Thursday, December 1, 2011

1977 Kansas City Royals

This offering might have been Whitey Herzog's best Royals team ever.  They won 102 games and easily cruised to an 8 game margin over the Rangers to take their second consecutive AL West Crown.

The Royals had a great blend of power, speed, pitching along with the best young players that the game had to offer.  What KC didn't have was veteran leadership.  The oldest member of the squad was Cookie Rojas, who was a 38 year old part timer that had been through the wars.  Unfortunately for the Royals Rojas pennant race experiences always came up on the short side of the ledger.  His first taste of a pennant race came in his first full season in the big leagues with the 1964 Phillies.  Nothing further needs to be said about that.  Since his arrival in KC in 1971 he came into his own and became a 4 time All-Star, then Frank White's mentor at second base, but no post season success.  If you could point to one flaw in this team it would have to be that they never acquired a key veteran down the stretch who had a World Series ring, something the Yankees always seemed to have.

The Royals had 3 guys who hit over 20 homers.  DH Hal McRae, who had be an uncontested failure as a Cincinnati Red found his home in KC and became the top DH in the game.  He hit 21 homers with 98 RBI's, while batting .298.  John Mayberry hit 23 homers and had 82 RBI's and Hall of Famer in the making George Brett, at the age of 24, already had a batting title under his belt.  Brett hit .312 with 22 homers and 88 RBI's.  Amos Otis was a vacuum in centerfield, who stole 23 bases.  Frank White also stole 23 bases, but his true value was in the field, where he won the first of his 8 gold gloves at second.  Freddie Patek, White's keystone mate, stole a team leading 53 bases and turned the DP with the best of them.  He was the heart and soul of this KC team.  Catcher Darrell Porter had a sweet lefty bat that produced numbers equal to that of All-Star catcher Thurman Munson.  The bench was rock solid.  Pet LaCock (.303), Joe Zdeb (.297) and John Wathan (.328) could be counted on for spot starts and flexibility.

Their Royals pitching staff was #1 in the league in most pitching categories.  Dennis Leonard (20-12, 3.04) was the ace.  Jim Colborn, a veteran acquired from Milwaukee sucked up innings and was 18-14 (3.62).  Number 3 starter Paul Splittorff was 16-6 (3.69).  If you got to the starters you had to face a bullpen that had 3 guys who finished in double digits in saves.  Doug Bird (11-4, 3.88, 14 saves) logged 118 innings.  Veteran Marty Pattin (10-3, 3.58) was the swingman, who started 10 times and relieved 21 times.  Larry Gura (10 saves), Mark Littell (12 saves) and Steve Mingori (4 saves) rounded out this deep pen.  The only knock on this group was that it didn't have a dominant reliever like a Sparky Lyle.  For the regular season this wouldn't matter much.  In the post season this was another story.  The Royals were built for the long marathon of 162 games, but they did not have the experience or a dominant individual to win the day in a short 5 game series, which has been well chronicled.

Because the Royals typically built from within and consistently didn't turn over personnel I only had to add 14 new cards to finish off their 1977 set.  Half of those cards would be considered "rookie cards" for guys who were brought up from their farm system during the year.

Heise was a 30 year old journeyman utility infielder, who was in his 11th and final season.  Heise was a member of four teams that made the postseason, but never played in the postseason himself. First, he appeared four games during a September call-up for the "Miracle Mets" that won the 1969 World Series. Next, he played briefly for the National League West-winning Giants in 1971 before being traded to the Brewers on June 1 for pitcher Floyd Wicker. In 1975, he one of the reserve infielders on the Red Sox team that won the 1975 American League pennant, but did not appear in the ALCS or World Series. Lastly, in his final major league season, he was a member of the American League West champion Royals, but did not play against the Yankees in the ALCS.  In 54 games with the Royals in 1977 Heise played all 4 infield positions and hit a respectable .258 (16-62).  I found this autographed photo while doing a Google search.
Hurdle was a #1 draft pick by the Royals in 1975, who found his way to the parent club at the tender age of 19 in 1977.  Playing right field in 9 games he hit .308 (8-26) and tantalized the KC fans into thinking he was going to be a star.  The next 4 seasons saw Hurdle play on a semi-regular basis.  His best season would be 1980, where he hit .294 with 10 homers as the starting right fielder on the Royals first pennant winning club.  Injuries curtailed his action in 1981 and limited him to just 28 games.  He hit .329 during that stretch, but wound up being traded in the off season to the Reds, where he played in just 19 games in 1982.  After the Reds let him go he moved over to the woeful Mets and hit .182 and wound up in Tidewater (AAA).  He would spend most of 1983 and all of '84 at Tidewater, then get called up in '85 just in time for the Mets to fall 2 games short of the Cardinals in the NL East race.  In '86 he moved to the Cardinals as the Mets won it all, then he returned to the Mets in '87 and watched the Cards win the pennant.  Talk about a guy with bad luck ?  Hurdle was released by the Mets after the '87 season and slowly worked his way through the minors learning the ropes as a coach and a manager.  His 2007 Colorado Rockies had an improbable run by winning their last 14 games and taking the NL pennant.  The picture used here was a snapshot taken by a Royals fan.  I found it while doing a Google search.

No way to sugar coat this.  Porter was a victim of a lifetime of drug abuse.  A gifted and talented athlete, Porter had it all.  He was a 4 time All-Star and a World Series MVP (1982 with the Cardinals).  As a player he was known for his grit and intensity.  George Brett once said of him, "Darrell Porter plays every game as if it was the 7th game of the World Series".  In 1977 he caught 130 games, hit .275 and had 16 homers.  He hit 188 homers as a catcher in his 17 year career.  One can only speculate just how good he could have been if he was able to conquer his demons.  When I read about his tragic passing a the age of 50 in 2002 I was saddened.  Porter was one of my favorite players.  Back in 1977 I was an 11 year old who caught and wore glasses.  Porter showed me that you could be a hard nosed / tough ballplayer and still have "4 eyes".  For this picture I decided to do something special.  I took his SI cover and airbrushed out the text and created a unique background to make it look as natural as possible.  I love the intensity on his face after he connected with what was presumably one of his 16 round trippers that season.  RIP Darrell.

Nelson spent two seasons in Kansas City, playing sparingly off the bench. In 1976, he got his only taste of postseason action. Pinch-hitting for Tom Poquette in Game 3 of the 1976 American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees, he grounded out against Sparky Lyle.  He played in his final major league game on September 27, 1977, then retired after the season.  As a utility infielder he played in 27 games for the '77 Royals and hit .188 (9-48).  He was an AL All-Star in 1974 representing the Texas Rangers.  He stole 51 bases in 1972, 43 in 1973 and 25 in 1974, while playing second base for Texas.  I found this autographed photo on ebay.  Presently Nelson is a pre-game studio analyst for the Milwaukee Brewers
He appeared in one game for the Kansas City Royals in 1977, pitching two innings of relief against the Oakland Athletics on September 28. He came into the game in the 8th inning in relief of Mark Littell after the A's had tied the game at 5-5. He got the last out of the 8th, pitched a scoreless 9th, then gave up the winning run in the 10th to take the loss.  I found this photo of him while doing a Google search.  After his playing career ended following the 1980 season, Lance spent many years as a minor league pitching coach, most recently with the Portland Beavers in 2007

Throop was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 16th round of the 1972 Major League Baseball Draft, and spent nearly his entire career with the Royals organization. However, about half of his career appearances in the major leagues, and more than half of his innings pitched, came after a trade to the Houston Astros in April 1979.  Throop pitched in just 4 games for the Royals in 1977.  He logged 5 1/3 innings on the hill and had a 0-0 (3.38) record.  With KC's deep staff he never got much of an opportunity to shine.  On April 27, 1979 he was traded to the Astros for Keith Drumright.  For this updated card I took a B&W photo and colorized it, since the only color photos of him were either too small or too grainy.  His 1976 rookie panel card was out of focus.

Colborn was traded, along with Darrell Porter, to the Kansas City Royals on December 6, 1976 in exchange for Jim Wohlford, Jamie Quirk and Bob McClure. In 1977, Colborn won 18 games for a Royals. On May 14 of that year, Colborn no-hit the Texas Rangers 6-0, the first no-hitter by a Royal at Royals Stadium and second overall in that park.  Curiously he did not see any action in the ALCS even though he went 6-2 down the stretch as the Royals pulled away and won the division.  After starting slowly in 1978 (1-2, 4.76) the Royals dealt him to Seattle for Steve Braun on June 1st.  He finished out the season going 3-10 (5.35) for the M's and was released.  His best season was 1973, where he went 20-12 (3.18) for a last place Brewer club.  I found this autographed photo on ebay.

Lahoud spent the better part of his career as either a 4th outfielder or a platoon player.  Never hitting higher than .271 or hitting more than 14 homers in a season doomed Joe to this second tier type of roll.  Still he was able to cobble together an 11 year career in the majors with his final 2 seasons spent in KC.  During the '77 season the 30 year old Lahoud hit .262 in 34 games mostly as a pinch hitter and reserve outfielder.  In '78 he only got into 13 games and hit just .125 before being released on June 2nd.  The photo that I found while searching Google is quite interesting.  It was taken by a fan and it shows just how chubby and out of shape a reserve outfielder could get while sitting on the bench waiting his turn patiently.  It's a bit dark and out of focused, but it is certainly something that the good people at Topps might have used back in the late 70's if they had taken the picture themselves.

Zdeb was drafted as the 4th pick of the Kansas City Royals in the 1971 amateur draft. Making his debut in 1977, Zdeb had a career high .297 batting average as a reliable part-time outfielder. His batting average fell to .252 in 1978 and .174 in 1979.  Known for wearing his hair exceptionally long, even for the late 70's, Zdeb received many warnings from the Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and the Royals GM to cut it.  His response, "If I cut my hair, will I become a better ballplayer".  He neither cut it, nor did he become a better ballplayer.  After being traded to the White Sox after the '79 season he was sent to the minors where he bottomed out and couldn't even hit .200.  He was released by the Mets Tidewater farm team after the 1980 season.  I found this photo while searching Google.
LaCock's two biggest claims to fame are:  being former Hollywood Squares host Peter Marshall's son and hitting a grand slam homer off of HOF'er Bob Gibson's final pitch in the majors.  LaCock was a part time 1st baseman / corner outfielder for the Cubs for the better part of 5 seasons before being traded to the Royals.  He spent the next 4 seasons playing part time in KC and backing up John Mayberry at first.  LaCock hit .303 (66-218) with 3 homers for the Royals in '77.  He hit .295 in '78 and .277 in '79.  1980, his final season saw his playing time decrease and he hit just .205.  His lack of power hindered him from being an every day player at those traditional power positions that he played.  I found this autographed photo on ebay.

He pitched in three games for the Kansas City Royals during the 1977 Kansas City Royals season and 18 games during the 1978 Kansas City Royals season.  He pitched 7 innings in 1977 and had a 0-1 (5.14) record.  He remained in the Royals chain until 1980, when he was traded to the Mets.  He was 3-4 (6.25) at Triple A Tidewater and was given his unconditional release.  He was one of 3 pitchers on the Royals staff that batted from both sides of the plate.  Since the AL had the DH, all 3 never came to bat.  I found this photo posted on the OOTP site and used it for this updated card.

Nicknamed "The Blade" for his tall/slender build, Hall made his final Major League appearance on May 21, 1977, with the Royals.  After finishing out the '76 season for the Royals, most folks including Topps figured he was going to retire due to arm injuries.  Hall, who had electric stuff when healthy, decided to give it one more go.  He pitched in 6 games and logged 7 2/3 innings for the Royals in 1977.  He had no decisions and sported a 3.52 ERA before hanging it up.  Prior to 1976 he was one of the premier lefty relievers in the game.  In 1972 he went 10-1 (2.61) with 8 saves for the NL Champ Cincinnati Reds.  He also went 11-6 (2.55) for the Twins in 1970.  Since Topps figured he was hanging it it, they never released a card for him.  Call this the "Lost card".  To make it I used his 1976 Topps photo, with him in a Mets uniform.  I airbrushed the KC onto the cap and cut and pasted a Royals uniform over his Mets garb.

After hours of exhaustive search on the Internet I finally came to the conclusion that UL is his full name and not an abbreviation or nickname.  In 1977 Washington was a 23 year old rookie who was destined to get just playing time scraps when Freddie Patek was resting.  He would hit .200 (4-20) in 10 games of action.  The man who batted with the toothpick in his mouth finally became a starter in 1980 and held that position for the next 4 seasons before moving on to Montreal.  He would be the Royals regular shortstop on their 1980 pennant winner, but leave one year before they won it all in '85.  Minus his 'fro and his toothpick this is an early photo of Washington before he became a regular.

21 year old Willie Wilson was just 2 years away from stardom.  In 1977 he got into just 13 games for the Royals and hit .324 (11-34).  He stole 6 bases in his limited action.  After a dismal 1978 season where hie hit .217, Wilson had a breakout year in 1979 and hit .315 and stole a league leading 83 bases.  Next to George Brett, Wilson is arguably the second best Royal ever.  He would go on to spend 15 years in KC and compile a .285 batting average over that period.  He led the league in hits in 1980 with 230.  He led the league 5 times in triples, won 2 silver slugger awards, a gold glove and surprisingly made only 2 All-Star teams.  13 of his 41 career homers were inside the "parkers".  Wilson had 668 career stolen bases.  He played both left and center for KC.  I found this neat action shot of Wilson at the plate.  He didn't have his trademark beard at the time.  The only blemish on his career was his involvement in a drug scandal in 1983, where he served 81 days in the Fort Worth Federal Correctional facility. Since then he cleaned up his act and has never had his name mentioned negatively.

Editor's Note:  This posting of the Royals concludes my 1977 Topps Card Update Project.  It has been a fun 2 months worth of work.  With a full time job, 4 kids and my CYO coaching duties I had to find time to squeeze in this "labor of love".  26 teams in 2 months is a pretty challenging feat.  Over the next month or so, while I'm on vacation I will be updating some of the earlier cards that I made, since I have learned new techniques for airbrushing and colorization along the way.  I hope you all enjoyed this stroll back to 1977, a season that happened almost 35 years ago, yet it is still fresh in my mind.

2 comments:

  1. Did you know OPC put out a Porter card in 1977 with him as a Royal?

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