In the history of KC Royals managers, some men stood higher than others. One of the more forgettable Royals managers was Billy Gardner, whose Kansas City tenure ended on Aug. 27, 1987. Gardner's time with the Royals was a rollercoaster of ups and downs, and his exit marked a curveball that nobody saw coming.
August 27, 1987 marked the end for KC Royals manager Billy Gardner.
Before he even set foot in Kansas City, Gardner had already tasted the highs and lows of managing. His earlier gig with the Minnesota Twins saw him wrestling with a less-than-stellar 268–353 record. But as fate would have it, Gardner got a second shot at the managerial title, and it happened in a way he could've never imagined.
During the summer of 1986, Royals manager Dick Howser received a shocking brain tumor diagnosis. Howser managed the Royals until that year's All-Star Game, which proved to be Howser's final managerial game. Howser attempted a comeback in early 1987, but the illness sapped his energy and ended that attempt. The Royals were in a bind, needing someone to steer the Royals ship. That's when Gardner, originally just the third-base coach, found himself in the hot seat.
Gardner's time as manager was like a seesaw. The team had its moments of triumph, but also its fair share of faceplants. When the dust settled, his record was 62–64 – a mixtape of victories and defeats that reflected the team's topsy-turvy performance. The team was less than two years removed from the 1985 World Series win, but 1986 saw a downturn reflecting Howser's health. 1987 had expectations of a turnaround in the AL West, one that never came. Trying to follow in the footsteps of a beloved manager like Howser was no walk in the park either.
Amidst all the twists and turns of the season, the Royals' higher-ups threw another curveball by giving Gardner the boot on Aug. 27. The reins were passed to John Wathan, who had his own ideas about steering the ship. He was managing the Royals' Triple-A Omaha Royals team at the time, but even new blood could not push the 1987 Royals above the .500 mark.
When the dust settled, Gardner left the Royals with a career managerial record of 330–417 – a .442 winning percentage. His tenure might've been short, but it was a piece of the Royals' puzzle during a season marked by turbulence and change.
Sending Gardner packing marked more than just a change of guard. It was like shaking up a snow globe, setting the scene for future decisions and the team's ongoing evolution. Wathan, stepping into Gardner's shoes, brought his own flavor to the game, all while the Royals were finding their groove once more. The Royals had two winning seasons under Wathan, two more than the club has had since 2015.