By: Kurtis Seaboldt
There are some iconic numbers in the 50-year history of the Kansas City Royals. Three numbers have been retired by the team. But, what about the others? Who was the best #12? The best #30? The best #43? Well, I took it upon myself to find out. I applied only one condition. The players are judged only on how they played while wearing that number for the Royals. Here they are:
Legend: AS (All-Star Games), MVP (Most Valuable Player), CYA (Cy Young Award), ROY (Rookie of the Year), RHOF (Royals Hall of Fame), HOF (Hall of Fame)
0. Terrance Gore, OF-PR (2014-17) Only two men have worn #0 for the Royals and the other one is George Scott who played just 44 games for KC in 1979. Gore will always be a fun part of the Royals’ 2014-15 run.
1. Cookie Rojas, 2B (1970-77) AS-4. RHOF. Rojas was the Royals’ first fan favorite was also the first Royal to homer in an All-Star Game when he took the Cubs’ Bill Stoneman deep in Atlanta in 1972. Other notables: Buddy Biancalana, Kurt Stillwell, Jarrod Dyson
2. Freddie Patek, SS (1971-79) AS-3. RHOF. This was a close one. Alcides Escobar was the leadoff hitter on a World Series champion but Patek’s WAR as a Royal is more than double Escobar’s (20.5 – 8.6). Finished 6th in the MVP vote in 1971. Other notable: Onix Concepcion
3. Bob Hamelin, DH-1B (1994-96) ROY. He wasn’t around long but he’s one of four Royals to be named Rookie of the Year and that’s enough in a light group. Other notables: Harmon Killebrew, Jorge Orta, Carlos Febles
4. Alex Gordon, 3B-OF (2007-current) AS-3. The 2nd overall pick in the 2005 draft, his career took off after moving to left field in 2011. Seven Gold Gloves and one of the most unforgettable home runs in franchise history. Royals Hall of Fame is next. Other notables: Danny Tartabull, Angel Berroa
5. George Brett, 3B-1B (1973-93) AS-13. MVP. RHOF. HOF. Number retired. You know the story.
6. Willie Wilson, OF (1978-90) AS-2. RHOF. One of the most exciting players in baseball. Won a batting title, a stolen base title, a hits title and led the league in triples five times. Lorenzo Cain was brilliant. But Willie takes this one.
7. John Mayberry, 1B (1972-77) AS-2. RHOF. The Royals’ first offensive force, “Big John” had three 25 HR/100 RBI seasons in his first four years in KC. Finished 2nd in the MVP vote in 1975.
8. Mike Moustakas, 3B (2011-18) AS-2. Moustakas broke the Royals’ 32-year old home run record only to see it fall two years later. Only George Brett (10) hit more postseason home runs for the Royals than Moustakas (6). Other notables: Ed Kirkpatrick, Jim Sundberg
9. Lou Piniella, OF (1969-73) AS-1. ROY. David DeJesus wore the number longer and was a productive and popular player. But Piniella won a Rookie of the Year and played in an All-Star Game (at Royals Stadium, no less) as a Royal. Other notables: Dane Iorg, Drew Butera
10. Paul Schaal, 3B (1969-74) Not much to choose from as Dick Howser took the number when he became Royals manager and no one has worn it since. What Howser would have worn had Clint Hurdle become the player everyone expected, will never be known. Other notable: Hurdle
11. Hal McRae, OF-DH (1973-87) AS-3. RHOF. In the Royals’ top five in almost every career batting category. Other notable: Jeremy Guthrie
12. John Wathan, C-1B-OF (1976-85) Was never a star but was a constant. One of four men to play in every Royals postseason series from 1976-85. The others: Brett, White, Wilson. Set a MLB record for stolen bases by a catcher in 1982. Other notable: Jorge Soler
13. Salvador Perez, C (2011-18) AS-6. This one was not close. This number has produced six All-Star Games and five Gold Gloves. All of them are Perez.
14. Omar Infante, 2B (2014-16) During the Royals’ first Golden Age, the number was worn by a pair of coaches (Steve Boros and Lee May). Infante was the first Royal to wear it in the postseason. That’s enough. Other notables: Bill Buckner, Mark Quinn
15. Carlos Beltran, OF (2001-04) This number is LOADED. Beltran’s three consecutive 24 HR/100 RBI seasons was just enough to edge Whit Merrifield. Darrell Porter actually had the 2nd highest WAR while wearing the number; people forget how good he was as a hitter. Mike Macfarlane wore it for nine years but just misses out on a medal.
16. Bo Jackson, OF (1986-90) AS-1. Who knows what Bo would have done if not for his hobby? Billy Butler also wore the number in an All-Star Game (and a World Series) but Bo gets the nod. Most HR and RBI in a season wearing #16 for the Royals? Dean Palmer (34 and 119) in 1998. Other notables: Joe Randa, Paulo Orlando
17. Wade Davis, P (2014-16) The most dominant reliever in baseball from 2014-16 with an ERA of 1.18 and a WHIP of .892. Other notable: Mark Littell
18. Bret Saberhagen, P (1987-91) CYA. Sabes won his first Cy Young Award while wearing #31 but won his second wearing this number. Also started an All-Star Game (1987) and threw a no-hitter (1991). Other notables: Al Cowens, Johnny Damon, Raul Ibanez, Ben Zobrist
19. Brian Bannister, P (2007-10) Had either Frank White or Willie Wilson kept wearing it, this number would have some history. It does not. Two pitchers had a 12-win season wearing it. Brian Bannister’s was better than that of his father, Floyd, so he wins.
20. Frank White, 2B (1974-90) AS-5. RHOF. Number retired. An eight-time Gold Glove winner, “Smooth” was the best defensive second baseman of his era. If the power that came in his early 30s had come in his late 20s, he might be in Cooperstown.
21. Jeff Montgomery, P (1988-99) AS-3. RHOF. The Royals’ career saves leader, Montgomery’s 45 saves in 1993 was the club record until 2014. Other notables: Buck Martinez, Lonnie Smith
22. Dennis Leonard, P (1974-86) RHOF. From 1975-80, he was the best right-handed pitcher in baseball not named Jim Palmer, winning 20 games three times. That he never made an All-Star Game is amazing. David Cone won the 1994 Cy Young Award wearing the number.
23. Mark Gubicza, P (1984-96) RHOF.Third on the Royals’ career win list with 132. Two Royals have had a 20-win season since 1981. Bret Saberhagen and Gubicza. Zack Greinke won a Cy Young Award wearing the number but Goobie’s overall production and that 20-win season give it to him.
24. Jermaine Dye, OF (1997-2001) AS-1. The average of his 1999-2000 seasons: .308 with 30 HR, 119 RBI and 42 doubles. From 1992 to 2013, he was the only Royals position player to start in an All-Star Game. Other notables: Willie Aikens, Darryl Motley, Christian Colon
25. Kendrys Morales, DH (2015-16) He only wore it for two seasons, but he drove in 100 runs and won a World Series one of them and hit 30 homers in the other. We’ll long remember “The Skip” against Houston. Other notables: Danny Jackson, Tom Poquette
26. Amos Otis, OF (1970-83) AS-5. RHOF. One of the most complete players in the 1970s, Otis could do it all. Hit for average, hit for power and steal bases all while covering one of baseball’s biggest center fields like it was his back yard. Other notable: Steve Farr
27. Adalberto Mondesi, INF (2015-current) Made his postseason debut before his regular-season debut. He’s yet to equal his seemingly vast potential but he’s been good enough to win this spot. Other notable: Luis Aquino
28. Ken Harvey, INF (2001-05) AS-1. Yep. Ken Harvey. Take a look at the list. Ken Harvey.
29. Dan Quisenberry, P (1979-88) AS-3. RHOF. Maybe the toughest call on this list. Quiz led the league in save five times from 1980-85. Five times he was in the top five of the Cy Young vote. Mike Sweeney was a five-time All-Star whose 144 RBI in 2000 is still a club record. Other notable: Doug Bird
30. Yordano Ventura, P (2013-16) Another tough call here. U.L. Washington played eight years for the Royals and was a fan favorite, but he was never an impactful player. Ventura was and there’s no telling where he would have gone. Other notables: Kirk Gibson, Jose Offerman
31. Bret Saberhagen, P (1984-86) CYA. Won the first of his two Cy Young Awards in this number. There’s also that World Series MVP Award. Thirty-two different players have worn this number, making it the most issued number in club history. Other notable: Ian Kennedy.
32. Larry Gura, P (1976-85) AS-1. Among pitchers with at least 100 decisions for the Royals, only Al Fitzmorris has a higher win percentage than Gura (.587). Released by the Royals five months before winning their first World Series.
33. Kevin Seitzer, INF (1986-91) AS-1. Led the league in hits in 1987, finishing second to Mark McGwire for Rookie of the Year. Hit .294 in his career with the Royals. Close call over James Shields, whose 27-win, two-year stint with the Royals set them up for World Series glory. Other notable: Marty Pattin
34. Paul Splittorff, P (1971-84) RHOF. The Royals’ first 20-game winner and their all-time leader in wins (166).
35. Eric Hosmer, 1B (2011-17) AS-1. Productive hitter and clubhouse leader of a World Champion. Four-time Gold Glove winner. Drove in an amazing 29 runs in 31 postseason games for the Royals. Other notables: Roger Nelson, Hipolito Pichardo
36. Carlos Beltran, OF (1998-99) ROY. Had more production after switching to #15 but a Rookie of the Year award was just enough to hold off 2015 World Series hero Edinson Volquez. Other notable: Paul Byrd
37. Charlie Leibrandt, P (1984-89) Leibrandt won 76 games in six seasons with the Royals including a 17-9 mark with a 2.69 ERA in 1985. Other notable: Jeff Suppan
38. Rich Gale, P (1978-81) Won 14 games as a rookie in 1978. Won 13 for the 1980 AL champs.
39. Al Fitzmorris, P (1973-76) Fitz was 44-29 with a 3.17 ERA from 1974-76. Had Whitey Herzog not sent him to the doghouse for the 1976 ALCS – he didn’t pitch an inning after winning 15 games that season – the Royals might have won the pennant. Other notable: Al Hrabosky
40. Steve Busby, P (1972-80) AS-2. RHOF. Perhaps the most maddening “what if” scenario in club history. Busby won 56 games from 1973-75 and pitched the franchise’s first two no-hitters. A torn rotator cuff early in 1976 essentially ended his career, right as the Royals were about to be a postseason fixture. What if, indeed.
41. Danny Duffy, P (2013-current) Dick Drago had seven more wins but 19 more losses. Duffy has a World Series ring and his career WAR is higher than Drago’s with more years to come.
42. Tom Goodwin, OF (1995-97) No one has worn this number since MLB retired it for Jackie Robinson and no one who wore it before Goodwin did anything of import. At least Goodwin had two 50-steal seasons.
43. Bruce Dal Canton, P (1971-75) Aaron Crow wore the number to an All-Star Game but his 20-11 record and 3.43 ERA hide a 1.322 WHIP, terrible for someone who is a pure reliever. Dal Canton was a slightly better than average starter/reliever for KC for four seasons.
44. Luke Hochevar, P (2007-16) He never lived up to his status as a #1 overall pick, but he holds a special place in Royals history. His conversion to a one-inning reliever was timely. He missed 2014 after Tommy John surgery but returned in 2015, turning HDH into HHD. From goat to fan favorite.
45. Steve Balboni, 1B (1985-88) He hit 28 HR for KC in 1984, wearing #18. He switched to #45 the next year and set a club HR record that would last three decades. His single in the 9th inning of Game 6 against the Cardinals turned good fortune into a true rally. Other notable: Aaron Guiel
46. Ryan Madson, P (2015) Yes, he allowed the HR that tied Game 6 against Toronto. But he came off injury and THREE YEARS of inactivity to post a 2.13 ERA and .963 WHIP in 68 appearances.
47. Johnny Cueto, P (2015) His brief regular-season stay was panic-inducing, to say the least. But he was brilliant in Game 5 against Houston and even more brilliant in Game 2 against the Mets. The Royals don’t win the World Series without him.
48. Joakim Soria, P (2007-11, 2016-17) AS-2. The Rule 5 acquisition quickly became one of the best closers in baseball. Jim Colborn had an 18-win season and threw a no-hitter in 1977 but Soria gets the win here.
49. Steve Crawford, P (1989) Not much at all for this one. Crawford’s 3-1 record and 2.83 ERA for a 92-win team in 1989 is enough.
50. Jose Rosado, P (1996-2000) AS-2. A fourth-place finish in the Rookie of the Year vote was followed by a pair of All-Star Game nods. More than good enough here.
51. Jason Vargas, P (2014-17) Among pitchers with at least 50 decisions for the Royals, Vargas has the highest career win percentage (.596). He led the AL in wins with 18 in 2017. In the end, Vargy threw the ball well.
52. Bruce Chen, P (2009-14) C’MON, CHEN! One of the more delightful reclamation projects in club history. Went 24-15 for a pair of 90-loss teams in 2010-11. Other notable: Mike Boddicker
53. Melky Cabrera, OF (2011,17) In his first season with the Royals, he had 201 hits, scored 102 runs, hit 44 doubles and 18 homers, drove in 87 and hit .305 with an .809 OPS. That’ll get it done.
54. Mike MacDougal, P (2001-06) AS-1. His lone All-Star nod would be enough to win this one. Buckling the knees of Albert Pujols, Frank Thomas and Barry Bonds in a two-month span is just gravy. Other notable: Ervin Santana
55. Kevin Appier, (1989-95) AS-1. RHOF. From 1990-95, only Roger Clemens was better in the AL. Won 18 games in 1993 and led the league in ERA at 2.56. Gil Meche also wore the number in an All-Star Game, but Ape was better.
56. Greg Holland, P (2010-15) AS-2. Holds the top two spots on the club’s single-season saves list and closed out both an ALDS and ALCS in a one-week span, saving all four wins against Baltimore. Brad Keller has a chance, but he has some work to do. Other notable: Brian McRae
57. Mike Magnante, P (1991-96) In a thin group, Mags wins just by hanging around. Glenn Sparkman has a shot.
58. Hipolito Pichardo, P (1992) As a rookie, he won 9 games with a 3.95 ERA. Good enough.
59. Felipe Paulino, P (2011-12) 7-7 with a 3.55 ERA was enough to hold off D.J. Carraso.
60. Hunter Dozier, INF (2016) He wore it for just 8 games but he’s the only player to wear the number for the Royals.
61. Kevin McCarthy, P (2016-current) He’s 11-6 with a 3.76 ERA and shows promise. It was mildly tempting to give it to Bob Hegman, whose only MLB game came in 1985. In the first game of a doubleheader with Detroit, he played the ninth inning as a defensive replacement at second base, “hitting” in George Brett’s spot in the lineup. No one hit the ball to him. He’s the only player in the majors since at least the 1950s to have played in at least one game without batting, running the bases, getting a chance in the field or pitching to a batter. Remarkable.
62. Sam Gaviglio, P (2017) Yikes. Eight players have worn this uniform, three of them have career ERAs over 20 (Ryan Verdugo 32.40, Eric Stout 23.14, Aaron Brooks 20.57) By comparison, Gaviglio’s 3.00 in four appearances makes him look like April 2009 Greinke.
63. Josh Staumont, P (2019-current) His 3.72 ERA as a rookie in 2019 shows some promise despite the walks. He gets the nod over Yohan Pino, who put up a 3.26 ERA in seven appearances in 2015.
64. Matt Strahm, P (2016-17) I can’t believe you’re still reading this. But he was the best.
65. Jakob Junis, P (2017-current) As one of only two men to wear this number for the Royals, this is a pretty easy call. Sorry… *checks notes*… Josh Rupe.
66. Ryan O’Hearn, 1B (2018-current) Sorry, Roman Colon.
67. Francisley Bueno, P (2012-14) He was 2-1 with a 2.98 ERA in 56 games for KC. Muy Bueno.
68. Jake Newberry, P (2018-current) Sorry, Wilking Rodriguez.
69. Eric Skoglund, P (2017) Only player to ever wear this number. It’s one of three numbers to only have one player.
72. Meibrys Viloria, C (2018-current) Sorry, Enny Romero.
91. Hideo Nomo, P (2008) Somehow finished two of the three games he pitched for the Royals despite an ERA of 18.69.