In a by-gone era, there was a bit of a perception from the outside looking in that the Kansas City Royals were a franchise opposed to minorities.
Black pitchers were essentially unheard of in Kansas City. But John Mayberry, Hal McRae, Frank White and Amos Otis, prominent black position players in the 1970s, more than made up for it.
Hispanics, on the other hand, played almost no role with the Royals for decades. Tracing the history of Mexican-born and Latin-born Royals makes for a short story.
So to make a Royals All-Star team of Hispanic players is difficult. But in honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, it’s worth a try.
The first problem was what to do with new members of the team Salvador Perez and Alcides Escobar. Perez is already the greatest Hispanic catcher in team history. He has virtually no competition. But he’s not even played a full season in KC.
So for the sake of the exercise, the team will exclude current players who haven’t played at least two seasons for the Royals. And to keep it simple, the team will only include players born outside of the U.S.
Catcher: Perez will own this spot in no time. But the Royals first All Star was Puerto Rican Ellie Rodriguez. Someone had to make the All-Star Team in 1969. Why not a guy who hit just .236 with 2 homers in that inaugural season?
He gets the sentimental nod over Dominican Miguel Olivo, who hit 35 homers and had 106 RBIs while sharing the catching duties for two seasons. Olivo was probably a lot better than Rodriguez, but he never could unseat John Buck, which tells you something.
1B: Wow. Almost no options here at all. Tempting as it is to go with Orlando Cepeda based on his Cooperstown credentials, the truth is the Puerto Rican slugger did nothing in 33 games in KC, and played strictly DH.
The nod goes to… Mendy Lopez. The Dominican played a handful of games at firstbase in 2003, when he hit .277 with 3 homers.
2B: Lots of choices here, including some decent contributors like Jose Lind, Jose Offerman and Carlos Febles. But one of the most beloved Royals ever was Cuban Cookie Rojas. The diminutive, bespectacled Rojas made four trips to the All-Star Game for KC.
SS: The one position where the Royals have employed tons of Hispanics is shortstop. Alcides Escobar will claim this honor after this season. But before that there was a host of nightmarish options to choose from: Yuniesky Betancourt? Neifi Perez? Angel Berroa? Angel Salazar? Onix Concepcion?
I’ll go with Puerto Rican Rey Sanchez because he hit .294, .273, and .303 in his three seasons in KC.
Outfield: Not a lot of options here, surprisingly, so the choices are obvious. Puerto Rican Carlos Beltran is arguably the second greatest Royal in history, and has a chance to go into Cooperstown wearing a Royals cap.
Mexican Jorge Orta played four solid seasons and was a key contributor on the 1985 World Series champs. In that series, he reached first base safely (wink) on the most important play in team history.
And the third outfielder is Melky Cabrera, who rejuvenated his career in 2011. The Dominican hit .305, socked 18 homers, collected 201 hits and played solid defense in his one year in KC. Busted for PEDs in 2012, we may never know how legit those stats were, but it was a darn good season.
DH: Like it or not, Dominican Jose Guillen claims this spot. He belted 45 homers as one of the only power sources in the KC lineup from 2008 to 2010.
1), Hipolito Pichardo, Dominican Republic: 42-39, 4.48 ERA, 67 starts. Not many pitchers have a plus .500 win percentage recently. Pichardo has more wins than Luke Hochevar in half as many starts.
2) Bruce Chen, Panama: 35-32, 4.59 ERA. One rotten season (1-6, 5.78 ERA in 2009) sullies his otherwise solid numbers.
3) Luis Aquino, Puerto Rico: The first Hispanic pitcher to play a significant role, from 1988-92, Aquino made 55 starts over five seasons. His career mark is 22-19. He pitched in 114 games in KC.
4) Runelvys Hernandez, Dominican Republic: Hernandez was given every opportunity to succeed. But on some teams that had almost no other option, he still wore out his welcome. Hernandez posted a 25-33 mark in 78 starts before eating his way into early retirement.
5) The options are so bleak, Hernandez makes the rotation, but no one else is worthy of consideration. (Jose Rosado and D.J. Carasco are ineligible because they were born in the U.S.)
1) Joakim Soria, Mexico: Without a doubt the greatest Hispanic pitcher in Royals history. Soria’s160 career saves rank third in team history, and only arm injuries keep him from being one of the best relievers of his era.
2) Roberto Hernandez, Puerto Rico: The first Hispanic closer in team history. Hernandez notched 54 saves in two seasons, but was never really welcome in KC.
If minorities were discriminated against in some form or fashion in KC, hopefully that day has passed. Salvador Perez, and Alcides Escobar are getting every opportunity today, as Joakim Soria was before he was knocked out by an arm injury. The Royals have made more effort to sign Latin talent in the past few years, so hopefully more Hispanic players will bolster the current youth movement.
But as can be seen by this “All-Star Team,” the number of Hispanic stars in KC’s history is shockingly small. Not much history to celebrate in National Hispanic Heritage Month.