For a shining 10 year period, the Royals successfully played the big time team in the small town market. Starting with their first division title in 1976 and culminating with their 1985 World Championship, the Royals were considered a model baseball organization from the owner through the front office to the manager, coaching staff and players on the field.
The Philadelphia Athletics moved to Kansas City in 1955, but after 13 unlucky seasons, the A's continued westward to Oakland. Baseball plugged the gap left by the A's departure by awarding Kansas City a franchise under the aegis of pharmaceutical magnate Ewing Kauffman. The team was named the Royals as a respectful nod to the "American Royal" - an annual livestock show/horse show/rodeo/BBQ contest held each year in Kansas City since 1899.
Not surprisingly, the Royals did not fare well in their inaugural season, although they did begin their history with a stirring 4-3 win against the eventual division champion Minnesota Twins. They won only 68 more games while losing 93. Despite a roster heavy with veterans, it was fiery first-year outfielder Lou Piniella who stole the spotlight by winning Rookie of the Year honors.
The Royals surprised the baseball world with a strong second place showing under Bob Lemon in 1971. Otherwise, the franchise's first four years at the major league level were undistinguished. The turning point came in 1973.
That's the year the Royals unveiled a third baseman named George Brett, who would become the cornerstone of the franchise for the next two decades. Shortly thereafter, Frank White became the team's second baseman. Also that year, the Royals moved from creaky Municipal Stadium into Royals Stadium, a state-of-the-art facility with artificial turf and distant outfield walls.
The Royals tailored their team to succeed in the new ball park - Brett, White, Amos Otis, Hal McRae, Al Cowens and Willie Wilson were all line drive hitters who could bunt and steal on the artificial turf and take the extra base on gap hits. They could also gobble up ground in the spacious outfield when playing defense. Add to them the traditional slugging power of first baseman John Mayberry and the pitching excellence of Dennis Leonard and Paul Splittorff, and the Royals became a big time baseball power.
Whitey Herzog managed the team to three straight division titles in 1976-77-78. They played and lost to the New York Yankees in all three American League Championship Series. When the teams re-matched again in 1980, the Royals finally got their revenge, sweeping the Yankees three straight, with Brett icing the series by slamming a homer in New York against ace reliever Goose Gossage. It capped an incredible season for the eventual Hall-of-Famer, who made a serious run at hitting .400 until a September slump "dropped" him to .390. The Royals lost the World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies in six games.
The Royals earned a post season berth in the strike shortened 1981 season, followed by two off years in a row. The 1983 season was particularly difficult as four regulars were suspended by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn after they were accused of trying to purchase cocaine. The original suspension would have had them miss all of 1984, but the suspensions were reduced, the players returned in mid-May and helped the Royals win the 1984 division flag.
Then came 1985 — Brett (.335, 30 HR, 112 RBI) carried a team on which Willie Wilson hit .278 and no other regular bested .260. The pitching staff carried the load, led by Bret Saberhagen, Charlie Liebrant and closer Dan Quisenberry. The Royals went 91-71, defeated Toronto in the ALCS and then dispatched their cross-state rival Cardinals in the World Series, rallying from a 3-1 deficit in games to win in seven.
Things went south for the Royals since. Popular manager Dick Howser was diagnosed with a brain tumor and could not finish the 1986 season. He died in June of 1987. Frank White retired in 1992 and Brett called it quits the following season. A hit machine with power, Brett amassed more than 3,000 career hits and is the only player to win batting titles in three different decades (1976, 1980 and 1990).
Ewing Kauffman, owner of the Kansas City Royals also died in 1993.
David Glass, a former Walmart executive, bought the team in 2000. At first the new ownership seemed unwilling or unable to compete with the larger market teams. In 2006, the Glass family hired Dayton Moore as the general manager.
Moore and his staff have worked to build a strong farm system for the Royals. That paid off in 2014, when the Royals won the Wild Card Game against Oakland and went on to sweep the Los Angeles Angels in the ALDS and the Baltimore Orioles to win the ALCS. Although Kansas City lost to the San Francisco Giants in Game 7 of the World Series, the core of homegrown talent stayed intact.
In 2015, the Royals won 95 games, defeated the Astros in the ALDS and the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS. They won the World Series against the New York Mets in Game 5 at Citi Field. A quick look at their percentages show that they had improved, as a team consistently over six seasons, each year since 2009, getting better and better.
The Royals were .500 on the season in 2016. Some of the players who came up through Royals's farm system will reach free agency after 2017, and are expected to leave the team. Some, however have negotiated team-friendly longer-term contracts: Catcher Salvador Perez and Left-fielder Alex Gordon, for example.
Over the years, the Royals have lost a number of stars and budding stars including Zach Greinke, Carlos Beltran, Jermaine Dye, Johnny Damon, Kevin Seitzer and Mike Sweeney mostly through free agency or trades because they could no longer afford their services.
If management continues to support the farm system and can provide an atmosphere that makes players want to stay, the Kansas City Royals will continue to be competitive.
"Everybody tries to make hitting a science, which it is. But you can't treat it like a science, you have to treat it like an art." - George Brett in NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture (Volume 11, Number 1, Fall 2002)
Kansas City Royals Franchise Facts
Bold Seasons : Uniform Numbers Worn
Bold Seasons : Box Scores Online
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The Kansas City Royals played their first Major League game on April 8, 1969 . Their opponent that historic day was Minnesota and they defeated the Twins 4-3 at Municipal Stadium.
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Opening Day lineup on April 8, 1969 , was Wally Bunker (pitcher), Ellie Rodriguez (catcher), Chuck Harrison (first base), Jerry Adair (second base), Joe Foy (third base), Jackie Hernandez (shortstop), Bob Oliver (right field), Lou Piniella (center field), and Ed Kirkpatrick (left field).
The Kansas City Royals were part of a four-team expansion in 1969 that included the Seattle Pilots , San Diego Padres , and the Montreal Expos . In the Major League Baseball Expansion Draft, which took place on October 11, 1968, the Royals selected right handed pitcher Roger Nelson as their first pick.