Baseball, and all sports fans, can’t help but try to compare players and judge who’s better. This often spans over differing time periods.
A project over at High Heat Stats has been taking this to another level, determining by vote which players are deserving of landing on a “Mount Rushmore” and commemorating their teams’ best. Recently, HHS put the Royals up for discussion. Voting has been open for a week and ends today.
I like this sort of thing because there are some obvious choices and some tough choices.
The criteria someone could use is entirely up to them. You can lean entirely on stats. You can look at overall impact. You can try to balance all of that with how they represent the franchise.
Here’s my Royals Mount Rushmore:
This is the obvious first choice. The only reason someone might leave Brett off of their vote is because they’re looking to add a fringe candidate, knowing that Brett is a lock.
As the franchise’s best player, their only Hall 0f Famer and holder of multiple offensive accolades, Brett’s also a lifelong Royal and still involved with the team. He hits every criteria one could examine. He’s got the numbers, was always the key player in the lineup to stop and is recognized as a Royal by baseball fans and writers.
White hasn’t fared as well in this poll as one might imagine. He was lagging at one point, but after more Kansas City folks saw the discussion, he’s landed within safe territory.
Frankly (no pun intended) there’s an argument that White fits all the criteria better than Brett. Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star said on the Royalman Report back in December that Brett could have been a star in Seattle, New York, Houston, anywhere. White could have only made it in Kansas City. He literally helped build Kauffman Stadium. He’s the most famous of Ewing Kauffman’s Baseball Academy graduates, winning eight Gold Gloves, playing in two World Series, and making five All Star teams. Without the opportunity, he probably wouldn’t have made it into the majors at all. After retiring, he helped coach in the Royals minor league system and stepped into the broadcast booth until his split with the team this past winter.
He’s also the only other player besides Brett with his number retired by the club.
A two-time Cy Young Award winner before the age of 26, Saberhagen was also the 1985 World Series MVP, a two-time All Star, a Gold Glove winner and threw a no-hitter in 1991. His 3.21 ERA as a Royal is the best of any starter in team history, as is his 1.134 WHIP (which leads all pitchers, regardless of role). He’s among the club leaders in complete games, innings and shutouts, but didn’t play for the Royals as long as some, like Leonard and Paul Splittorff.
That may be one way to keep Saberhagen off the mountain. He only played for the Royals until 1991, after which he was traded to the Mets (which still hurts to this day).
Saberhagen was among the best in the game while with the Royals and his resume makes him an easy choice for me for a third spot on Royals Mount Rushmore.
Here’s where it gets tricky. There are many good cases to be made. Amos Otis, Freddy Patek, Hal McRae, Willie Wilson, Mark Gubicza and others could be a fit. Even Bo Jackson or the vastly underrated Danny Tartabull could make it.
Part of my difficulty is that players like Otis, Busby and Leonard played in those dark ages when I knew Bert and Ernie better than any Royals. Some of these players were on the team until the mid-80s, but were past their prime. Royals baseball didn’t come to my hometown’s TV schedule until 1988 as I remember it, so I missed out on a lot of those who have since been inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame.
My favorite Royals pitcher of all time. I mimicked his pitching motion as closely as I could when I started pitching in summers – which is not advised to anyone wanting to try it.
Appier leads the Royals in WAR according to Baseball-Reference. He leads the franchise in strikeouts, is third in wins (despite trailing the next closest starter by more than 300 innings pitched as a Royal), and put up a 130 ERA+ as a Royal. He’s one of the most underrated pitchers of the 1990s and was robbed of the 1993 Cy Young Award after logging a better ERA (by three quarters of a run) and WHIP than both Jack McDowell and Randy Johnson, who ended up ahead of him in the voting.
Quiz was instrumental to the Royals success in the 1980s. His 2.55 ERA is the best mark by any Royals pitcher who qualifies (500 IP at least).
Quisenberry filled the role of the fireman as well as anyone during his stretch with Kansas City. He led the league in appearances three times. He led in saves five times. As a Royal, he finished in the top five in Cy Young voting five times. Also, he landed in the top eleven of MVP voting five times. Only Brett has more such finishes as a Royal.
A character in every sense of the word, Quisenberry’s great performance on the mound was mirrored with his involvement in the community, and the Royals recognize a player every offseason with the Dan Quisenberry Award for their outstanding achievements and service within their community.
That’s the clincher. Kevin Appier was a great pitcher for the Royals, but he doesn’t have an award named after him.
It’s only fitting that Quisenberry closes the discussion by landing on the last spot on the mountain.
That makes my Royals Mount Rushmore the quartet of George Brett, Frank White, Bret Saberhagen and Dan Quisenberry. There are many cases to be made for other players, but those are my four.
You can weigh in by voting today at High Heat Stats, and we’ll be discussing the final results on the Kansas City Baseball Vault Thursday night at 6 p.m. on ESPN 1510 AM.