Billy Butler can now boast an achievement that even George Brett can’t match after being selected Wednesday as the Royals’ player of the year for the third time in four seasons.
Brett was an eight-time recipient in a Hall of Fame career that spanned 21 seasons, but he never garnered three awards in a four-year span. Butler now adds the 2012 honor to his selections in 2009 and 2010.
“George Brett is the most key figure in Royals history,” he said. “He’s the best player to ever put a Royals uniform on. He’s a great person on and off the field.
“We all know about him on the field, but I really think the way he was as a teammate, from what other people have told me, means even more to me.”
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The award — officially the Les Milgram Player of the Year — dates to 1971 and is determined through a vote by the Kansas City Chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
The group previously selected shortstop Alcides Escobar as recipient of the Joe Burke Special Achievement award and closer Greg Holland as the Bruce Rice Pitcher of the Year.
Butler, at 26, joins Amos Otis and Mike Sweeney as a three-time Milgram selection. Brett is the only player chosen more than three times. Left fielder Alex Gordon was last year’s recipient. Seven of the award’s 25 winners are in the club’s Hall of Fame.
“If we didn’t have Billy Butler,” general manager Dayton Moore said, “we’d be looking for a player like Billy Butler.”
The award caps a remarkable year of personal achievements:
Butler was selected in January as the Hutch Award winner, which annually honors one big-league player for on-the-field achievement and off-the-field charitable works.
He was chosen in July to the All-Star Game for the first time in his career, which led to rousing support throughout the festivities from hometown fans at Kauffman Stadium.
And he put together the best season of his career while setting numerous career highs, including 29 home runs and 107 RBIs. Like newer metrics? He also set a career high with a 140 OPS+ (i.e., a combination of on-base percentage and slugging percentage adjusted to a player’s ballpark).
“Billy can hit good pitching,” manager Ned Yost said. “Some guys are good hitters but can’t hit good pitching. When they face the elite guys, they’re not going to hit much. Billy is like (Detroit’s Miguel) Cabrera – he can hit everybody.”
Brett, at .305, is the only other player with at least 500 games as a Royal to own a higher career batting average than Butler’s .300. And Butler is a .306 hitter over the last four seasons while averaging 159 games.
“When you’re a guy who people pencil in for a certain amount of production,” he said, “and, at the end of the year, it’s there – I take pride in that.”
The award is named in memory of the former president of Milgram Food Stores who also served on the Royals’ first board of directors. Les Milgram was the 1972 recipient of the Mr. Baseball Award for contributions to professional baseball in Kansas City.
Those efforts included helping to bring the A’s to town in 1954 from Philadelphia and, later, convincing 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.
Catcher Manny Piña agreed to a minor-league deal with the Royals less than a week after being assigned outright to Triple-A Omaha once he cleared waivers.
Piña, 25, suffered torn knee cartilage in spring training that limited him to six games at Rookie Surprise and 43 games at Double-A Northwest Arkansas. He batted .278 with five homers and 25 RBIs.
The Royals recalled Piña to the big leagues on Sept. 1, but he appeared in only one game. He will be eligible for selection next month in the Rule 5 draft, but a team must keep him in the majors for the entire 2013 season or offer him back to the Royals.
Former Royals outfielder Mitch Maier recently signed a minor-league deal with Boston. Maier, 30, batted .248 with 10 homers and 93 RBIs in 360 games over parts of six big-league seasons.