Craig Brown of “Into the Fountains” recently released his Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame ballot, and Hokius of Royals Review shared his ballot last weekend. Thus, I figured with the Royals Hall of Fame fan vote closing tomorrow, I would release my own thoughts on the Royals Hall of Fame voting process for this year, and who I voted for (and didn’t vote for) and why.
The Royals Hall of Fame is incredibly interesting to me, and I have written a lot of posts already on players who either are on the cusp, or have just missed out on Royals HOF enshrinement, which can be found on the page “Hall of Not Forgotten.” Check those posts out, as there are actually some players I wrote aout who are actually on the ballot this year.
In this post, I will split the Royals Hall of Fame eligible players into three categories:
- Not Considered: These were Royals players on the ballot who didn’t earn my vote and it wasn’t particularly difficult.
- Easy Enshrinement: These were Royals players on the ballot whom I voted in without much, if any, reservation of hesitation.
- The Debatables: These were Royals players on the ballot whom I went back and forth with. Some I voted in, some I didn’t. I will also identify in my player analysis whether or not I voted the Royal in or not.
So, with that being said, let’s take a look at the three tiers, and how the players on the Royal HOF ballot fared in regard to my own Royals HOF voting process.
Kyle Davies, Pitcher
Davies pitched for the Royals for roughly five years after being traded to Kansas City from Atlanta. Davies made his Royals debut in 2007, and it’s likely that he was an early Dayton Moore target, as Moore was an assistant GM in the Braves organization before becoming general manager of the Royals in 2006. Davies pitched over 531 innings and made 99 starts with the Royals, and his tenure in Kansas City was the best in his career, as he posted a 2.4 bWAR with the Royals, according to Baseball Reference. However, Davies posted a 5.34 ERA and 29-44 record with the Royals and pitched an era that was pretty lackluster for the organization as a whole. While it is nice to see him get a little publicity after the fact, it’s hard to say that Davies is anywhere close to serious Hall of Fame consideration.
Jeremy Guthrie, Pitcher
Guthrie made 103 starts over four seasons in Kansas City, and rejuvenated his career after a terrible stint in Colorado prior (I remember seeing one of his last outings at Coors Field before he was traded to the Royals). Guthrie is a bit of a Royals folk hero, as he is known for his playoff chops, especially in during the 2014 run. He threw a five-inning, three-hit gem against the Orioles in the ALCS in 2014, and he made two starts against the Giants in the World Series, which included the deciding Game 7. As a Royal overall, Guthrie posted a 4.38 ERA and 3.6 bWAR, according to Baseball Reference. While those metrics weren’t necessarily bad considering his short tenure in Kansas City, they weren’t really great or Hall of Fame worthy.
Luke Hochevar, Pitcher
Hochevar, the only first overall pick in Royals history (hard to believe considering their history of ineptitude post-Ewing Kauffman), pitched his entire career in Kansas City, which counts for something. He also was a key bullpen arm during the 2015 run, and would’ve been a key arm in 2014, had he not missed the entire year due to injury. However, Hoch leaves a polarizing legacy. Yes, he ended up being a pretty good reliever at the end of his career, but he will always be known for failing to live up to his “No. 1 Pick” status.
Hoch showed flashes of being a good starter: his 11-11 record and 4.68 ERA in 198 innings in 2011 tantalized Royals fans who thought he was on the verge of a breakout. However, he ended nosediving the following year, and made a permanent move to the bullpen in 2013 until injury cut his career short after the 2016 season. Had Hoch never been the No. 1 pick, maybe his story could be seen as more of a success. Unfortunately, because he held that “title”, it’s hard to really think too optimistically about Hoch, even if it may be a bit unfair in retrospect.
Carlos Beltran, Outfielder
According to the Kansas City Royals’ franchise index on Baseball Reference, Beltran ranks as the 13th best player in Royals history on a bWAR basis. He ranks ahead of Hall of Famers such as Mike Sweeney (16th), Paul Splittorff (17th), John Mayberry (19th), and Jeff Montgomery (20th), just to name a few. He also ranks ahead of probable “future” Royals Hall of Famers Lorenzo Cain (14th) and Salvador Perez (15th, though he probably will pass Beltran). Furthermore, Beltran is also a Rookie of the Year award winner (1999) and finished in the Top 10 in AL MVP voting in 2003, which was their lone winning season between 1995 and 2013.
Beltran may be more remembered by most baseball fans for his time with the Mets, and he may earn Mets HOF enshrinement as well, as his 31.1 bWAR in Queens was slightly better than his 24.8 bWAR in Kansas City, according to Baseball Reference. But Beltran, at the very least, is one of the Top 20 Royals in history in both talent and production, and he’s one of best Latino players to ever wear the Royals uniform in the Pre-Dayton Moore era. Yes, Beltran played through a rough time for Royals fans and players, but he deserves enshrinement and it’s not really debatable, honestly.
Johnny Damon, OF
Damon is probably the second-most polarizing candidate on this ballot (more on the most polarizing in a bit). Statistically, Damon posted a 17.3 bWAR with the Royals, according to Baseball Reference, which puts him only behind Beltran in regard to eligible players on the HOF ballot. His bWAR with the Royals was the most he accumulated with a single team, as it was higher than his bWAR total with the Red Sox (16.5) and the Yankees (14.4). He led the Royals twice in bWAR (1999 and 2000), and for a while, was expected to be the next face of the Royals franchise in the wake of George Brett’s retirement.
However, even though on the field Damon was a Royals player to behold, it never seemed like he resonated with fans off of it. Granted, he played during a tough era of Royals baseball (much like Beltran), as the club was transitioning to a new ownership group under David Glass around Damon’s prime Kansas City seasons. And thus, it’s understandable that Damon was apprehensive to stay, wanting to see the Royals back up their words and make a commitment to not just him, but the organization as a whole, when it came to finances. Apparently, Damon was never satisfied with the Royals efforts, and he was promptly traded to Oakland, and Damon’s reputation as a Royal ended up aging poorly. It never seemed like Damon truly embraced the “Royals Way” like other players who came before AND after him. Thus, while statistically it’s hard to ignore Damon’s contributions to Kansas City over his six seasons with the Royals, it’s hard to vote him in the Royal Hall of Fame considering his baggage with the organization.
Billy Butler, DH/1B
I also wrote about Butler in my “Hall of Not Forgotten” and he too is a polarizing figure with Royals fans, though he has aged better in the eyes of Royals fans recently, unlike Damon. Butler spent 8 of his 10 MLB seasons in Kansas City, and he ended up posting a 119 OPS+ in 1,166 games and 4,811 plate appearances with the Royals. While Butler was never known for the long ball, he did have two seasons of 20-plus home runs (2009 and 2012), and he did earn an All-Star game appearance and Silver Slugger award in 2012, honors made sweeter by the fact that Kauffman Stadium hosted the Mid-Summer classic in 2012. Furthermore, Butler was a key member of the 2014 squad, and though he had one of his worst offensive seasons in 2014 (9 home runs, 96 OPS+ in 603 plate appearances), he was known for some key hits, especially in the AL Wild Card game against the Athletics at Kauffman Stadium, their first playoff game since 1985.
Unfortunately, the end of Butler’s tenure was one filled with turmoil, as he ended up leaving the Royals for Oakland the following season for a three-year, $30-million deal. While one can hardly blame Butler for taking that money (he wasn’t going to get anything close to that from Kansas City), it was bittersweet to see the longtime Royals DH, who stuck with the team through the roughest of times, miss out on the Royals World Series championship of 2015. That being said, Butler’s legacy in Kansas City, at least initially, wasn’t kind. Reports surfaced that Butler cared more about his stats than winning, and rumors also circulated that he was a difficult teammate to be around, as he didn’t really understand how to lead a clubhouse. Butler carried these clubhouse woes to Oakland, as he gained notoriety for a fight with former Royals teammate Danny Valenica, and Butler ended up being released by Oakland mid-season in 2016, and out of baseball by season’s end.
However, does he deserve Royal HOF status?
I say “yes.” Even though his legacy is mixed, Butler has seemed to make amends with the KC fanbase, as he has seemingly put those problems behind him, and embraced a much friendlier demeanor. He earned some great notoriety last Spring for a video with him and former Royals Mark Teahan, which resurfaced the humorous side to Butler that Royals fans did appreciate before all the “stuff” hit the fan after he left.
Furthermore, when it comes to determining whether a Royals player deserves HOF consideration, I ask myself this: “Was he iconic as a Royal?” And I think with Butler, that asnwer is “yes.” He had a great and fitting nickname in “‘Country Breakfast”. He had his own BBQ sauce. He was known for his bat and little else. Fans booed Robinson Cano because they wanted Butler to hit in the HR Derby at Kauffman Stadium. Maybe Butler wasn’t the most popular guy in the Royals clubhouse during his tenure, but he certainly was “iconic” with Royals fans, and that legacy with fans is what needs to be preserved in the Royals Hall of Fame.
Yordano Ventura, Pitcher
Meet the most “polarizing” player on the Royals Hall of Fame ballot. Ventura was eligible last voting period (2019), but only garnered 13.9 percent of the vote, which was far from enough for enshrinement, but just enough to keep him on the ballot during this cycle.
On a statistical end, it is hard to make a serious case for Ventura, as he barely pitched over three seasons, and his 7.7 bWAR, according to Baseball Reference, doesn’t really put him anywhere close to the Top 24 Royals of All Time (on a bWAR end). While his 2014 and 2015 seasons were memorable both in the regular and postseason, he did show some regression in 2016, as his ERA inflated to 4.45 in 32 starts, and his K/BB ratio dipped from 2.69 in 2015 to 1.85 in his final season in baseball. Perhaps it was just a blip on the radar, but it’s entirely plausible that Ventura was on his way to becoming perhaps just a slightly above-average pitcher for the rest of his MLB career rather than the next “Pedro Martinez”, as Royals fans had hoped after solid 2014 and 2015 seasons.
And yet, much like Butler, Ventura was simply “iconic” and not just with Royals fans, but players as well. Just watching this old news feature on Ventura and what he meant to the other Royals on the team showed how indispensable he was to the Royals from 2014 to 2016. His contributions and impact on the club went beyond just his numbers and production on the mound. He was a beloved Royal who bled blue and white, through and through.
Furthermore, Royals fans will never forget the fire that Ventura brought nearly every day and night when he took the mound. For a few seasons, the Royals were the most “infamous” team in baseball. Some baseball fans hated him and the Royals for his antics. Some, especially us in Kansas City, loved him and his “take no prisoners” approach. But nonetheless, baseball was hugely relevant again in Kansas City, partly because of Ventura. He was Kansas City’s “guy” pre-Mahomes (i.e. the guy Kansas City sports fans would go to war for). And it’s hard to say that there are really any others on this ballot whom Royals fans could say that about beyond Ventura.
After all, it’s not hard to watch an old Yordano “getting pissed off” compilation on YouTube and not get fired up about that great era of Royals baseball that Ventura heavily contributed to.
Ventura statistically may not be worthy of the Royals Hall of Fame. But legacy and how much a player was an icon during his time as a Royals player should mean something.
And based on those two criteria, how could I possibly leave “Ace Ventura” off of my ballot?
(Photo Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)