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A history of shortened Royals seasons

They don’t always get 162 in.

Kansas City Royals v New York Yankees

Owners have drawn another line in the sand, saying that if a deal isn’t done by today, there is no possibility of a 162-game schedule (although to be honest, I thought that’s what they said last week!) If games are canceled for good, it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen a truncated Royals schedule. Here’s a look at the past seasons when the Royals played a shorter schedule.

1972: Games Lost - 8

The first time players ever went on strike was in 1972, when the pension agreement between owners and players expired the week before teams were to begin the regular season. Players asked for modest benefit increases, something owners resisted. Union leader Marvin Miller did not think the players would follow through on a strike, but led by leaders like Reggie Jackson, the players unanimously voted to go on strike on April 1.

Royals owner Ewing Kauffman was described as one of the “semi-militant” owners rallying his colleagues to take a hard line. He addressed his players just before the work stoppage, telling reporters, “I told them they were damn fools to strike over this issue, that the public will not be with them.” He was right. The strike was enormously unpopular with fans, with a Sporting News poll showing some 90 percent of readers against the players.

The strike wiped out the first two series of games before an agreement was reached on April 13 with games to begin on April 15. The players agreed not to be paid for the lost games, so MLB did not reschedule the game, leading to an unbalanced schedule (the Red Sox would finish a half game out of first place).

“I really don’t feel like you can say it was a victory for us,” said Royals infielder Cookie Rojas. ”It’s just that we thought we were right. And when you think you are right, you have to fight for it.”

The Royals were still a young franchise, but coming off their first winning season, an 85-win season with young stars like outfielder Amos Otis and shortstop Fred Patek, and they had added a young slugger from the Astros named John Mayberry. They felt cheated from the canceled games as they lost the opportunity to begin the season with a four-game series against the dreadful Texas Rangers. They played their opening series against the White Sox under protest, alleging Chicago had prepared for the season at their home park in violation of MLB’s rules, while the Royals had to work out in Lawrence, Kansas. The Royals got off to a dreadful 13-24 start, but caught fire in June and stayed near .500 most of the season, finishing the season 76-78.

1981: Games Lost - 59

Players won the right to free agency in 1976, but owners tried to drag salaries by requiring the team that lost a free agent to select from a pool of players from the team that signed a free agent. Players went on strike in the final week of spring training in 1980, but went back to work by Opening Day, and another strike was averted that May. But by the summer of 1981, tensions ran high, and negotiations were at a deadlock.

The Royals were the defending American League champs, but manager Jim Frey’s abrasive style was wearing thin in the clubhouse, and the team stumbled to a 20-30 start before the players went on strike on June 12. The union was feeling strong following player solidarity in 1972 and a brief spring training lockout in 1976, as well as victories in the courts against the owners. Owners had a $44 million insurance policy in reserve, and a strong desire to keep free agency from escalating salaries.

“I’m not militant,” insisted owner Ewing Kauffman, deflecting accusations of his hardline style. “I’m firm in my belief we have to have compensation. We have to get someone back when we lose a player like Darrell Porter.”

On July 31, the two sides finally reached a deal, to limit the free agent compensation and set free agent eligibility at six years of service time. But the damage had been done. The strike caused 713 games to be canceled. Owners lost $116 million ($72 million with the insurance policy), while players lost $28 million in salaries. Attendance dropped 20 percent. And the season had to be split into two halves with a first-half divisional champion to play the second-half divisional champion.

This gave the Royals a new lease on life, and after firing Frey and replacing him with Yankees coach Dick Howser early in the second half, their play improved to win the second-half title with a record of 30-23. They became the first team with a losing record (50-53) to play in the post-season, and they quickly fell in three games to the Oakland Athletics.

1994: Games Lost - 47

After owners were held by courts to have colluded against players to keep salaries low in violation of their labor deal, there was great animosity between the owners and players in the early 90s. After the labor deal expired in 1993, owners proposed a new economic plan for the game that included revenue sharing, elimination of arbitration, restricted free agency for players with 4-6 years of service time, and a salary cap.

The 1994 Royals were in transition, with owner and founder Ewing Kauffman having died the previous summer, and future Hall of Famer George Brett having retired. The club was led off the field by a non-profit with a board of directors helmed by David Glass, and on the field they were led by bombastic skipper Hal McRae. Rumors that McRae would be fired and the team would trade their expensive stars like Kevin Appier, Tom Gordon, and Jeff Montgomery surrounded the team as they hovered around .500 most of the summer.

But on July 23, the Royals won. And won the next day. And the day after that. They kept on winning for over two weeks, running their winning streak to 14 games, the second-longest in club history. By August 10, they were 64-51, just four games out of first place, and three games out of the Wild Card.

But with labor negotiations stalled that summer, owners ratcheted up the pressure by withholding payments to the players’ pension plan. On August 12, the players went on strike. On September 14, with talks going nowhere, acting commissioner Bud Selig announced the cancellation of the remainder of the season, including the World Series.

“Without the strike, we knew we would have had a good chance to make the playoffs,” said manager Hal McRae. “We had a good team that was becoming a very good team that was insistent on winning each night.

1995: Games Lost - 18

The strike carried over into 1995 with owners bringing in replacement players in spring training, threatening to use the motley group of fringe big leaguers and independent league players for the regular season. Instead of Wally Joyner at first base, it would be independent league star Jeff Groteowld. Instead of Gary Gaetti at third it would be Steve Kiefer, who hadn’t played professionally in four years. Instead of Rookie of the year Bob Hamelin swatting homers at DH, it would be Eddie Jurak, a 37-year old Mexican League veteran.

The replacement players would never get their shot. The strike effectively ended on April 1, when U.S. Circuit Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor granted an injunction to restore the terms of the last Collective Bargaining Agreement. The owners dropped their salary cap proposal they had unilaterally imposed, and players came back to work. The league had to arrange a truncated three-week spring training, and pushed back the regular season to begin on April 26 with a 144-game schedule.

Teams scrambled in a transactions frenzy, signing players to fill out their roster in preparation for the season. The Royals went in cost-cutting mode after alleged losses of $16 million the prior season, with longtime owner Ewing Kauffman no longer around to subsidize the team. They quickly dumped Cy Young winner David Cone to the Blue Jays for three non-descript minor leaguers, and popular centerfielder Brian McRae to the Cubs for a pair of farmhands.

“I hope people understand that these (trades) were not emotional decisions,” Royals President Mike Herman told fans. “We had to make these decisions to keep baseball in Kansas City.”

Despite the abbreviated spring training, ace pitcher Kevin Appier came out firing, tossing 6 23 innings of no-hit ball on Opening Day against the Orioles before being pulled due to a pitch count. The Royals leaned heavily on Appier and their pitching staff with Tom Gordon, Mark Gubicza, and Chris Haney making up an unorthodox four-man rotation under new manager Bob Boone. They got off to a terrific start, and were 27-18 by mid-June, the second-best record in the league.

But injuries to the pitching staff and a weak offense would catch up to the Royals by July and they sank to .500. It was still enough to hang around the Wild Card race, but by mid-August the club traded away veterans Vince Coleman, Chris James, and Pat Borders. New young players like Johnny Damon and Michael Tucker helped boost the team back into the hunt, but a late slump would cause them to end the season under .500 at 70-74.

2020: Games Lost - 102

The only time a Royals season has been shortened for non-labor reasons came in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic threw the entire world for a loop. Teams were preparing for the season in spring training in March of 2020 when the first confirmed cases of the virus in the United States were reported. On March 12, MLB announced the delay of the start of the season by two weeks. The next day, they suspended spring training and allowed players to return home. Three days later, they announced the season would be pushed back to mid-May.

At the time, baseball officials expressed interest in playing a full 162-game schedule, possibly by pushing the World Series to later in the year and playing it at an indoor or fair-weather neutral site. Later, they proposed playing all games in pods in Arizona and Florida.

But even as cases subsided and safety protocols were agreed on in June, there was a dispute about how much to play players. With no fan attendance that summer, owners wanted players to share in the pain of lower revenues. Players balked, insisting they were still entitled to what had been promised to them. Owners dragged their feet in negotiations, which had the advantage of allowing them to avoid paying salaries.

The two sides finally came to agreement on a 60-game schedule to begin in late July with some rule changes to accomodate the shortened spring training. The National League adopted the designated hitter rule, extra inning rules were modified to expedite games, and doubleheaders were shortened to seven innings. The Blue Jays were not permitted to travel across the border, so they began the season at the home of their Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo. Baseball also expanded the playoffs to 16 teams, with most of the playoffs taking place at a neutral site.

Even with baseball back, teams had to deal with players opting out of the season entirely and numerous outbreaks. he Royals would be lose significant players like Salvador Perez, Brad Keller, and Hunter Dozier due to positive COVID-19 tests early in the season, with Dozier suffering significant symptoms. Even with a young rebuilding team and a new manager in Mike Matheny, the expanded playoffs gave the Royals an opportunity. But the loss of key players and a pitching staff that wasn’t quite ready caused the team to stumble to a 14-28 start. They would win 12 of their final 18 games to finish 26-34, a .433 winning percentage that was their best since the core of their championship team left after 2017.

Poll

How many Royals games will be played this year?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    162
    (2 votes)
  • 39%
    140-161
    (43 votes)
  • 41%
    120-139
    (46 votes)
  • 12%
    80-119
    (14 votes)
  • 0%
    Less than 80
    (0 votes)
  • 4%
    There will be no season.
    (5 votes)
110 votes total Vote Now