 6 years played, .292/.351/.438/.789/, 101 OPS+, 156 SB
I’ll never forget that Johnny Damon hit a leadoff home run against the Detroit Tigers in a game the team would ultimately go on to win 2-0 despite plenty of rain the first time I went to Kauffman stadium. I’ll also never forget that Johnny swore he wanted to stay in Kansas City but then forced the team to trade him and never looked back.
Johnny’s numbers with Kansas City are good but not great. He has the shortest career with the team of any of the position players on the ballot. He is sixth all-time on the team in triples, tenth in stolen bases, and eighth in batting average. Are those numbers good enough to secure your vote?
Key stats: 4 years played, 3.88 ERA, 4.22 FIP, 108 ERA+
Jason Vargas came to Kansas City as a journeyman pitcher and left with a new life in his career after having the best three years he would ever pitch semi-consecutively as he missed nearly an entire season due to Tommy John surgery.
Vargas wasn’t around for very long, so you won’t find him on any of the Royals all-time leaderboards. Still, he was pretty effective while he was around. He even won 18 games during his final year with Kansas City in 2017 and did his best to help that team limp into the playoffs. He also gave us some beautiful gifs:
Are those enough to justify electing him into the Royals Hall of Fame?
Key stats: 4 years pitched, 3.89 ERA, 3.98 FIP, 106 ERA+
You know, it wasn’t until I looked at them together like this that I realized how similar Vargas’ and Ventura’s stat lines were. Of course, while Vargas was having a career renaissance, Ventura was just getting started with his career when his life tragically came to an end during the 2016/2017 off-season.
A vote for Ventura is probably less about what he did on the mound and more about celebrating a young life cut short and the wishful thinking of what might have been. As for me, I’ll forever wish we could simply be debating the merits of electing him based on his performance.
Key stats: Managed 10 years, won a pennant, won a world series
Ned Yost is one of the more interesting characters in recent Royals’ history. No one benefitted more from the team’s sudden leap into competition than Yost. Prior to the 2014 ALDS Yost had seen his name turned into a verb, Yosted. To make a particularly poor managerial decision was to be Yosted.
However, after the 2014 AL Wild Card Game, everything Yost touched seemed to turn to gold for several years and the verb took on a more affectionate tone. The man who had once been derided for his cantankerous post-game interviews was now celebrated for them. He also seemed to relax somewhat following his playoff success and leaned into the comedy of such a role a bit more than the anger, to the benefit of all.
We will probably never know how much of the mid-teens Royals’ success was due to Ned Yost and how much might have been replicated or bested by another manager. However, it at least seems clear that there were worse men for the job. There is a quote from a Batman movie that people love to use, “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Ned Yost lived the opposite of that and then, in retiring during the 2019 season, ensured he didn’t swing back around to villain status.
As for me, I voted only for Butler and Yost. For a guy to go into a team Hall of Fame I think he has to have a certain longevity for the team and he has to have had his best years with the team. The other four simply don’t cut it because of those criteria.