Kansas City Royals – Decade Record: 851-760, 3 Division Titles, 0 Pennants
A 1969 expansion team, the Royals spent little time as a second division club before making their mark as one of the finest organizations in baseball. Kansas City had three losing seasons during the 1970s, and finished in either 1st or 2nd place in the other seven. Not coincidentally, the team’s good year/bad year pattern from ’70-’74 came to an end when third baseman George Brett became a regular in 1975. The Royals won a franchise high 91 games that year, finishing 7 games behind their nemesis Oakland. By 1976 KC passed the A’s by for good, winning their first of three straight AL West titles.
Brett emerged as one of the decade’s greatest players, leading the club with a .310 average and .475 slugging %. In the years ’75-’79 he was the game’s best hitter, finishing in the Top 20 in MVP voting each year, winning a batting title in 1976, and pacing the league in hits 3 times (’75 – 195, ’76 – 215, ’79 – 212), triples twice (’75 – 13, ’76 – 14, ’79 -20), and doubles once (’78 – 45). The Royals built the foundation of a strong lineup with one-sided trades that brought in outfielder Hal McRae from Cincinnati, centerfielder Amos Otis from the Mets, and John Mayberry from Houston. Otis played the entire decade in KC and led the team in games, hits, runs scored, doubles, home runs, and RBI. He won 3 Gold Gloves and led the American League in doubles twice and stolen bases once. McRae became the league’s best designated hitter, hitting .294 with 251 doubles in 7 seasons with the Royals, including 54 two-baggers in 1977, the best single season mark all decade. Mayberry was the Royals top power threat, eclipsing 100 RBI three times and banging 143 homers and 552 RBI in 6 seasons. John’s tenure in Kansas City ended badly, however. After a late night outing he showed up late for Game 4 of the 1977 ALCS against the Yankees and proceeded to strike out twice and drop a popup and a routine infield throw before being benched for the remainder of the game and for the deciding Game 5. Manager Whitey Herzog blamed Mayberry for the Royals’ ALCS loss and had him traded in the off-season.
Other key players were shortstop Fred Patek, who stole 336 bases, second baseman Frank White, a three-time Gold Glover, catcher Darrel Porter, and outfielders Al Cowens and speedster Willie Wilson.
The Kansas City pitching was solid, if not spectacular. Paul Splittorff (123-106) and Dennis Leonard (87-62) were the co-aces of the decade, and Larry Gura pitched well in relief in 1976 and ’77, before moving into the starting rotation in ’78 and turning in a 16-4 season. In total Gura went 41-21 with a 3.40 ERA from 1976-79. Steve Busby won 56 games and threw 2 no hitters within his first 3 full seasons from 1973-75, but then suffered a rotator cuff tear and finished his career with 70 wins. The main bullpen contributors were Ted Abernathy, Doug Bird, and Al Hrabosky.
The Royals could not get past the Yankees in 3 straight ALCS, losing in 5 games in ’76 and ’77, and in 4 in 1978. This despite the efforts of Brett, who hit a torrid .375 (21-56) over the 14 games with 4 HR, 4 triples, 10 RBI, 13 runs scored, and a .768 slugging percentage. Kansas City finally broke the spell and won their first pennant in 1980, and a World Series Championship in 1985.
Joe Gersbeck is a baseball historian and lifetime fan/student of the game who lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons. His website is http://www.1970sBaseball.com and his book, 1970s Baseball: A History and Analysis of the Decade’s Best Seasons, Teams, and Players is available on Amazon, B&N, and iBooks: