Joakim Soria will represent the Kansas City Royals in the 81st edition of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game today, the only representative from the team in this year’s game.
In recent years the Royals have become notorious for sending one lonely, league-mandated representative to the Midsummer Classic every year. You’d have to go back to 2003 to find two Royals in the All-Star Game (it was Mike Sweeney and Mike MacDougal, by the way). How long ago was that? The Montreal Expos were still in the league. The last Royal to be selected as a starter in the All-Star Game was Jermaine Dye in 2000.
But to judge the Royals’ All-Star history on the past decade alone would be to overlook some truly amazing moments in team history.
Here are some of the highs and lows for the Royals during the team’s 41-year history.
FIRST ALL STAR
Quick, name the first-ever Royals All-Star representative.
It was Ellie Rodriguez. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, true Royals fans, don’t feel ashamed. Rodriguez, a catcher, was only a Royal for two seasons, including the inaugural 1969 season after he was taken from the Yankees in the expansion draft.
Rodriguez was an All-Star a couple years later for the Milwaukee Brewers, and he built a respectable Major League career over nine years and five different teams. And although he didn’t play in that 1969 game, he will always hold the distinction as the Kansas City Royals’ first All-Star.
AMOS TAKES CONTROL
Ellie Rodriguez may have been the team’s first All-Star, but Amos Otis quickly became the Royals’ first superstar. He picked up where Rodriguez left off and served as the Royals’ sole representative in the 1970 game.
It was the first of five appearances by the speedy center fielder, including a starting appearance in 1973.
Speaking of that 1973 game…
ROYALS PLAY HOST
Royals Stadium was the venue for the 44th All-Star Game in 1973. The Royals had three representatives in the game – Otis, John Mayberry (both starters) and Cookie Rojas – but the game will be remembered for the non-Royals on the field that day. A whopping 15 future Hall of Famers took part, including Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Tom Seaver, Willie Stargell, Joe Morgan and Willie Mays in his final All-Star appearance. The National League won the game 7-1.
THE BEGINNING OF AN ERA
In 1976, young Royals slugger George Brett was elected to his very first All-Star Game as the starting third basemen for the American League.
Over the next decade, no other American League player started an All-Star Game at third base.
Over the course of his 10 All-Star starts, George Brett established himself as a legend in the game and the greatest Royals player of all time.
He also tacked on three more All-Star Games to the end of the streak as a reserve, making for 13 straight appearances in the Midsummer Classic.
ON TOP OF THE WORLD
In the early 1980s, the Kansas City Royals were among the cream of the baseball crop, arguably the most respected organization in baseball at the time. Their success during the regular season and the playoffs in the ‘80s followed through to the All-Star Game.
The pinnacle came in 1982, when the Royals had an all-time high five representatives in the game: Brett (a starter), Frank White, Hal McRae, Willie Wilson and Dan Quisenberry. The team had more starters than any other in baseball that season.
BRETT NOT ALONE
Unlike the Royals All-Stars of the 2000s, George Brett was hardly ever the solitary Royal in the dugout for the American League – only twice during his 13-year stretch was he the team’s sole representative.
Other frequent faces for the Royals in the All-Star Game were White (five appearances, including one start), McRae (three appearances), Quisenberry (three) and Darrel Porter (three for the Royals, four total).
Another high point for the organization came in 1979, when the Royals’ three representatives (Brett, White and Porter) were all elected as starters for the American League.
PITCHERS TAKE CENTER STAGE
Brett’s next-to-last All-Star Game in 1987 was the first for young Bret Saberhagen. That year, he became the first and only Royals pitcher to start an All-Star Game, and three years later he became the first of two Royals to pick up a win in the game (Jose Rosado was the winning pitcher in the 1997 game).
After Saberhagen’s emergence, Royals pitchers were frequently spotlighted in the All-Star Game. Before 1987, only three Royals pitchers – Quisenberry, Steve Busby and Larry Gura – appeared in All-Star Games. Mark Gubicza was an All-Star in 1988 and ’89 and in the 90’s, Jeff Montgomery, David Cone, Kevin Appier and the aforementioned Saberhagen and Rosado donned Royals uniforms in the game.
HOME RUN POWER
As Brett faded from greatness, Royals fans thrust their hopes upon a new star: Bo Jackson. Although injuries shortened Jackson’s two-sport career, for a while the Royals outfielder was the hottest player in the game.
During the 1989 All-Star Game, he was positively sizzling.
Jackson was the lead-off hitter for the American League in the bottom of the first inning and on the second pitch, he blasted a moonshot home run to deep center field.
Jackson went on to win the All-Star MVP award that season, the only Royal ever to do so, and not only did he dazzle the baseball world, he also impressed the former President:
Jackson also competed in the Home Run Derby that year. The only other Royal to participate in the contest was Danny Tartabull in 1991.
BOYS IN BLUE HIT NEW LOWS
Over the last 20 years – from 1990 to now – the Royals have had just the one league-mandated All-Star representative 18 times.
Mike Sweeney became an All-Star Game staple in the early 2000s (five appearances, including four in a row). But other players from those teams struggled to break through. Even though the team featured a lot of young talent, none of the budding stars like Carlos Beltran and Johnny Damon ever became All-Stars for the Royals.
One Royals All-Star selection was so controversial that he almost changed the nature of the game itself and along the way, the Royals reached one of their lowest points as an organization.
In 2006, the Royals were bumbling through their third 100-loss season in a row. The team’s All-Star representative that year was pitcher Mark Redman. At the All-Star Break, Redman’s stats were a pedestrian 5-4 record and an obnoxious 5.49 earned-run average.
Columnists, bloggers, and fans across the country were outraged that Redman was considered an “All-Star,” and many of them called for the end of the decades-old rule that one player from each team must be selected.
FOCUS BACK ON PITCHING
In the late 2000’s, as the Royals have shown slight improvement, so too have the team’s All-Stars. Since 2007 the team’s representatives have been Gil Meche, Joakim Soria (twice) and Zack Greinke.
As this young team continues to improve, it will do so through pitching. Greinke and Soria should be a major part of that improvement.
HOSTS AGAIN IN 2012
The Royals will once again host the All-Star Game in 2012, this time in newly-renovated Kauffman Stadium.
By 2012, can the Royals muster more than one representative?
If the team keeps improving, by that time the Kansas City Royals could be at the center of the stage in more ways than one.
ROYALS’ ALL STAR REPRESENTATIVES
Below is a comprehensive list of the Royals’ All-Stars throughout the years:
1969: Ellie Rodriguez. 1970: Amos Otis. 1971: Otis, Cookie Rojas. 1972: Rojas, Otis, Lou Piniella, Richie Scheinblum. 1973: Otis, John Mayberry, Rojas. 1974: Steve Busby, Mayberry, Rojas. 1975: Busby, McRae. 1976: George Brett, McRae, Otis. 1977: Brett. 1978: Brett, Fred Patek, Frank White, Darrel Porter. 1979: Brett, White, Porter. 1980: Brett, Larry Gura, Porter. 1981: Brett, White. 1982: Brett, Dan Quisenberry, White, McRae, Willie Wilson. 1983: Brett, Quisenberry, Wilson. 1984: Brett, Quisenberry. 1985: Brett. 1986: Brett, White. 1987: Brett, Bret Saberhagen, Kevin Seitzer. 1988: Brett, Kurt Stillwell, Mark Gubicza. 1989: Bo Jackson, Gubicza. 1990: Saberhagen. 1991: Danny Tartabull. 1992: Jeff Montgomery. 1993: Montgomery. 1994: David Cone. 1995: Kevin Appier. 1996: Montgomery. 1997: Jose Rosado. 1998: Dean Palmer. 1999: Rosado. 2000: Jermaine Dye, Mike Sweeney. 2001: Sweeney. 2002: Sweeney. 2003: Sweeney, Mike MacDougal. 2004: Ken Harvey. 2005: Sweeney. 2006: Mark Redman. 2007: Gil Meche. 2008: Joakim Soria. 2009: Zack Greinke. 2010: Soria.
NOTES: Royals skipper Dick Howser was the AL Manager in 1986; in 2008, Royals outfielder Jose Guillen was one of five players on a fan ballot for the final AL roster spot, losing to Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria.