Why '89 club's approach could help the KC Royals succeed

Players working outside the spotlight could make a big difference.
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Can someone provide a flash of Tom Gordon?

The front office has made a sincere effort to improve the pitching staff this offseason, but the biggest disparity between the 2024 and 1989 teams remains on the mound. The '89 club had a legitimate ace in Bret Saberhagen, who won his second Cy Young award that season and was backed up by Mark Gubicza, another front-of-the-rotation hurler who posted a 15-11 record and 3.04 ERA.

The 2024 Royals are still looking for an ace. Ragans during the second half of last season, and Singer throughout his short career, have both shown glimpses of greatness, but Singer has been so inconsistent and Ragans needs to prove himself over a longer stretch of time. But with the recent acquisitions of Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha, the Royals have significantly improved the middle of the rotation.

In this respect, the 2024 staff might be deeper than the 1989 version — after the top two pitchers, the '89 rotation was far less certain. But it did have Tom "Flash" Gordon, one of the elite swingmen of his day. He pitched 49 times, including 16 starts, and went 17-9, 3.64 and finished second in American League Rookie of the Year voting.

Gordon played 21 seasons in the majors and regularly ranked among the league leaders in strikeouts. During his seven-plus Kansas City seasons, he bounced back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen, although he worked exclusively as a starter in 1990. He became an All-Star closer after moving to Boston, recorded 46 saves in 1998, and was even featured in a Stephen King novel.

But Gordon was at his best in 1989, giving the Royals a much-needed third quality starter they could also use out of the bullpen. Lugo has that kind of versatility, although the club plans to use him as a starter; ultimately, Kansas City doesn't need a marquee swingman, but if Lugo or Wacha (or both) can match Gordon's impact, the Royals could take a big step forward this season.

Without someone else stepping up to be their Saberhagen and Gubicza, though, good seasons from Lugo and Wacha may not be enough for the Royals to contend or approach the '89 Royals' success. Nevertheless, these are the kinds of players successful franchises are built on.

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