First baseman Billy Butler joined an exclusive club Monday when selected as the Royals’ player of the year for a second straight season.
The only other repeat winner in the award’s history, which dates to 1971, is Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett, a back-to-back recipient on two occasions: 1975-76 and 1979-80.
“Everything in Kansas City, baseball-wise, goes around George Brett,” Butler said. “To be in his company is an honor for me. Obviously, I’m not anywhere close to George Brett territory, but I’m honored to be a back-to-back (winner).
“He won it back-to-back twice. I’ve got something to strive for.”
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Butler, 24, won this year’s award – the Les Milgram Player of the Year award – after batting a career-high .318 with 15 homers and 78 RBIs in 158 games. He also posted a career-best .388 on-base percentage.
“He has great at-bats at-bat after at-bat,” manager Ned Yost said. “Very seldom do you see him giving an at-bat away. He just has an idea. He’s a natural hitter – as natural as I’ve ever seen.”
The award is determined through a vote by members of the Kansas City Chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Brett was an eight-time winner in his 21-year career.
Butler is the ninth player to win the award more than once. Amos Otis and Mike Sweeney were three-time recipients. Hal McRae, Willie Wilson, Frank White, Danny Tartabull and Carlos Beltran won it twice.
The Kansas City Chapter of the BBWAA previously chose closer Joakim Soria as the Bruce Rice Pitcher of the Year and pitcher Bruce Chen as recipient of the Joe Burke Special Achievement award. The Burke award is not presented every year.
Butler is eligible this offseason for arbitration for the first time in his career, which positions him for a major jump from his 2010 salary of $470,000. He readily acknowledges interest in renewing discussions on a multi-year deal.
“In spring training last year,” he said, “there were some talks, but they kind of slowed down. My only wish was that when the season started, I wanted to be focused on baseball.
“Obviously, if the right deal is there, I’d be more than happy to (sign). This (club) is all I’ve ever known, and I don’t want to change. I’m comfortable, and I want to see this team win in Kansas City. I wouldn’t like to go anywhere else.”
The Royals selected Butler as a high school senior with the 14th overall pick in the 2004 draft. He won two minor-league batting titles in three seasons before reaching the majors in 2007.
Butler’s .2987 career average ranks third in club history for players with at least 2,000 plate appearances behind Brett (.305) and Sweeney (.2994). Butler has a .309 average over the last two seasons with 96 doubles, a club record for a two-year span.
“I’m trying to get into better shape,” said Butler, who also led the majors last season by grounding into a club-record 32 double plays. “I understand my weaknesses and where I need to get better. I’m working on them.
“I’ve got a personal trainer, and I’m going to come into spring training ready to go.”
The player-of-the-year award is named in memory of Les Milgram, a former president of Milgram Food Stores and a member of the Royals’ first board of directors. He was the 1972 recipient of the Mr. Baseball Award for contributions to professional baseball in Kansas City.
Milgram helped bring the A’s to Kansas City in 1954 from Philadelphia. He also helped convince Ewing Kauffman, a former classmate, to invest in an expansion franchise, the Royals, after the A’s departed for Oakland in 1968. Milgram died in 1976, at age 58, from brain cancer.
Butler battled a badly bruised right hand throughout much of the season’s second half. He still led the club in games played – and in on-base and slugging percentage – but the injury affected his ability to drive the ball.
“It bothered me pretty bad,” he said. “I’ve got to give credit to (head trainer) Nick Kenney, (assistant trainer) Kyle Turner and (physical therapist) Jeff Blum. They got me ready to play.
“By the end of the season, I was actually getting back toward 100 percent. I wasn’t completely back, but I feel great now.”
The Royals must clear two spaces on their 40-man roster by Wednesday in order to accommodate the return of outfielder David DeJesus and catcher Jason Kendall from the 60-day disabled list.
Rules require players who finished the season in the 60-day list be returned Wednesday to the 40-man roster. The acquisition last week of infielders Joaquin Arias and Lance Zawadzki on waivers left the Royals with no vacancies.
DeJesus suffered a torn ligament in his right thumb July 22 when he slammed into the wall at Yankee Stadium in pursuit of a fly ball. He is expected to be fully recovered by spring training.
Kendall isn’t anticipated back before mid-to-late May after undergoing surgery Sept. 3 to repair a torn rotator cuff.
Les Milgram Player of the Year award winners
1971: Amos Otis and Fred Patek.
1972: John Mayberry.
1973: Amos Otis.
1974: Hal McRae.
1975: George Brett.
1976: George Brett.
1977: Al Cowens.
1978: Amos Otis.
1979: George Brett.
1980: George Brett.
1981: Willie Wilson.
1982: Hal McRae.
1983: Frank White.
1984: Willie Wilson.
1985: George Brett.
1986: Frank White.
1987: Danny Tartabull.
1988: George Brett.
1989: Jim Eisenreich.
1990: George Brett.
1991: Danny Tartabull.
1992: George Brett.
1993: Greg Gagne.
1994: Bob Hamelin.
1995: Gary Gaetti.
1996: Tom Goodwin.
1997: Jay Bell.
1998: Dean Palmer.
1999: Jermaine Dye.
2000: Mike Sweeney.
2001: Carlos Beltran.
2002: Mike Sweeney.
2003: Carlos Beltran.
2004: David DeJesus.
2005: Mike Sweeney.
2006: Mark Teahen.
2007: Mark Grudzielanek.
2008: Mike Aviles.
2009: Billy Butler.
2010: Billy Butler.