The Kansas City Royals have always been known for their speed, but one player in team history may be unmatched in running the fields of Kauffman.
The Kansas City Royals are fast and they have always been fast. While they may not be able to put together winning season very well, they have an outstanding ability to hold speed and defense to a higher standard than just about anyone else. If only that’s all it took to get to the World Series.
For this Flashback Friday, the player of interest is one who could rival any Royals player in speed, Willie Wilson. Wilson played the majority of his career with the Kansas City Royals, starting in 1974 when he was drafted out of Summit High School in New Jersey.
Willson mulled around the minors from 1974-’75 and finally saw a few major league games between 1976 and 1977. Once 1978 came around, the reigns were off. He saw 127 games, but got off to a slow start batting, finishing the year with a slash of .217/.280/.278.
Wilson would not be put to rest, though. In 1979 over 154 games, Wilson slashed .315/.351/.420 and followed up by batting over .300 over the following three seasons from 1980-82 and again in 1984. Wilson hit his highest average in ’82, batting .332 leading the major leagues and winning the batting title. While he didn’t hit over .300 again after the 1984 season, Wilson continued to put up decent numbers, batting in the .260-.290 range, using his speed to gain extra bases.
Wilson encountered a hiccup after the 1983 season when he found himself mixed up with drug-related charges. He spent some time in jail and was initially barred from playing in the 1984 season, but was able to return to the game in May. Luckily, Wilson was able to work past the incident and continued his career in typical fashion.
Wilson continued to play for Kansas City until 1990 when he signed with the Oakland Athletics following the season. He played in Oakland until 1992 when he was granted free agency. Wilson was quickly picked up by the Cubs, seeing 105 games in 1993, but only 17 in 1994. He was released by Chicago in May and Wilson retired from the game.
Wilson ended his career with 7731 at-bats, 2207 hits, 1169 runs, 585 RBI’s, 668 stolen bases, and a slash of .285/.326/.376. Wilson also holds the Royals career record for stolen bases (612), and single-season records for at-bats (705), plate appearances (745), hits (230), singles (184), triples (21), and of course, stolen bases (83).
One of Wilson’s best year with the Royals came in 1980 when he played in 161 games, scored 133 runs, recorded 230 hits, 15 triples, 79 stolen bases and slashed .329/.357/.421. He was 4th in MVP voting this year and won a Gold Glove and his first Silver Slugger. Even more impressive, Wilson recorded his hits by as a switch hitter, recording at last 100 hits from each side of the plate.
Wilson finished in the top 20 in MVP voting 3 other times, was an All-Star twice, 1982 and 1983, and won his second Silver Slugger in 1982.
Wilson was a great all-around player, and while he may not have a stash of Gold Gloves, he finished with a career fielding percentage of .987 and he typically sat comfortably above league average in fielding percentage and range factor from year to year.
Willie Wilson is a great example of the type of player the Royals still covet to this day. He was solid all around and the team knew what he was bringing to the table. Though Wilson found himself in some trouble before the 1984 season, he worked past it to continue playing the game he loved.
Wilson provides a great look back at Royals players and continues this series of Flashback Fridays. Keep looking out as we will continue to take a look back at other great players from the Royals past who kept fans loving Kansas City.