I was hoping to post this a couple of days earlier, but it was difficult to do so with mid-quarter grades being due this week (yay hybrid teaching). Thus, it feels appropriate with the Royals heading into their final game of the 2020 season that this post focuses on Alex Gordon and his retirement, which was announced by the Royals on Thursday.
I am probably not going to say anything that any Royals journalist or blogger hasn’t said already. After all, the retirement certainly hits home for many millennial Royals fans (such as myself) who grew up during their adolescent years with Gordo on the Royals after he debuted in Kansas City in 2007. Gordo has been synonymous with Royals baseball for nearly 15 years, and to think that he will not be in the lineup or in left field in 2021 seems weird to think about already.
And thus, it is not surprising to see the Royals do so many tributes to Gordo, especially this creative one they brought out on Saturday night, which I’m sure may drive equipment managers wild (they’ll live though and they’re used to it from Gordo alone, anyways).
So while most Royals fans will be living in the moment of Gordo’s final games at Kauffman Stadium, we do need to ask ourselves this: what should we take away from Gordo’s tenure in Kansas City? What will he be known for when fans look back on him in 5-10 years? And how will his impact on the Royals franchise for nearly 15 years be viewed when he ultimately is inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame and has a statue unveiled in the outfield section of Kauffman Stadium?
These questions are all intriguing because the most ironic part of Gordo’s Royals legacy will always be that he never really fit or perhaps “fully embraced” the “franchise star” tag during his Royals career.
There is no question that Gordo had been key to the Royals turnaround since debuting in 2007. The number of amazing moments in Royals history during Gordo’s tenure are incredible to recollect: the turn around in 2013; the 2014 and 2015 American League Pennants; the 2015 World Series; the 2016 season, basking in the World Series afterglow; those memorable postseason games against the A’s, Astros, Orioles, Angels, Giants, Blue Jays, Mets, etc. Gordo and his play on the field were key components to all those great accolades, as he was always seen as the elder statesman of that core Royals bunch that consisted of Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, HDH, Yordano Ventura, just to name a few.
And yet, even though he could arguably be seen as the “face” of the Royals franchise from 2007-2020, he never really “stuck out” like other “franchise cornerstones” of his era. He wasn’t an outgoing character with players, fans and the media like Miguel Cabrera in Detroit. While Gordo was a local guy, relatively speaking (he hails from Lincoln, Nebraska, which is roughly three hours from Kansas City), he never seemed to have that “local star” power like a Joe Mauer in Minnesota. And even though Gordo is currently 8th in career WAR for Royals players, according to Baseball-Reference, he never had that tremendous stretch like Mike Trout for the Angels or Albert Pujols for the St. Louis Cardinals. Over his 14-year career, though he did earn seven Gold Gloves, he only made the All-Star team three times (a three-year stretch from 2013-2015).
Gordo was the franchise “player” who perhaps was never the franchise “star”, as weird as that sounds. Over Gordo’s Royals career, fans were more prone to like Lorenzo Cain’s dynamic play, Moose’s fiery personality, Yordano’s “don’t give a f” attitude, or Hosmer’s “Kelce-esque” antics. And yet, it has been Gordo who has produced more in the long-run from that core, system-developed bunch that General Manager Dayton Moore built around at the Major League and Minor League level for nearly a decade (2007-2017). Of that core listed, only Cain and Salvy are close to matching Gordo, as they rank 14th and 15th in Royals career WAR, respectively.
If anything, Gordo showed in his time as a Royal that it’s not a sprint, but a marathon when it comes to building a MLB career, especially an MLB career in Kansas City, where many players have struggled in the shadow of the legendary George Brett.
Gordo’s metrics will always be a source of constant debate. Yes, his WAR is the highest of any Royal in the modern era (i.e. Allard Baird and Dayton Moore era), but he also had a lot more time to build that WAR. What if Cain had 14 seasons in Kansas City? Or what about Zack Greinke, who left Kansas City just before their turnaround? It’s probably certain that those two would have eclipsed Gordo on a WAR basis had they spent as long with the Royals as Gordo.
Furthermore, his tenure after 2015 left a lot to be desired. From 2016-2020, Gordo accumulated a 4.0 WAR, which is less than 1.0 per season, not a great number. He had two minus-WAR seasons (2017 and this year) during that time, and he only had one season (2018) in which he posted a WAR over 2. And while his numbers look good on a cumulative measure (he ranks in the Royals Top 10 in many offensive categories), his career averages leave a bit to be desired. I don’t think anyone’s going to remember Gordo for his career .257/.338/.411 slash and .749 OPS in about 7,245 plate appearances.
Combine those metrics with a personality that was pretty “low key” and non-vocal, and it makes sense that some deterring baseball fans may cry that Gordo’s career in KC was “average.” And that would be understandable: there certainly were more dynamic players who played in Kansas City during Gordo’s 14-year career.
However, if there is one takeaway Royals fans should have about Gordo, it’s that he represented the “Midwest and KC grit and resolve” to the maximum. He didn’t need to be a hugely vocal kind of leader. He didn’t need to put up crazy home runs or batting average metrics. He didn’t need to be known for off-the-field antics or having great, off-color interviews with media members. Gordo in many ways, was the Midwest baseball fan’s player: he just did his job, was low key about it, and was committed in his work toward it. Not to be stereotypical, but he approached his game like a successful farmer: consistent, hard-working, and all about the process, never too high or low from a day-to-day basis.
If anything, Gordo certainly represented his Nebraska roots proudly both on and off the field during the last 14 years in Kansas City.
For some Royals fans, that legacy may not be enough. Gordo was probably unfairly seen as the next “George Brett” when he was drafted out of the University of Nebraska. Thankfully, Gordo’s move to the outfield got him out of that shadow after some early struggles. Gordo never turned to be another Brett, but he was a different kind of player. He was more known for his defense than his offense, both on the field and off-the-field as well. Brett may have the bigger, more memorable career and moments. However, Gordo was consistent in who he was on and off the field, and while that may not match the Royals’ best player ever, it certainly should be respected and held in high regard with Royals fans, especially since it seems doubtful we’ll see another player like Gordo again in Kansas City.
I mean, we may get something similar metrically from another player in the future, but I doubt we’ll see another player that will replicate Gordo’s legacy in all aspects over a 14-year career, all as a Royal.
It was a slow burn and a long journey, but Gordo lived up to that promise of being the second overall pick of the 2005 Draft. He deserves his statue and his number to be retired along with Brett, White, and Howser.
It will be a weird day to not see Gordo in left field or on the Royals bench next year and beyond. In fact, it may take a full season or two to fully get used to it. That being said, he deserves his retirement.
Nobody represented Kansas City better on the field since 2007 than Gordo.