The results of my 18th annual reader survey are history and one of the toughest questions, I thought, was No. 13.
We can all agree George Brett is the greatest player in Kansas City Royals history. Who is No. 2?
The choices I listed were Frank White, Bret Saberhagen, Mike Sweeney, Willie Wilson, Paul Splittorff, Alex Gordon, Carlos Beltran, Amos Otis and Dennis Leonard. My omission of Hal McRae was glaring.
White was the resounding choice of the readers, getting 52 percent of the vote. Saberhagen, twice a 20-game winner with the Royals and the 1989 American League Cy Young Award winner, was second at 23 percent.
Is White really such an obvious choice?
Personally, I don’t think so. And I’m not sure Saberhagen, a World Series hero in 1985 and in my opinion the greatest Royals pitcher in history, should be No. 2, either.
I believe strong cases can be made for outfielders Willie Wilson and Amos Otis, who combined to get only 66 of the 886 votes that were cast.
Let’s start with White, who has a lot of sentimental value amongst Royals fans.
He came up through the Royals’ Academy, starting in 1970, and reached Kansas City three years later at 22. He was rock solid at second base, where he won eight Gold Gloves, and he played all 2,324 career games with the Royals before retiring after the 1990 season.
For the past several years, White has been on the outs with the Royals organization, after being taken off the team’s television announce team, and I think most people side with White, who managed the Wichita Wranglers for three seasons. He has a statue prominently displayed at Kauffman Stadium and his No. 20 is one of only two numbers, including Brett’s No. 5, that have been retired by the Royals.
A five-time All-Star, White finished his career with a .255 batting average. He had 2,006 hits with 160 home runs and 886 RBI. He stole 178 bases and scored 912 runs.
But White batted better than .275 only once (.298 in 1982). He had 22 home runs in 1985 and 1968. Defensively, White certainly has an edge over Wilson and Otis. But it’s not a huge one.
Wilson won a Gold Glove as a center fielder in 1980 and was a three-time All-Star. He played 1,787 games in Kansas City and amassed 1,968 hits with a .289 batting average.
Speed was Wilson’s game, though. He stole 612 of his 668 career bases while in Kansas City and scored 1,060 runs.
Wilson’s best season was in 1980, a year in which Brett’s chase of .400 and the team’s run to the World Series overwhelmed all other story lines.
Brett finished at .390 but Wilson was arguably the team’s MVP in 1980 with a .326 average, 230 hits, 133 runs scored and 79 stolen bases. While Brett fought injuries and played in only 117 games – 117 really productive games – Wilson appeared in all but one of the Royals’ 162 regular-season games.
Wilson had another great season in 1982, when he won an American League batting championship with a .332 average. But injuries and off-the-field issues soon became a factor and Wilson, who had amassed 797 hits at the age of 26 became less productive thereafter.
Otis seems to be a forgotten man in Kansas City. He shouldn’t be. Otis spent 14 of his 17 seasons in Kansas City, where he batted .280 with 193 homers and 992 RBI. He also stole 341 bases and won three Gold Gloves as a center fielder.
Otis and Wilson rank Nos. 2 and 3 in Royals history in offensive WAR (wins above replacement), behind Brett. White, though, is far and away No. 1 in defensive WAR. Brett, White and Otis rank first, second and third in games played with Kansas City while Wilson is fifth.
McRae is fourth. And his offensive numbers are definitely on par with the others. But McRae played 1,426 games in Kansas City as the team’s designated-hitter and only 313 games in the outfield. That’s why I don’t think he belongs in the argument.
Here are some key offensive rankings in Royals history for these players:
Runs – 1. Brett, 1,583; 2. Otis, 1,074; 3. Wilson, 1,060; 4. White, 912; 5. McRae, 873.
Hits – 1. Brett, 3,154; 2. White, 2,006; 3. Otis, 1,977; 4. Wilson, 1,968; 5. McRae, 1,924.
Total bases – 1. Brett, 5,044; 2. Otis, 3,051; 3. White, 3,009; 4. McRae, 3,006; 5. Wilson, 2,595.
Doubles – 1. Brett, 665; 2. McRae, 449; 3. White, 407; 4. Otis, 365; 8. Wilson, 241.
Triples – 1. Brett, 137; 2. Wilson, 133; 3. Otis, 65; 4. McRae, 63; 5. White, 58.
Home runs – 1. Brett, 317; 3. Otis, 193; 4. McRae, 169; 5. White, 160.
Runs batted in – 1. Brett, 1,596; 2. McRae, 1,012; 3. Otis, 992; 4. White, 886; 10. Wilson, 509.
Stolen bases – 1. Wilson, 612; 2. Otis, 340; 5. White, 178.
There’s not much doubt that Brett, White, Wilson, Otis and McRae are the five greatest offensive players in Royals history. But is White a clear-cut No. 2?
Not at all, even though he’s definitely in the mix. But defense is what set White apart; remember, he’s a .255 career hitter. That’s far below Wilson (.285), Otis (.277) and McRae (.290). Wilson and Otis were also outstanding defenders.
My rankings: 1. Brett; 2. Otis; 3. White; 4. Wilson; 5. McRae.
Thanks for reading.