The history of African Americans in baseball may not be represented better anywhere in the world than it is in Kansas City with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. From Buck O’Neil to Josh Gibson, you can learn about a plethora of black baseball players that excelled before they were allowed to compete in the ‘Major Leagues’. However, I’m not sure we in Kansas City fully recognize how incredible the history of the black player in MLB has shaped Kansas City. Sure, we all idolize Frank White, and we remember Willie Wilson with affection, but hopefully this article will help some realize just how important the black player was to the golden age of the Kansas City Royals.
It is easy to forget, mostly because of how rare black players have become in Kansas City, and all of MLB. While the World Champion Royals featured a lineup that was 55% black, in 2011 the Royals played just 3 black players, and none of them for more than ¼ of the season. The decline of the presence of black players is not the focus of this article, however. No, to honor Black History Month I thought it would be appropriate to honor the best black players in Royals history. Some positions were easier (outfield) than others (catcher, pitcher) but that is probably more of a statement of our society than the players themselves. Without further ado, I present the Royals All-Time Greatest Black Players at each position:
Amos Otis (42.3 WAR)- A.O. played 14 seasons for the club and to this day ranks second All-Time in WAR, runs, total bases, walks, stolen bases, and runs created. More surprising is that he’s third All-Time in home runs and RBI. He led the league with 52 SB in 1971 and twice led the league in doubles. Otis went 11/23 in the 1980 W World Series with 3 Home Runs and 7 RBIs.
Willie Wilson (35.7 WAR)- Wilson may possibly be the most underrated Royal of All-Time. Wilson, in 1980, had one of the greatest seasons of any Royal not named George Brett, leading the league in runs, hits and triples while stealing 81 bases and batting .326. That does not even cover Wilson’s incredible defensive skill. Per Baseball Reference, Wilson has the best Range Factor/9 innings in Major League history for a left fielder, the position he played most until 1983. Wilson ranks second all-time in Royals history for Defensive WAR and triples as well as holding the career and single season club records for stolen bases.
Jermaine Dye (10.3 WAR)- I really wanted to select Bo Jackson or Danny Tartabull for this final spot…until I realized that Tartabull was Puerto Rican and Jackson was a far inferior player to Dye. While he played 4½ seasons with the club, it was 1999-2000 that really separated Dye from the pack. In those two seasons, the right fielder hit 60 home runs and drove in 237 runs with an OPS+ of 127. He led the league in assists in 1999 and when the league stopped running on him in 2000, he won a gold glove. Bo may have been flashier, but Dye was the superior player.
Terry Pendleton (-0.8 WAR)- Pendleton was a good, if not great major league player for 15 years. For the Royals he was a less than miserable below replacement level 3B/DH. But when George Brett, Kevin Seitzer and Joe Randa have taken up almost 50% of your franchise’s years at 3B, the choices aren’t too plentiful. As a tease for later in the article, there was one position that was much tougher than this one.
U.L.Washington (7.3 WAR)- Shortstop has been a dreadful position for the Royals for seemingly the eternity of the franchise. Save the sentimental vote for Freddie Patek, Washington may just be the best SS in the franchise’s history. Never much of a force offensively, Washington did finish third in the AL in triples in 1980. Sadly, he was traded before the Championship in 1985.
Frank White (26.9 WAR)- White is the all-time leader in Defensive WAR and places in the top 10 in nearly every offensive category due to the fact that he played 18 seasons with the club. After 5 All Star Games and a 1980 ALCS MVP, his 3.8% in the 1996 Hall of Fame vote was a complete disgrace to the process.
John Mayberry (20.2 WAR)- In 1975 Mayberry finished second in the MVP voting to Fred Lynn despite besting him in home runs and RBIs. Sure, Lynn beat him in WAR but no one had even heard of that statistic in 1975. Mayberry also led the league in OPS+ in 1975…but no one had heard of that either.
Okay, this is your chance to make me look foolish. I can’t find a single black player to ever play catcher for the Royals. So, unless someone proves me wrong, I’ll pick TJ Young, a catcher for the Kansas City Monarchs.
Tom “Flash” Gordon (15.8 WAR)- Gordon played on a lot of terrible teams, but went 17-9 with a 3.64 ERA in 1989, striking out 153 in 163 innings.
Hal McRae (26.1 WAR) – McRae was an outstanding DH for the Royals and one of the greatest hitters in the organization’s history. What I’m not sure he gets enough credit for is his career as a manager. In 4 years with the Royals, McRae was 9 games over .500. Since that point no manager has come anywhere close to that mark.
So there you have it, an all-time black Kansas City Royals lineup. What struck me about this lineup is how great it is. Considering the 2012 Royals will have one starter that is black, and maybe a couple of role players, it is fairly astounding to look at this group. Sure, George Brett is the greatest Royal ever…but would the white team stack up to this one? No way would the Hispanic team. I guess it’s fitting that the home of the NLBM is also a glaring example of how strong the black presence used to be in baseball, and just how weak it is now.