Whit Merrifield has been the consummate versatile player for the KC Royals. But long before Merrifield came along, the club had a pretty serviceable utility infielder.
The KC Royals could have used Whit Merrifield, the quintessential utility-type player, in 1984. Fighting for their first postseason appearance since 1981, they suffered season-threatening injuries to third baseman George Brett and second baseman Frank White.
The club didn’t, of course, have Merrifield then. Fortunately, they had Greg Pryor.
Pryor never played all the positions Merrifield has–Merrifleld has done everything but pitch and catch in the majors–but he played every infield position for the Royals from 1982-86. And in 1984, the year the team needed him most, he played 105 games at third and 22 at second. But more on that later.
Drafted in the sixth round of the 1971 amateur draft by the Washington Senators after finishing his college career at Florida Southern, Pryor toiled in the minors for five years until the Rangers, who the Senators became after leaving Washington for the greener pastures of Arlington, Texas, called him up in 1976. Pryor had an RBI single in his first big league at-bat on June 6 after substituting for second baseman Danny Thompson, who’d already gone 4-for-4 with a homer and four RBIs in a lopsided win over Detroit.
Pryor played in four more games for the Rangers before a postseason trade sent him to the Yankees; a call to Yankee Stadium never came and he signed a free agent deal with the White Sox after the 1977 season. He made the Sox out of spring training in ’78 and never saw the minor leagues again.
Pryor played in almost 400 games for Chicago in four years; he appeared in a career-high 143 contests in 1979 and hit a career-best .275. Just as he did in each of his four Chicago seasons, he played third, second and shortstop.
The KC Royals were searching for versatility in 1982 and found it during spring training–they traded Jeff Schattinger to the ChiSox for Pryor. He was just as versatile defensively as he had been in Chicago, playing every infield position and batting .270 over 73 games in his first KC season.
Although he dipped to .217 in 1983, Brett’s broken toe gave Pryor considerable playing time. He also finished the “Pine Tar Game” at third after Brett’s ejection.
Then came the injuries to Brett and White during the club’s run to the 1984 postseason. Pryor played more games at third than Brett (105 to 101–obviously, both played the position in the same game several times); his .970 fielding percentage at the hot corner was better than Brett’s .949.
Pryor added 22 adequately-fielded games at second for White and had a relatively solid season at the plate with a .263 average and career-best four home runs. He also played first and short.
Without Pryor filling in for Brett and White, the KC Royals might not have won the AL West.
Pryor digressed offensively after ’84–he hit only .219 in ’85 and .170 in ’86. But the club capitalized on his versatility both seasons when he played every infield position again.
And he earned a World Series ring when they Royals captured the ’85 championship. He appeared in the fifth game.
The Royals released their ace utility man just a few days before Opening Day in 1987. He didn’t play again.
All in all, Pryor was one of the most versatile Royals ever. Besides playing everywhere on the infield, he DH’d occasionally; although he only hit .237 in his five KC campaigns, his bat wasn’t what the franchise paid him the most for. And they got their money’s worth.
Pryor finished his 10-year career with a .250 average. He wasn’t an everyday player, but he was definitely valuable.
Greg Pryor didn’t play as many positions as Whit Merrifield has and didn’t have Merrifield’s bat. But he was ready and able whenever, and wherever, the KC Royals needed him.