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2011 Hall Of Legends Inductee: Al Hrabosky

The week of Thanksgiving brings a time for all of us to be thankful for family, friends, health, any a myriad of other things that each of us finds important. Here at I-70 Baseball, we take this time to show some thanks to some players that spent some time wearing both of the uniforms of our two teams, the Cardinals and Royals.

The requirements are that simple: the inducted player had to play for both the Cardinals and Royals in his career. From there, it is pure judgement of I-70 Baseball to say they deserve enshrinement in our “Hall Of Legends”. This year we induct five new legends to join the inaugural group of five from last season. The original five inductees were manager Whitey Herzog, pitchers Dan Quisenberry and Danny Jackson, outfielder Reggie Sanders, and catcher Darrell Porter.

The final inductee for 2011 is, appropriately, former Cardinals and Royals closer, Al Hrabosky.

St. Louis (1970 – 1977)

Alan Thomas Hrabosky, or as we would soon call him affectionately, The Mad Hungarian, was originally drafted out of high school by the Minnesota Twins in 1967. Opting to wait for a better offer, that came along in 1969 when the Cardinals selected Hrabosky in the first round. They would send him to their Class A affiliate in Modesto, California and the young left-hander would dominate the league. In 13 starts, he would post an 8-2 record with an ERA of 2.48. That was not what caught the attention of the front office, it was his 112 strikeouts in 98 innings. Combined with the ability to miss bats (less than 1 hit per inning pitched) got Hrabosky a promotion to Arkansas (AA) to finish out 1969.

He would stay in Arkansas to start the 1970 season, but not for long. Trouble was brewing in St. Louis and a most promising start to the season was about to fall apart. George Culver, a big veteran right hander, had gotten off to a quick start for the season, winning his first three starts with a mind boggling ERA just over 1 run per game. Then things started falling apart and he would soon be heading to Houston. Nelson Briles was also struggling and newcomer and former Reds pitcher, Billy McCool was about to make his last major league appearance. All of that turmoil created an opportunity for Hrabosky, and he was called up from AA in early June. And he did not disappoint.

His second appearance was in a long extra inning game at Chicago on June 19. In two innings of work, he would retire all six men he faced, three by way of the strikeout. Thanks to bases loaded single by Ted Simmons in the seventeenth inning, Hrabosky would earn his first major league win. He would continue to pitch late in games through July and into early August, when the Cardinals finally fell out of contention. Even though the 1970 Cardinals had been somewhat of a disappointment, the 20 year old hard throwing lefty had made quite an impression. He would go back to Arkansas to finish out the season, but would return late in September when the rosters expanded.

Hrabosky would continue his development in the minor leagues, mostly as a starter, occasionally getting a call up to St. Louis to fill in for an injured pitcher. The last call was in June 1973, when the Cardinals traded Jim Bibby to the Texas Rangers. Hrabosky would take his spot, initially as a setup man to veteran closer, Diego Segui. By the end of the season, it was Hrabosky that was closing out games, and he would continue to do so for the next four years.

1974 would be big year for Hrabosky as he and right hander, Mike Garman, took turns closing out games for the Cardinals. They were a most effective tandem, providing late inning heat from both the right and left side. Hrabosky would post an impressive 8-1 record with an ERA of 2.95. His 9 saves may not seem like a lot, but when you have starters like Lynn McGlothen and Bob Gibson in the rotation, there just aren’t a lot of save opportunities to be found. But when called upon, Hrabosky held the game with regularity. He was a big part of the Cardinals late divisional race, falling just a few runs short of a post-season opportunity. For his effort, Hrabosky would get a few Cy Young votes, coming in fifth in the voting.

Taking one for the Team

The date was September 25, the last home game of the 1974 season. Thanks to a series of bad games, the bullpen had been used a lot and needed Bob Forsch to go deep into the game. He did not make it out of the first inning. Rich Folkers was able to get the last two outs, but not before the Pirates had a commanding 5-0 lead. A wiped out bullpen would have to finish this game, and that meant somebody would have to take one for the team.

Since the Pirates were somewhat vulnerable to left handed pitching, especially since they planned on facing the right handed Bob Forsch, manager Red Schoendienst ran out all the lefties he had. Following Rich Folkers, it was veteran Claude Osteen. While Osteen was on the mound, the Cardinals rallied and had taken a 6-5 lead.

Osteen got into trouble in the fifth inning, and again the call would go to the bullpen. This time it was Al Hrabosky. The Cardinals extended the lead to 9-5 but Hrabosky gave most of those runs back. In the ninth inning, Hungo was still pitching for the Cardinals when he Dave Parker with a pitch. Parker would score the tying run when Manny Sanguillen singles. Into extra innings we go.

Hrabosky pitches a scoreless tenth inning but gets into trouble in the eleventh. It all unraveled quickly with only one ball hit with any authority. Mike Garman came into to relieve Hrabosky and get the final two outs, but Pittsburgh had taken a 12-9 lead. That would not be the final score as the Cardinals roared back for four runs in the bottom of the inning with pinch hitter, Jim Dwyer, getting the game winning RBI with a sacrifice fly. The win probability chart from this game tells you all you needed to know about this game. Game Six of the World Series, anybody ? Well, almost.

Even though he had struggled, and had given up the lead in the ninth inning, Hrabosky took one for the team with 6 1/3 innings of relief. It wasn’t pretty and those earned runs he allowed ballooned his ERA by about 1/3 of a run per game. It was a gutsy performance, just one of the many that we would come to appreciate.

Fireman of the Year

If not for Mike Marshall pitching in nearly every Expos game in 1974, Al Hrabosky might have won the Fireman of the Year award for his outstanding relief work. He would win that award in 1975, a career year for Hungo and one of the best ever for a Cardinals reliever. In 65 appearances, he would post a 13-3 record with an ERA of 1.66. He averaged about 1 1/2 innings per appearance, so these were no short outings. His 22 saves would lead the National League. His strikeout total had started to fall off, but he more than made up for it by continuing to miss bats with an increased consistency. In addition to his Fireman of the Year award, he would come in third in Cy Young voting, behind Tom Seaver and Randy Jones, both of whom won more than 20 games. Hrabosky was the only reliever to receive any votes.

1976 would be another good year for Hrabosky, but the strikeouts kept falling and the number of hits allowed has started increasing. This would continue in 1977, but the story of that year would be the continual clashing with new manager, Vern Rapp.

Rapp was an old school authoritarian and was not handling a lot of the changes in the game, most notably more player freedoms in the new free agency era. Long hair and ridiculous facial hair was the new form of expression, and Hrabosky had some of the wildest of both. Rapp failed to notice that it was all part of Hrabosky’s on the field persona. He would go behind the mound and talk to himself. He would pop the ball into the glove, spin around and take his position on the mound. He would stare at the catcher with his eyes barely visible between his cap pulled down low and a glove held high on his face. Then, from what can only be called a maelstrom of arms and legs, comes a pitch somewhere in the confluence of body parts, and it is likely very hard and could quite possibly be well inside.

The crazy hair and outlandish mustache was just a part of Hrabosky’s act, and it had been most effective. But Rapp was having none of that, and wanted his players clean shaven and hair kept at a respectable length. They may finish dead last in the division, but they were going to look professional.

Throw in the emergence of an exciting young flame thrower named John Urrea and 1977 would be Hrabosky’s last season in St. Louis. He would be traded to the Kansas City for their former closer, Mark Littell. In 8 years in St. Louis, Al Hrabosky would finish with a 40-20 record, ERA of 2.93 and collect 59 saves, a big total for that era of baseball.

Kansas City (1978 – 1979)

It could have been the change of scenery, facing hitters in a new league or maybe it was just getting some distance between him and Vern Rapp, but 1978 would be something of a comeback year for the now veteran left hander. He would collect 20 saves in his first season with the Royals, which is a very good number considering that starters threw 53 complete games. His strikeout rate continued to fall, but he would lead all Royals pitchers. Where he was most effective was in missing American League bats, just as he had been doing in the National League. He was just as likely to walk a batter as let them get a hit. All of that added up to a stingy 2.88 ERA, third on the staff.

1978 would also be the only time that Hrabosky would appear in post-season, pitching in three of the four ALCS games against the New York Yankees.

Al Hrabosky would have another fine season for Kansas City in 1979, but a quirky young reliever make his major league debut that year – a redheaded right handed submariner named Dan Quisenberry. Quisenberry would entertain teammates and terrorize opposing batters for the next decade, so it was time for Al to move on.

The Royals let Hrabosky test the new free agency market and the Atlanta Braves signed him to a contract for the 1980 season.

Atlanta (1980 – 1982)

The former closer took on a new role with the Atlanta Braves, the setup man to Rick Camp and then later for Gene Garber. His best year for the Braves was the strike shortened 1981 where he posted a miniscule 1.07 ERA as a one inning specialist. Unfortunately for the Mad Hungarian, his career would come to an end in August 1982 and he would miss the chance to pitch against his former team in the NLCS.

Al Hrabosky pitched effectively for all three teams where he played. He was dominating closer in both leagues and proved to be an effective setup man at the end of his career. The final tally on Al was a 64-35 record with an ERA of 3.10 (ERA+ of 123, not bad). He had a positive win-loss record with all three teams, and he would finish with 97 saves.

Life after Baseball

After his playing days were over, Al returned to the St. Louis area and started a career as a broadcaster. He has been a commentator for the Cardinals since 1985 and can now be found doing most of the television broadcasts on the Cardinal Fox station, Fox Sports Midwest.

Bob Netherton covers Cardinals history for i70baseball.com and writes at On the Outside Corner. You may follow Bob on Twitter here or on Facebook here.

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2011 Hall Of Legends Inductee: Gregg Jefferies

The week of Thanksgiving brings a time for all of us to be thankful for family, friends, health, any a myriad of other things that each of us finds important. Here at I-70 Baseball, we take this time to show some thanks to some players that spent some time wearing both of the uniforms of our two teams, the Cardinals and Royals.

The requirements are that simple: the inducted player had to play for both the Cardinals and Royals in his career. From there, it is pure judgement of I-70 Baseball to say they deserve enshrinement in our “Hall Of Legends”. This year we induct five new legends to join the inaugural group of five from last season. The original five inductees were manager Whitey Herzog, pitchers Dan Quisenberry and Danny Jackson, outfielder Reggie Sanders, and catcher Darrell Porter.

The next inductee is infielder Gregg Jefferies.

Jefferies emerged onto the Major League scene in 1987 as a part of the New York Mets organization. A highly touted second base/third base prospect, he would find his way permanently onto the team and in the lineup in 1989 when he would finish third in the voting for the Jackie Robinson Award for the most outstanding rookie player in the National League.

In December of 1991, Jefferies would find himself being traded from New York along with Kevin McReynolds to the Kansas City Royals organization.

Jefferies would spend the 1992 season in Kansas City posting career highs to that point in batting average (.285), runs batted in (75), and hits (172). Those numbers would generate an off season trade to the opposite side of the state and his arrival in St. Louis. The Royals dealt Jefferies and minor leaguer Ed Gerald to the Cardinals for Felix Jose and Craig Wilson.

Jefferies career year would occur with his arrival to St. Louis and his move to first base. The Cardinals, with a unique mixture of talent, saw the opportunity for the athletic, yet diminutive at just five foot eleven, fielder to convert to the first base position. Jefferies would reach the All Star game for the first time in his career during the 1993 campaign. He would post his best season of his fourteen year career in batting average (.342), home runs (16), runs batted in (83), runs scored (89), on base percentage (.408), walks (62) and stolen bases (46). His stellar performance would earn him and eleventh place finish in the Most Valuable Player voting at the end of the season.

Jefferies’ second and final year with the Cardinals would see him continue to produce well while adjusting to the first base position. While his numbers were down from the career performance he turned in the prior season, he would still produce a season that earned him his second and last All Star appearance. He would post a slash line of .325/.489/.880 while hitting 12 home runs and knocking in 55 runs as well as scoring 52 of his own. His .489 slugging percentage would go down as the best of his career.

Jefferies would take his talents to Philadelphia the following season where he would eventually find himself in left field more than on first base. A short stay in Anaheim and two years in Detroit would round out his 14 year career.

Jefferies career would finish with 1593 hits (487 for the Royals and Cardinals combined), 300 doubles (87 for i70), 126 home runs (38 for i70), 663 runs batted in (213 for i70) and a career .289 batting average (.315 for i70).

Gregg Jefferies enjoyed three of his best years while wearing the colors of the I-70 teams and for that, we welcome him into the Hall Of Legends.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

Posted in Cardinals, Classic, I-70 Baseball Exclusives, I-70 Hall Of Legends, RoyalsComments (0)

2011 Hall Of Legends Inductee: Mark Grudzielanek

The week of Thanksgiving brings a time for all of us to be thankful for family, friends, health, any a myriad of other things that each of us finds important. Here at I-70 Baseball, we take this time to show some thanks to some players that spent some time wearing both of the uniforms of our two teams, the Cardinals and Royals.

The requirements are that simple: the inducted player had to play for both the Cardinals and Royals in his career. From there, it is pure judgement of I-70 Baseball to say they deserve enshrinement in our “Hall Of Legends”. This year we induct five new legends to join the inaugural group of five from last season. The original five inductees were manager Whitey Herzog, pitchers Dan Quisenberry and Danny Jackson, outfielder Reggie Sanders, and catcher Darrell Porter.

The next inductee is second baseman Mark Grudzielanek.

Grudzielanek’s career began outside of the Missouri borders. In fact, to be more specific, his major league baseball career began outside of the borders of the United States with his 1995 debut for the Montreal Expos. A speedy second baseman with what could only be described as “gap power”, Grudzielanek would propel himself to his first All Star Game during just his second season in the league. That 1996 season would see him achieve over 200 hits for the one and only time in his career. It would also mark his only appearance in the mid summer classic.

After the first three and a half seasons of his career, Grudzielanek would be traded from Montreal out west to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Los Angeles would be home for Grudzielanek until another trade prior to the 2003 season would land him in Chicago with the Cubs.

With 1456 career hits, Grudzielanek would sign a free agent contract to join the St. Louis Cardinals for the 2005 season. His only season in Cardinal red was productive and solid for a franchise that had a revolving door at the position throughout the first decade of the twenty first century. While he was anything but spectacular, he was solid and brought some semblance of normalcy to the position, playing in 137 games and driving in 59 runs over the course of the season. His RBI total that year would be the second highest of his career.

The Cardinals would fail to retain him after that season, however, and Grudzielanek would make the trip across interstate 70 to join the Kansas City Royals for the next three seasons. From 2006-2008, he would provide more of the same, solid play at second base that had defined his career. In 2007, he would be recognized for his defensive prowess with the Gold Glove Award at second base. He would keep his average near the .300 mark, his runs batted in near 50, and his strikeouts below 70 for the three season that he wore Royal Blue.

Grudzielanek would finish his 15 year career with 2040 hits, 391 doubles, 640 runs batted in, 946 runs scored, and a .289 career batting average.

For his consistent play, his Gold Glove defense, and because sometimes you need a player that is dependable over one that is flashy, I-70 Baseball places Mark Grudzielanek in the Hall Of Legends.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

Posted in Cardinals, Classic, I-70 Baseball Exclusives, I-70 Hall Of Legends, RoyalsComments (1)

2011 Hall Of Legends Inductee: Cookie Rojas

The week of Thanksgiving brings a time for all of us to be thankful for family, friends, health, any a myriad of other things that each of us finds important. Here at I-70 Baseball, we take this time to show some thanks to some players that spent some time wearing both of the uniforms of our two teams, the Cardinals and Royals.

The requirements are that simple: the inducted player had to play for both the Cardinals and Royals in his career. From there, it is pure judgement of I-70 Baseball to say they deserve enshrinement in our “Hall Of Legends”. This year we induct five new legends to join the inaugural group of five from last season. The original five inductees were manager Whitey Herzog, pitchers Dan Quisenberry and Danny Jackson, outfielder Reggie Sanders, and catcher Darrell Porter.

The first inductee for 2011 was Vince Coleman. Today, we welcome Cookie Rojas.

There might not be a better example of how the game of baseball has changed in the last half century than Octavio Victor “Cuqui” Rojas. Born in Havana, Cuba on March 6, 1939, Rojas was an acrobatic middle infielder that played in the major leagues for 16 season, even though he was a career .263 hitter with an on-base percentage barely over .300. In the game today, every player is expected to contribute offensively and Rojas probably doesn’t make it out of the minor leagues. That would be such a loss for baseball because fans would be deprived of one of the best loved and perhaps smartest players to play the game.

There might not be a more easily recognized player either. If you somehow missed the translucent plastic frames holding those giant lenses, or the effervescent smile that can only come from somebody that loves what they are doing, just wait a few moments. Rojas will be the one diving for a ground ball or leaping high in the air to avoid a base runner while tuning a double play. In the end, he will leave you with a similar smile because you have just become another in a long line of Cookie Rojas fans.

Reds (1962)

Rojas was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 1956, at the age of just 17. His dad had wanted him to be a doctor, but the young infielder had different ideas. He progressed through the Reds minor league system, playing for West Palm Beach (D) in 1956, Wassau (C) in 1957 and Savanah (A) in 1958. Although his power numbers improved and his glove was always solid, his overall batting average dropped at each level.

In 1959, he returned to his home town of Havana, which happened to be the Reds AAA affiliate. His batting average continued to fall, reaching a new low point of .233. With Leo Cardenas and Elio Chacon both hitting better than Rojas, Cookie would return to Havana for the 1960 season, a most unusual one for the franchise. When Fidel Castro nationalized all US-owned businesses in Cuba, the Reds moved the Sugar Kings to Jersey City for the remainder of the season. Rojas continued to struggle at the plate.

With Chacon and Cardenas with the big club, Rojas got more playing time with the Jersey City Jerseys (AAA) in 1961, and he made the best of it. His offensive numbers improved significantly, his batting average jumping to .265. He would also drive in 44 runs. This would turn out to be the story of Rojas career – the more playing time he got, the better his production at the plate.

Rojas make the Reds out of spring training to start the 1962 season, and made his major league debut against the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 10. In his first major league at-bat, he would lay down a sacrifice bunt, moving Eddie Kasko over to third base ahead of Vada Pinson and Frank Robinson. That would be another trademark of Rojas career – although he didn’t hit with power or any great regularity, he could handle the bat in sacrifice situations. After two months of struggling at the plate, Rojas would finish the season with the Reds new AAA Affiliate, the Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers, but he would be back soon, as a September callup.

With the Reds infield looking set for the foreseeable future, they traded Rojas to the Philadelphia Phillies after the 1962 . In return, the Reds got a right handed pitcher named Jim “Bear” Owens. Owens would not last long in Cincinnati. He would be sent down to the minors and Houston would claim him in the Rule 5 draft.

Philadelphia (1963 – 1969)

Philadelphia had two very good middle infielders, Bobby Wine and Tony Taylor, but Rojas found a way to get into games, first backing up Taylor at second base and then occasionally in the outfield. As his hitting improved in 1963, the Phillies found any way they could to get Rojas into games. He would play all eight defensive positions in 1964, and again in 1965. With a batting average finally over .300, Rojas would get an invitation to play in the 1965 All Star Game, as a second baseman. He would also receive some MVP votes, recognition for his improvement and ability to play anywhere he was needed.

What was originally a stunt to keep him in the lineup had become yet another trademark of his major league career – the ultimate utility player. But even that would eventually come to an end as Rojas became the every day second baseman, taking over those duties from Tony Taylor in 1966. He and Bobby Wine would turn into one of the best double play combinations in baseball. Fans would start calling duo the plays of “Wine and Rojas”, referring to the popular song, “The Days of Wine and Roses”.

The one position Rojas had yet to play was pitcher, and that changed in a blowout against the Giants on June 30, 1967. Trailing 12-3, Rojas came into the game in the ninth inning. He gave up a single to Tom Haller. Hal Lanier reached base on an error. Rojas then retired Tito Fuentes, Juan Marichal and Willie Mays to end the inning, stranding both base runners. That would be his only relief appearance, so his career ERA stands at 0.00 and his WHIP is just 1.000.

With a young infield prospect named Denny Doyle turning heads in the Phillies farm system, Rojas would be traded away to make room at the end of the 1969 season. The Cardinals were also ready to shake up their roster, and the two teams agreed on a multi-player deal that would alter baseball history. St. Louis would send Tim McCarver, Byron Browne, Joe Hoerner and Curt Flood to Philadelphia for Rojas, Richie Allen and Jerry Johnson. Curt Flood would refuse to report to the Phillies and the Cardinals were forced to send prospects Willie Montanez and Jim Browning to complete the deal. Flood would challenge the reserve clause in 1970, eventually losing, but that would make way for a successful challenge four years later.

St. Louis (1970)

Cardinals fans were excited to see Rojas in a Cardinals uniform after all the years of watching him as a member of the Phillies. With injuries and age starting to catch up to Julian Javier, the happiness over Rojas was tempered by sadness in the realization that Javier’s Cardinals days were coming to an end. Surprisingly, it was Rojas that left first, not Javier. But not before one exciting play.

The date was April 14 and the Montreal Expos were in St. Louis. In a rare rough outing from Bob Gibson, an early 3-0 Cardinals lead had turned into a 4-3 deficit in the top of the seventh inning. Thanks to some outstanding relief pitching and a Jose Cardenal home run in the bottom of the inning, the Cardinals tied the game, and it went into extra innings.

In the top of the tenth inning, Sal Campisi gives up a 2 out walk to Mack Jones. Marv Staehle triples Jones home to give Montreal a 5-4 lead. Howie Reed tries to close out the game for the Expos, but the Cardinals had a much different plan. Leron Lee leads off the bottom of the tenth with a single. Joe Hague reaches base when Bob Bailey boots a ground ball. Julian Javier fails to advance the runners, forcing Lee at third base on a fielders choice. Pinch hitter, Jim Campbell singles home Hague to tie the game. Vic Davalillo is intentionally walked to load the bases, setting up the double play at just about any base. Cookie Rojas comes off the bench to pinch hit for Sal Campisi and hits a slow roller to third base. It is too slow to turn a double play and Javier scores easily with the winning run. Leave it to Rojas to deliver a walk off single and the ball never leaves the infield.

That would be the lone highlight of Rojas Cardinals career as he would be traded to Kansas City in early June.

Kansas City (1970 – 1977)

Even though he failed to find a home in St. Louis, Cookie couldn’t have found a better place to launch his second career than with the expansion Kansas City Royals. He immediately took over second base duties, and just as he had done in Philadelphia, raised his batting average back to a respectable level. He would hit .260 for the rest of the 1970 season and .268 for his entire time with the Royals.

Fans immediately fell in love with Rojas and his acrobatic plays at second base. One of them was captured by the Topps baseball card photographer and his 1971 card remains one of my all time favorites. That image says everything you need to know about Cookie Rojas.

1971 would be a very good year for Rojas, hitting .300 for the second time in his career. He would also set a new career high for on-base percentage (.357) and slugging (.406). He would also be rewarded with his second All Star Game invitation, the first of four consecutive in which he would represent the Royals. He also received more than a token nod in the MVP ballots.

Perhaps his greatest moment as a member of the Royals came in the 1972 All Star Game. With the American League trailing 2-1 in the eighth inning, Rojas steps up to the plate with Carlton Fisk on first base and two outs. Rojas pulls a Bill Stoneman pitch deep into the Atlanta left field seats for a 2 run homer, giving the American League a 3-2 lead. That home run was also historic in that it was the first AL homer to be hit by a non-American born player. Unfortunately for Rojas, Wilbur Wood could not make the one run lead hold up and the National League would win 5-4 in 10 innings.

Rojas continued to play well for the Royals, but as in Philadelphia, he was about to lose his job to a younger and more talented prospect. This time it would be Frank White, but instead of being traded away, Kansas City was smart and kept Rojas around for the rest of his career, which ended in 1977. That also helped the fans who were slow to embrace White, preferring to see their favorite, Rojas, playing every day. Once again, Rojas versatility came into play, backing up White at second base, occasionally playing third and even, ironically, as a designated hitter.

Rojas playing career ended in 1977, but that was not the end of his baseball career.

The Rest of the Story

For his long and productive major league career, Cookie Rojas has been honored as a member of both the Philadelphia Phillies and Kansas City Royals Baseball Hall of Fame, as well as in his homeland of Cuba.

Rojas stayed involved with baseball, first as a scout and then as a coach. In 1988, he managed the California Angels, but after failing to reach .500, was replaced with 8 games remaining in the season. Rojas returned to coaching with the Florida Marlins, New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays.

You can find Cookie Rojas today as the Spanish language broadcaster with Fox Sports Florida, providing color commentary on all Marlins home games. His son, Victor, is also also a broadcaster, first with the Texas Rangers and now with the California Angels.

Bob Netherton covers Cardinals history for i70baseball.com and writes at On the Outside Corner. You may follow Bob on Twitter here or on Facebook here.

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2011 Hall Of Legends Inductee: Vince Coleman

The week of Thanksgiving brings a time for all of us to be thankful for family, friends, health, any a myriad of other things that each of us finds important. Here at I-70 Baseball, we take this time to show some thanks to some players that spent some time wearing both of the uniforms of our two teams, the Cardinals and Royals.

The requirements are that simple: the inducted player had to play for both the Cardinals and Royals in his career. From there, it is pure judgement of I-70 Baseball to say they deserve enshrinement in our “Hall Of Legends”. This year we induct five new legends to join the inaugural group of five from last season. The original five inductees were manager Whitey Herzog, pitchers Dan Quisenberry and Danny Jackson, outfielder Reggie Sanders, and catcher Darrell Porter.

The first inductee for 2011 is Vince Coleman.

Coleman was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1982 and it did not take long for him to race (pun intended) onto the scene at the big league level. The speedy outfielder was built for the Whiteyball area of the St. Louis Cardinals and the team quickly had him in the leadoff role as the 1985 season got underway.

That rookie year was not perfect by any means, but the young man managed to reach base at a .320 clip while hitting .267. It was what he did when he was on base that captured the focus of fans across the nation. Coleman successfully stole 110 bases that year while also being caught 25 times, leading the league in both categories and capturing the Rookie Of The Year Award (later named the Jackie Robinson Award in 1987) in the National League that season. His 110 steals would fall just short of Cardinal legend Lou Brock‘s national league record of 118, but would establish the record that still stands today of steals by a rookie.

The dreaded sophomore slump would gRip Coleman‘s batting average and on base percentage, dropping the former to .232 and the latter to .301. As the old saying toes, however, speed doesn’t slump. Despite his drop in ability to reach base safely, he would lead the league again in stolen bases, this time with 107. He would also cut down the amount of times he was caught on the bases, being thrown out a paltry 14 times over the course of the season.

Coleman’s third year in the majors wearing the birds on the bat would see him achieve another etching in the record books. In arguably the most successful seasons of his career, Coleman would raise his batting average to .289 and his on base percentage to .363. The batting average would eventually prove to be the second best average Coleman would ever post and his on base percentage would rank as his best of his 13 year career. His increased time spent on the base paths would yield 109 stolen bases, the first player in history to steal 100 or more bases for three consecutive season.

As the 1988 season developed, Coleman would find himself once again atop the league in stolen bases, this time for the fourth consecutive season. He would fail to top 100 stolen bases for the first time in his career, swiping just 81 while being caught 27 times. Coleman would make the first of his two career all star appearances in that year’s mid summer classic. His production would slip again in 1989, falling to just 65 stolen bases, which was still good enough to lead the league. He would make is final appearance in the All Star Game that year. The remarkable thing happened for Coleman was a record that started in 1988 and was completed in 1989.

In the top of the sixth inning of a contest between the Cubs and the Cardinals in Chicago on September 18, Vince Coleman would swipe second base off of Greg Maddux and Jody Davis with Jose Oquendo at the plate. It led to the Cardinals’ fourth run of the contest, a game they would eventually win 5-4. Fast forward to July 26, 1989 as the Cubs would meet the Cardinals in St. Louis. In a game once again won by the Cardinals, Coleman would steal second base in the bottom of the third off of Cubs hurler Rick Sutcliffe and catcher Joe Giradi. The following game, played on July 28 in Montreal, Coleman would be thrown out in the fourth inning attempting to steal second base off of Pascual Perez and cather Nelson Santovenia. It would bring to end a treak of 50 straight stolen bases by Coleman, another record that is still standing today.

Coleman would spend his final season in St. Louis in 1990, stealing 77 bases and leading the league for the final time in his career, the sixth consecutive time. He would post his highest batting average of his career at .292 before departing the city via free agency to head to the bright lights of New York City to join the Mets.

Three injury ridden years in New York would come to a close after the 1993 season when Coleman was traded back into the midwest to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Kevin McReynolds. Coleman’s health would rebound in 1994 as he put together a decent season for the Royals, stealing 50 bases. He would steal another 26 bases in a Royals uniform the following season before being dealt to the Seattle Mariners for the stretch run of 1995.

Coleman would steal 625 bases combined for the I-70 franchises, winning the Rookie Of The Year Award and appearing in two all star games. He “leads-off” the 2011 selections for the Hall Of Legends.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

Posted in Cardinals, Classic, I-70 Baseball Exclusives, I-70 Hall Of Legends, RoyalsComments (0)

Royals Five Year Bests: Position Players

I am digging probably too deep into Royals history to see who the top three position players by Baseball Reference’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR) have been for every five year period in team history. Not just the nice round chunks like 2000—04 and 2005—09, but every consecutive five year stretch: 1969—73, 1970—74, 1971—75, and so on. I believe I am stealing the idea from Joe Posnanski, who once looked at the best player in all of baseball by rolling five year periods. Here I look at the only team that matters. It is a lot of numbers to wade through, but it yields some interesting results. Assuming you are a Royals fiend.

1969-73

16.2 WAR Amos Otis CF
10.2 WAR John Mayberry 1B
9.6 WAR Paul Schaal 3B

1970-74

20.6 Amos Otis CF
11.7 John Mayberry 1B
9.9 Freddie Patek SS

1971-75

18.7 Amos Otis CF
18.6 John Mayberry 1B
10.7 Freddie Patek SS

Amos Otis does not get enough love in Royals-land. Many current Royals fans did not see him play, plus he does not live in the area and seems to keep a low profile (though he is coming to town soon for the Buck O’Neil golf tournament). He was a special player, perhaps the second best position player in team history. All hail AO.

1972-76

19.7 John Mayberry 1B
16.9 Amos Otis CF
13.7 George Brett 3B

George’s death grip on these lists begins…

1973-77

21.3 George Brett 3B
16.4 Amos Otis CF
15.1 John Mayberry 1B

1974-78

26.6 George Brett 3B
19.8 Amos Otis CF
16.6 Hal McRae DH/LF

1975-79

34.5 George Brett 3B
19.0 Amos Otis CF
15.3 Darrell Porter C

1976-80

39.0 George Brett 3B
18.2 Amos Otis CF
17.3 Darrell Porter C

George’s ’76—’80 is the best five-year stretch in Royals history by WAR. Here are Brett’s seasons in more detail:

Year Age G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
1976 23 159 94 215 34 14 7 67 49 36 .333 .377 .462 .839 144
1977 24 139 105 176 32 13 22 88 55 24 .312 .373 .532 .905 142
1978 25 128 79 150 45 8 9 62 39 35 .294 .342 .467 .809 123
1979 26 154 119 212 42 20 23 107 51 36 .329 .376 .563 .939 148
1980 27 117 87 175 33 9 24 118 58 22 .390 .454 .664 1.118 203

Porter’s ’76-’80 stretch is the highest total for a third place finisher on these lists. Quantifying catcher performance and value is a tricky thing, and WAR might not reflect reality for receivers as well as it does for other position players. After asking my Twitter peeps, I get the impression Porter had a strong arm but sub-par “receiving” skills. Nevertheless, WAR indicates Porter’s bat more than made up for any defensive shortcomings and that he was pretty incredible in his four years as a Royal. Only Porter and Mike Macfarlane have racked up more than four WAR as a Royals catcher. The top five:

Rk Player WAR
1 Darrell Porter 17.3
2 Mike Macfarlane 13.1
3 Fran Healy 3.8
4 John Buck 3.5
5 John Wathan 3.2
1977-81

33.6 George Brett 3B
18.5 Willie Wilson LF/CF
17.3 Darrell Porter C

1978-82

31.8 George Brett 3B
24.1 Willie Wilson LF/CF
14.9 Darrell Porter C

1979-83

30.8 George Brett 3B
23.6 Willie Wilson LF/CF
10.4 Darrell Porter C

1980-84

24.8 George Brett 3B
21.0 Willie Wilson LF/CF
9.6 Frank White 2B 9.6

1981-85

23.2 George Brett 3B
14.5 Willie Wilson CF/LF
10.4 Frank White 2B

1982-86

23.9 George Brett 3B
13.3 Frank White 2B
12.6 Willie Wilson CF/LF

1983-87

20.5 George Brett 3B
12.2 Frank White 2B
7.8 Willie Wilson CF

1984-88

21.6 George Brett 3B/1B
11.2 Frank White 2B
9.0 Kevin Seitzer 3B

1985-89

20.5 George Brett 1B/3B
11.0 Kevin Seitzer 3B
9.2 Frank White 2B

1986-90

17.1 George Brett 1B
14.2 Kevin Seitzer 3B
7.8 Danny Tartabull RF

1987-91

14.2 Kevin Seitzer 3B
14.2 George Brett 1B
12.4 Danny Tartabull RF

1988-92

11.8 George Brett 1B
10.8 Danny Tartabull RF
9.9 Kevin Seitzer 3B

1989-93

8.3 Mike Macfarlane C
7.3 Danny Tartabull RF
6.2 George Brett DH

1990-94

10.1 Mike Macfarlane C
5.8 Danny Tartabull RF
5.1 Gary Gaetti 3B

George slides off the list for the first time since 1971-75.

1991-95

9.2 Mike Macfarlane C
8.0 Gary Gaetti 3B
7.0 Greg Gagne SS

1992-96

9.3 Mike Macfarlane C
8.0 Gary Gaetti 3B
7.0 Greg Gagne SS

Mike Macfarlane, ladies and gentlemen! His competition was not particularly stiff, but still, he tops the lists between 1989—96. One of the biggest surprises for me. Maybe it should not be surprising since he played 890 games with the Royals and put up a “good for a catcher” 104 OPS+.

1993-97

8.0 Gary Gaetti 3B
7.6 Mike Macfarlane C
7.0 Greg Gagne SS

Gary Gaetti, ladies and gentlemen! 8.0 WAR is the lowest total for any number one spot on these lists.

1994-98

8.2 Jose Offerman 2B
5.4 Jeff King 1B
5.3 Jay Bell SS
5.3 Gary Gaetti 3B

Those numbers are awful, but I like how the whole infield is represented.

1995-99

9.6 Johnny Damon CF
8.2 Jose Offerman 2B
5.8 Jeff King 1B

1996-2000

14.8 Johnny Damon CF/LF/RF
8.2 Jose Offerman 2B
8.0 Mike Sweeney C/1B/DH

1997-2001

14.8 Johnny Damon CF/LF
11.8 Mike Sweeney 1B/C/DH
11.3 Carlos Beltran CF

1998-2002

15.5 Mike Sweeney 1B
15.2 Carlos Beltran CF
12.9 Johnny Damon LF/CF

1999-2003

22.4 Carlos Beltran CF
18.0 Mike Sweeney 1B
11.6 Joe Randa 3B

2000-04

20.0 Carlos Beltran CF
16.2 Mike Sweeney 1B
11.8 Joe Randa 3B

2001-05

19.2 Carlos Beltran CF
14.2 Mike Sweeney 1B
8.9 Joe Randa 3B

2002-06

13.3 Carlos Beltran CF
10.1 Mike Sweeney DH
8.7 David DeJesus CF

2003-07

12.0 David DeJesus CF
9.4 Carlos Beltran CF
6.0 Joe Randa 3B

2004-08

15.9 David DeJesus CF
6.6 Mark Grudzielanek 2B
4.3 Emil Brown RF/LF

2005-09

18.0 David DeJesus CF
6.6 Mark Grudzielanek 2B
4.3 Emil Brown RF/LF

Brown’s 4.3s are the lowest numbers on any of these lists.

2006-10

16.8 David DeJesus CF/LF
6.6 Mark Grudzielanek 2B
5.1 Billy Butler 1B

Whew.

Because that’s not enough to wade through, I have played with the numbers some more. If you award three points for every number one ranking, two points for second, and one point for third, you get a convoluted leader board that looks like this:

44 George Brett
17 Carlos Beltran
15 Amos Otis
14 Mike Sweeney
14 Mike Macfarlane
13 David DeJesus
12 Willie Wilson
10 Johnny Damon

The list punishes players who played with other good players. More recent players like Beltran, Sweeney and DeJesus just did not have as many good teammates as guys like Wilson, White, Mayberry, etc., which skews things. Just think of it as a reflection of how much players dominated their own Royals era.

If there is any “usefulness” to all of this (there is not), it may be in judging who is deserving of induction to the team hall of fame. If you are the best Royals player for a five year stretch, you at least have a case.

Five year periods at number one:

14 George Brett
4 Carlos Beltran
4 Mike Macfarlane
4 David DeJesus
3 Amos Otis
3 Johnny Damon
1 Mike Sweeney
1 John Mayberry
1 Kevin Seitzer
1 Gary Gaetti
1 Jose Offerman

There are exceptions, and their names are Gary Gaetti and Jose Offerman. Other than those two, Beltran, Macfarlane, DeJesus, Damon, Sweeney and Seitzer are the players that have not been inducted. Macfarlane and Seitzer are the only ones eligible right now. Both of those guys might be borderline, but this gives their cases a little boost.

Another way to look at these numbers is to see at which positions players have and have not yielded top Royals seasons. Using the 3-2-1 scoring system again, you can see which positions have been strengths and weaknesses:

60 3B
59 CF
38 1B
22 2B
20 C
10 RF
9 LF
7 SS
4 DH

With that Brett guy clogging up so many lists it is not surprising that third base comes out on top. However, plenty of other third basemen help out, including Paul Schaal, Kevin Seitzer, Gary Gaetti and Joe Randa. Centerfield is just about as strong thanks to Amos Otis, Willie Wilson, Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran and David DeJesus. It is downhill from there, and, no surprise to Royals fans, shortstop talent has been next to impossible to find in KC. No shortstop has ever had the most or second most WAR among position players in a five year period. Yikes.

Looking ahead to the nearly completed period of 2007—11, centerfield, third base and first base will again be relative strong points.

2007—11 (through August 3, 2011)

13.3 David DeJesus CF/LF
8.1 Alex Gordon 3B
7.1 Billy Butler 1B

I will try to get to a similar post examining pitchers at some point.

Aaron Stilley also blogs here and Tweets here.

Posted in Classic, RoyalsComments (2)

The Good, Bad & Ugly In Royals Clutch Hitting History

I consider win probability added (WPA) to be the ultimate “story” stat—it tells you exactly who the heroes and goats were. Sabermetricians have pretty well disproved the myth of consistently clutch players; players are generally who they are regardless of the situation. Due to random variation, some players are going to have extremely clutch or un-clutch seeming games and seasons when they do or do not come through in crucial situations. I think of RBI in much the same why I think about WPA. RBI numbers do not tell us a great deal about a player’s individual talent, but they do tell the story of who knocked in the runs when guys were getting on base ahead of them. But WPA paints a more exact picture of how players performed in all of the contexts presented to them.

Here is a full explanation of WPA. Here is my short version: the sum of the change in a team’s chance of winning before and after each plate appearance. (It can be applied to pitchers as well, but for this post, I will only focus on hitters.) Keep in mind that for hitters it is a purely offensive number; defense does not enter into it.

I have parted ways with two American dollars for the pleasure of diving into the best and worst WPA performances in Royals history via the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index Tool. The most gob smacking find is Neifi Perez’s horrific 2002 WPA. Royals fans know the shortstop received in exchange for Jermaine Dye was an abomination, but they may not know his -6.8 WPA that year is the worst in at least the last 60 MLB seasons, and possibly of all time. (WPA is not available prior to 1950 on Baseball-Reference.) No other season in the last 60 even comes close. Perez’s plate appearances in 2002 decreased the Royals chances of winning by 682%, or close to seven games worth.

Worst MLB WPA single seasons, 1950-2010:

Rk Player WPA PA Year Tm G AB H HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Neifi Perez -6.819 585 2002 KCR 145 554 131 3 37 .236 .260 .303 .564
2 Sam Dente -5.181 654 1950 WSH 155 603 144 2 59 .239 .286 .299 .585
3 George Wright -5.053 393 1985 TEX 109 363 69 2 18 .190 .241 .242 .483
4 Gary Disarcina -5.051 583 1997 ANA 154 549 135 4 47 .246 .271 .326 .597
5 Ronny Cedeno -4.570 572 2006 CHC 151 534 131 6 41 .245 .271 .339 .610

Neifi actually had a pretty good opening day in 2002. He went 3-for-5, moved some runners over with a single, knocked in a run with a triple, and scored two runs himself. His .047 WPA was good for second best on the Royals lineup that day. However, a sign of things to come occurred on the last play of the game: Neifi was up in the bottom of the ninth, Royals down 6-8, two on and two out. The Royals clung to a 10% win expectancy, but Neifi popped out and the game was over. On April 24th, he was the Royals WPA hero with a 3-for-4, three RBI game. But the good days were a rare exception in this season from hell.

Neifi hurting the team again...assumedly

Our Neifi came to the plate 585 times that season. Crucial moments of games seemed to find him. Alas, he was rarely up to the task. After only five percent of his plate appearances did he leave his team in a better position to win. Five percent! I do not even understand how that is possible when he got on base 26% of the time, but there it is. He had a few especially disastrous games, but he achieved the historic low more by being consistently bad day in and day out. With runners in scoring position, his already dreadful offensive skills tumbled even lower to the tune of .221/.246/.270. The Worst Season A Royals Player Ever Had may have hit its nadir when Perez refused to enter a game:

Perez…created a major clubhouse incident by refusing to enter a Sept. 9 game against the Chicago White Sox as a defensive replacement for rookie Angel Berroa. Perez later said his refusal was a joke that was misinterpreted, but his action caused a rift with several teammates. Many privately called for his immediate dismissal from the club.–Bob Dutton, November 19, 2002 Kansas City Star

Neifi makes Angel Berroa look like a golden god. Here are the Royals worst WPA single seasons:

 

Rk Player WPA PA Year Tm G H HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Neifi Perez -6.819 585 2002 KCR 145 131 3 37 .236 .260 .303 .564
2 Angel Berroa -3.448 503 2006 KCR 132 111 9 54 .234 .259 .333 .592
3 Angel Salazar -3.437 332 1987 KCR 116 65 2 21 .205 .219 .246 .465
4 Greg Gagne -2.923 581 1993 KCR 159 151 10 57 .280 .319 .406 .724
5 Tony Pena -2.902 536 2007 KCR 152 136 2 47 .267 .284 .356 .640
6 Jason Kendall -2.832 490 2010 KCR 118 111 0 37 .256 .318 .297 .615
7 Cookie Rojas -2.828 409 1970 KCR 98 100 2 28 .260 .296 .326 .622
8 John Buck -2.818 430 2005 KCR 118 97 12 47 .242 .287 .389 .676
9 David Howard -2.805 485 1996 KCR 143 92 4 48 .219 .291 .305 .595
10 Jermaine Dye -2.756 283 1997 KCR 75 62 7 22 .236 .284 .369 .653

Jason Kendall sighting! Kind of ironic that Jermaine Dye makes the list.

Here is a happier list, the Royals best WPA single seasons:

Rk Player WPA PA Year Tm G H HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
1 George Brett 6.154 515 1980 KCR 117 175 24 118 .390 .454 .664 1.118
2 George Brett 6.048 701 1979 KCR 154 212 23 107 .329 .376 .563 .939
3 George Brett 5.498 665 1985 KCR 155 184 30 112 .335 .436 .585 1.022
4 George Brett 5.108 705 1976 KCR 159 215 7 67 .333 .377 .462 .839
5 Mike Sweeney 4.762 545 2002 KCR 126 160 24 86 .340 .417 .563 .979
6 Darrell Porter 4.684 679 1979 KCR 157 155 20 112 .291 .421 .484 .905
7 John Mayberry 4.618 683 1975 KCR 156 161 34 106 .291 .416 .547 .963
8 Amos Otis 4.569 567 1978 KCR 141 145 22 96 .298 .380 .525 .905
9 Johnny Damon 4.552 741 2000 KCR 159 214 16 88 .327 .382 .495 .877
10 George Brett 4.045 681 1988 KCR 157 180 24 103 .306 .389 .509 .898
George increased the team’s WPA in 40% of his plate appearances in 1980. With runners in scoring position, he upped his line to .469/.542/.815. He of course dominates the Royals all-time list as well:

 

Rk Player WPA PA From To G H HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
1 George Brett 52.107 11624 1973 1993 2707 3154 317 1596 .305 .369 .487 .857
2 Amos Otis 27.275 7969 1970 1983 1891 1977 193 992 .280 .347 .433 .780
3 Mike Sweeney 15.970 5278 1995 2007 1282 1398 197 837 .299 .369 .492 .861
4 Hal McRae 15.666 7361 1973 1987 1837 1924 169 1012 .293 .356 .458 .814
5 John Mayberry 13.528 3752 1972 1977 897 816 143 552 .261 .374 .448 .822
6 Danny Tartabull 10.832 2684 1987 1991 657 674 124 425 .290 .376 .518 .894
7 Carlos Beltran 9.043 3512 1998 2004 795 899 123 516 .287 .352 .483 .835
8 Darrell Porter 8.194 2262 1977 1980 555 514 61 301 .271 .375 .435 .809
9 Paul Schaal 5.541 2340 1969 1974 606 525 32 198 .263 .360 .368 .728
10 Kevin Seitzer 5.110 3163 1986 1991 741 809 33 265 .294 .380 .394 .774

 

At the other end of the spectrum is another team hall-of-famer. Frank White reached a positive WPA in just two of his 18 seasons. Good thing he had that golden glove.

 

Royals worst career totals:

 

Rk Player WPA PA From To G H HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Frank White -16.325 8467 1973 1990 2324 2006 160 886 .255 .293 .383 .675
2 David Howard -9.272 1586 1991 1997 547 320 8 130 .229 .289 .302 .591
3 Cookie Rojas -8.135 3354 1970 1977 880 824 25 332 .268 .314 .346 .660
4 Neifi Perez -8.045 805 2001 2002 194 179 4 49 .238 .265 .303 .568
5 Freddie Patek -7.601 4867 1971 1979 1245 1036 28 382 .241 .309 .321 .630
6 Angel Berroa -7.287 2496 2001 2007 627 606 45 235 .263 .305 .384 .689
7 Brent Mayne -7.187 2200 1990 2003 664 483 20 205 .244 .305 .322 .627
8 John Buck -7.104 2116 2004 2009 584 450 70 259 .235 .298 .407 .705
9 Greg Gagne -7.092 1472 1993 1995 386 358 23 157 .266 .317 .392 .708
10 Onix Concepcion -5.841 1130 1980 1985 389 248 3 80 .238 .277 .293 .570

Bringing things to the present, here is how 2011 Royals hitters are shaping up this season:

 

PA WPA ▾
Jeff Francoeur 151 1.0
Wilson Betemit 112 0.5
Matt Treanor 80 0.3
Melky Cabrera 161 0.2
Jarrod Dyson 26 0.2
Alex Gordon 155 0.2
Billy Butler 150 0.1
Chris Getz 132 0.1
Mitch Maier 16 0.1
Eric Hosmer 22 -0.0
Kila Ka’aihue 96 -0.0
Brayan Pena 62 -0.3
Mike Aviles 108 -0.4
Alcides Escobar 142 -2.1
Team Total 1413 -0.3

Escobar is bringing up the rear in all of the majors, and is on pace to enter some seriously unpleasant territory. At his current pace, if he equaled Perez’s 585 plate appearances, he would end up with -8.7 WPA. Ruh-roh.

Posted in Classic, RoyalsComments (2)

My Life In Royals Fandom

My dad was at Royals Stadium briefly the night before I was born. He had been invited to watch the game in a luxury suite, and had been given permission by his very pregnant wife to attend the game only after he confirmed there was a phone in the suite she could call in case she went into labor. And wouldn’t you know, not too long after arriving at the stadium, the phone in the suite rings. Sorry Dad. If I had known what a great game I made you miss, I would have tried to hold out a little longer.

August 27, 1979: The Royals jumped out to a comfortable 6-1 lead against the Brewers before things fell apart in the seventh. Royals starter Rich Gale got the first two men out in the inning before surrendering three straight hits. Steve Mingori was called in, but got the hook after allowing a walk. Manager Whitey Herzog called in one of the all-time great firemen, Dan Quisenberry, but the Quiz got rocked this night. A young Robin Yount got an inside-the-parker, and all of a sudden the Royals were down 6-8. But the Royals weren’t done. In the bottom of the ninth, George Brett doubled, Darrell Porter singled him home, and it was 8-9. Al Cowens singled, then Frank White, and the game headed into extras. The Mad Hungarian, Al Hrabosky, had a perfect top of the tenth before Hal McRae, Amos Otis and Darrell Porter all had hits in the bottom of the frame to walk off with a KC win. Like I said, sorry Dad.

My dad says his father was never much of a baseball fan, but my dad caught the bug as a kid thanks to the Kansas City A’s. He listened to them on the radio while tying tomato plants on the family farm all summer. Roger Maris came to the A’s and moved into a house down the street when my dad was ten, and Dad had a new hero. He was crushed when Roger was sent to the Yankees, but it didn’t stop him from creating the Roger Maris Fan Club and getting an exclusive interview with Mrs. Maris for the club’s first newsletter. Later my dad painted the farm’s golf cart A’s green and gold. His allegiance switched to the Royals when they came to town.

Growing up with my dad and an older brother who was baseball crazy made it natural that I loved baseball growing up too. I attended one of the 1985 American League Championship Series games, but my only memory of it is wondering about the buntings adorning the stadium walls. The night the Royals won the World Series, I just remember my dad and brother going crazy and thinking, “This is apparently a really big deal.”

Bret Saberhagen & Me

I got a little older…baseball cards, family excursions to Royals Stadium, little league, George Brett, Frank White, Bret Saberhagen, Bo Jackson.

Joe Posnanski says baseball can never be as perfect as it is when you are 12 years old. On my 12th birthday, the Royals had another walk-off victory at Royals Stadium. The names had all changed except for one: Brett was still raking for KC. Hal McRae was his teammate 12 years earlier, but now it was Hal’s son Brian in the lineup. Brett hit a game-tying triple in the fourth. It came down to the bottom of the ninth, two on and two out, when 37 year-old Warren Livingston Cromartie got a pinch hit, walk-off single for the home team.

Then of course life had to get a little more complex after the halcyon days of pre-pubescence. Music fandom started taking on more importance than sports fandom. I turned inwards and awkward. Then in my late teens and early twenties my awareness of the Royals and sports in general fell off the map. I no longer understood why the triviality of sports should consume any of my time and energy. I became somewhat of an artist, if more in affectation than in practice. I moved to Des Moines for college in 1998, fell in love with a girl, and lived life in a bubble that did not include much of the world outside of campus. Sports were no longer a way I connected with anyone.

After four years in Des Moines, I spent 2002—03 in Minneapolis. I remember overhearing something about the Royals hot start in 2003 and actually having a tinge of interest and excitement. Around the same time, something unexpected happened: I started to miss Kansas City. I moved to Iowa City in 2003 when the aforementioned girl started grad school. It never did feel like a home, and I more and more longed to be back in the only place that did. I started following the Royals again as a way to connect. As I moved away from those uncomfortable but exciting years of self-actualization and discovery and into the comfortable if relatively stagnant years of my late twenties and early thirties, my love for baseball returned even stronger than it ever had been as a kid. In 2007, I moved back to live in Kansas City for the first time in a decade, and my attachment to the city and the Royals was deep thanks to the time away.

I am a full-on Royals addict now, constantly trolling for any hint of Royals news even through the off-season. I needed an outlet for my passion, for which the internet has proven perfect. I started tweeting and blogging about Kansas City baseball as a whim, then I70Baseball.com came calling asking if I’d like to write a weekly column, and apparently now I’m not just a member of SABR, but I’m going to be on a panel at the next KC chapter meeting discussing baseball and the internet! And to complete the circle, I had a son in 2007 who is already baseball crazy at three years old. The sport and the Royals already are a bond between us. He wants to play all the time, and his mom and I have to sing him “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” twice every night before he goes to sleep. I’ve come to realize that yes, baseball may be trivial, but the connections it allows between people are anything but.

Yes, this is a graph of my fandom over time.

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2010 I-70 Hall Of Legends Inductee: Reggie Sanders

Quick. Name all the players with 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases. Name the only player to hit 20 homers with six different teams. Name a player who, in the last decade, played in three World Series for three different teams.

You’d be hard pressed to find many fans out there that could come up with the answer to those questions.

The name Reggie Sanders wouldn’t come quickly to the minds of many fans when it comes to such lofty credentials. Sanders flew under the radar most of his career – frequently injured and generally solid but not spectacular.

But St. Louis fans will remember the Reggie Sanders who played a key role in helping the Cardinals to the 2004 World Series. Signed as a free agent prior to the season, he played a solid left field and produced 22 homers and 67 RBIs while hitting .260.

For his contribution in two years in St. Louis and two more in Kansas City, Sanders is one of five players inducted into the I-70 Baseball.com Hall of Legends.

Sanders was a fixture in the World Series during the early 2000s. In 2001 he played a leading role for Arizona, hitting 33 homers and driving in 90 runs to help the D-Backs defeat New York in the series. He was back in the series the next year with the San Francisco Giants.

Sadly, Sanders was having one of his finest seasons of his career for the Cardinals in 2005 before he was derailed by a broken leg suffered in a collision with Jim Edmonds. Sanders hit .271 and tallied 21 homers in just 93 games that year. He returned from the injury in time to play in the playoffs for the sixth time in his career.

Sanders’ playoff performances in a Cards’ uniform were a mixed bag. He went hitless in the 2004 series versus Boston, but he hit .286 and homered in the NLDS against the Dodgers. In 2005 he drove in 10 runs in a three game NLDS against San Diego.

Sanders’ biggest highlight in Kansas City came in June 2006 when he joined Willie Mays, Bobby Bonds, Andre Dawson and Barry Bonds in the 300 homer/300 stolen base club. (Steve Finley joined the club just four days after Sanders) Sanders stole his 300th base in a Royals’ uniform as well.

Signed to provide veteran leadership for the Royals as they developed young talent, Sanders unfortunately spent much of his tenure in KC on the DL. The Royals shopped his services to contending teams to no avail, and they allowed him to become a free agent after the 2007 season, in which he played just 24 games. At 40 years of age, Sanders sought opportunities to play in 2008, but eventually retired.

One can only speculate about the numbers Sanders could have compiled had he avoided injuries throughout his career. Sanders made it into 140 games in just one of his 17 seasons. In eight of those seasons, he actually played fewer than 107 games. Had he avoided injury in some of those seasons, Sanders could possibly have made it to 400 homers and 400 steals, recorded over 2000 hits and had well over 1,000 RBIs.

But regardless of the numbers, Sanders was a winner. He was a respected clubhouse leader who played a key role on several successful teams throughout his career. For his two productive seasons on playoff teams in St. Louis, and for his record-setting time in Kansas City, I-70 Baseball.com bestows the honor of “Legend” status on Reggie Sanders.

Posted in Cardinals, Classic, Featured, I-70 Hall Of Legends, RoyalsComments (0)

25th ANNIVERSARY: Game 6 Recap

1985 World Series

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Kansas City Royals

Game 6 – October 26, 1985

Location: Royals Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.

Attendance: 41,628

Recap: This game is remembered for “The Call,” an infamous blown call by umpire Don Denkinger in the ninth. But few fans now remember another blown call that went the Cardinals’ way: in the fourth inning, Royals second baseman Frank White was called out attempting to steal second base, even though replays showed he beat the tag (the next batter hit a single, meaning White may have scored if the call had been correct). The Cardinals scored the first run of the game in the eighth, and with a 1-0 lead the Cardinals progressed to the bottom of the ninth with the championship hanging in the balance. Kansas City manager Dick Howser sent pinch hitter Jorge Orta to the plate to lead off the inning against Todd Worrell. Orta hit a squibbler down the first base line to Jack Clark, and Clark flipped the ball to Worrell covering first. Worrell beat Orta to the bag by a step, but umpire Denkinger called Orta safe. The next batter, Steve Balboni, hit a routine pop-up in foul territory, but the catch was bungled by Clark and catcher Darrell Porter. Balboni then hit a single, advancing Orta to first. When Jim Sundberg tried to bunt the runners over, a quick-thinking Worrell threw to third and got the lead runner (Orta), leaving a runner on first and second with one out. But Porter allowed a passed ball, and the runners advance. Pinch hitter Hal McRae was walked to set up the double play. With the bases loaded, pinch hitter Dane Iorg hit a single to right. Onix Concepcion, running for Balboni, scored, and Sunberg slid around Porter’s tag for the winning run.

Line Score:

TEAM R H E

St. Louis 1 5 0

Kansas City 2 10 0

Winning pitcher: Dan Quisenberry

Losing pitcher: Todd Worrell

Notables: The Royals piled on 10 hits in the game, despite scoring only two runs; pinch hitter Brian Harper knocked in the only run for the Cardinals; The Cardinals’ Danny Cox and Kansas City’s Charlie Leibrandt started the game, and both pitched extremely well: Cox gave up no earned runs and struck out eight in seven innings, while Leibrandt gave up a single run in 7.2 innings; according to reports, a bad coincidence added insult to injury for the Cardinals: in preparation of their pending victory, the team’s locker room was filled with champagne on ice – and the champagne was waiting for them when the Cardinals walked into the locker room after the loss.

Tomorrow: A recap of Game 7.

Matt Kelsey is a Royals writer and the content editor for I-70 Baseball. He can be reached at mattkelsey@i70baseball.com.

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