The lists that show us the best all-time of a team or a certain position bore me. Plus, they always have that, “How can you leave out [Player X]?!!!” element to them. To change it up a bit, I came up with a list of my own second-favorite Kansas City Royals based on their position. This is neither statistical nor scouting based; it is just based on the illogical observations of a fan over time.
I was born in Ohio and had lived in 4 different states by the time I moved to KC at age 7. I was born in a town outside of Cincinnati and my dad was as loyal a Reds fan. I only knew the Big Red Machine as a very small child and when we moved to KC in 1982 my response to the first diehard Royals fan I came across was “They stink!” I didn’t know a thing about them, but they weren’t the Reds. Within a year I didn’t even know who the Reds were anymore and was hooked on the Royals for life. This list starts at that point in time-when I first met the Royals.
Kevin Appier (Favorite: Bret Saberhagen). Appier was the man for several years and especially during my formative years as an older teenaged Royals fan. I understood the game pretty well by the time “Ape” the Space Cadet from Planet Ape was in his prime. He was good and he was weird, and that made him interesting to me. Plus, he was reliable and always seemed like the victim of crappy run support-which made him more of an underdog who seemed to never get the respect he deserved.
Jeff Montgomery (Dan Quisenberry). Monty was an unconventional closer by today’s standards: a former starter who didn’t “throw gas” but instead relied on having more than one plus pitch (kind of like Joakim Soria). He could change speeds and work the ball all over the strike zone to keep hitters off balance. Add to it that he was the closer on what was becoming a pretty good team when the strike of 1994 hit. The Royals were an absolute blast to follow as a teenager in 1993 and 1994 and there were lots of close games that Monty closed out for a victory during those years (and later).
Mike Macfarlane (Jim Sundberg). This is mostly based on two things: (1) I liked Mac’s toughness and respect for the game. He always sacrificed himself for the team (lots of HBPs) and played the game the right way. He was a leader on the team and could hit for a little power-not to mention that he was good behind the plate. (2) When I was in college, I spent entirely too much time playing Triple Play Baseball on Playstation. On at least two occasions I can remember, Mac got an inside the park home run. As an aging catcher. For the Oakland A’s. If that can’t make you a fan, nothing will.
Kevin Seitzer (Mike Sweeney). I never much bought into Seitzer as a 3B and his knees wrecked him defensively before too long. Plus, the Royals moved George Brett to 1st (more on that later) to make room for Seitzer and when you are a pre-teen that just doesn’t make sense. I always held that against Seitzer a little bit, illogical as it was as an 11 year old. He was one hell of a hitter, though, and I still respected that. Still, I thought he was a better 1B than a 3B-despite the fact that he didn’t have prototypical 1B power.
Carlos Febles (Frank White). Nobody else worth much of a damn has played the keystone since Frank retired. Terry Shumpert? Chico Lind? Over the hill Mark Grudzielanek? Tony Graffanino? I hated every one of those guys by the time their Royals career ended. (I hated Graffanino right away.) Febles at least showed some flash as a young player when he came up and looked like a building block in the late 1990’s. Nobody ever really figured out what happened to him, other than to say that his body got old quickly because of the way he threw himself around the field. In reality, it was probably more related to him allegedly being several years older than his “birth certificate” stated. His peak was too brief, but I really enjoyed watching him play the game with the energy and enthusiasm he always seemed to bring to the ballpark.
Greg Gagne (U.L. Washington). Gagne came to the Royals as a huge defensive upgrade and could handle the bat as well. He came from a winner with the Twins and was immediately a leader on what would shape up to be the last consistently decent teams the Royals had. Again…..the strike.
Joe Randa (George Brett). You had to love The Joker. Without meaning to, he always had that half-grin on his face. Joe was a great athlete with incredible hands and was notably an incredible tennis player in his home state of Wisconsin. This helped him as a 3B and as a hitter and he made the most of his career. He was never stellar on defense or at the plate, but he was a guy you could win with. You know, if your roster from 1998-2004 had any starting pitching whatsoever.
Alex Gordon (Bo Jackson). Alex made the move to LF seamlessly. He’s got the best arm of a LF I can recall since “Bo Knows Left Field.” He covers a lot of ground and gets good jumps on balls as well. He hits for enough power to be a corner OF even though he won’t ever hit 40 HRs in a season. He might hit 75+ extra base hits, though, and that is a powerful hitter.
Willie Wilson (Carlos Beltran). Some of my first “Royals Stadium” memories are of watching Willie run on the old artificial turf. Whether it was running down fly balls in the gaps or watching him leg out a standup triple or an inside-the-park-HR, I LOVED to watch Willie run. Willie and Frank White were my favorite Royals growing up. Willie was the first MLB autograph I ever got; I had him sign my ball glove-and then I went out and played several seasons with it.
Brandon Berger (Jermaine Dye). I hated Danny Tartabull. Mark Teahen, though he was a favorite of mine, didn’t last long enough in RF to be considered. Doesn’t leave a lot of options. I remember the home opener in the magical season of 2003 very well, though. I saw Brandon Berger hit the wall in right field making one HELL of a defensive play on a fly ball to help Runelvys Hernandez hang onto a great start. That play and that pitching performance helped set the tone for an entire season of excitement. Plus, it was fun to just call him “Cheese” because of his last name. One time he almost misplayed a ball and I got to say, “Cheese nearly got himself into a pickle there.” These are the things that keep Royals fans going. Ladies and gentlemen, your 1996-2011 Kansas City Royals!
Hal McRae (George Brett). If Brett was the heart of the 1985 Royals, McRae was its soul. He was a huge locker room leader from the moment he arrived in KC in a trade from Cincy and was the ultimate professional. He played the game a lot like Macfarlane and he was an exceptional hitter as a DH. I argue with myself over having Brett here instead of 1st base but I mostly appreciated Brett as a DH because I was an older fan by then, he was chasing 3,000 hits, and he had been moved from 3B and 1B due to his age and being injury prone. That means McRae is the second-favorite and he is also one of my first memories as a young Royals fan-playing for a team that won the World Series. I’ll never forget how much my dad liked him, because he was a former Red, and had even given him the nickname “two-booty” because he had put on so much weight as an aging player. Hal “Two-Booty” McRae!