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A look at Royals career records

Brett, Brett and more Brett

Kansas City Royals George Brett, 1980 World Series SetNumber: X24986 TK4

I have a confession to make. My favorite baseball player to watch is Bryce Harper. Blasphemy, I know, but I love the way the guy plays, always full tilt and full of passion. When I am asleep, I dream of playing baseball like Bryce Harper. I’m young and strong again, pain-free, hair blowing in the wind. Losing my cap while circling the bases. Swinging the bat like I intend to do extreme prejudice to the baseball. I like watching Bobby Witt Jr., and over time he’ll probably grab take the mantle from Harper. With Harper being hurt and the Royals awash in organizational apathy, I’ve started to lose interest in the season.

The Stanley Cup playoffs filled the void for several weeks, and they were terrific. In my humble opinion, there is no other sport that can compare to playoff hockey. I’m always awed to see hockey players lay down in front of 90 mph slapshots, limp off the ice to lick their wounds then skate back out in a couple of minutes without missing a shift. If an NBA player took a blow like that, they’d be out the rest of the season.

A couple weeks ago, the men’s Wimbledon Final grabbed some of my head space. And what a final it was! How about Novak Djokovic? Talk about playing like you’ve been there before. Novak does that better than anyone, save Roger Federer. And his opponent Nick Kyrgios? He’s immensely talented and if he can corral his wayward emotions, he’ll most likely win several majors. Maybe it’s just me, but does Kyrgios seem like he’s becoming a bit of a tennis heel, perhaps in the John McEnroe vein? He was a strange player to watch, often arguing with and belittling his very own cheering section.

Former Kansas City Star scribe Joe Posnanski is currently doing a series on an imaginary playoff between the best players in each of the top 16 states. It’s a fascinating piece of work and the good folks at Strat-O-Matic are playing the games off, so you get the whole enchilada: the box score, attendance, time of play, everything. For me, it’s Don’t Miss Baseball, harkening back to a pre-internet, pre-cable era, before every game was televised, and we anxiously awaited the daily paper so we could study the box score to re-create what had happened the day before. You can find this and subscribe to it on his JoeBlogs. It’s worth the money.

Now what? As of this writing, football season doesn’t start for 60 more days. I could go back to playing golf. No. I respect myself more than that. In a fit of boredom, I looked at the Royals career hitting and pitching records. It’s crazy that in the first 26 years of the franchise, they had 17 seasons where they finished at .500 or better. They started with nothing, at ground zero, and by the third year fielded a winning team. That is a testament to the vision of Ewing Kauffman and the genius of General Manager Cedric Tallis. In the following 28 seasons, they’ve only finished .500 or better five times. I’m guessing that aside from the 2013-2016 window, there are two generations of Royal fans who do not know what it’s like to cheer for a consistent winning team.

When I first looked at the career records, I admit I was a little disappointed. For example, the Royals only have one player who has a career batting average better than .300. That would be George Brett, of course, at .305. The next closest was Mike Sweeney, who came up a few hits short at .299. The closest active player is Whit Merrifield at .286. Whit was a terrific player in his prime, but he’s not making it to .300.

After I looked at the club’s records, a light bulb went on. Without some context, how do I know if what I’m seeing is good or not? So, I compared the Royals best with the three other teams who came into the existence at the same time: the Seattle Pilots/Milwaukee Brewers, the San Diego Padres, and the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals. The Expos have surprisingly had four players with a career batting average better than .300, led by the incomparable Vlad Guerrero Sr. at .323. The others were Tim Raines and Jose Vidro at .301 and Trea Turner at .300. San Diego had one, the fabulous Tony Gwynn at .338. The Brew Crew had three, led by Jeff Cirillo at .307 with Paul Molitor (.303) and the criminally underrated Cecil Cooper (.302) closing things out.

How about career home run leaders? KC has George at 317 with Sal Perez sitting in second with 211. George’s record is safe. Ryan Zimmerman holds the Montreal/Washington mark with 284. Ryan Braun knocked 352 dongs for Milwaukee while Nate Colbert, who played his last game in San Diego in 1974, still leads the Padres with a paltry 163.

RBI’s? Brett again with 1,596, well ahead of Perez, the closest active player, who sits at #7 with 690. That record is not getting broken anytime soon either. Zimmerman again leads Washington with 1,061. Tony Gwynn tops SD with 1,138 and Robin Yount takes the top spot in Milwaukee with 1,406.

Kansas City, Milwaukee, and San Diego each have one player with more than 3,000 hits: Brett with 3,154, Gwynn with 3,141, and Yount with 3,142. Amazing how close the numbers of those three were. And how fortunate were us fans that their spectacular careers overlapped? No active player in Royals uniform is even remotely close to this pace and it may be a long while before we enjoy another 3,000-hit player in Kansas City. Witt Jr. has the youth and hit tool to make it happen. Time will tell. Will the Royals make a commitment to keeping him in Kansas City for the entirety of his career?

How about triples, the most exciting play in baseball? Brett again is the KC leader with 137. Willie Wilson was a close second with 133. Amos Otis is a distant third with 65. Among the actives, Whit sits at #16 with 26 while in a bit of a surprise, Hunter Dozier comes in at #18 with 25. Who knew that Hunter had a thing for three baggers? The best among the other three other teams is Yount with 126. Gwynn leads SD with 85 while Tim Raines holds the Expo mark with 82. Of modern-day players, the late, great Roberto Clemente is the leader with 166 career triples. That number is only good for 27th on the all-time list. There was nothing quite like the sight of Clemente churning around second base, arms flailing, legs pumping, losing his helmet on his way into third base.

The record for drawing bases on balls, something the current Royals know little about is downright embarrassing. Brett again leads the career mark with 1,096. Otis is a distant second with 739. Whit leads the actives, way back at #23 with....233. That mark isn’t getting broken by anyone on this team either.

On the pitching side, Paul Splittorff holds a comfortable lead in the career win category with 166. Zach Greinke leads the actives with 62, with a footnote. The footnote as you well know is that Zach has spent a lot of years (and wins) playing for other teams and his bookend career with the Royals has been spent playing with some really bad teams.

Steve Rogers leads the Expos with 158 wins. Jim Slaton holds the Brewer mark at 117 while Eric Show tops San Diego with a measly 100.

Much ink has been spilled about the 2022 Royals staff and their predilection to giving up walks. How about career walks? Mark Gubicza has that mark with 783. Brad Keller (with a bullet) leads the actives at #23 with 232. Single season walks? That’d be Gubicza again with 120 in 241 innings in 1987. Keller walked 64 in 133 innings in 2021, so he was on a similar pace. I don’t recall Gubicza being that wild, but he holds three of the top 25 single season marks. Tom Gordon takes the prize with 5 seasons in the top 25.

How about shutouts? Dennis Leonard holds the career mark with 23, which will never be broken. Greinke, at #17, leads the actives with....three. Another mark that will never be broken is Roger Nelson’s 1972 single season record of 6 shutouts. Nelson was truly fantastic that summer, only allowing 40 earned runs in 173 innings. He struck out 120 batters and only walked 31 while posting a WHIP of .87. Had he played for Dayton Moore, he might have gotten a lifetime contract. Instead Tallis shipped him to Cincinnati for future Royal Hall of Famer Hal McRae.

Among the other teams, the shutout number that really surprised me was from Steve Rogers, who tossed 37 career shutouts for the Expos. I remember seeing Rogers pitch but had forgotten how good he was. He had a stretch from 1976 to 1983 where he went 114-94 and averaged four shutouts each season. Impressive. The other teams were comparable. Jim Slaton leads the Brewers with 19 while Randy Jones, who won the National League Cy Young in 1976, leads the Padres with 18. Of course, the National League pitchers never had to deal with the Designated Hitter, which gave them three to four easy outs every game.

After doing some comparison shopping, I felt much better about the Royals. Our best players were just as good, or better, than the other three teams. Having an all-timer like Brett helps, but he’s been retired for almost thirty years. The Royals have also had a lot of other really good players, guys like Otis, Wilson, Sweeney, Alex Gordon, John Mayberry and Frank White, just to name a few. We need some more all-timers though. Those guys are hard to find. Brett started playing when I was 12 and retired when I was 32. With players moving around to multiple teams in their careers, many of these career records may never be broken. As a fan that makes me sad. Will a 12-year-old fan today be able to look back on the careers and say the same thing about Witt Jr., or Vinnie Pasquantino? I hope so.

There is one more comparison, and it is the most important. The Royals have two World Series championships. The Expos/Nationals have one. Milwaukee and San Diego are still looking for their first. That’s something that will never change. Flags fly forever.