In 1969, Major League Baseball expanded to include four new teams: the Kansas City Royals, the Montreal Expos, the San Diego Padres, and the Seattle Pilots. In the 48 years since, only the Brewers, Padres, and the Royals have made appearances in the World Series and only the Royals have ever won the World Series. The Royals and the Padres are also the only two of the four teams still located in their city of origin with the Pilots lasting only one year in Seattle before becoming the Milwaukee Brewers and the Montreal Expos becoming the Washington Nationals in 2005. These four teams provide an interesting study as a microcosm in the history of major league baseball in regard to the development of the Major League Ballplayers Association and the impact of free agency on the longevity of relationships between players, teams, and fans. This is the first of four essays that will examine each of these teams from this perspective.
Obviously, the Kansas City Royals have been the most successful of the 1969 expansion teams. They have made the playoffs in 9 of their 48 seasons. The Padres, Nationals, and Brewers have done so only 5, 5, and 4 times respectively. The Royals have won the league pennant four times, twice the number of the Padres, and the Royals have won the World Series twice, in 1985 and in 2015.
The two Royals teams to have won the World Series are separated by 30 years and the dark days of the 1994-1995 work stoppage that transformed both the franchise and major league baseball. However, there can be no doubt that the 1985 Royals were far and away the better team.
According to Baseball Reference, the 1985 team included four players who as a group rank in the top five all-time in team history in the following batting categories: Plate Appearances, At Bats, Times on Base, Total Bases, Hits, Runs Scored, Runs Created, and Triples. These players are George Brett, Frank White, Willie Wilson, and Hal McRae. It is worth noting that Amos Otis, who retired just the year before in 1984, rounds out the top 5 in each of these categories and is therefore considered one of the top 5 Royals of all time.
While members of the 2015 world championship team are still amid their careers and therefore cannot be expected to be among the team career leaders, one should expect to find members of the 2015 team to have set single-season records at some point during their tenure with the Royals. Such is not the case. The only 2015 team member to hold a single season mark is Mike Moustakas with 38 home runs in 2017. Alex Gordon is tied for the second most doubles in a season with 51, three back of Hal McRae. Alcides Escobar is tied with Frank White for second most sacrifice hits in a season at 18. By contrast, George Brett holds single-season Royals records in 18 categories, Willie Wilson in 6, and Hal McRae in 2.
Not surprisingly, George Brett is the team career leader in all 8 of the categories mentioned above as well as in 19 others. Brett played all 21 of his major league seasons with the Royals, from 1973 through 1993. He won the American League batting title in 1976, 1980, and 1990. In 1980 he was named the American League Most Valuable Player after posting an incredible slash line of .390/.454/.664/1.118. He struck out only 22 times in 449 at bats (4.9%) that year. He won three Silver Slugger awards, one Gold Glove, and made 13 All-Star Game appearances.
Frank White also played his entire career in Kansas City, from 1973 through 1990. He won 8 Gold Gloves playing second base and recording a career .984 fielding percentage. He won 3 Silver Slugger awards and made 7 All-Star Game appearances. He is the career team leader in Defensive WAR with a 21.4 score and in Sacrifice Hits with 101. Frank White is second only to George Brett in Games Played, At Bats, Plate Appearances, and Hits. Frank White and George Brett are the only two players in Royals history to have their numbers retired.
Willie Wilson patrolled the outfield for Kansas City from 1976 through 1990 before finishing his career with the Chicago Cubs in 1994. He won 2 Silver Slugger awards, 1 Gold Glove, and made 2 All-Star Game appearances. He is the Royals career leader in Stolen Bases with 612 and a margin of 272.
Hal McRae is the only one of these four players not to come up through the Kansas City farm system. He began his career with the Cincinnati Reds, but played 15 seasons for the Royals from 1973 through 1987. He won the Silver Slugger award in 1982 when he led the American League with 133 RBI and 46 doubles. He also made 3 All-Star Game appearances. Hal McRae also managed the Royals from 1991 through 1994.
Amos Otis began his career with the New York Mets and played 14 seasons for the Royals before finishing his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He won 3 Gold Gloves and made 5 All-Star Game appearances. In addition to the 8 batting categories mentioned above, Otis ranks 3rd all time for Royals home runs, 4th all time for doubles, 2nd all time for walks, 4th all time for extra base hits, and 2nd all time for sacrifice flies.
These five players combined for 59 seasons playing for the Kansas City Royals and four of them put in a combined 20 more seasons with the Royals after winning the 1985 World Series. Only time will tell about the careers of the 2015 Royals world champions, but I doubt that the numbers will be anywhere as close.