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July 8, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals former player Mike Sweeney (right) celebrates with George Brett (left) after a home run during the 2012 Legends and Celebrity softball game at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-US PRESSWIRE

Finding Royals Fame

I think one of the things you have to do as a fan when your team stinks is look at the glory days and remember when things were better. Reminisce about the pennants flying, the game winning hits, the clutch performances.

Recently, there’s been some discussion on the Kansas City Baseball Vault about these sorts of matters. We’ve discussed what four players would comprise a Royals Mt. Rushmore. Our latest episode considered the case of Joe Randa and others as potential members of the Royals Hall of Fame.

The players who’ve already been elected have solid cases. Ranking them by bWAR makes Cookie Rojas (5.4) the most suspect of Royals Hall of Famers, but he also played during some of the Royals first winning seasons and made four All-Star teams as a Royal.

So what makes a player worthy of his team’s hall of fame? Number help, and someone in the top five all time would be a shoo-in, but what about the fringe cases? What about the group of players who played after George Brett retired? Players like Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye and Carlos Beltran have good numbers in the years when they were Royals, but Dye’s best years were with the White Sox. Damon was a key figure in the Red Sox 2004 World Series season. Beltran hasn’t been in a Royals uniform in nearly a decade. They also played on teams that didn’t win a lot of games and obviously didn’t make a playoff appearance.

Does that discount the efforts of Mike Sweeney, who played in more games as a Royal than Royals Hall of Famers John Mayberry and Freddie Patek? Does never making the playoffs make Randa, who’s seventh all time as a Royal in base hits, an easy no?

Also, does it matter that a player like Randa wasn’t the key player on those teams?

Then, how do you rank someone like David Cone, who only threw 448.1 innings as a Royal but is one of three Royals to win a Cy Young Award?

So many questions.

To me, numbers matter and a player who put up good ones as a Royal should get consideration. To an extent, tenure matters too. A player is better off being more recognizable as a Royal than a member of another team. Mayberry is more known for his strong years as a Royal than those as a Blue Jay.

That makes the cases for Damon, Dye and Beltran pretty tough to make. They had the numbers, but most merely doff their cap at their Royals years, while their time on other teams stand out. What, then, happens if Damon, with over 2700 career base hits, were to make the National Baseball Hall of Fame? Can a team have a player start their career with them, spend years in the organization and on the team and then make the Hall but not their own team’s?

Here are some other cases that interest me:

Charlie Leibrandt spent time in a Royals uniform from 1984 to 1989, accumulating 21.5 WAR in 1257 innings. That’s more WAR than Paul Splittorff, more innings than Steve Busby. Leibrandt also made two strong starts in the 1985 World Series after finishing in the top five of Cy Young voting that season. He was never a star, but was a solid starter in his time.

Mike Sweeney finished his career as a Royal with the same on base percentage as George Brett, though in less than half as many games. Still, in the late-90s and early 2000s, Sweeney was a premier slugger in the AL. After trying to keep his career going with the Mariners, A’s and Phillies, he’s still recognizable as a Royal first. He’s always been active in the community and well-liked. Based on that, he’s the obvious next choice to be inducted, but the teams he played on were rarely any good. Is a good player on a crummy team worthy of such recognition? Probably so, but I’d listen to someone who had a strong argument against it.

Danny Tartabull spent just five years with the Royals but ended with the highest OPS+ of any Royal with significant playing time. He drove in 100 runs three times in those five seasons, surpassing 30 homers twice as well. Does playing on teams where he was overshadowed by Brett and Bo Jackson impact his standing in franchise history? It shouldn’t, but it does.

David DeJesus was solid in his Royals career, but never a star. He never excelled in any offensive category, but simply got on base, hit the ball and played adequate defense. He just happened to stick it out with the Royals long enough to end up in the top ten of multiple offensive categories, but he never made an All-Star game and never considered much of a star, but his ranks within the franchise’s history look impressive relatively. He had more WAR than Damon (though in two more seasons).

What about Mike Macfarlane, a solid catcher and often one of the few power threats in some weak Kansas City lineups? What about Tom Gordon, who is more recognizable as a member of the Red Sox, but who threw more innings than Royals Hall of Famers Jeff Montgomery and Dan Quisenberry (and nearly as much WAR as Busby)? What do you do about Zack Greinke when he retires? He’s probably not signing back with the Royals, but only Kevin Appier, Bret Saberhagen and Mark Gubicza (all of whom had more than 500 innings as Royals) have more pitching WAR than Greinke.

You don’t want to let just anybody in, but at the same time, there could be a huge gap in potential inductees given the lean years since the early-90s. I see some merit in going after Damon, Dye and Beltran, though, because for a time, they comprised the most talented outfield in baseball, gave hope for a resurgence and are always in the minds of Royals fans. They have a lasting impact on the organization, for their on-field contributions as well as their historical significance within team history (even if it’s a painful significance).

That trio and Sweeney should have a spot one of these days.

Just for fun, I made a list of some potential inductees, ranked them by WAR as a Royal and included the amount of time they spent with the team and their number of plate appearances or innings pitched: Players in italics are already inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame.

Player Years Games IP/PA bWAR notes
George Brett 73 to 93 2707 11625 84
Kevin Appier 89 to 99, 03 to 04 287 1843.2 45
Amos Otis 70 to 83 1891 7970 41.2
Willie Wilson 76 to 90 1787 7302 40.1
Bret Saberhagen 84 to 91 252 1660.1 38.8  2 CY, 1 no-hitter
Mark Gubicza 84 to 96 384 2223.1 34.9
Frank White 73 to 90 2324 8468 31.1  8 Gold Gloves
Zack Greinke 04 to 10 210 1108 24.8  2009 Cy Young
Hal McRae 73 to 87 1837 7362 24.7
Dan Quisenberry 79 to 88 573 920.1 24.6
Dennis Leonard 74 to 86 312 2187 23.3
Carlos Beltran 98 to 04 795 3512 23.1
Charlie Leibrandt 84 to 89 194 1257 21.5 top 5 CY 85, 85 WS
Mike Sweeney 95 to 07 1282 5278 20.6
Jeff Montgomery 88 to 99 686 849.1 19.9
Paul Splittorff 70 to 84 429 2554.2 19.5
John Mayberry 72 to 77 897 3753 19.2 first Royal w 30 HR, also w/ 100 rbi
Larry Gura 76 to 85 310 1701.1 16.7 2 ASG. 2 top 10 CY
David DeJesus 03 to 10 876 3799 16.4
Kevin Seitzer 86 to 91 741 3163 16.4
Johnny Damon 95 to 00 803 3407 15.9
Darrell Porter 77 to 80 555 2262 15.8
Fred Patek 71 to 79 1245 4868 15.7 3 ASG
Steve Busby 72 to 80 167 1060.2 15.1 2 no hitters
Tom Gordon 88 to 95 274 1149.2 14.7
Al Fitzmorris 69 to 76 243 1098 14.2
David Cone 86, 93 to 94 68 448.1 13.4 one of 3 CY
Joe Randa 95 to 96, 99 to 04 1019 4158 12.7 7th in base hits
Mike Macfarlane 87 to 94, 96 to 98 890 3153 11.8
Danny Tartabull 87 to 91 657 2684 11.6 highest OPS+, 18.2 oWAR
Danny Jackson 83 to 87 119 712.2 9.7
Cookie Rojas 70 to 77 880 3354 5.4 4 ASG

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Tags: AL Central Baseball Carlos Beltran Charlie Leibrandt Danny Tartabull David DeJesus Joe Randa Johnny Damon Kansas City Kansas City Royals KC KC Royals Mike Sweeney MLB Royals Tom Gordon Zack Greinke

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