With spring training underway but no games yet, let’s start sizing up the Royals’ competition in the American League West heading into the 1977 season.
First up, Kansas City’s long-time (at the time) nemesis, the Oakland Athletics. Of course, finally finishing ahead of Oakland was a big step for the Royals–the A’s had been top dog in the division from 1971-75, winning three World Series titles in that span. The fact the team had left KC just before all those good players reached the majors was the cherry on that particular sundae.
But now the A’s were dismantling that team. With the advent of free agency a few years earlier, owner Charlie Finley had begun crying poor. This was hardly news to Kansas City baseball fans, who had heard Finley whine about pretty much everything for nearly a decade before the A’s headed west. But for A’s fans, this was unfortunate–the team had been shedding stars since Catfish Hunter left after the 1974 season. The end of the 1976 season brought a mass exodus, though–Sal Bando, Don Baylor, Bert Campaneris, Nate Colbert, Rollie Fingers, Willie McCovey, Joe Rudi, and Gene Tenace all became free agents with almost no chance Finley would re-sign any of them. Oakland even traded manager Chuck Tanner to Pittsburgh for catcher Manny Sanguillen. The A’s would also release Billy Williams, sell Paul Lindblad, and trade Ron Fairly and Phil Garner before the 1977 season began. Of the 38 players Oakland used in 1976, only 11 would play for the Athletics in 1977.
Still, the A’s weren’t completely bereft of talent. Pitcher Vida Blue and center fielder Bill North were two holdovers from 1976. All those moves brought in Sanguillen, Tony Armas, Mitchell Page, Rick Langford, Doc Medich, Dave Giusti, and Doug Bair. Finley appointed former Royals manager Jack McKeon to lead the 1977 A’s. Still, the consensus was that Oakland was likely to finish closer to the bottom of the AL West than the top.