Once the parade ended and the hangovers subsided from the glorious 1985 season, you could tell that the Royals had fully embraced a rebuild, most of it on the fly. The team stayed competitive while replacing mainstays of previous pennant-winning teams. Guys like John Mayberry, Cookie Rojas, Freddie Patek, Darrell Porter, Al Cowens, Amos Otis, Hal McRae and John Wathan. The pitching staff was new, and younger. Gone were older stars like Steve Busby, Paul Splittorff, Larry Gura and Doug Bird. That’s some serious talent to replace. Eight of those twelve are in the Royals Hall of Fame.
General Manager John Schuerholz had begun to put his stamp on the franchise, for better or worse, and 1986 represented a full-blown overhaul. The team only employed 36 players in 1986, 23 hitters and 13 pitchers. Four of those 36 were first-year players, acquired from other organizations, while ten were full-blown rookies. The 1986 amateur draft was also solid as the team selected Bo Jackson in the 4th round, Tom Gordon in the 6th, Greg Hibbard in the 16th and David Howard in the 32nd. Here’s a recap of the 1986 class.
Salazar, a shortstop, came over from the Mets in April of 1986 in a trade and immediately stepped into the starting lineup. His Kansas City tenure lasted two seasons, and like many shortstops of his era, he was a little light at the plate: .224/.242/.285. His fielding wasn’t bad, only 18 errors in 889 chances but the Royals wanted and needed a little more pop from the position, so in November of 1987 they packaged Salazar along with Danny Jackson and sent them to Cincinnati in exchange for Kurt Stilwell and Ted Power.
Law also came to the Royals in April of ‘86 as a free agent signee. He’d spent the previous four seasons with the White Sox and had some success, the best being a 3.2 WAR season in 1983 in which he stole 77 bases and picked up some down-ballot MVP votes. The Royals, as is their past and present MO, hoped he had something left in the tank. They gave him 341 plate appearances over 87 games, but after only hitting .261 with little power (one home run) or speed (14 stolen bases) they elected to not bring him back in 1987, to make room for another left fielder, who you will read about shortly.
Shields was the return piece of the late September Daryl Motley trade with Atlanta. He only appeared in three games for the Royals, pitching 8 2⁄3 innings and only allowing two runs. In the offseason, Schuerholz flipped him to Seattle along with Scott Bankhead and Mike Kingery in exchange for Rick Luecken and Danny Tartabull.
I have absolutely no memory of Hargesheimer. He was a right-handed pitcher who came over from the Cubs in a trade for Derek Botelho and Don Werner. He got into five games between April and August, good for 13 innings and a 6.23 ERA. He spent all of 1987 and 1988 in Omaha and never made it back to the big leagues. We need a Sporcle Friday on some of these guys who only played a handful of games.
The rookie class
Up to this point, except for 1969 and the massive rookie class of 2022, the 1986 rookie class may have been one of the largest in team history. Five of the ten rookies who debuted, went on to have productive careers. Unfortunately, not always with the Royals. The Royals were more “transactional” in the Schuerholz days, and not necessarily for the better. More on that in a future story. Here are the 1986 rookies, in alphabetical order.
Bankhead was an acclaimed high school pitcher from Reidsville, North Carolina, by way of the University of North Carolina when the Royals took him with their first-round pick in the 1984 draft. Bankhead garnered some buzz when he pitched for the 1984 USA Olympic team. I lived in Reidsville in 1985 and Bankhead was the talk of the town.
The Royals started him at AA Memphis and in 1986 he pitched the first seven games with Omaha before the Royals called him up. He made his debut on May 25 against the White Sox, getting his first win. He showed great promise, appearing in 24 games, including 17 starts. His best outing occurred on June 16th, when he tossed a complete game four-hitter in a 3-2 win at Oakland. Royals’ fans didn’t get a chance to see what Bankhead might have become.
In December, Schuerholz shipped him to Seattle (along with Mike Kingery and Steve Shields) for Rick Luecken and Danny Tartabull. Bankhead would play for five teams over a ten-year career that was highlighted by a 14 and 6 campaign in 1989. Shoulder problems limited his effectiveness, as he ended his career with a 57 and 48 mark after the conclusion of the 1995 season.
Bell was a college all-American catcher at Old Dominion. The Royals acquired him in a trade with the Mariners. I’m starting to see a pattern here with trades with Seattle. Bell spent most of his career in the minor leagues but did get into eight late-season games for the Royals, going hitless in five plate appearances. In September of 1987, the Royals sent him to Atlanta for a second run at Gene Garber. Bell got into one game with the Braves, got one at-bat, but no dice. Six major league plate appearances, zero hits. He retired after the 1989 season. Garber, who the Royals sold to the Phillies back in 1974, right before he got decent, spent the last two years of his 19-year career back in Kansas City, appearing in 39 games and notching 14 saves.
Another potential Sporcle entry, Brewer was a first-round pick by the Royals in the 1979 January draft. He had good size at 6’5 and 190 pounds and was projected to play right field. His career spanned eight seasons, nearly all in various levels of the minors. The Royals brought him up in June and he got into 11 games, getting 20 plate appearances and notching three hits. He got a hit in his first at-bat, a ninth-inning single off the Angels' Todd Fischer, which has to be a thrill for any ballplayer. The Royals sent him back to Omaha after the 4th of July weekend and he never made it back to the majors.
Cone was a local boy (Rockhurst High School) taken by the Royals in the 3rd round of the 1981 draft. He put up decent minor-league numbers, but nothing that would make you think he was going to be a superstar. But man, did he develop. Unfortunately, other teams reaped most of that development. Cone appeared in 11 games for the Royals in 1986, throwing 22 innings.
In March of 1987, Schuerholz sent Cone to the Mets for three stiffs in what remains one of the all-time worst trades in Royals history. In 1988 Cone blew up and posted a 20 and 3 record with a 2.22 ERA. He finished third in the NL Cy Young vote behind Orel Hersheiser and former Royal Danny Jackson. Ouch. He played seven seasons for the Mets, going 81 and 51 before they shipped him to Toronto.
When his Toronto contract expired, the Royals opened their checkbook and resigned Cone. In 1994, Cone went 16-5 for the Royals and won the Cy Young award. Cone then became a man of distinction, as the Royals traded him back to Toronto in 1995 for three more stiffs, in another horrible trade. That trade fell on Herk Robinson’s watch. Cone eventually ended up with the Yankees, where he spent six very productive years. In 1999 he pitched a perfect game, on Yogi Berra Day no less, with Don Larsen also in attendance. He finished his career with one season in Boston and a handful of games with the Mets in 2003 before calling it a career at the age of 40. And what a career. Cone was a five-time All-Star as well as a five-time World Series champ. He ended his career with a record of 194 and 126, worth over 62 WAR.
What can you say about Bo Jackson that hasn’t already been said? He was a once-in-a-lifetime athlete. In 1987, despite being flat broke, I convinced my wife to drive five hours, one way, and spend money we didn’t have on two tickets in the corner of the upper deck looking down on left field, just so I could see Bo Jackson play. That’s the kind of attraction Jackson was. He didn’t disappoint, mashing a long home run that night off Frank Viola. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Jackson, who starred as a running back at Auburn, was drafted by the Yankees in 1982, and by the Angels in 1985, but thankfully never signed. After winning the Heisman at Auburn, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did Jackson dirty during a visit to the team facility, which made him ineligible for the Tigers' upcoming baseball season. The infuriated Bo let it be known that he wouldn’t sign with Tampa come hell or high water. And he didn’t. Bo Jackson is many things, including a man of his word.
The Royals sagely swept in and took him in the 4th round of the 1986 draft. He signed and during a visit to Royals Stadium, put on a show during batting practice. He deposited several balls deep over the centerfield fence. Buck O’Neil said that in his life he heard three men hit the ball with a sound like dynamite. The first was when he was a child and heard Babe Ruth hit. The second time was Josh Gibson hitting and the third time was with Bo. The Royals started Bo at AA Memphis and those games were events. He played 53 games for the Chicks before the Royals brought him up. He made his debut on September 2 against the White Sox at the Stadium. In his first at-bat, against future Hall of Famer Steve Carlton, Bo hit a routine ground ball to second baseman Tim Hulett, and beat it out for his first hit. I’ve watched baseball for almost 55 years, and I can’t recall ever seeing that happen. It’s hard to describe how unique Bo was. He ran the 100 meters in 10.39 seconds. He once high jumped 6’9. He ran a 4.13 - 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. Understand he ran a 4.13 at 220 pounds. The only other athlete in my lifetime who stood in Bo’s class would have been Wilt Chamberlain.
Bo hit his first home run on September 14th, a mammoth shot to left-center field off the Mariners Mike Moore, a blast that carried 475 feet and remains one of the longest-ever hit at the stadium. His baseball resume is packed with highlights: the All-Star game home run (and MVP award). The “wall run” against Baltimore. The “throw” in Seattle to get Harold Reynolds. The three-home run game in Yankee Stadium. His glorious 1989 season. The sky was the limit.
Naturally, a supernova like Bo wasn’t satisfied with being just a baseball superstar. He went back to football, “as a hobby”, for the Raiders. And despite the hatred Kansas City fans had for the Oakland Raiders, we must admit when Bo played, we watched. And he was spectacular at football too! Then there was the “Bo knows” ad campaign, which remains one of the most recognizable sports slogans even now, over twenty years later.
Unfortunately, it didn’t last. Bo sustained a serious hip injury in a playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals. I was watching and got a cold pit in my stomach as Bo laid on the turf. The Royals, perhaps fed up with his two-timing life, or just not patient enough to see him through rehab, cut Jackson. Football was absolutely over and there was some question if he would ever be able to return to baseball. He missed all of the 1992 season before making a somewhat miraculous return to the field in 1993 for the White Sox. But he wasn’t the same. He played 75 games for the Angels in 1994 before calling it a career at the age of 31.
I’ve always thought that had Bo just stuck with baseball, he’d have made the Hall of Fame. Of course, if he’d have just played baseball, he wouldn’t have been Bo.
Johnson was a second baseman drafted by Kansas City in the 6th round of the 1980 draft. He had a nine-year baseball career, all of it spent in the minor leagues, save for an 11-game stint with the Royals in 1986. He made his debut one day after Bo Jackson and batting behind Jackson, collected two hits in three at-bats. In my book, that’s a solid debut. In those 11 games, Johnson collected 8 hits in 31 at-bats for a respectable .258. He didn’t figure into the Royals plans and spent all of 1987 and 1988 at Omaha, before calling it a career at the age of 29.
Kingery came to Kansas City as an undrafted free agent in 1979. He held onto his dream and battled his way through the Royals minor league system, seven crushing years before finally getting his chance in the summer of ‘86. He made his debut against Baltimore on July 7th and in front of a large crowd at Royals Stadium, collected two hits in four at-bats against Mike Boddicker. Kingery got a 62-game tryout with the Royals and hit a respectable .258 with some doubles/triple power. In the off-season, the Royals packaged him with Scott Bankhead and Steve Shields to the Mariners for Rick Luecken and Danny Tartabull. The Royals have had a lot of right-fielders like Kingery over the years, guys like Aaron Guiel and David Lough come to mind. To his credit, Kingery fashioned a ten-year career with six different teams before the end came after the 1996 season at the age of 35. His best year came towards the end, in 1994 as a member of the Rockies. He slashed .349/.402/.532 in 105 games, putting up an OPS+ of 126. Respect.
Pecota was one of those guys who I thought was better than what his stats said he was. The Royals selected him in the 10th round of the 1981 draft out of De Anza college in California. He spent five full seasons in the minors before getting the call to Kansas City. He got his first hit on September 25th with a double off Frank Viola in the old Metrodome. Pecota was the original I-29 guy for the Royals, named for his frequent trips between KC and Omaha. During the 1987 season, he went back-to-back with Bo Jackson for his first major league home run. A versatile player, Pecota also had the distinction of playing all nine positions in his career. In fact, during his initial pitching performance, Pecota gave up a triple to Dave Winfield, which completed the only cycle of Winfield’s career.
During the 1991 offseason, the Royals sent Pecota and Bret Saberhagen to the Mets for Gregg Jeffries, Kevin McReynolds and Keith Miller. Pecota played for three more seasons, one with the Mets and two in Atlanta before retiring at the age of 34. Many younger fans recognize his name from PECOTA, the sabermetric created by Nate Silver.
Seitzer was an 11th-round pick in the 1983 draft out of that baseball powerhouse Eastern Illinois. That’s one thing I love about baseball: if you can play, there will be a scout somewhere that will find you. And Seitzer could play. More to the point, he could hit. He rolled through the Royals’ minor league system and got the call-up to Kansas City in early September. He collected two hits in his first game, and just kept raking. He went 12-for-33 in his first nine games and Royals fans had to be asking “where has this guy been all year?” He hit a bit of a slump, then rebounded to hit .323 in 96 at-bats.
He made the team in 1987 out of spring training and had one of the great rookie seasons in Royals history: hitting .323 and collecting a league-leading 207 hits. That earned him an All-Star berth and a second-place showing in the Rookie of the Year vote behind Mark McGwire, whose 49 home runs made voters' knees weak.
For the next four seasons, Seitzer was outstanding, slashing .296/.380/.396. while averaging 179 hits per season. To put that in perspective, the Royals 2022 hit leader Bobby Witt had 150 hits. The Royals released Seitzer after the 1991 season. He signed with Milwaukee and over the final eight years of his career, played also played for the A’s and the Indians, with whom he made it to the World Series in 1997. Seitzer also made it back to the All-Star game in 1995 as a member of the Brewers. 31 years after he played his last game in a Royal uniform, Seitzer remains one of just three Royals to collect six hits in a nine-inning game. His OBP mark still ranks second all-time, while his career walks total stands at #8. In retirement, he worked as a hitting coach, including a stint in Kansas City.
Taylor was a speedy centerfielder who the Royals acquired from Cleveland for pitcher Keith Creel after the 1985 season. Taylor started his professional career in 1981 with the Waterloo Indians. In 1983, he stole 95 bases for AA Buffalo. The Royals took a look at him in April of 1986, as he got into four games, mostly as a pinch runner. He got two at-bats and scored one run in his first game ever, at Fenway Park. The Royals then sent him back to Omaha, where he hit .259 and stole 67 bases. The team released him after the 1987 season and over the next five seasons he played in the Expos, Indians, Braves, and Reds system before closing his career with one year in the Mexican league.
1986 of course was the year that Dick Howser fell ill. Mike Ferraro replaced Howser as skipper halfway through the season as the Royals limped home with a 76-86 record. This first-year class was excellent though. Bo was Bo. Cone was a borderline Hall of Famer. Seitzer, Bankhead, Pecota and Kingery had long careers. If not for some debatable trades, this class could have laid an interesting foundation for the future.