Over their history, various KC Royals have won Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Silver Slugger, and Gold and Platinum Glove awards. And three pitchers have combined for four American League Cy Young awards.
But do you remember the year the Royals had both reigning Cy Young winners on their pitching staff? No? It didn’t go as well as the club hoped it would.
Take a one-season step back, though, to 1989 when Kansas City posted a 92-70 record, good enough for second place in the AL West, seven games behind the eventual World Series Champion Oakland A’s.
Bret Saberhagen went 23-6 with a 2.16 ERA and claimed 27 of 28 first place votes in Cy Young balloting to win his second Cy Young after first winning it in 1985. Mark Gubicza kicked in 15 wins from the rotation, and rookie Tom Gordon was 10-2 in 33 games as a reliever before the All-Star Break and then went 7-7 in 16 starts the rest of the way. Relievers Jeff Montgomery and Steve Farr both logged 18 saves.
Offensively, Bo Jackson clubbed 32 home runs, stole 26 bases and drove in 105 runs. Outfielder Jim Eisenreich hit .293 in 519 plate appearances to lead the team. Aging veterans included first baseman George Brett, second baseman Frank White and catcher Bob Boone, but all were still hitting effectively and White, Boone, shortstop Kurt Stillwell and center fielder Willie Wilson provided solid defense up the middle.
The Royals were good, but needed more pitching.
Wanting to get back to the playoffs, the KC Royals added pitching before1990.
In the offseason, General Manager John Schuerholz went all-in to add the pieces necessary to overtake the A’s and get back to the playoffs for the first time since 1985.
Kansas City signed free agent starter Richard Dotson, who had won 111 games in 11 major league seasons with mostly underwhelming Chicago White Sox teams. He won 22 games with the Sox in 1983 and was a 1984 All-Star.
A couple of days later, starter Storm Davis was signed as a free agent after posting a 19-7 record with Oakland despite a 4.36 ERA. Davis had gone 35-14 over the previous two seasons and had 97 career wins going into his age-28 season.
The big prize of the Royals’ offseason, though, was lefthanded reliever Mark Davis who, after not finding any of San Diego’s offers to return to his liking, signed as a free agent in December. This Davis posted 44 saves and four wins in 70 appearances in 1989 with the Padres and won the National League Cy Young Award.
That gave Kansas City the two reigning Cy Young winners—Saberhagen and Mark Davis.
Despite their new pitchers, the 1990 KC Royals started slowly and finished badly.
With the pitching staff in place to make a run at the pennant, the Royals stumbled out of the blocks. A 17-6 loss to Toronto April 20 dropped Kansas City to 4-5 as Saberhagen gave up six runs in four innings and took the loss. Including that defeat, the Royals dropped 12 of 14 to fall to 6-16 May 5, last in the division and 10.5 games out of first place.
An eight-game losing skid left the club 22-35 and a full 16 games out of first on June 12.
The team fought back, but never reached more than a game over .500 all season, topping out at 65-64 Aug. 29 when rookie Kevin Appier tossed a four-hit shutout to get his record to 11-4.
The rest of the season, Appier won only one more game, but wasn’t alone in his struggles. Kansas City won only 10 more games and lost 22 the rest of the way, including a nine-game losing streak in early September.
The KC Royals expected great pitching, but it didn’t turn out that way.
Offensively, the Royals were able to put up some numbers as Brett won his third batting title by hitting .329. The outfield battled injuries—Jackson, Wilson and Danny Tartabull were all hurt at one time or another—but Jackson still clubbed 28 home runs and Wilson hit .290 in just 345 plate appearances.
But the pitching didn’t live up to expectations. While Farr led the team with 13 wins and Gordon and Appier won 12 games each, Saberhagen pitched to a respectable 3.27 ERA but injuries limited him to 20 starts and a 5-9 record that included losses in his last four decisions.
And the free agent pitching finds all struggled. Dotson was the biggest casualty—although the team went 4-4 in the eight games in which he appeared, the veteran suffered an 0-4 mark with an ERA of 8.48. His season and career ended after he gave up four runs and five hits and didn’t make it out of the second inning June 5. The Royals released him later in the month.
Storm Davis dropped as low as 2-6 by June 30 and finished 7-10 with a 4.74 ERA. He went 3-9 for Kansas City in 1991 before being traded to the Baltimore Orioles for catcher Bob Melvin.
Mark Davis finished 1990 at 2-7 with just six saves and a 5.11 ERA in 53 appearances. He fought injuries and inconsistency the rest of his Royals career, going 9-13 overall with a 5.31 ERA. In July 1992, Davis was traded to Atlanta for reliever Juan Berenguer, who at 37 was in the final season of his major league career.
Davis last played in the majors in 1997 with Milwaukee. He has served in multiple organizations, including Kansas City’s, as a coach.
Despite their best intentions, the 1990 Royals will always be a team of what should have been. Two Cy Young winners just weren’t enough.