The Royals have released their team hall of fame ballot, on which fans have a small part of the vote. Like just about every baseball fan, I’ve become ambivalent about that other hall in Cooperstown, but the Royals Hall of Fame remains what a hall of fame should be: a fun honor and celebration of the best and most important people in a given history. The voters have done an excellent job in selecting the 17 players, two owners, two managers, one GM/president, one announcer, one scout, and one groundskeeper to receive a pre-game induction ceremony and plaque in the Hall of Fame building beyond Kauffman Stadium’s left field. Curt Nelson, the hall’s director, has done a fantastic job with the physical museum portion, the website (where you can find video of almost all the induction ceremonies), and making the voting process transparent and fan-inclusive.
As part of my rating system for my top 100 Royals list I’ve come up with a “hall rating” for each player. My rating system is patterned after Adam Darawoski’s work at his Hall of Stats, the basis of which is taking a player’s wins above replacement and wins above average and turning them into a single number called their hall rating. 100 or above means they’re in the Hall of Stats, under 100 means they’re out. (If you want all the messy details about the formula I use for the ratings, see here.) It’s an especially satisfying approach for the baseball hall, which I personally think should be about on-field greatness and little else. I’m undecided if the team hall selections should skew so heavily towards on-field production, and how much things like popularity or how much of the team’s “story” a person embodies should enter into induction. So far, the inductees have been the statistically elite in team history, with the exception of Cookie Rojas, whose stats are unimpressive but was (I gather) a big fan favorite. I can get too caught up in not being able to see past the statistics and sometimes miss a broader context of a player’s story, but the stats are what I can wrap my head around.
Here are the 10 players on this year’s ballot, from lowest to highest hall rating, and my thoughts on their hall worthiness. You can weigh in with a “yes” or “no” vote for each player’s RHOF-worthiness too.
Angel Berroa ∙ 9
Berroa’s story is unfortunately one of disappointment. He earned Rookie of the Year honors in that bizarro 2003 season and became the latest hope that the Royals had finally found a long-term solution at shortstop (a position that has haunted the Royals through most of their existence). But that modestly good season was the high water mark for Berroa’s career. He continued to play almost every day for KC for three more seasons, but something had robbed him of his potential.
Brian Bannister ∙ 22
Banny has the fan-favorite aspect down. Unfortunately a torn shoulder put an end to his career before he could get the longevity and production needed for hall consideration. (I wrote more in-depth about Bannister’s time with the Royals here.)
John Wathan ∙ 35
Wathan is one of those organizational soldiers who has put in so much time in so many different roles that I can understand a case for his induction. His 10 year playing career was spent only with the Royals, and was framed nicely by the team’s first playoff appearance in 1976 and the title in 1985. (Until 2014, there had never been a Royals playoff team without Wathan on it.) After his playing days, he managed the team to a 287-270 record between ’87-’91, and has continued to work for the team in various capacities off and on ever since. But for someone as production minded as me, it’s tough to vote for someone who was mostly used as a back-up/utility player. He averaged just 86 games played a year. He’s the kind of guy it’s nice to have around all these years, but not quite hall-worthy.
Bo Jackson ∙ 36
Along with Darrell Porter, Bo is one of the two on the current ballot that are tough decisions for me. If you subscribe to the idea that the hall members should be the ones who tell the team’s story, Bo is a lock. He was a myth come to life and invigorated baseball in Kansas City for a short time. His career is right in my sentimental wheelhouse too, having played in KC when I was ages seven through 11. I was fully swept up in Bo hype and he’s a big part of why I love baseball. So I’d be happy to see him inducted.
But it’s hard to get past the fact that he didn’t contribute that much to actually winning baseball games. He was the biggest tools freak of all time, making him possibly the most entertaining athlete to watch ever, but what we got to see in Kansas City was the slow process of Bo’s baseball skills growing into those crazy tools. It’s true that even his outs were exciting to witness, but it’s also true that he made outs way too often in the beginning. But he was just too talented, and he steadily improved every season until his production actually caught up with the tools and the hype in 1990 when he had his one truly excellent season. He would have had a glorious peak for many years after that if not for football. Being a two-sport all-star was of course a big part of Bo’s appeal, but it’s also a big negative when it comes to his place in Royals history. The violence of football crosses a line from acceptable brutality into an activity that robs people of their basic health and often even their mental well-being, and by playing football, Bo risked and ultimately lost the years that could have been the grand payoff of his baseball learning pains. He’s one of the best stories in team history. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to become one of the best players.
Al Cowens ∙ 56
Did you know Cowens finished second for the 1977 AL MVP? Wow. He had a fantastic year, the only season his hitting was way above average. His other five years in Royal blue were merely good, which all adds up to a nice, underrated career for AC. Sort of like David DeJesus after him, Cowens was subtly good, with no stand-out skill to make him as appreciated as he could have been. A fine career deserving more recognition than it gets, but not a team Hall of Fame career.
Gil Meche ∙ 58
Meche is almost unique in Royals history as a big professional free agent signing that actually worked out. (Steve Farr and David Cone went on to more success as free agent signings, but Farr wasn’t a big signing at the time considering he was 27, had just half a season in the big leagues, and the Indians had just released him outright. Cone’s signing was definitely a big one, but it also pre-dated the era when the Royals generally couldn’t or wouldn’t spend with the richest teams in free agency.) The Royals blew the market out of the water giving Meche a rich five-year deal heading into the 2007 season, and it paid off handsomely for the first two years as Meche piled up quality innings. The team may have let him pile up too many innings though, as his health, innings, and effectiveness diminished greatly in ’09 and ’10. Meche shocked the house by retiring before the ’11 season, leaving his Royals legacy built mostly on those two excellent first years. Not enough for the hall.
Al Fitzmorris ∙ 81
Fitzmorris was a huge get for the Royals in the ’68 expansion draft, and he pitched admirably for them all the way until KC lost him, ironically enough, in the ’76 expansion draft. Some of his raw numbers rank surprisingly high in team history, such as his 3.46 ERA (fifth in team history for pitchers with 500 IP) and .593 winning percentage (first in team history). Drilling down a little deeper though, Fitzmorris falls down the lists a bit. His adjusted ERA+ is 106, which is good, but right around other good but not great guys like Doug Bird, Jeremy Guthrie, and Jeff Suppan. Fitzmorris had no strikeout power to speak of, but learned to limit walks and home runs as his career progressed. His spot in team history is probably a little under-appreciated, but I regard him in a group of the best pitchers who aren’t quite hall worthy along with guys like Tom Gordon, Danny Jackson, and David Cone.
Kevin Seitzer ∙ 89
Seitz is similar to Fitzmorris in that group of the very best Royals careers that fall just shy of hall-worthiness. My silly hall rating is anything but definitive, but Seitzer has the highest hall rating of any player under 100. He put together four strong offensive seasons between 1987-90, accomplished by hitting lots of singles and doubles and actually taking something called “walks,” a foreign concept for most Royals throughout team history. His .380 OBP is best among the 39 humanoids who have 2,000+ plate appearances for KC. That alone is enough to make him a strong candidate for the hall, and I’d be happy to see him elected. But he really only had two truly excellent seasons, and overall probably ranks around the 15th most productive hitter in team history on a counting basis. Very good, but not quite enough in my book.
Darrell Porter ∙ 106
I go back and forth on Porter. He’s hard to judge because his time with KC was so short (four seasons) but so good. He possessed a wicked bat that would have played at any position, but Porter didn’t play just any position. He’s the only catcher the team has ever had to be a well above average hitter. Stats like WAR peg him as hall-worthy, but unfortunately it’s tough to place too much trust in WAR for catchers. Getting the positional adjustment and especially defensive contributions of a receiver factored into WAR is a tricky thing. I think Porter is a guy I really would have had to have watched for myself to judge properly. I gather his defensive reputation was fair, known for having a terrific arm but average “receiving” skills. I don’t know. I’d yield my vote to people who both saw his career with the Royals and give credence to advanced hitting stats. This is a weird way to look at it and probably shouldn’t enter into it, but I think if Porter were still alive I would really hope to see him honored. As it is, I’m on the fence.
Mike Sweeney ∙ 108
Sweeney is a pretty clear choice for the hall. There was plenty of disappointment revolving around his struggles to stay healthy and lack of team success, but overall, he gave the team everything he could for more than a decade. That included a long stretch as one of the AL’s elite hitters from 1999-2005 and an even longer stretch as the face and leader of the team.