A team of the best who played for Yankees and Royals

28 10 2014

Decades ago, the Kansas City A’s and New York Yankees made so many trades the A’s were derided as a Yankee farm team. The Yankees and Royals haven’t made as many trades, but still have shared a lot of the same players.

Since I usually blog here about the Yankees, but have been blogging about the Royals this month, I’ve compiled a team of the best players who played for both teams (most of them not involved in trades between the two teams).

Catcher: Don Slaught. Slaught barely missed the Royals’ world championship year. He caught 124 games for the 1984 division champions, but was traded to the Texas Rangers in a four-team deal that brought Jim Sundberg to Kansas City. After three years in Texas, Slaught was the starting catcher for the Yankees in 1988 and ’89, two fifth-place seasons.  This isn’t a strong position, but Slaught started for both teams. Fran Healy had a couple mediocre years as the Royals’ starter, but was just a sub for the Yankees.

First base. Steve Balboni was a feast-or-famine slugger for the Royals who had his best year in the Royals’ 1985 championship year, with 36 homers, and led the league in strikeouts that year with 166 (he had 146 hits). Known as “Bye Bye” Balboni in the Yankee farm system, he had no chance of winning the first base job away from Don Mattingly. Balboni became “Bonesy” in Kansas City, where his homers are remembered fondly, but not as fondly as the single that eventually became the tying run (Onix Concepcion pinch-ran) in Game Six of the 1985 World Series.

Second base. Chuck Knoblauch was a great second baseman for the Minnesota Twins, a Rookie of the Year and four-time All-Star. He was pretty good his first couple years with the Yankees, 1998-9, scoring more than 100 runs a year. But his throwing problems in 2000 forced the Yankees to move him to outfield and designated hitter, where he played with the Royals in 2002, his final year. I couldn’t find another second baseman who played any substantial time for both teams, so I had to settle for a guy who gave the Yankees two strong seasons at second.

Shortstop. Bucky Dent became a Yankee legend for a single homer. But he was an All-Star shortstop before that for the White Sox and was twice an All-Star for the Yankees. He gave them five-plus solid years and was the Yankees’ best shortstop between Tony Kubek and Derek Jeter. He played only 11 games for the Royals before retiring.

Third base. Jamie Quirk. Without question, this is the weakest position on the team. I kept hoping I’d find out something I’d forgotten, like Clete Boyer playing his last year for the Royals or Scott Brosius passing through KC. But no such luck. We’re stuck with Quirk. He was mostly a catcher, but played 28 games at third base when Brett was injured in 1980 and 24 more in 1986. The only alternative is Jayson Nix, but Quirk played more at third for these teams and was better.

Left field. Johnny Damon is best known for his years with the Boston Red Sox. But he played longer for the Royals (five-plus seasons) than for any of his seven teams. He led the league in runs and steals in 2000, his last year in Kansas City. He played four years for the Yankees, averaging better than 100 runs a year, topping 20 homers twice and making major contributions to the 2009 World Series championship.

Center field. Carlos Beltrán is pretty much like Damon, starting with the Royals (combining with Damon and Jermaine Dye to make the Royals’ greatest outfield between the Bo JacksonWillie Wilson-Danny Tartabull trio and today’s outfield. The four seasons that Beltrán was healthy with the Royals, he topped 100 runs, 100 RBI, 20 homers and 25 steals. He achieved his greatest acclaim playing in the post-season for National League teams (and hitting 16 homers, eight of them for the Astros in 2004). But he had more 100-RBI and 100-run seasons for the Royals than in the whole rest of his career. He was a fading player on a fading Yankee team this year. I was tempted to blog about a team of players who’d played for both the Yankees and Mets when Beltrán joined the Yankees earlier this year. And I might someday.

Right field. Danny Tartabull had two 30-homer/100-RBI seasons for the Royals and one for the Yankees. My son Tom and I watched him hit three in one game for the Royals. And Royals Stadium was a tough place for anyone to hit homers and Yankee Stadium was a tough place for righthanders to hit homers. He led the league in slugging in 1991, his last year in Kansas City. He’s the only member of this team with an appearance on Seinfeld.

Designated hitter. Chili Davis hit 30 homers in 1997, his one season as the Royals’ DH, and 19 homers in 1999, his final season, for the Yankees. Like Damon and Beltrán, he played a long time for a lot of teams: seven years each with the Giants and Angels and two years with the Twins before finishing with the Royals and Yankees. He picked up World Series rings with the Twins and Yankees.

Starting pitcher. David Cone is the member of this team who played the best for both teams, winning the Cy Young Award with the Royals in 1994 and winning 20 for the 1998 Yankees. He went 8-3 in post-season games and pitched a perfect game July 18, 1999. He won’t make the Hall of Fame, but he was better than several pitchers in Cooperstown.

Starting pitcher. Larry Gura didn’t have nearly as great a career as the fourth or fifth starters, but he pitched better longer for the Royals than either of them did for either team. From 1978 to 1984, he started at least 25 games every full season for the Royals and won at least 11 every year, reaching 18 wins twice. He didn’t have much impact with the Yankees in 1974-5, but briefly became known as a “Yankee killer” after some regular-season wins with the Royals. But he was 2-2 against the Yankees in the post-season.

Starting pitcher. Tom Gordon was a disappointment to Royals fans, but his 17-9 rookie season and four other seasons in double-digit wins earn the third starting slot. He pitched well for the Yankees in 2004-5, setting up for Mariano Rivera, after becoming a relief ace with the Boston Red Sox. He was an All-Star for the Yankees in 2004, with a 9-4 record, four saves and a 2.22 ERA in 80 games. He might be in the top five all-time of pitchers who were both starters and relievers. Dennis Eckersley and John Smoltz are the top two, Eck as the greater reliever and Smoltz as the greater starter and both damn good at the other role. Derek Lowe and Wilbur Wood rank ahead of Gordon, but I can’t think of anyone else. Can you? Update: Can’t believe I overlooked a Yankee here: Dave Righetti was probably a little behind Gordon as a starter and a little ahead of Flash as a relieved. It would be very close between them for the fifth spot (unless I’m forgetting someone else). Each led his league in saves with 46 after becoming a reliever. Gordon had about 50 more wins but Righetti had about 100 more saves. Gordon was an All-Star twice, Righetti three times. Righetti won Rookie of the Year, Gordon was second. Righetti had that no-hitter. I might give the edge to Rags, but it’s close. Maybe his success as the Giants’ pitching coach seals it for him. But if you’re going beyond playing career, do you credit Flash for being a major leaguer’s father?

Starting pitcher. Gaylord Perry was the greatest pitcher on this staff, but his great years were before he joined either team. He won Cy Young Awards in both leagues with the Indians and Padres and also won 20 twice for the Giants and had some solid years with the Rangers. But he was pitching on fumes for his 10 games with the Yankees in 1980 and 14 for the Royals in ’83, his final year. He only won four games for each team, but he gets a spot on this team based on his overall greatness and his role in the Pine Tar Game (sneaking away with the bat).

Starting Pitcher. Vida Blue makes this team because Bowie Kuhn isn’t alive to block the transaction. Blue never pitched for the Yankees, but the A’s sold him to New York in 1976, a move Kuhn blocked for bogus reasons. If I can’t sneak Blue onto this team, I have to go with a four-man rotation or pitch Bob Shirley. Blue had a decent season for the Royals in 1982, but his greatest impact for the them wasn’t as a pitcher, but as a key figure in the 1983 cocaine scandal. No one on this team won an MVP award for the Yankees or Royals. Blue is the only player with an MVP for anyone.

Closer. I had to reach way back to come up with Lindy McDaniel, one of the best early relief specialists. Back before saves were a big consideration and before pitching staffs had designated closers, McDaniel led the National League  with 15, 26, and 22 saves in his Cardinal and Cub days. He anchored the Yankees’ bullpen from 1968 to ’73, saving 29 games in 1970 and winning 12 in 1973, with an ERA under 3.00 both years. He didn’t do much for the Royals in ’74-5, his final two seasons. He might have been second to Hoyt Wilhelm in baseball history as a consistent closer when he retired.

Setup reliever. Steve Farr was a pretty good reliever for both teams. He was the setup man for Dan Quisenberry before taking over the closer role in 1988.  (1985 performance) and became a closer for mediocre Yankee teams. After Jeff Montgomery took over the Royals’ closer role in 1990, Farr joined the Yankees as a free agent. He spent three years as their closer, peaking at 30 saves and a 1.56 ERA in 1992.

Fourth outfielder. Lou Piniella was Rookie of the Year for the 1969 Royals. He came to the Yankees in the Lindy McDaniel trade and played rightfield, leftfield and designated hitter for the Yankees’ champion teams of the 1970s. Sentimentally, I might prefer him on my team in place of either Damon, Tartabull or Davis, but based on their records, I have to admit he’s a fourth outfielder who would play a lot. If I didn’t have a good manager who led both teams, I’d have used him as the manager of this team. He may be known best for his temper, but he was an outstanding player and manager.

Pinch-hitter. Raúl Ibañez joined the Royals for the second time this year. He had three solid years for them from 2001-3, including a 100-RBI season. He hit 19 homers and had an awesome post-season performance for the Yankees in 2012. If he had DH’ed more for either team, I’d have pushed him ahead of Davis there.

I’m not going to fill out a full roster here. We’ve filled the important roles, and I’m not going to figure out whether people I’m not thinking of could beat out guys like Healy, Nix and Shirley for the remaining slots.

Manager. Dick Howser is the easy answer here. He managed the Yankees to the 1980 division championship, but lost to the Royals. And he managed the Royals to their only world championship (so far). His third-base coach, of course, would be Mike Ferraro, who coached third for him with both teams.

Probable batting order: Damon, Knoblauch, Beltrán, Tartabull, Davis, Balboni, Slaught, Dent, Quirk.

This would be a good team, a great one if it could have Perry and Blue in their Cy Young years.

Source note: Statistics used here come from Baseball-Reference.com.

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27 10 2015
A bad call didn’t ‘rob’ the Cardinals of the 1985 World Series | Hated Yankees

[…] A team of the best who played for Yankees and Royals […]

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