Sunday, January 16, 2022

I love the 80s - 1982 Kansas City Royals

 This is a series of posts on a 1980's Frankenset. Each page features a different team, with 9 of my personal favorite cards from that year's team. You might find players repeated, you'll definitely see brands repeated, but hopefully you'll agree that there are some interesting selections from the 1980s!

I'd never suggest that the 1981 Baseball Strike was a good thing, but there were teams that took advantage of the break to change their fortunes. The Kansas City Royals had a miserable 1st half of 1981, falling 10 games under .500 and slipping to 5th place in the standings. The second half was another story. The Royals finished the second half in first place, securing a spot in the post season. They were bounced quickly by the Oakland A's in 3 straight games, but the Royals showed the fight that made them major players from the mid 70s through the mid 80s.

1982 was in many ways a more successful season than '81 for the Royals, with one big difference. This time, they would miss the post season altogether, though they finished with a 90 - 72 record. DH Hal McRae set a franchise record with his AL-Best 133 RBI, Dan Quisenberry paced all closers with 35 saves, and the franchise took a step towards securing a brighter future by drafting pitcher Bret Saberhagen. They missed the postseason in 1982, but were poised to return again soon.

The Cards:

Topps #495 Dennis Leonard - Leonard was the Royals' Ace in the late 70s. He was a 3 time 20 game winner, leading the AL in Starts and Innings Pitched in 1981. He was the only AL pitcher to exceed 200 innings pitched that season, given the time lost to the strike. He was also 3rd in Strikeouts and had a pair of shutouts, both of which came during a stretch of 7 starts in 26 days following the strike. The heavy workload and a pair of broken fingers made for a less than stellar 1982, in which his ERA ballooned about 5.00 for the first time in his career. The following season, the injury bug struck again and he'd essentially be out of baseball until 1986. He tore his patella tendon in a 1983 start, missed all of 1984, and would only make a pair of starts in 1985 for the Royals. Leonard continued his rehab, and returned to the team to make 30 starts at the age of 35. He retired as the Royals' All-Time Leader in Games Started, Innings Pitched, Complete Games, and Shutouts.

Fleer #408 Rich Gale - Gale was a 1978 Topps All-Star Rookie, but didn't get a trophy on his card as Topps decided to leave out the Cup from 1979 through 1986. That season, Gale won 14 games and finished 4th in AL Rookie of the Year voting. He started a pair of games in the 1980 World Series, with a no-decision and a loss. He and Leonard were an effective one-two punch in the late 70s for the Royals, but Gale had a rough time in 1981. He would be traded to San Francisco that off season, and by 1985, found himself pitching in Japan. He was on the mound for his team (the Hanshin Tigers) in their 1st ever Japan Series clincher. Gale is probably known more readily today for his work as a pitching coach, both in the big leagues and for a handful of teams in the minors.

Topps #693 Cesar Geronimo - Geronimo came to the Royals in 1981 as a role player after spending nearly a decade in Cincinnati as the primary Center Fielder for the "Big Red Machine." Geronimo was a 4 time Gold Glove winner in Cincy, and was closing out his career as a 4th outfielder for the Royals in the early 80s. His Gold Gloves weren't mirages or based on the success of his team. He passed the "eye test" in Center Field, sure, but also had favorable rankings in some of the new-school metrics as well. He was annually at or near the top of the leaderboard in Total Zone Runs and Range Factor. Geronimo joined the Reds from the Astros in the same trade that sent Hall Of Famer Joe Morgan to Cincinnati. Following his playing days, Geronimo co-founded a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic that focuses on teaching its students about life skills, English as a 2nd Language, and fiscal responsibility along with the standard fare of baseball training. He helped to establish a similar Academy in Japan for the Hiroshima Carp, that focused more specifically on baseball, as the students also attended a separate school. 

Fleer #422 Dan Quisenberry - The Early 80s were the peak years for the Royals' closer. Dan Quisenberry was the AL Saves leader 5 times, and Royals' Managers loved to give opposing offenses a Pop "Quiz." He was known for his unorthodox submarine-style delivery to the plate, and for writing poetry off the field. For a detailed and engrossing biographical essay, check out this link from the SABR Bio Project He appeared in all 6 World Series games in 1980, and had 4 appearances in the 1985 World Series, including a victory in Game 6. He's the Royals' All-Time Leader in ERA, and is 2nd in team history in Saves. Quisenberry, like his former Manager Dick Howser, passed away from brain cancer. 
Fleer #427 Willie Wilson - If you look up "triple" in the dictionary, there should be a picture of Willie Wilson there to help illustrate the concept. Wilson led the AL in Triples 5 times, and finished his career with 147. That's 56th overall in MLB history, but 3rd overall if you're looking at players whose photo is in color, behind just Roberto Clemente and Stan Musial. His 1980 season was historic. In addition to his 15 triples, he totaled 230 hits and scored 133 runs. Those figures all were best in the AL. He was 2nd in Stolen Bases with 79. He'd go on to win a batting title in 1982. He did all this while playing an elite Left field. Similar to Cesar Geronimo, Wilson was a regular visitor atop the league leaderboard in range factor and total zone runs. Wilson is the Royals' All-time leader in stolen bases, with 612. 

Fleer #426 Frank White - The late 70s and early 80s were a who's-who of the greatest Royals of all time and I don't mean Prince Charles. Frank White was the Royals' second baseman throughout their decade plus run of contending for the AL West title, starting in 1973 until his retirement in 1990. White was a defensive dynamo, racking up 8 Gold Gloves. The 5 time All-Star wasn't a slugger like Brett or a burner on the bases like Wilson, but he was a steady presence up the middle of the diamond for nearly 2 decades. His 2,006 hits are 2nd all-time in Royals history. 1982 was probably his best offensive season overall, hitting .298 with 11 homers and 10 stolen bases and a 114 OPS+. He terrorized the Yankees in 1980, earning ALCS MVP honors by hitting .545 in the series including a homer and stolen base. It was his defense that made him an all-time great. Reggie Jackson quipped of White "he's saved as many runs as I've driven in."

Topps #429 John Wathan - John Wathan was a rare breed - a catcher would could steal a base! In 1982, Wathan had a career high 36 steals, almost unheard-of for a backstop, and set a major league record for the position. Wathan was also able to hit for average, including a .305 mark in 1980, when he even garnered a few MVP votes. Following his 9 year playing career, Wathan was a coach and then Manager for the Royals and Angels. Since 2008, he's held the role of 'special assistant to the Director of Player Development' for the Royals. He's a baseball lifer, having worked as a scout, roving instructor, coach and a really fast catcher!

Fleer #405 George Brett - I won't share that infamous George Brett Story, or that other infamous George Brett Story - but suffice it to say, Brett is famous and infamous. He's Mr. Royal, leading pretty much every offensive category in team history, as well as being the leader of the team's first rise to prominence in the 70s and 80s. Brett's 3,000th hit is a bit of a funny story - he was picked off first base after getting it. But what was impressive to me is that it was his 4th hit of that game. That's on-brand for George Brett, going a bit above and beyond. Brett was a triples machine in his own right - when Wilson wasn't the league leader, Brett was leading the league in the late 70s / early 80s, including 20 triples in 1979. His 1980 season was even better, as the AL MVP led the league in all three triple slash categories, going .390/.454/.664 and an OPS+ of 203. Brett won 3 batting titles, in 3 different decades - 1976, 1980, and 1990. The 13 time All-Star was of course a first ballot Hall of Famer, joining the Cooperstown club with fellow 1975 Topps rookie Robin Yount in 1999.

Topps #625 Hal McRae - McRae moved from outfield in Cincy to become a slugging DH in the American League, providing much needed balance to the Royals' offensive attack in the 1970s. McRae was a key member of the Royals through the 1986 season, and later became manager of the team, known for his fiery demeanor and will to win. While his homer totals don't appear eye popping, McRae was still the premier DH for the majority of his career. His Career OPS+ of 123 shows how he was a step above the rest of the league at the plate. McRae finished his career with over 2,000 hits and over 1,000 RBI. 


  1. I love the photo on that Rich Gale card.

  2. Donruss shut out! The photos may be blurry but some great cards from fleer in this post!

  3. I've always like that fleer set. It seems like they tried to do away with the typical batter/pitcer poses so we get something like Quisenberry stretching out.

  4. Fleer's design is my least favorite among the Big 3 in 1982... but they had some solid photography. Love that action shot of Brett... and the two candid shots on the Quiz and Gale cards. Although it's kinda sad that Donruss got shut out... the Fleer 9-pocket cross is kinda cool.

  5. The Geronimo photo is really great. Although I think it could've been even better had it been zoomed out just a little bit more.