Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Royal Flush

For most of the summer the Royals played "cat and mouse" with the Rangers and Angels, but by late August they asserted themselves to finally take the division lead.  During September they ran their lead up to 6 games.  A mid September series vs California where they took 2 of 3 boosted their lead to 4.5 and they never looked back.  Playing just 8 games during the month of September vs teams with a winning record sure helped.  Having a scrappy team lead by Whitey Herzog that was a 2 time defending AL West Champ did not hurt either.  Herzog's team was built around pitching and speed, which was his hallmark.  This Royals team did not hit more than 100 homers and had just 1 guy (Amos Otis), who hit more than 20.  What they did have was a lineup with 8 guys who stole 10 or more bases.  Rookie Willie Wilson, who reached base just 61 times stole an incredible 46 bags.  Freddie Patek stole 38 and Otis had 32 thefts.  Even superstar George Brett, who failed to hit .300, swiped 23.  This perpetual moving machine managed to score the 3rd most runs in the league despite not having one .300 hitter who played every day.  Couple that with a gold glove caliber infield and an equally adept outfield and you have a team that could beat you on both sides of the ball.

27 year old Dennis Leonard (21-17, 3.33) anchored the staff by posting 20 complete games in nearly 300 innings.  Herzog basically had a 4 man rotation.  Instead of a 5th starter he spread 28 starts among 5 other pitchers.  The big disappointment would be Steve Busby, who at a very young age showed flashed of brilliance while pitching 2 no hitters.  At the age of 28 Busby was suffering from shoulder issues.  Herzog gave him 5 starts to recapture the magic, but physically his body was done.  Yankee killer, Larry Gura, was 16-4, 2.72 in over 220 innings.  Paul Splittorff was 1 game shy of 20 wins and youngster Rich Gale (14-8, 3.09) might have been the best #4 guy in the league that year.  The "Mad Hungarian" Al Hrabosky (8-7, 2.88, 20sv) came over from cross state rival St. Louis to solidify the bullpen.  KC's pen, which seemed to falter in big games needed a take charge guy in big situations.  Hrabosky was viewed as the guy who could come up big down the stretch and in the post season, where they lost in the ALCS to the Yankees in each of the past 2 seasons.

After taking care of business in AL West a well rested Royals team was poised to wrestle AL dominance from a Yankee team that was coming off a 1 game playoff win vs Boston.  Once again though, the power team from the Bronx edged out the speed team from KC in another classic LCS (more on that later).

16 new cards were added to round out the Royals team set.

Hrabosky "the Mad Hungarian" had himself some shtick when he would enter games.  Since he didn't have overpowering stuff he relied mainly on guile and antics.  For the previous 2 seasons it seemed to work well for him in St. Louis.  The growling at the hitters, the slamming of the rosin bag and of course the one man huddle behind the mound.  This shtick and his ability to get hitters out late in games got him enough votes to finish in the top 10 twice for NL Cy Young balloting.  Moving cross stated gave him a new place and a new league to impress.  Hrabosky had a fine season (8-7, 2.88, 20sv) anchoring a bullpen that was known for having good regular seasons, but awful post seasons.  Unfortunately for him, and the Royals, manager Herzog called on him one batter too late in one of the most pivotal playoff games the franchise would participate in (spoiler alert...).  Hrabosky spent 2 seasons in KC before his act wore thin.  He would finish his career off with 3 nondescript seasons in Atlanta before hanging it up at 32.
Bobscustomcards created this 1978 card for career backup catcher Art Kusnyer.  Not much good can be said about a 32 year old journeyman catcher who was a career .176 hitter.  One would think that he fell into the "catch and throw" category, but his error ratio during his limited MLB exposure was horrific.  What Kusnyer did do was string his RBI's in bunches.  He had 21 lifetime and 11 were accounted for in two 3 RBI games and one 5 RBI game.  On June 26, 1978 he hit his only home run of the season for the Royals (he had just 3 hits) against All-Star pitcher Frank Tanana.  For the season he got into just 9 games and hit .231 (3-13).  In 61 games at Omaha (AAA) he didn't fare much better hitting .234.  Kusnyer would spend one more year in the minors (1979), which would be the luckiest year of his career.  His minor league manager, one Tony LaRussa, took a liking to him.  When LaRussa was tapped to manage the White Sox later that year Kusnyer was invited to be his bullpen coach.  That was the beginning of a relationship that would last over 30 years across 3 franchises that LaRussa piloted.

As a minor leaguer, Paschall was serviceable   As a major leaguer, during his 3 cups of Joe, he was barely used.  His best season at Omaha was 1978 (14-9, 3.63), which is why he was brought up to the big club.  For the Royals he got into 2 games and posted an 0-1, 3.38 record in 8 innings on the hill.  He would get two more brief shots in 1979 and 1981 before being released.  In total he pitched in 11 games during his 3 stints with the Royals.  This photo came from his Omaha minor league card.

Now you know I'm not a fan of the BHNH photos that the boys at 1 Whitehall street were so adept at using on at least 15-20% of their cards each year.  Typically my updates feature a player in full cap and uniform.  I made an exception in this case, because this photo appeared on the cover of SI, and I loved those covers except for the off white sticker that usually had my address on it.  I did some airbrushing to remove the text and decided to make this his card photo.  Hurdle, who today has made a name for himself as a well traveled manager, was a great utility player for the Royals.  1978 marked the first time this first round pick (9th overall) saw extended action.  Hurdle played 5 positions and hit a solid .264 with 7 homers in over 400 AB's.  That's pretty much the type of player he would be for the rest of his career.  Hurdle had the bad luck of playing for the Mets in '85 and finishing 2nd to the Cards, who he played for in '86 and finished 2nd to the Mets.  Then in '87 he returned to the Mets and finished 2nd once again to the Cards.  Talk about timing.

After hitting .300 at AAA Omaha Cripe received a September call up to join the Royals.  In just 7 games he hit .154 (2-13).  His 1st major league hit occurred on September 10th and came off of Nolan Ryan.  He would return to the minors for 2 more seasons before being released.  Whitey Herzog had this to say about him after the season, "Dave really didn't get a chance to play much with us last September because of the divisional race, but we know he is a pretty good hitter.  We also know he can play third and we'll watch him closely in the spring."  You get the feeling that Whitey was trying to be kind here.  Cripe could have been the next Brooks Robinson at the hot corner and he wasn't going to get a look at third with future HOF'er George Brett entrenched there.  I took a B&W photo, colorized it and superimposed it on a Royals Stadium background.  Notice the ugly Astroturf ?  It's hard to find a photo of Royals Stadium that has the turf on it.

Not to be confused with his namesake who walked 4,000 miles across America, this George Throop just walked major leaguers at an alarming rate during his 5 mini-seasons in the majors.  Throop pitched in just 1 game for the Royals in 1978 and allowed no runs, 2 hits and 3 walks in 3 innings of work.  He would log 42 innings during his major league career with 22 of them coming after being traded to Houston in 1979 for serviceable utility man Keith Drumright.  Throop, who possessed an intimidating 6'7" physique struggled with his control.  In the minors he could intimidate hitters into swinging at bad pitchers, but not in the majors.  When he threw strikes, batters usually hit him.  His numbers at Omaha in 1979 prove that out (12-10, 5.47 with 170 hits in 153 innings.  I colorized this B&W photo for my '77 project and decided to re-use it since he really didn't see much action.

Quirk spent 18 seasons in the big leagues as a member of 8 different franchises.  He spent 11 of those seasons in Kansas City during 3 separate tours of duty.  1978 marked the start of this utility man's second tour in KC after a 1 year detour in Milwaukee.  Quirk got into 17 games and hit just .207.  He would serve his utility man roll for 5 seasons before moving across the state to St. Louis in '83.  He would return in 1985, just in time to be part of KC's only World Championship team.  He would finish out his career in Oakland in the early 90's and win another ring.  Most of his action in '78 came at Milwaukee's Spokane AAA team where he hit .292 in 97 games.  He also spent time in the Mexican league in 1979 and back in the minors in '84, '85 and '89.  Pictured as a Brewer on his '78 card I used an autographed photo found on ebay for this updated card.

This former 6th round draft pick was a standout ball player while attending his hometown Tulane in NOLA.  Never a prime star as he eased his way up the minor league system.  Gaudet hit just .222 in 107 games as Omaha's primary receiver.  He was called up in September and got into 3 games (8 AB's) and did not log a hit.  The same scenario followed in 1979.  In his first game back on September 1st he posted his only major league hit.  He would float around the minors for the next 3 seasons before hitting .143 for Syracuse (TOR-AAA), which signaled the end of his career.  I found this photo while doing a Google search

Silverio had himself an 8 game major league career, but his numbers sure jump out at you.  In 11 at bats he got 6 hits.  Two were doubles and 1 was a triple.  His lifetime average will stand forever at .545 and his OPS was an off the charts 1.524.  Why did this corner outfield phenom fail to make it???  The answer lies in the numbers that he posted in 9 seasons in the minors.  During that same 1978 season he hit .230 at Omaha.  He got injured in '79 and had to return to rookie ball for conditioning.  In 1980, back at Omaha, he hit just .214.  1981 saw him demoted once again.  He did pick it up again in 1982, where he hit .260 at Omaha, but injuries sapped him of his speed and power, which led to his eventual release.  Upon his release he became a coach for the next 35 years in the Royals organization  Still he has one of those awesome outlier numbers that sports sim managers love to have on their bench !  Pictured here on his card he is wearing his Omaha cap, which is where he spent the better part of his career.

Sold to the Royals during the offseason Bass played in just 2 games and went hit-less in 2 AB's in KC during the '78 season.  In Omaha he had a monster season (.279-22-78).  In fact he was a monster every step of the way in the minors.  He was a can't miss prospect, who just couldn't hit major league pitching.  After having another monster minor league season at Denver (AAA-TEX) he left the US and headed to the Japanese league where he spent 6 seasons.  Those seasons elevated him to legendary status.  During one season he hit over .400.  Another season he hit 55 homers and was poised to break Sadahara Oh's record.  Japanese pitchers refused to pitch to him for fear of a foreigner breaking he great Oh's record.  He even delivered a championship to his Hanshin Tigers team.  Still to this day the great and mighty "Ba-su" is revered in Japan as an all time great.  I used his rookie panel card B&W photo for this card.  Due to it's grainy composition it was almost impossible to colorize.  Click here to read a great SI article about his stay in Japan.

1978 marked the 2nd and final appearance in a Royals, or any major league team's, uniform for McGilberry.  After going 1-4, 2.84 in 25 games for Omaha he was called up to the parent club in KC.  McGilberry logged 25 innings over 18 games and finished with a 0-1, 4.21 record.  He would return to Omaha in 1979 and have a sub-par season, so the Royals traded him to the Mets for equally disappointing Kevin Kobel.  At Triple A Tidewater he seemed to pitch batting practice (3-4, 6.25) and was eventually released.  This photo comes from his minor league card.  I added the KC logo.

The 6'7" imposing Gale's most productive season came in his rookie year (1978), when he went 14–8 with 88 strikeouts and a 3.09 ERA, including a 5–0, one-hit shutout against the Texas Rangers at Royals Stadium on June 13, 1978. His no-hitter bid was broken up by Al Oliver with a triple in the fourth inning. Gale finished fourth in the American League Rookie of the Year vote in 1978.  In 1979, Gale faded to 9–10, but he resurfaced with a 13–9 mark in 1980, helping his team the reach the 1980 World Series. He started games three and six of the Series, going 0–1 with a 4.25 ERA against the eventual World Champion Philadelphia Phillies. During the next three seasons his playing time was limited by arm injuries and he did not pitch again in a major league game after 1984.

Braun spent 15 years in the majors as a fine utility man and clutch lefty bat off the bench.  He filled that role to perfection in his 2 full seasons in KC ('78-'79).  During the '78 season he hit .263 in 137 AB's.  He posted similar numbers the following season.  He recorded over 100 career pinch hits.  He earned a ring with the Cardinals filling the utility role to perfection.  The early part of his career was spent in Minnesota, where he saw extensive action.  He batted in the .280's but did not exhibit much power.  His final shot at being a regular occurred for the expansion Mariners in 1977, where he hit just .235 in 139 games.  He played in 32 games for the M's during the '78 season before being dealt to the Royals for pitcher Jim Colburn.  He finished his career on the '85 Cardinal pennant winner and compiled a lifetime .271 average.  I found this autographed photo, which looks like it was taken at Comiskey, on ebay.

Foucault was selected off of waivers by the Royals on August 16, 1978 from the Detroit Tigers.  He appeared in just 3 games and was released on September 5th.  He never played in the majors again.  Houston took a chance on him in 1979 and sent him to Charleston (AAA), where he was horrible (0-2, 7.71) in just 5 games (7 innings) of action.  His best years were during his 4 year tenure in Texas, where he was a workhorse out of the pen.  In 1974 he compiled an 8-9, 2.24, 12sv record for a horrible Rangers team.  He had double digit saves the following season as well as in 1977 with Detroit.  Due to his brief stay in KC I could not find any photos  of him in a Royals uniform.  I took his '75 SSPC card and airbrushed out the Texas colors and logos and added the appropriate KC look.

Used primarily as a pinch runner and defensive replacement during the '78 season, Washington was well on way toward earning the Royals starting shortstop role.  In 69 games during the '78 season he hit .264 and stole 12 bases.  By 1980-83 he would hold down the starting shortstop spot for KC.  By 1984 he was a part time player and in 1985 he was dealt to the Expos for two nondescript minor leaguers.  After 1 season in Montreal he moved on to Pittsburgh where he spent extensive time over the next two seasons back in the minor leagues.  After hanging them up he became a coach in the Royals system and was reactivated for 1 game in 1992 at their AA affiliate in Memphis.  Known for his trademark toothpick in his mouth, Washington was also on base when Brett hit his famous "Pine Tar" game homer in 1983.  I found this great action shot on ebay.

Wilson, in my mind, is a first ballot nominee for the Hall of the Very Good.  His lifetime .285 average, 2,207 hits and 668 stolen bases scream out "Very Good, but not HOF material".  Wilson was the catalyst for the early 80's Royals team.  His 1980 season, where he had 230 hits and hit .236 was off the charts.  In 1982 he won the AL batting title.  Along the way he had several All-Star appearances, a few silver slugger awards and a gold glove.  He led the league in triples 5 times and for 15 consecutive seasons he logged double digits in stole bases.  Having a switch hitter with speed like Wilson's really makes a team go.  As a 22 year old rookie in 1978 he hit just .217 in 198 at bats.  He miraculously swiped 46 bags even though he only had 43 hits.  He retired in 1994 at the age of 38.  I found this action shot while doing a Google search.  Not sure what season it was from, although he was missing his trademark beard.

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