Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Remembering the Royals During Their Heyday

The news that Paul Splittorff, the ace of the Royals when Kansas City had a contending ball club, died today brought back memories of two expansion teams that came into the American League together. The teams have followed similar paths over the years.

The teams were the Brewers (who played a year as the Pilots in Seattle) and the Royals. The year was 1969. For that reason, I always followed the Royals a little more closely than other teams. They were a yardstick by which to measure my team. And my team was always a year or two behind.

George Brett, top, and Robin Yount
were the leaders of the Royals and Brewers
in the 1970s and '80s.
The Royals built their team by establishing a super farm system. Players like Splittorff, George Brett and Frank White came up to the big club this way. The Brewers farm system took longer to bear fruit, but Robin Yount and Paul Molitor came along just as Milwaukee took some chances on free agents like Sal Bando.

The Royals made the playoffs and World Series before the Brewers did. Despite the competition between the clubs, there was a certain grudging pride seeing the little guy take on the New York Yankees in the playoffs and beating them in 1980 for the pennant.

It seemed the teams were on parallel tracks. The Royals had Brett. The Brewers had Yount. Two classy players headed for the Hall of Fame. The Royals had Amos Otis, Freddie Patek and John Mayberry. The Brewers had Gorman Thomas, Jim Gantner and Cecil Cooper. And the teams were contenders into the mid-'80s.

Then they hit bottom. For decades. The Brewers even managed to be at the bottom of both leagues after switching to the National League. Now, things are looking up for both clubs.

The Brewers have good young players like Ryan Braun, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks signed for years (Prince Fielder is likely in his last year with Milwaukee. They even made shrewd trades to add pitching in Zack Greinke and Shawn Marcum.

The Royals have top prospects like Alcides Escobar (obtained from the Brewers), Eric Hosmer and Danny Duffy and are flirting with .500. They are touted as a team on the rise.

More than four decades after they opened for business, the Royals and Brewers histories still seem intertwined. Maybe one day they'll meet in October.

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