The Royals have been in existence for over 50 years which means there’s plenty of history to celebrate. The Royals Hall of Fame beyond the left field wall at The K is a fantastic museum that celebrates that history.
And it’s time for that biannual exercise of voting for inductees to the Royals’ Hall of Fame. After some truly lean years for worthy candidates, we’re starting to get some interesting ones. Names we can debate and discuss. The beauty of a team Hall of Fame is there’s no right or wrong answer on this. It’s a fantastic opportunity to just talk about some of the better players who appeared for that particular franchise.
Team Hall of Fame voters can rule a little more with the heart than a national Hall. That’s fine and it’s a way of saying rationales may not be consistent when it comes to my ballot. Circumstances matter here and the standards can shift from player to player. Besides Hall of Fames are meant to celebrate history. The pool to draw from is just a little more shallow when you’re one of thirty teams, as opposed to having the histories of all 30 clubs at your disposal. Rigid criteria would make team Hall of Fames a lot less inclusive which would make them a lot less fun.
Let’s look at the nominees for the Royals’ Hall of Fame in 2021 with an explanation for how I would vote. Feel free to drop your own list and reasons in the comments.
Beltrán found his greatest success in New York as a Met, but he laid the foundation for his career in Kansas City. The shenanigans (ok, ok… the cheating) in Houston is a blemish on his overall career, but he has a solid case to be in the real Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. It will be interesting to see how his candidacy is treated when the time comes.
The national Hall is an argument for another day. This is about Beltrán and his career with the Royals. He has a fantastic case here as well. For the Royals, Beltrán is in the top 10 career for bWAR and fWAR by position players, 14th in OBP, fourth in slugging and fourth in OPS. He won the AL Rookie of the Year award in 1999 but his best overall season in Kansas City came in 2003 when he hit .307/.389/.522 and somehow had the Royals in a pennant race. He got off to some kind of start in 2004 as well.
Should he be enshrined in the Royals’ Hall of Fame, he would get in with the fewest games played among position players. In fact, he would be just the third position player inducted this century. (Following Willie Wilson in 2000 and Mike Sweeney in 2015.)
The baseball wasteland the Royals occupied from 1994 to 2011ish means that there is a dearth of candidates from this era. While most of us would like to forget that time, there were individual performances that should be recognized. Beltrán, one of the best to put on a Royals uniform not just in that era but all-time, is an easy selection.
We’re going to fix that whole anti-position player bias in one election. But is it weird we’re doing it with a player who didn’t really have a position? In the field, at least.
Billy Butler was a natural-born hitter. His Royals career .295 batting average is fourth highest in franchise history and his .808 OPS has him just outside the top 10, a single point behind Darrell Porter at 11th. He’s eighth in club history in total bases, seventh in doubles and 10th in home runs.
Remarkably consistent in his prime, his decline was sharp. He saw his power production drop in 2013 and it really fell off the following year. The 2014 season, while memorable for the franchise, wasn’t that great for Butler. Still, the overall body of work with the Royals is strong.
I don’t want to point to singular performances or events when discussing candidates, but you just can’t mention Butler’s Royals career and not bring up the 2012 All-Star Game at Kauffman Stadium, the home run derby and how the entire week was basically the rebirth of baseball in Kansas City. He was the center of the whole thing and embraced the hell out of it.
His lone All-Star appearance aside, Butler is in.
His first World Series start against the Giants was decent. His second was sublime. What potential Ventura had.
Sadly, he never got the opportunity to fulfill that potential. Ventura pitched three full years in Kansas City, but that 2014 was a pure lightning bolt. He stumbled a bit the next couple of seasons but there wasn’t a pitcher who threw with more electricity and pasión than Ventura. The highlight reel from Game 6 of the 2014 World Series is a perfect encapsulation of what Ventura could bring. But for me, in a vote for the Royals’ Hall of Fame, it’s not enough.
See what I mean from my introduction about inconsistent rationales? Ventura most definitely has a spot in Royals’ lore and if he had improved on his rookie 2014 season, we would have something to discuss. Instead, he’s with his fellow Dominican starters—Johnny Cueto and Edinson Vólquez. All three were key contributors to the pennants and championships and should be celebrated for what they meant to those teams. But none are Royals’ Hall of Famers.
Oh, what could’ve been…
Damon is an interesting case in that he compares somewhat favorably with Butler. I say somewhat. Let’s not get carried away. Butler is ahead of Damon on the Royals’ all-time offensive leaderboards in on-base percentage (.359 to .351), slugging (.449 to .438) and batting average (.295 to .292). Though Damon has the edge on offensive bWAR (16.1 to 14.6) Still, they’re closer than you might have thought, generally separated that just a few places on those leaderboards.
While Damon pretty much forced a move from Kansas City prior to the 2001 season he did enjoy the best offensive season of his entire career as a Royal in 2000. He was so steady at the plate after that year that I felt he was a lock for 3,000 career hits—and with that an eventual induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. As recently as after the 2010 season, Bill James’ Favorite Toy had Damon at a 62 percent chance to reach 3,000. But he fell over 200 hits short.
For me, Damon falls into that David DeJesus category. Fine player, a good career with the Royals, but in the end…not especially noteworthy. I need at least something to give my vote for the Royals’ Hall of Fame, but I’m not feeling it here.
Again, this is where I get inconsistent in my voting procedure. By bWAR, Butler was the third-best of this trio. But maybe there’s something about sticking around and giving your all to an organization? Damon gave off mercenary vibes that were just…distasteful.
Kyle Davies, Jeremy Guthrie, Luke Hochevar
None of the three pitchers listed above is ranked in the top 50 in franchise history in bWAR. Hochevar checks in at number 22 with 9.0 fWAR and Davies is 49th at 4.0 fWAR. Hochevar and Guthrie were both key contributors to the October teams of 2014 and ’15. Hochevar really found his groove once he moved to the bullpen in 2013, throwing 158 innings with a 9.7 SO/9 and 2.4 BB/9 over three seasons. And he’s the answer to the trivia question of who was the winning pitcher in the game the Royals won the World Series.
And it’s not enough. For any of them.
To sum up, my ballot for 2021 includes two players: Carlos Beltrán and Billy Butler. I would welcome debate on those two along with Ventura and Damon as borderline candidates who for me, fell just short. And there’s really no discussion to be had for the others.
Fan voting for the Royals’ Hall of Fame can be found here, along with eligibility requirements and other fine print. Go exercise your right as a Royals fan and cast a ballot.