Posted on 19 January 2011.
One of the unique features of the MLB All-Star Game is that at least one player is selected to represent each team in the league, no matter how undeserving that player might be to be considered a “star.”
Last week I wrote an article about how little consideration Royals players have received by the voters for the Baseball Hall of Fame. While four players who have worn Royals uniforms are actually in the Hall – Harmon Killebrew (1984), Gaylord Perry (1991), George Brett and Orlando Cepeda (1999) – no other Royal has even received a significant enough number of votes to be considered a potential inductee.
I wonder if, similar to the All-Star Game, the Royals were given the chance to name their next most deserving candidate for enshrinement, who would that person be?
We all know Buck O’Neil should be in the Hall of Fame. It’s a shame he’s not, and there are probably other KC Monarchs who deserve the honor as well. But that has been hashed and rehashed in other venues. I will try to stick with the current Royals franchise for the sake of this argument.
As I stated last week, Vada Pinson actually recorded the most votes of any former Royal not in the Hall. In his final two seasons, Pinson played well enough for the Royals in 1974, but struggled before hanging it up in 1975. His best seasons were in a Cincinnati Reds uniform, so he does not gain consideration here.
Vida Blue and Juan Gonzalez also recorded enough votes to remain on the ballot past their first year of eligibility, but they get disregarded for the same reason as Pinson. Blue is regarded fondly for his value to the Royals pitching in the early 1980s, but Gonzales won no support for the dismal 33 games he played in KC, which cost the team $4 million.
No, it must be someone who actually is remembered as a Royal, first and foremost. If the team were to choose their own representative to the Hall, he must be one of them. John Mayberry, Lou Piniella and David Cone need not apply. Things to consider are not only a player’s statistics, but how they performed on the big stage and what they mean to the Royals franchise.
None of the players considered in this article actually garnered any support from the Hall of Fame voters. Disregard vote totals and just ponder what each man did as a Royal, counting on an All-Star Game-like ticket to admission. There are plenty to choose from, but for the sake of time and space, I will narrow the candidates to just 7, listed here in alphabetical order:
Hal McRae – One could argue that since he always played second fiddle to the only true Royal in the Hall of Fame, George Brett, then he should stand second in line. Starting in 1974, McRae had 13 really good seasons, primarily as a DH. He finished with a .300 average in six of those seasons, with a low mark of .272. He nearly won a batting title in 1976, and finished his career with more than 2000 hits and 1000 RBI.
McRae gets a boost in support for serving as the Royals manager from 1991 to 1994 when the team was still attempting to field competitive teams. He loses credit, however, for not playing in the field and for only driving in 100 runs once, which is strange considering he was hitting behind Willie Wilson and George Brett for many of those seasons.
Amos Otis – AO probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves for his 14 excellent seasons in KC. Otis was a great fielder (two Gold Gloves) and base-stealing threat (five seasons with more than 30 steals). He hit leadoff for many of the great Royals teams and had solid average and on-base percentage. He also provided some power, hitting 193 homers. He actually finished 3rd in the MVP voting of 1973, when he led the young Royals with a .300 average and 26 homers. Otis finished with nearly 2000 hits in KC, and played in the third most games in team history.
Dan Quisenberry – This one is intriguing. Bruce Sutter, who is actually IN the Hall of Fame dominated the National League at generally the same time period Quisenberry was mastering the American League. Over his best six-year span, from 1979-1984, Sutter saved 192, led the league in saves five times and played in one World Series. From 1980 to 1985, Quisenberry notched the same 192 saves, leading his own league five times, played in two World Series, and in most of those comparable seasons had a lower ERA than Sutter. Quisenberry’s career was a bit shorter than Sutter’s, and he ranks just 31st on the all-time saves list. Quisenberry’s numbers over that period compare quite favorably to those of Rollie Fingers and comparably to those of Goose Gossage, both Hall of Famers from the same era.
“The Quiz” was a true ambassador for the team, and his untimely death makes him a sentimental favorite with Royals fans. He finished in the top five in Cy Young voting five times during that six year stretch, and finished 3rd in MVP voting in 1984. In the 1985 World Series he pitched in four games, won one, and allowed only one run. Quisenberry did not reach the big leagues until he was 26, and by 33 he was beginning to lose his golden touch, thus accounting for his lesser career totals.
Bret Saberhagen – Two Cy Young Awards and a 2-0 record in a World Series earn you a spot on this list, regardless what the rest of your career was like. When he won the Cy Young and Series MVP at just 21, he stood on top the baseball world. At 25 he had already recorded 92 wins and was on his way to being not just the greatest Royals pitcher of all time, but a true Hall of Famer. Injuries reduced his effectiveness, however, and he spent as many seasons playing outside of KC as in it.
Mike Sweeney – Similar to Quisenberry and Saberhagen, if you take a small segment of Sweeney’s career, he compares favorably with the best sluggers of his era. From 1999 to 2005, he hit for average and power, drove in a remarkable 144 runs in 2000, and would have had notched even better numbers had he not been plagued by injuries. Full seasons would have probably netted 30-plus homers and 100-plus RBIs in 2002-2006. Even so, Sweeney ranks 2nd all time in homers by a Royal and 2nd highest in batting average in team history. Injuries proved his undoing.
Most important of all, Sweeney doggedly stuck by the Royals during the 2000s when seemingly every other good player fled for greener pastures. He was a “captain” in every sense of the word and deserves the respect of KC fans for his loyalty.
Frank White – Probably the second “face of the franchise” behind Brett, White is a true Royal, having been signed in the summer of the team’s second season, a product of the Royals Baseball Academy, and a survivor of the team’s peaks and valleys. He deserves high marks for standing by the franchise through its doldrums, managing minor leaguers, working in the front office and on TV broadcasts. He probably deserved a shot at managing the big-league club.
White’s greatest on-field accomplishment was his eight Gold Gloves, earned as one of the greatest defenders in history at second base. He developed into a good, but not great hitter. White was named MVP of the 1980 ALCS and batted cleanup in the 1985 World Series. He ranks second on the team in all-time hits and games played.
Willie Wilson – Wilson was a demon on the base paths, leading the league in triples 5 times and keeping company with Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines in stolen bases in the early 1980s when baseball ran wild. Wilson still ranks 12th all-time in steals with 668
Wilson won a batting title in 1982 and hit over .300 five times in a six-year stretch. He also won two Gold Gloves and a stolen base title.
Wilson will lose credit due to a drug scandal that tarnished the Royals golden era. He also struck out too much and walked to infrequently for a leadoff hitter.
Tough choice. Each player has a special place in Royals lore, and each has some knock against him. Injuries hurt the case for several of them. White was a pretty one-dimensional player, as was McRae. Intangibles and off-field service to the franchise affect the choice as well.
But with all things considered, I surprise even myself with my selection. Part of what should be considered for the Hall of Fame, beyond sheer numbers, is how the player stacks up against great players of the same era. As I noted before, Quisenberry compares very favorably to three players who are currently in the Hall who played his same position at the same time. Sutter, Fingers and Gossage, all in Cooperstown, saved generally the same number of games (if not fewer). The Baseball Page .com places The Quiz behind only five Hall of Famers and Mariano Rivera on its ranking of all-time relievers.
Quisenberry got shockingly little love from Hall of Fame voters – just 3.8% in his only year on the ballot. There seems to be a process by which many players wait their turn, paying their dues before finally garnering the requisite 75% for admission. Because he didn’t get the minimum 5% in his first year to stay on the ballot, Quisenberry didn’t have time to build support.
Sutter started on the ballot in 1994 at just 23.9%. In 1996, Quiz’s one time on the ballot, Sutter got just 29.1%. His percentages stayed in the 20s and 30s for several years.
Gossage got 33.3% in 2000, his first time eligible. Then in 2001 both relievers started getting more support. Their numbers slowly edged upwards of 50% until finally in 2006 Sutter got in. Gossage was close behind, entering the Hall in 2008.
Compared to the slow climb of Sutter and Gossage, one has to wonder how high Quisenberry’s could have risen had his name been on the ballot over the same length of time.
White, Wilson, Otis and McRae made tremendous contributions to the great Royals teams of the 1970s and 1980s, Saberhagen and Sweeney were among the best in the game for a short spell. But Quisenberry actually stacks up well in comparison to actual Hall of Famers. He will not ever be voted into the Hall, but if we could get an All-Star Game-type representative in Cooperstown, I recommend it be the Quiz.