The KC Royals are team historically built for speed to best fit the elements of spacious Royals/Kauffman Stadium.
Unlike traditional AL teams who typically put a big, lumbering power hitter in their designated hitter slot, the Royals were unable to find long-term solutions in that role. This usually left them overpowered in a full season of games against AL teams.
A switch to the NL would put Kansas City on a more level playing field with pitchers inserted into the lineup. This would cut down on trying to force a Royals player into that role and they would not have to face a Harold Baines, Edgar Martinez, Jose Canseco, David Ortiz, or Jim Thome.
Consider a few of the players who filled the DH role primarily leading up to and after the 1997 decision. Bob Hamelin, who after a masterful rookie year in 1994, hit .168 with seven home runs in ’95. The next season, Joe Vitiello mustered a .241 average with eight blasts. Terry Pendleton filled the role in ’98 with a .257/.299/.338 slash and only three homers.
Yes, Mike Sweeney did produce tremendous numbers in ’99 but we could have slotted him at first base instead of Jeremy Giambi who had 17 extra-base hits in 336 plate appearances. And while Raul Ibanez smashed 24 bombs in 2002 it would have been better putting him in left field and removing Chuck Knoblauch and his 50 OPS+.
And while Sweeney and eventually Billy Butler filled the role admirably in the mid-to-late 2000s, they were better suited in the field instead of Ross Gload or Doug Mientkiewicz. In short, if there was a good DH on the team it was at the cost of another weak-hitting position in the field.
The Royals’ single-season home run record stood at 36 for over 30 years. This should have been a sure sign the team needed to get into the NL where a premium on speed, decision-making, pitching, and defense would lead to more victories.