Been Here & Done That
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana
We’ve all heard that Santayana quote many times, but I’d say there is also a corollary which might go something like this: “Those that do not know the past are not aware of what is possible.’ Looking back on Royals history for this date alone provides an example.
May 18, 1970
The Royals had just swept a DH against the Chicago White Sox at Municipal Stadium the night before – yet their record stood at 13-21; and they were 10 games behind the AL West front-running Minnesota Twins.
The bad news is the fact the1970 Royals went on to lose 97 games. However the team was not without talent. They had young left-handed named Paul Splittorff who would debut late that year. They had a dynamic centerfielder in his first full MLB season who would make the All-Star team in Amos Otis. They acquired Cookie Rojas as a veteran leader at second baseman later that summer.
For 1971 the Royals acquired both Fred Patek and John Mayberry. The team was building and they finished that year with the club’s first winning record at 85-76.
Over the next several seasons players began to emerge from the Royals farm system . In 1972, pitcher Steve Busby arrived, but the Royals retreated a bit with only 76 wins. Even still the franchise was starting to develop it’s own players and identity.
Then – seemingly overnight – the Royals work in scouting and player development starting producing a string of players that would truly make baseball history in Kansas City. In 1973 alone, Frank White and George made their MLB debuts and the ballclub acquired Hal McRae in a trade with Cincinnati. Jack McKeon’s 1973 ballclub opened Royals Stadium and finished with 88 wins in second place behind the World Champion Oakland A’s.
Kansas City had caught baseball fever again by 1974. During that season the Royals farm system produced another key component in RHP Dennis Leonard along with outfielder Al Cowens. At season’s end only 77 wins, but the system was starting to produce quality players each year.
In 1975 the Royals took another step to really challenge the perrienial powerhouse Oakland A’s. With the club 50-46 on July 24, the Royals replaced Jack McKeon with Whitey Herzog. Under Whitey the Royals posted a 41-25 mark to finish the season with 91 wins. But in second place again.
Which brings us back to todays date…
May 18, 1976
That night the Royals hosted the first place Texas Rangers at Royals Stadium – with the Royals just one game behind. Al Fitzmorris tossed a complete game, Hal McRae had two doubles and Amos Otis blasted a HR. The Royals won 3-1 and moved into a first place tie.
They never fell out of first the rest of the season and clinched the Royals first divisional championship on October 1, 1976.
From May 18, 1970 – 13-21 and 10 games back – to May 18, 1976 taking over first place for good on the way to a championship. In between was the development of a group of significant players from the Royals farm system. It can be done.
What came after was six division titles, seven post season appearances and 12 of the next 15 years with attendance of two million plus. There are no guarantees in baseball, but the possibilities are endless. It can be done and the best proof is that is has already been done before.
(Curt Nelson, Director – Royals Hall of Fame)