This is the second posting in a series looking at the four major league expansion teams of 1969: the Kansas City Royals, the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals, the San Diego Padres, and the Seattle Pilots/Milwaukee Brewers. In the first posting I argued that the Royals are the most successful of these teams because they have made it to the World Series more than the other three and are the only team of the four to have won the World Series. I then argued that the 1985 World Series team was better than the 2015 World Series team because the ’85 team included four players who rank in the top 5 all time in multiple batting categories. By contrast only one member of the 2015 team holds a single season record for the Royals. In retrospect, that logic is a bit of a leap for deciding which was the better of two teams separated by 30 years, but the weight of players’ career statistics with these four teams is fundamental not only in determining the successes and failures of the four teams, but also for discovering the underlying reasons for success or failure. The intended point of the first posting was that the career longevity with the Royals of George Brett, Frank White, Willie Wilson, Hal McRae, and Amos Otis is a fundamental reason why the Royals have been the most successful of the four expansion teams. In this posting, I argue that a lower turnover rate of the team roster is a second major factor in the success of the Kansas City Royals.
According to Baseball Reference, in their 49-year history, the Royals have had a total of 857 players on their roster, the fewest of the four expansion teams. By contrast, the Padres have had 977 players, 14% more than the Royals, and the most of the four expansion teams. The Expos/Nationals have had 905 players and the Pilots/Brewers 863. However, the higher roster turnover rate has not doomed the Padres to failure as they have made it to the World Series twice, only to lose each time. Likewise, the fact that the Pilots/Brewers roster turnover rate is less than 1% higher than that of the Royals did not result in a World Series victory in their 1982 appearance and they have made it to the post-season only 4 times, the fewest appearances of the 4 teams. The significance of roster turnover as a factor in team success or failure requires a more qualitative examination.
Baseball Reference provides a list for every Hall of Fame player to have ever been on a given teams roster. Excluding Hall of Famers listed as managers rather than players, the Royals have had only 4 players on its roster to be inducted into the Base Hall of Fame: George Brett, Orlando Cepeda, Gaylord Perry, and Harmon Killebrew. Cepeda, Perry, and Killebrew each played just one year for the Royals, the last years of their respective careers, and can hardly be considered as vital in the long-term success or failure of the team. George Brett is the only player of the four to have started and ended his career with the Royals and his importance to the long-term success of the team was detailed in the previous posting.
The San Diego Padres historical roster includes 11 members of the Base Hall of Fame. Only four of those players started their careers with San Diego and only one of the four, Tony Gwynn, ended his career as a Padre. Roberto Alomar began his career with San Diego, but spent only the first 3 of his 17 years in the major leagues as a Padre. Likewise, Ozzie Smith spent only his first 4 years in the bigs with San Diego, and Dave Winfield only his first 8. When the Padres lost the World Series in 1984 and again in 1998, Tony Gwynn was the only player on the roster who would go on to be inducted in the Hall of Fame. Would the outcome of the 1984 World Series have been different if Dave Winfield and Ozzie Smith had still been on the Padres roster? Would the Padres have won the 1998 Series if Roberto Alomar had still been wearing a San Diego uniform? We will never know the answers, but the questions must haunt Padres fans.
The Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals developed and failed to retain 4 future Hall of Famers: Tim Raines, Randy Johnson, Andre Dawson, and Gary Carter. However, one could argue that all of these players save Johnson spent their prime years in an Expos uniform. Raines, Dawson, and Carter spent the first 13, 11, and 12 years of their careers respectively, with the Expos. How the Expos managed to make the post-season playoffs only once in the eight-year span from 1979 to 1986 that they had Carter, Dawson, and Raines on the roster is one of the great mysteries of baseball and undermines the theory that developing and retaining quality players leads to World Series success.
Likewise, the history of the Seattle Pilots/Milwaukee Brewers also undermines the theory by imitating the low roster turnover rate of the Royals and having only 5 players on the career roster to make the Hall of Fame and yet making the post-season the fewest number of times, 4, of the four expansion teams. Hall of Famers Robin Yount and Paul Molitor were on the roster together from 1978 to 1993 and yet the Brewers made only 2 post-season appearances during that time.
So the Kansas City Royals have developed and retained the fewest number of Hall of Fame caliber players, yet they have been the most successful of the four 1969 expansion teams. What is their secret? I will keep looking.