Royals' Top 5 DHs: Flanagan's take

May 18th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only. If you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Jeffrey Flanagan's ranking of the Top 5 designated hitters in Royals history. Next week: Right-handed starters.

Royals all-time best: C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | LF | CF | RF

1) Hal McRae, 1973-87
Key facts: Played in three All-Star Games, led MLB in doubles (46) and RBIs (133) in 1982

McRae wasn’t your typical designated hitter. He was not a slow, aging slugger unsuitable to play in the field. Instead, McRae was an aggressive hitter who could find the gaps, move runners and be an absolute terror on the basepaths. In fact, for years, McRae likely was the most feared runner coming into second base to break up double plays; in response, MLB eventually came up with what became known as the “McRae Rule,” which required baserunners to slide within the vicinity of the bag.

"Over the years, I felt McRae played dirty," Seattle pitcher Glenn Abbott once said, "but he played to win, and that's what it's all about.”

Rangers catcher Jim Sundberg, before he became a Royal, said of McRae, “I’ve had a few run-ins with him at the plate over the years, and I’d rather not talk about him.”

McRae came to epitomize the Royals’ play of the 1970s and 1980s: aggressive and hard-nosed.

He also was feared at the plate, posting 449 doubles, 169 home runs, 1,012 RBIs and a .293 average as a Royal. McRae twice led the league in doubles: 54 in 1977, and 46 in '82. His .407 on-base percentage and .868 OPS in '77 led the American League.

Like Hall of Fame teammate George Brett, McRae was tutored by legendary hitting coach Charley Lau.

“Nobody was more of a student of hitting,” Lau once said of McRae. “Hal took what you told him and tried it. And succeeded.”

2) , 2007-14
Key facts: One All-Star Game appearance, one Silver Slugger Award

“Just a pure hitter,” Brett once said of Butler. “Had a great eye at the plate, didn’t give in to the pitcher. That’s really a trademark of really good hitters.”

Former teammate Raul Ibañez also said of Butler, “He’s a professional hitter. Fans really identify with him, and it’s easy for them to fall in love with a guy like Billy.”

Indeed, Butler, known as “Country Breakfast,” was a loveable Royal who cared about the community. And in eight years with the Royals, Butler averaged .295 with an .805 OPS. His best season came in 2012 -- his All-Star season -- during which he hit 32 doubles and 29 home runs with 107 RBIs that year.

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3) , 2015-16
Key facts: Silver Slugger Award in 2015

Morales was one of several key free-agent signings during the incredible 2014-15 offseason that paved the way for the 2015 World Series title. He belted 41 doubles and 22 home runs that season, driving in 106 runs while hitting .290.

Morales delivered the huge three-run home run that sealed the Royals’ Game 5 victory over Houston to win the 2015 American League Division Series. Morales came back the next season and hit 30 home runs with 93 RBIs for the Royals. Morales also holds the club record with 15 total bases in a single game (Sept. 20, 2015).

“He is just one of those guys you always think is going to come up with the big hit,” former teammate Eric Hosmer once said. “He was clutch.”

4) , 2017-19
Key facts: Led American League in home runs with 48 in 2019

If Soler continues to dominate the league like he did in 2019, he will rise up in these rankings without a doubt. As it is, he has had one monster year for the Royals so far.

Soler shattered the club record for home runs in a season with 48 last season, topping Mike Moustakas’ mark of 38 set in 2017.

“I don’t think I’ve ever managed someone who could hit a ball as hard or as far as Jorge Soler,” manager Ned Yost said. “And he has an incredible eye and incredible awareness at the plate. He doesn’t chase bad pitches. In fact, sometimes he’s almost too patient.”

5) Chili Davis, 1997
Key facts: .896 OPS in 1997

Davis had just one season in Kansas City, but what a season it was. With the fences moved in 10 feet from bullpen to bullpen at Kauffman Stadium during that era, Davis took full advantage, posting a career-high 30 home runs with 90 RBIs. He also had an impressive .386 on-base percentage.

Honorable mention: Bob Hamelin, 1993-96
The 1994 rookie of the year, “The Hammer” was a fan favorite who looked like he had a huge future in Kansas City. He hit 24 home runs with 65 RBIs in the strike-shortened ’94 season.