Kansas City Royals History (1976 thru 1985)

After the Kansas City Athletics moved to Oakland in 1968, the City was hungry for another baseball team. They got one just one year later. As all expansion teams do, they struggled in their first two seasons, going 69–93 in 1969 and 65–97 in 1970. But they had some talented young players, most notably, centerfielder Amos Otis and left fielder Lou Piniella, who won Rookie of the Year in 1969.

In 1971, only their third year in the league, the Royals finished the season with an 85–76 record. In 1973, they upped their win total to 88; in 1975, they improved their record to 91 wins and 71 losses. With talented young players like first baseman John Mayberry, third baseman George Brett, and pitcher Dennis Leonard, it was only a matter of time until the Royals won the AL Western Division. They did precisely that in 1976.

1976 Season (Good Things To Come)

The 76 Royals did not have a lot of home runs, hitting only 65 on the season, with Amos Otis leading the team with 18. John Mayberry led the team in runs batted in with 95. Left fielder Tom Poquette batted .302, DH Hal McRae batted .302, and third baseman George Brett batted .333.

Pitcher Dennis Leonard won seventeen games. Brett, Otis, McRae, and shortstop Freddy Patek made the All-Star team. Kansas City gave the New York Yankees all they could handle in the playoffs but lost three games to two.

George Brett and Dennis Leonard of the Kansas City Royals baseball cards
Photo courtesy Mark Morthier's private collection of George Brett and Dennis Leonard of the Kansas City Royals baseball cards

The 1977 Royals finished the season with a 102–60 record, the best in the Major League. Unlike last year’s team, this team hit many home runs, 146 to be exact. Hal McRae hit 21, George Brett hit 22, and John Mayberry and right fielder Al Cowens each hit 23. Cowens and Brett tied for best batting average on the team, hitting .312. Cowens also led the team in RBIs with 112.

Dennis Leonard was the team’s best pitcher, with a 20–12 record and a 3.04 ERA. Despite having so many talented players, only George Brett made the All-Star team. The season ended in disappointment, as the Royals lost another hard-fought Playoff Series to the Yankees three games to two.

In 1978, the Royals won the Western Division for the third year in a row, but for the third year in a row, they lost their Playoff Series to the Yankees, this time three games to one. Amos Otis led the team in home runs with 22, RBIs with 96, and batting average, hitting .298. Pitcher Dennis Leonard had 21 wins, Paul Splittorff won 19, and Larry Gura went 16–4 with a 2.72 ERA. George Brett, Freddy Patek, Frank White, and catcher Darrell Porter made the All-Star team.

Bouncing Back in the 80s

After finishing the 1979 season with an 85–77 record and missing the playoffs, the Royals bounced back strong in 1980. They finished the season with 97 wins and 65 losses. George Brett had a season to remember, hitting 24 home runs and 118 RBIs. Baseball fans everywhere checked the daily box scores as Brett teetered on becoming the first player to bat .400 since Ted Williams did it in 1941.

He came close, finishing the season at .390. Brett made the All-Star team along with Larry Gura and Darrell Porter. Brett also won the AL MVP award. Dennis Leonard once again led the pitching staff in wins with twenty, while Gura had eighteen and an impressive 2.95 ERA. The Royals faced the Yankees in the playoffs for the fourth time in five years, but it was no contest this time. KC swept New York three games to zero and played the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series but lost four games to two.

1981 was a disappointing season for the Royals, finishing the strike-shortened season with 50 wins and 53 losses before getting swept by the Oakland A’s in the playoffs. George Brett once again led the team in batting average at .314 and made the All-Star team along with teammate Frank White.

The Royals finished the 1982 season with a 90–72 record but had to settle for second place behind the California Angels. George Brett hit over 300 again but was third behind left fielder Willie Wilson, who hit .333, and DH Hal McRae, who batted .308. McRae led the team in home runs with 27 and RBIs with 133. Brett, Wilson, and McRae made the All-Star team, along with Frank White and relief pitcher Dan Quisenberry.

1983 was a rare losing season for the Royals. Perennial All-Star George Brett batted .310 with 25 home runs and 93 RBIs. Brett, who brawled with Yankees third baseman Craig Nettles in the 1977 playoffs, lost his temper again during a regular season game against the Yankees in what will forever be known as “The Pine Tar Incident.”

1984 wasn’t much better. They finished first with an 84–78 record but were swept by the Detroit Tigers in the playoffs. Even Brett had an off year, batting only .284. First baseman Steve Balboni slugged 28 home runs, and Hal McRae batted .303. George Brett and Dan Quisenberry made the All-Star team.

1985 - A Royal Year

In 1985, the Royals finished the season with a 91–71 record and placed first in their division. After not having one of his better seasons in 1984, George Brett came back better than ever in 1985, batting .335 with 30 home runs and 112 RBIs.

Steve Balboni led the team in home runs with 36, and twenty-one-year-old Pitcher Bret Saberhagen won 20 games and lost only 6 with a 2.87 ERA. Saberhagen won the Cy Young award, and Brett made the All-Star team.

Bret Saberhagen and Willie Wilson of the Kansas City Royals baseball cards
Photo courtesy Mark Morthier's private collection of Bret Saberhagen and Willie Wilson of the Kansas City Royals baseball cards

They would face the Toronto Blue Jays, who, at 99–62, had the best record in the American League. It was a hard-fought series, but the Royals pulled off an upset, winning four games to three. Now it was on to the World Series to face the powerful St. Louis Cardinals, who had the best record in all of baseball.

Including their Playoff Series against the LA Dodgers, St.Louis had an impressive 105–63 record, and not many people thought the Royals could defeat them. With the Cardinals leading the Series three games to one, it looked like the prognosticators were correct, but the Royals came storming back to win the next three games. After having one of the best teams in baseball for the last ten years, the Kansas City Royals were finally World Series Champions!

It would be 29 long years before the Royals would play in the postseason. In 2014, they would reach the World Series before losing to the SF Giants. In 2015, the Royals won their second World Series trophy, defeating the NY Mets four games to one.

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Mark Morthier is the host of Yesterday’s Sports, a podcast dedicated to reliving memorable sports moments from his childhood days and beyond.  He grew up in New Jersey just across from New York City, so many of his episodes revolve around the great sport’s teams of the 70s for the New York area. 

He is also an author of No Nonsense, Old School Weight Training (Second Edition): A Guide for People with Limited Time and Running Wild: (Growing Up in the 1970s)

Mark Morthier headshot - host of Yesterday's Sports podcast on the Sports History Network
Photo Courtesy: Mark Morthier

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