The following is a detailed history of the Kansas City Royals, a Major League Baseball team that began play in 1969 in Kansas City, Missouri. The team is currently in the American League Central Division. The franchise has won one wild card berth, seven division titles, four league championships, and two World Series titles.
When the Kansas City Athletics moved to Oakland after the 1967 season, Kansas City was left without major league baseball or, for the first time since 1883, professional baseball at all. Athletics owner Charlie Finley explored many relocation plans and essentially shunned Kansas City before the franchise even left. An enraged Senator Stuart Symington threatened to introduce legislation removing baseball's antitrust exemption unless Kansas City was granted a team in the next round of expansion. Major League Baseball complied with a hasty round of expansion at the 1967 winter meetings. Kansas City was awarded one of four teams to begin play in 1971. However, Symington was not satisfied with having Kansas City wait three years for baseball to return, and pressured MLB to allow the new teams to start play in 1969. Symington's intervention may have contributed to the financial collapse of the Royals' companion expansion team, the Seattle Pilots, who had to begin play in 1969 before they were ready (the league required new franchises to enter in pairs to preserve symmetry for scheduling purposes).
Pharmaceutical executive Ewing Kauffman won the bidding for the new Kansas City team. He conducted a contest to determine the best and most appropriate name for the new franchise. Sanford Porte from Overland Park, Kansas submitted the name Royals, in recognition of Missouri's billion-dollar livestock industry. His suggestion was that the American Royal best exemplified Kansas City through its pageantry and parade, so the new team should be named the Royals. The name was selected out of 17,000 submissions and the Royals Board voted 6–1 to adopt the name. The one dissenting vote was Mr Kauffman's. He eventually changed his mind after the name grew on him. (Some sources say it was in honor of the Kansas City Monarchs, a Negro leagues team.) The team's logo, a crown atop a shield with the letters "KC" inside the shield, was created by Shannon Manning, an artist at Hallmark Cards, based in Kansas City.
The Royals began operations with General Manager Cedric Tallis, who soon developed a reputation as the best trader in the league. The first big trade was with fellow expansion team Seattle, which brought in 1969 Rookie of the Year Lou Piniella. In their inaugural game, on April 8, 1969, the Royals defeated the Minnesota Twins 4–3 in 12 innings. Two pitching stars from the Baltimore Orioles team that won the 1966 World Series pitched for the Royals in the inaugural game: Wally Bunker threw the franchise's very first pitch, and Moe Drabowsky won the game in relief. After finishing the season in 5th place, the Royals' next trade cemented a reputation as a speedy team. Third baseman Joe Foy was traded to the New York Mets for speedy outfielder Amos Otis, who would become the Royals' first star. Further one-sided trades brought to the Royals second baseman Cookie Rojas, bullpen ace Ted Abernathy, shortstop Fred Patek, first baseman John Mayberry and left fielder Hal McRae. The Royals also invested in a strong farm system and in the early years developed such future stars as pitchers Paul Splittorff and Steve Busby, infielders George Brett and Frank White, and outfielder Al Cowens.
In 1971, the Royals had their first winning season, with manager Bob Lemon guiding them to a second-place finish. In 1973, under Jack McKeon, the Royals adopted their iconic "powder blue" road uniforms and moved from Municipal Stadium to the brand-new Royals Stadium. The stadium had deep outfield walls and artificial turf, and gave future young stars the opportunity to build a playing style involving aggressive baserunning and good defense. The stadium, part of the Truman Sports Complex, was built alongside Arrowhead Stadium, the home of the Kansas City Chiefs of the National Football League (NFL). Unlike many of the new stadiums going up at the time, Kansas City chose dedicated stadiums for their sports teams over one multi-purpose stadium.
Manager Whitey Herzog replaced McKeon in 1975, and the Royals began their ascension to the top of the American League West. They finished 1975 with a 91–71 record, second to the Oakland Athletics. That season, John Mayberry finished second to Boston's Fred Lynn in the MVP voting. The 1976 season brought secured dominance to the Royals. First, George Brett defeated his own teammate Hal McRae to win the batting title on the season's final day. Second, the Royals won the first of three straight Western Division championships. They lost to the New York Yankees in three straight American League Championship Series encounters, despite winning more regular season games in two of those years. In two of those years, they lost the AL Championship Series in the ninth inning of the fifth and final game. However, the three playoffs series helped George Brett become a superstar, as he homered three times in a losing effort in the final game of the 1978 playoff series. In addition to a nucleus of Brett, White, McRae, and Cowens, these Royals teams featured pitchers Dennis Leonard and Larry Gura, closer Dan Quisenberry, and position players Willie Wilson, U.L. Washington and Darrell Porter. The 1977 season, however, ended on another sour note as Herzog demanded that John Mayberry be traded or he would threaten to leave the team. This resulted in Mayberry being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays.
After the Royals finished in second place in 1979, Herzog was fired and replaced by Jim Frey. Most believe that the firing was due to Herzog's strained relationship with the Royals front office including General Manager Joe Burke, owner Ewing Kauffman, and Kauffman's wife, Muriel. Under Frey, the Royals rebounded in 1980 and advanced to the ALCS, where they again faced the Yankees. The team was led by Brett, who flirted with a .400 batting average and won the AL MVP, and Willie Wilson, who electrified crowds with stolen bases and inside-the-park home runs.
In the 1980 ALCS, the Royals finally vanquished the Yankees in a three-game sweep punctuated by a George Brett home run off Yankees' star closer Goose Gossage. Frank White was named the playoffs MVP for all-around steady play and heroics. However, after reaching their first World Series, the Royals fell to the Philadelphia Phillies in six games. The Phillies featured future Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton, as well as all-time hits leader Pete Rose. In the series, Willie Aikens became the first player in World Series history to homer twice in two separate Series games.
The Royals returned to the post-season in 1981, losing to the Oakland Athletics in a unique divisional series resulting from the split-season caused by the 1981 Major League Baseball strike.
In 1983, the Royals were headed for a second-place finish behind the Chicago White Sox when they were rocked by scandals. The first event added another chapter to the team's heated rivalry with the Yankees. In a July game between the two teams, third baseman George Brett hit a go-ahead home run in the top of the ninth inning. After Brett crossed home plate and returned to the dugout, Yankees manager Billy Martin complained that Brett had more pine tar on his bat than baseball's rules allowed. After inspecting the bat, the umpires disallowed the home run and called Brett out, ending the game. The signature image from the event was Brett storming angrily out of the dugout to argue the call.
The second scandal of the 1983 season was far more serious, involving a truly illegal substance and several Royals players. Leadoff hitter and center fielder Willie Wilson, power-hitting first baseman Willie Aikens, power-hitting outfielder Jerry Martin, and starting pitcher Vida Blue, who had been released on August 5, were charged with attempting to purchase cocaine. The four were charged in October 1983, pleaded guilty, spent three months in prison, and were suspended by commissioner Bowie Kuhn for the entire 1984 season. The four appealed and were permitted to return on May 15. In response to the scandal, owner Ewing Kauffman founded the Ewing Marion Kauffman foundation to give back to the community, allowed Martin to depart via free agency, and traded Aikens, retaining only Wilson's services.
The 1983 season was also notable for some transitional changes in the Royals organization. First, owner Ewing Kauffman sold 49% of his interest to Memphis developer Avron Fogelman. Second, John Schuerholz was named general manager. Schuerholz soon bolstered the farm system with pitchers Bud Black, Danny Jackson, Mark Gubicza, David Cone, and Bret Saberhagen, as well as hitters such as Kevin Seitzer.
Under the leadership of manager Dick Howser, the Royals – relying on Brett's bat and the young pitching of Saberhagen, Gubicza, Bud Black, Danny Jackson, and Charlie Leibrandt – won the franchise's fifth division championship in 1984, although they were swept by the eventual World Series champion Detroit Tigers in the American League Championship Series
Main article: 1985 Kansas City Royals season
In the 1985 regular season the Royals topped the Western Division for the sixth time in ten years, led by Bret Saberhagan's Cy Young Award-winning performance. In the last week of the season, Brett put on an amazing hitting streak that led the Royals climb from behind to overtake the California Angels in the standings. Throughout the ensuing playoffs, the Royals repeatedly put themselves into difficult positions, but improbably managed to escape each time. With the Royals down two games to zero in the American League Championship Series against the Toronto Blue Jays, George Brett put on a hitting show in game three, homering in his first two at bats and then doubling to the same right field location in his third at-bat. After falling behind 3–1 in the series, the Royals eventually rallied to win the series 4-3 (notably, the LCS had been expanded to a best-of-seven format for the first time in 1985, which allowed the Royals to survive at all). Brett was named ALCS MVP.
Main article: 1985 World Series
In the 1985 World Series against the cross-state St. Louis Cardinals – the so-called "I-70 Series" because the two teams are both located in the state of Missouri and connected by Interstate 70 – the Royals again fell behind 3–1. The key game in the Royals' comeback was Game Six. Facing elimination, the Royals trailed 1–0 in the bottom of the ninth inning, before rallying to score two runs and win. The rally was helped by a controversial call at first base by umpire Don Denkinger, which allowed Royals outfielder Jorge Orta to reach base safely as the first baserunner of the inning.
Following Orta's single, the Cardinals seemingly lost their concentration, dropping an easy popout and suffering a passed ball, before the Royals won with a bloop base hit by seldom used pinch hitter Dane Iorg, a former utility player for the Cardinals. Following the tension and frustration of Game Six, the Cardinals came undone in Game Seven, and the Royals won 11–0 to clinch the franchise's first World Series title.
In 1986, the Royals fell suddenly from contender status, finishing with a 76-86 record and in 3rd place, 16 games behind the AL West champion California Angels. They also made one of the worst trades in franchise history, trading native Kansas Citian and future perennial All-Star David Cone for Ed Hearn. Hearn played for less than a month in Kansas City. The Royals were the trendy pre-season pick to return to the World Series in 1987, but the season proved bittersweet for the Royals. The team went 83-79 (a seven win improvement from 1986), and wound up finishing two games behind the eventual World Champion Minnesota Twins in the Western Division. Further, on June 17, 1987, Dick Howser died after a year-long battle with brain cancer. Howser's #10 soon became the first number that the Royals retired. Also in 1987, the team released longtime star Hal McRae and selected John Wathan as its new manager in midseason after firing Billy Gardner.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Royals developed young stars such as Bo Jackson, Tom Gordon, and Kevin Seitzer, made some successful free-agent acquisitions, and generally posted winning records, but always fell short of the post-season. For example, in 1989, the Royals won 92 games and posted the third-best record in baseball, but did not qualify for the playoffs, finishing second in their division behind the eventual World Series champion Oakland Athletics. They also traded their star pitchers for questionable talent: Charlie Leibrandt for Gerald Perry, Bud Black for Pat Tabler, Danny Jackson for Kurt Stillwell, and Bret Saberhagen for Kevin McReynolds, Gregg Jefferies and Keith Miller.
At the end of the 1989 season, the team boasted a powerhouse pitching rotation, including the AL Cy Young Award-winner Bret Saberhagen (who set franchise record 23 wins that year), two-time All-Star Mark Gubicza (a 15-game winner in 1989) and 1989 AL Rookie of the Year runner-up Tom Gordon (who won 17 games that year). But the organization felt it was still missing a few necessary pieces to give its divisional rival Oakland Athletics a run for their money. For one thing, the Royals had been without a high-caliber closing pitcher since All-Star Dan Quisenberry was dropped in 1988. So prior to the 1990 season, the Royals acquired Mark Davis, the 1989 National League Cy Young Award-winner and league leader in saves, signing him to a four-year $13 million contract (the largest annual salary in baseball history at the time). The Royals also signed starting pitcher starting pitcher Storm Davis, who was coming off a career-high 19-game win season (third-best in the AL), to a three-year $6 million contract. Finally, the team also added pitcher Richard Dotson and traded for 1988 All-Star first baseman Gerald Perry. Kansas City's milestone off-season in 1989–1990 was its biggest commitment to free agents in the club's entire history.
Despite the promising off-season moves, the team suffered critical bullpen injuries while both newly signed Davises experienced lackluster seasons in 1990. The Royals concluded the season with a 75–86 record, in second-to-last place in the AL West (and with the worst franchise record since 1970). To make matters worse Bo Jackson – the team's potential future franchise player – suffered a devastating hip injury while playing football in the off-season, so the Royals waived him during spring training in 1991.
Many of the team's highlights from this era instead centered on the end of Brett's career, such as his third and final batting title in 1990 – which made him the first player to win batting titles in three different decades – and his 3,000th hit. Though the team dropped out of contention from 1990 to 1992, through the strike-shortened 1994 season, the Royals still could generally be counted on to post winning records. The 1994 season was the club's last flirtation with greatness for two decades. Led by manager Hal McRae and Cy Young Award-winner David Cone (whom owner Ewing Kauffman had re-signed), the Royals had a 14-game winning streak just before the season ended prematurely due to the players' strike.
At the start of the 1990s, the Royals had been hit with a double-whammy when General Manager John Schuerholz departed in 1990 and team owner Ewing Kauffman died in 1993. Kauffman's death left the franchise without permanent ownership. Wal-Mart CEO David Glass, a longtime friend of Kauffman, took over as interim CEO while the Kauffman estate pursued a sale.
Ultimately, Glass purchased the team himself for $96 million in 2000. Lawyer and minor league baseball owner Miles Prentice actually submitted a larger bid than Glass. However, MLB determined that Prentice did not have enough net worth to be a viable owner. With none of Kansas City's wealthy families willing to even consider buying the Royals (or any existing or potential professional team in Kansas City), Glass was the only viable bidder who had any interest in buying the team and keeping it in town.
Partly because of the resulting lack of leadership, after the 1994 season the Royals decided to reduce payroll by trading pitcher David Cone (again) and outfielder Brian McRae, then continued their salary dump in the 1995 season. In fact, the team payroll, which was always among the league's highest, was sliced from $40.5 million in 1994 (fourth-highest in the major leagues) to $18.5 million in 1996 (second-lowest in the major leagues).
In 1997, the Royals franchise had the opportunity to switch to the National League and play in the NL Central alongside its intrastate rival St. Louis Cardinals. The opportunity arose because Major League Baseball was planning to realign the divisions in preparation for expansion with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Bud Selig, baseball's acting commissioner and Milwaukee Brewers owner, gave the Royals the first option to change to the National League. That summer, the Royals were mired in the team's worst season since its second year of existence. Further, following Ewing Kauffman death, the franchise was being run by a board of directors and was up for sale. Ultimately, the board declined the move, and Milwaukee switched leagues instead.
Some commentators have argued that the Royals should have made the move. According to their logic, if the Royals had changed leagues, the team would have played the Cardinals more often and would have been in the same division with the Chicago Cubs; these teams might have drawn bigger crowds to Kauffman Stadium. Further, with no designated hitter in the National League, there would have been one less big salary to pay, which would have been easier for the Royals' front office to manage. Opinion at the time was fairly split. The Royals polled their fans, and reported that a slight majority of the 1,500 who returned surveys approved a move to the NL. Many fans, including former Royal Greg Pryor, thought that switching leagues was the only way to keep the Royals in Kansas City. On the other hand, there was also a strong sentiment among some fans that Kansas City was, is, and always would be an American League market. Back then, the glory years weren't that far removed, and the emotional tie to the rivalry with the Yankees, for instance, was still burning. There was nothing in Kauffman's will or known feelings about how he would have received a move to the National League.
As the decade drew to a close, attendance at Royals games slid while the average MLB salary continued to rise, and the Royals found it difficult to retain their remaining stars. The team decided to trade players such as Kevin Appier, Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye for prospects rather than pay higher salaries or lose them to free agency. By 1999, the Royals' payroll had fallen again to $16.5 million. Making matters worse, most of the younger players that the Royals received in exchange for these All-Stars proved of little value, setting the stage for an extended downward spiral.
In 1999, the Royals set a franchise low with a .398 winning percentage (64-97 record), and lost 97 games again in 2001. The records could have been even worse without the rapid development of center fielder Carlos Beltrán (Rookie of the Year in 1999) and first baseman Mike Sweeney.
In 2002, the Royals set a new team record for futility, losing 100 games for the first time in franchise history. The team also introduced new black and dark blue jerseys for alternate games, and also sleeveless home jerseys. The jerseys were met with mixed reactions in Kansas City, and eventually, by the 2006 season, the Royals again changed their uniforms back to their "old" style.
The 2003 season saw a temporary end to the losing, when manager Tony Peña, in his first full season with the club, guided the team to its first winning record (83–79) since 1994 and finished in third place in the AL Central. He was named the American League Manager of the Year for his efforts, and shortstop Ángel Berroa was named AL Rookie of the Year.
On December 10, 2012, in an attempt to strengthen the pitching staff (which was among the worst in baseball in 2012), the Royals traded for Rays pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis for Royals top prospect Wil Myers and three others. This trade helped catalyze a return to winning records.
The 2013 season got off to a very good start, as the Royals remained over .500 nearly most of April during regular season play. The team also didn't commit an error in its first seven games (for 64+2⁄3 innings) for the first time in team history. On September 22, the Royals won their 82nd game of the season, to clinch their first winning season since 2003. The Royals finished the season 86–76, in third place in the AL Central, securing the team's best winning percentage since 1994.
The 2014 season was even more successful, featuring a return to the post-season for the first time in 29 years. On July 21, the Royals had a losing record (48–50) and were 8 games behind the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central standings. But spurred by a 22–5 record from July 22 to August 19, the Royals surged into first place in the AL Central. The Royals reached the top of the division standings on August 11, after winning their eighth game in a row. This marked the latest date the Royals had led their division since August 29, 2003. After taking over first place on August 11, the Royals retained the division lead for a month, falling out of first place permanently on September 12. The Royals finished the regular season one game behind Detroit in the AL Central, but secured the franchise's first ever wild card berth and first playoff appearance in 29 years.
The team's final regular season record of 89–73 in 2014 represented the most wins for the Royals since 1989. Coupled with a ten-game winning streak in June 2014, the Royals' eight-game winning streak in August 2014 was the second streak of at least that long during the same season, something the franchise had accomplished only three times previously – in 1977, 1978, and 1980.
The Royals made the most of that playoff run in 2014, going a record 8–0 for the first three rounds. They defeated the Oakland Athletics in the Wild Card Game, then swept both the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Baltimore Orioles in the ALDS and ALCS, respectively. However, the Royals fell a win short in the World Series, losing to the San Francisco Giants in seven games.
Main article: 2015 Kansas City Royals season
Energized by the previous season's playoff run, the 2015 Royals won the American League Central, earning their first division title since 1985. In the ALDS against the Houston Astros, the Royals trailed in the series 2–1, and were on the verge of elimination after trailing by four runs heading into the eighth inning of Game 4. However, Kansas City scored seven runs in the final two innings to force a deciding game, before eliminating the Astros to advance to the ALCS. In a rematch of the 1985 ALCS against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Royals shut down Toronto's high-powered offense, winning the series in six games and advancing to their second straight World Series.
Main article: 2015 World Series
In the 2015 World Series against the New York Mets, the Royals continued to live up to their reputation as clutch performers. In Game 1, Alex Gordon tied the game in the bottom of the ninth inning with a home run, before Eric Hosmer drove in a game-winning sacrifice fly in the 14th inning. In Game 4, with the Mets on the verge of tying the series, the Royals scored three runs (one unearned) in the eighth inning to send them to within a game of the championship. Then in Game 5, with the Mets three outs away from forcing Game 6, the Royals scored two runs to tie the game, before seldom-used infielder Christian Colón drove in the go-ahead run in the 12th inning, helping Kansas City win 7–2 and clinch their second World Series championship. All Star catcher Salvador Pérez was named Series MVP for his clutch hitting and excellent pitch calling.
Following their World Series title, the Royals immediately fell back into mediocrity, finishing third in the AL Central in 2016 and 2017 with 81–81 and 80–82 records, respectively. The Royals lost All-Stars Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain to free agency and subsequently hit rock bottom once again, finishing both 2018 and 2019 with more than 100 losses. Yost retired at the end of the 2019 season and was replaced by Mike Matheny. In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the Royals went 26–34 in Matheny's first year at the helm.
In 2021, the Royals finished with a 74–88 record and placed fourth in the AL Central for the third year in a row. Salvador Pérez led the American League with 48 home runs and 121 RBIs.