Royals catchers and managers

MLB Top 5: Kansas City Royals Catchers and Managers

This is the first article in a series that looks at the five best players at each position for the Kansas City Royals. In this installment are catchers and managers.

The Kanas City Royals began play in 1969, but had their origins two years earlier, when the Athletics left town and went to Oakland. Facing pressure from fans and Congress, which threatened to pass legislation that would have eliminated its antitrust exemption, Major League Baseball awarded a team to Kansas City (as well as Seattle, Montreal, and San Diego) in 1968. 

The team’s name came from a fan ballot but did not have ties to any monarchy, as many people thought. Kansas City is known for being the nation’s leading livestock market, and the biggest annual livestock show is called the American Royal (which has now also become famous for its barbecue contest). 

Although he was not a baseball fan, Ewing Kauffman made the winning bid, beating out three other prospective buyers and paying $6 million for the rights to the franchise. Kauffman owned Marion Laboratories, a pharmaceutical company he founded in 1950 and turned into a success in the healthcare industry. 

Kauffman let the “baseball people” run the day-to-day operations of the team at first, but he was a quick learner when it came to the game, and he was very competitive. He spoke his mind but was also attentive to the needs of his players. Kauffman created the Kansas City Baseball Academy (although it was actually located in Sarasota, Fla.), a school at which undrafted players could learn the game. 

Although the Royals were enjoying more success than any other expansion team in their first few years, Kauffman was impatient, and the team had five managers in its first seven seasons. However, Kansas City quickly adjusted and in the 10-year period from 1976-85, the club made seven playoff appearances and won six division titles, 

The Royals did not have much playoff success at first, losing to the Yankees in the ALCS for three straight years starting in 1976. The following year, Chris Chambliss hit a series-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning in the deciding game. Kansas City fell in six games to Philadelphia in the 1980 World Series. 

After a loss in the Division Series in 1981 and missing the playoffs the next two years, the Royals went to a fifth ALCS, this time getting swept by the Athletics. In 1985, Kansas City finally broke through, edging out California by a game in the A. L. West and beating Toronto in seven games in the ALCS.

The World Series, called the I-70 Series because it featured a battle of Missouri-based teams, included one of the most controversial plays in baseball history. The Cardinals were winning Game 6 1-0 heading into the bottom of the ninth. Leadoff batter Jorge Orta hits a chopper to the right side, which is fielded by first baseman Jack Clark. He sent a toss to pitcher Todd Worrell, who had gone to first base and was able to set himself to receive the ball, which beat Orta there by a step. The only problem was that first base umpire Don Denkinger called Orta safe. 

Amid the chaos and arguing from Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog (who had managed Kanas City from 1975-79), the Royals forged their comeback. Clark dropped a foul pop-up, allowing Steve Balboni to single. Worrell forced Orta out a third on a bunt attempt, but Hal McRae walked to load the bases. Pinch-hitter Dane Iorg played hero, hitting a single to right field that scored two runs and gave the Royals an improbable victory. The next night, Kansas City routed St. Louis 11-0 in Game 7 for the first championship in franchise history. 

In their first 26 years (1969-95), the Royals finished above .500 a total of 17 times and won at least 90 games in eight seasons. Kansas City became the first team that started play in the Expansion Era (which began in 1961) to have the most wins in the league when the club went 102-60 in 1977. 

Kauffman passed away from bone cancer in 1993, and the stadium was renamed in his honor a month before his death. When he found out about his status, he set up a five-person board to run the team and find a new owner who would keep the team in Kansas City. David Glass, the president of Wal-Mart, was named CEO after Kauffman’s death and, after several agreements fell through, purchased the team himself in 2000 for $96 million. 

The Royals suffered in the 20 years following Kauffman’s passing, posting just three winning seasons and losing 100 or more games four times. Kansas City finally broke through with three straight winning seasons beginning in 2013. The team went to the playoffs as a wild card the following year and got all the way to the World Series before falling in seven games to San Francisco. 

Like they did 30 years earlier, the Royals turned disappointment into success, beating the Mets in five games in the 2015 World Series. Kansas City has not been close to a playoff spot since, finishing in the cellar of the A. L. Central four times and losing more than 100 games in three seasons, including 2023 (the team is 54-103 heading into the season’s final week). 

Hopefully, for Royals fans, hope is on the horizon. The stingy Glass sold the team for $1 billion in 2020 to a large group of investors led by energy company magnate John Sherman. The long list of minority owners includes actor Eric Stonestreet and NFL star Patrick Mahomes

The Best Catchers and Managers in Kansas City Royals History

Catchers

Honorable Mentions – Eliseo “Ellie” Rodriguez was the team’s starter in its first two years (1969-70), totaling 115 hits and 35 RBIs in 175 games. He was the club’s only All-Star in its expansion season. 

Ed Kirkpatrick split the catching duties with Rodriguez and played all over the field during his five seasons with Kansas City (1969-73). “Spanky” had his best season in 1970, when he set career highs with 18 home runs and 62 runs batted in. He totaled 471 hits, 56 homers, and 245 RBIs in 613 games. 

Fran Healy played five seasons with the Royals (1969 and 73-76), with a stint with the Giants in between. His best season was in 1974 when he set career highs with nine home runs, 53 runs batted in, and 16 stolen bases. Healy totaled 244 hits, 17 homers, and 106 RBIs in 304 games. However, he is best known for his game-calling. Healy was behind the plate for Steve Busby‘s no-hitters in 1973 (against the Tigers) and the following year (against the Brewers). 

Like Healy, Brent Mayne was known for his defense and work with pitchers. He had 483 hits, 20 home runs, and 205 RBIs in 664 games over nine seasons (1990-95 and 2001-03). Mayne caught Bret Saberhagen‘s no-hitter against the White Sox in 1991 and finished second in fielding percentage four years later.

5. John Buck – He was a typical fielding-first catcher with some pop who had 218 runs, 450 hits, 104 doubles, 70 home runs, and 259 RBIs in 584 games. Buck played in the 2002 MLB Futures Game and finished third in fielding percentage in 2005. His best season with Kansas City was 2006 when he hit .245 with 11 home runs and 50 runs batted in, which was a high during his six seasons with the Royals (2004-09). Buck played for six teams in five years after leaving Kansas City before retiring in 2014. He made his only All-Star team as a member of the Blue Jays in 2005. 

4. John Wathan – He was a deceptively fast catcher who played in Kansas City for 10 years (1976-85) but was the full-time starter in just three of those seasons. Wathan had his best year in the team’s first playoff season in 1980, when he hit .305 with 17 stolen bases and career highs with 138 hits and 58 runs batted in. Two years later, he had a .270 average with 51 RBIs and a career-best 36 steals. 

“Duke” batted 262 with 305 runs, 656 hits, 21 home runs, 261 RBIs, and 105 steals in 860 regular season games. In 18 playoff games, he had five hits, three runs, and an RBI. He struck out in his only at-bat during the 1985 World Series, which was his last Major League game. 

3. Mike Macfarlane – He played 11 seasons with the Royals in two stints (1987-94 and 96-98), spending the 1995 season with the Red Sox. Macfarlane reached the 100-hit mark three times with Kansas City, including in 1993 when he had a .273 average and set career highs with 106 hits, 20 home runs, and 67 runs batted in. 

Overall, he had 361 runs, 717 hits, 174 doubles, 103 homers, and 398 RBIs in 890 games. He was traded to the Athletics and spent most of his final two seasons there before retiring in 1999. 

2. Darrell Porter – After earning one All-Star selection in six seasons with the Brewers, he became known as one of the league’s best catchers during his four-year run with the Royals (1977-80). Porter was a solid defender who caught Jim Colborn’s 1977 no-hitter and finished in the top five in caught-stealing percentage twice. His best season was in 1979 when he led the league with 121 walks (second in team history) and set career highs with 101 runs, 155 hits, 10 triples, 20 home runs, and 112 runs batted in. 

With Kansas City, Porter was selected to the All-Star Game three times and finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting twice. He batted .271 with 290 runs, 514 hits, 61 homers and 301 RBIs in 555 games. In the playoffs, he had 13 hits, seven runs, and three RBIs in 17 contests with the Royals. Porter followed manager Whitey Herzog to the Cardinals and was named the MVP of both the NLCS and the World Series in 1982.  

1. Salvador Perez – He is far and away the best catcher in franchise history, earning eight All-Star selections (with six starts), five gold gloves, and four silver sluggers in 12 seasons (2011-18 and 2020-present). Perez hit at least 20 home runs seven times, led the league in assists by a catcher four times, and drove in more than 80 runs in three seasons. 

Perez had his best offensive year in 2021. He was an All-Star and a silver slugger, finished seventh in the MVP voting, and won the Lou Gehrig Award. He led the league with 48 homers and 121 RBIs. His home run total was tied for the most in team history, the RBI mark (as well as his 170 strikeouts) rank third and his 337 total bases are tied for second. 

“El Niño” has a .267 average and ranks second in franchise history in home runs (245) and strikeouts (1,047), sixth in RBIs (807), seventh in games (1,391), hits (1,407) and total bases (2,420), and eighth in runs scored (596) and doubles (256). He would have had even better career totals had he not missed all of the 2019 season after having Tommy John surgery to replace a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament. 

Perez has totaled 14 runs, 27 hits, five home runs, and 14 RBIs in 31 career postseason games. He was named MVP of the 2015 World Series after batting .364 (8-for-22) the three runs scored and two RBIs. At age 33, Perez is starting to transition out of being the everyday catcher. He appeared in 108 games at designated hitter over the past three seasons and played 22 games at first base in 2023. 

Managers

Honorable Mentions – The team had a pair of Hall of Fame players at the helm in its first few seasons. Former Yankees second baseman Joe “Flash” Gordon led the Royals to a 69-93 record during their expansion season and ex-Indians pitcher Bob Lemon took over a third of the way into the second year and lasted until 1972, posting a 207-218 record. Kauffman removed both managers for being unable to relate to the new generation of players.

Modern baseball fans probably know Jack McKeon from the 2003 season in which he took over the Marlins during the season and rallied them to a World Series title. However, Kansas City was where he got his start. McKeon was managing at Triple-A Omaha when Kauffman hired him to manage in the majors, where he went 215-205 in parts of three seasons (1970-72).

Despite keeping the Royals respectable, McKeon was starting to lose the locker room, so he was let go in favor of Whitey Herzog midway through the 1972 season. Through the years, McKeon continued as a coach and had managerial stints with the Athletics, Padres, Reds, and Marlins. He was also the general manager in San Diego from 1980-90, where he got the nickname “Trader Jack” for his flurry of moves (including trading his own son-in-law). McKeon went 1,051-990 in 16 seasons including a 40-50 record with Florida in 2011 at age 80.

Hal McRae enjoyed a 15-year career as a player with the Royals, but his managerial stint was not as successful. He went 286-277 in four years (1991-94) and had a winning record in three of those seasons. Kansas City was unable to come back from a 1-16 start in 1992 and the team lost 90 games.

McRae managed his son, Brian, while he was with the Royals, but despite the on-field success, he is best remembered for his 1993 postgame tirade in his office that included several expletives and a reporter getting cut by items the manager was throwing off his desk. McRae was let go in 1994 while the players were still on strike.

Tony Muser replaced Bob Boone midway through the 1997 season and spent the next six years (1997-2002) on the Kansas City bench. Although he had a 317-431 record and the Royals didn’t have a winning season under his watch, Muser’s win total ranks fourth in franchise history. He was fired after going 8-15 to start the 2002 season.

Tony Peña finished off the season that Muser started, then won the Manager of the Year Award in 2003 after coaxing an 83-79 record out of virtually the same team. The Royals lost 100 games the following season and Peña was let go after Kansas City started 2005 with an 8-25 record (the season ended with the Royals losing a franchise record 106 games). Overall, he went 198-285 in parts of four seasons (2002-05).

5. John Wathan – He played catcher for the Royals for his entire 10-year playing career then replaced Billy Gardner as manager late in 1989. Although Kanas City never made the playoffs in his watch, the team had two second-place finishes and a third during his five seasons (1989-93). The best year was 1989 when the Royals went 92-70 and ended the season seven games behind the talented Athletics. Wathan had a 287-270 record before he was fired after starting the 1991 season 15-22.

4. Jim Frey – He managed the team for less than two seasons, but he left his mark before his abrupt departure. Frey was hired to replace Whitey Herzog, who was let go despite a winning season in 1979. Owner Ewing Kauffman put a premium on winning and Frey delivered, leading the Royals to a 97-65 record in the regular season (the second-best mark in franchise history) and sweeping the Yankees in the ALCS after New York had won their three previous playoff meetings. Frey and the Royals fell in six games to the Phillies.

Kansas City finished in fifth place in the A. L. West in the first half of the 1981 season when the strike happened. Frey went 10-10 in the second half and was fired after compiling a 127-105 record in his time at the helm. He had a three-year stint as manager of the Cubs (1984-86) winning the Manager of the Year Award in his first season in Chicago.

Frey was the general manager of the Cubs from 1987 until he retired in 1991, and he hired childhood friend and longtime coach Don Zimmer to manage the team. Frey passed away in 2020 at age 88.

3. Dorrel “Whitey” Herzog – The Royals were just four games over .500 when he replaced McKeon midway through the 1975 season. Although Kansas City for the seventh straight year, won 91 games, the most in their brief history.

Herzog instituted “Whiteyball,” which stressed speed, defense, and pitching and the strategy helped the Royals reach the postseason in each of the next three years. Kansas City won at least 90 games every season and set a franchise record with 102 victories in 1977. However, they fell to the Yankees in the ALCS each time.

Despite his unprecedented success, Herzog was fired just like all the other managers before him. He got into conflict with owner Ewing Kauffman, who he said wasn’t concerned with improving the team yet expected winning results. Herzog went 410-305 in five seasons with the Royals (1975-79), with his win total ranking second in team history and his .574 winning percentage sitting atop the franchise’s all-time list.

Herzog found a job across the state, replacing Ken Boyer as manager of the Cardinals in June 1980. Soon the National League found out about “Whiteyball” and St. Louis won three pennants in his 11 seasons at the helm (1980-90). The Cardinals won the World Series over the Brewers in 1982, lost a heartbreaker to Herzog’s old team in 1985 (earning the Manager of the Year Award that season), and fell to the Twins in seven games two years later.

After leaving the Cardinals, Herzog worked various positions with the Angels, including general manager, a spot he held in 1992-93. He amassed a 1,281-1,125 record in 18 seasons as a manager and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 2010.

2. Dick Howser – He took over for Frey fresh off winning 103 games with the Yankees and led the Royals to the playoffs in 1981, where they were swept by the Athletics in the Division Series. Kansas City won 90 games the following year then fell below .500 before reaching the postseason two more times under Howser.

The Royals won a mediocre A. L. West by three games after going 84-78 in 1984 but were swept by the eventual champion Tigers in the ALCS. The following year, Kanas City won 91 games, then went the distance against Toronto in the ALCS and St. Louis in the World Series to give the team its first championship in its 17th season.

Howser was forced to leave the Royals in 1986 after he started experiencing headaches. An examination revealed a malignant tumor in his left frontal lobe that required surgery to remove. Howser tried to come back the following year, but he was physically too weak and resigned after two days. He ranks third in franchise history in victories, amassing a 404-365 record in six seasons (1981-86).

On March 20, 1987, Howser underwent an experimental surgery in which cancer-killing cells called lymphocytes were injected into his brain. Less than three months later, he passed away and was laid to rest in Tallahassee, Florida, near the Florida State campus and the baseball stadium that bears his name.

1. Edgar “Ned” Yost – A former catcher in the 1980s, he was another of the many ex-players who managed the Royals, which he did for 10 seasons (2010-19). He took over a team that had not been to the playoffs in more than two decades and led them back to respectability.

After posting losing records in his first three years, Yost and the Royals had 89 wins and finished a game behind the Tigers in the A. L. Central. Kansas City made the playoffs for the first time in 29 years, then beat Oakland in the Wild Card Game and knocked off Los Angeles and Baltimore to reach the World Series. There, they ran into the buzzsaw known as Madison Bumgarner. The hard-throwing Giants lefty won both of his starts and saved Game 7, giving up just one run and nine hits in 21 innings to earn the series MVP award.

As they had done in 1985, the Royals returned to the World Series for a second straight year in 2015, knocking off the Mets in five games to win their second championship. Yost led Kansas City to a division title and a 95-67 record, the third-best mark in franchise history. The Royals knocked off the Astros and Blue Jays in the playoffs and catcher Salvador Perez earned the MVP award after batting .364 against the Mets.

Yost never got his team to finish higher than third in the division for the rest of his tenure, and he lost more than 100 games in each of his final two seasons. The Royals haven’t finished above .500 in the eight seasons since winning the title. Despite posting a losing record at 746-839, Yost’s win total is by far the best in franchise history. Counting his six seasons with the Brewers, he is 1,203-1,341 in 16 seasons as a Major League manager.

Main Image: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Upcoming Stories

Kansas City Royals Catchers and Managers
Kansas City Royals First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters – coming soon
Kansas City Royals Second Basemen and Shortstops – coming soon
Kansas City Royals Outfielders – coming soon
Kansas City Royals Pitchers – coming soon

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