Can you believe we are just over five weeks from the Royalsâ€™ pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training? Letâ€™s celebrate by resuming our list of best seasons in Royalsâ€™ history by batting order position. Here are the first four rankings: first, second, third, fourth.
Traditionally, the fifth spot in the order is reserved for the RBI guy. I wouldnâ€™t say RBIs are worthlessâ€”like every stat, they tell a part of the story. Itâ€™s just that there are so many other stats that tell you more than the RBI. I think itâ€™s telling that the Royals do not have a great history of number five hitters putting up amazing numbers. In fact, only twice have they had someone start more than 100 games in the fifth spot in the order.
1. Hal McRae, 1976
447 PA, .350/.420/.478, 61 R, 5 HR, 51 RBI, 29 2B, 20 SB
1976 was the year of the infamous batting-title race between George Brett, McRae, and Rod Carew. On the last day of the season, Twins outfielder Steve Brye let Brettâ€™s fly ball to left fall in for a hit (Brett wound up with an inside-the-park home run). When McRae followed up with a grounder to shortstop, the batting title was Brettâ€™s, .333 to .332, with Carew finishing at .331. McRae later accused the Twins (in particular, manager Gene Mauch) of purposely having Brye play too deep on Brett and trying to give the title to the white player over the black one. Since I was one year old at the time, and I donâ€™t believe Iâ€™ve ever seen video or even pictures of the play in question (I imagine the game wasnâ€™t even on TV), I canâ€™t pass judgment on McRaeâ€™s accusation. But I have long wondered if it had more to do with their respective reputations–while Brett was certainly a hard-nosed player, I think McRae was viewed as downright dirty back then. Regardless, I think we can all be glad this incident didnâ€™t happen in this age of 24-hour arguing on the various ESPN and sports radio stations.
2. Willie Aikens, 1983
320 PA, .305/.381/.579, 37 R, 19 HR, 52 RBI, 21 2B, 0 SB
If you havenâ€™t read Aikensâ€™ book, I suggest you do so as soon as you can. In particular, Aikensâ€™ 1983 season, when he was playing under the influence of cocaine basically every night, is harrowing. I find it amazing that Royals fans were so down on Aikens at the time after I look at these numbers. While the Royals did have a disappointing season in 1983, Aikens was hardly at fault, as he posted the second-highest OPS+ on the team. Anyway, Iâ€™m happy that Willie Mays Aikens is clean and sober now, and back working with the Royals. When I met him at the Alumni Batting Practice in 2011, he was as pleasant as could be.
3. Hal McRae, 1982
412 PA, .310/.381/.549, 60 R, 19 HR, 73 RBI, 25 2B, 3 SB
My childhood memory has McRae permanently etched in the cleanup spot, but before I started paying attention (around the 1983 season), he bounced around the order a lot. Sometimes he would bat fourth, but lots of times heâ€™d hit third, or fifth, or even second. It must be a good feeling for a manager to have a versatile player like that. Plug him in the lineup wherever, and heâ€™ll hit. The 1982 Royals went 90-72 and finished 3 games behind California in the AL West. I suspect that was considered a disappointment. But weâ€™d kill for that today, wouldnâ€™t we?
4. Chili Davis, 1997
227 PA, .316/.427/.553, 30 R, 12 HR, 35 RBI, 9 2B, 2 SB
Chili Davis spent one season with the Royals, and basically split his time between the fourth and fifth spots in the order. He was pretty good in the cleanup spot (.843 OPS), but gangbusters in the fifth spot. For whatever reason. Anyway, the Royals fired manager Bob Boone at the All-Star Break that season, and hired Tony Muser in his place. Boone, who was famous for juggling lineups daily, had Davis bat fourth 19 times and fifth 45 times. Muser had him bat fourth 51 times and fifth 9 times. Thatâ€™s presented without comment.
5. Jeff Francoeur, 2011
388 PA, .300/.348/.529, 52 R, 15 HR, 48 RBI, 35 2B, 11 SB
No, really. This was a solid season for Frenchy, and he gets bonus points for being one of the few Royals to consistently hit in this lineup spot for a whole season. See, I can say nice things about Francoeur!
Joe Randa, 2004
Willie Aikens, 1980
Jermaine Dye, 1999
Emil Brown, 2006
Lou Piniella, 1970
And one that stunkâ€¦
Bob Oliver, 1971
158 PA, .227/.248/.313, 14 R, 2 HR, 22 RBI, 5 2B, 0 SB
There werenâ€™t a lot of outstanding choices for this, um, honor, since usually the number five hitter is at least capable of hitting for a little power. Oliver was a decent player for the Royals in 1969 and 1970, but for whatever reason he really struggled in 1971. I know it was an offensively-challenged era, but those are not good numbers at any spot in the order.