Note: April 10, 2023 will mark the 50th anniversary of the first game at Royals/Kauffman Stadium. Each week, I will look at one memorable moment in stadium history, with the top moment revealed on April 10, 2023. Missed an entry? You can find past ones here.
I think sometimes we forget what an amazing baseball story Frank White is. Although he wasn’t born in Kansas City, he grew up there, going to high school in the shadow of old Municipal Stadium. Lincoln High School didn’t have a baseball team, but Ewing Kauffman had the great idea to create the Royals Academy, attempting to make baseball players out of athletes from other sports. White demonstrated an aptitude for the game, progressing through the minors and making his debut in 1973, playing games in the very stadium he had helped build in the offseason.
But when White reached the majors, he was more of a backup infielder, and he was hardly an offensive force. To make matters worse, once he began starting regularly because his defensive ability was too good to keep on the bench, he was supplanting fan favorite Cookie Rojas in the lineup. Royals fans took a bit to warm up to White, especially because he hit just .229 in 1976, his first year as a starter.
White worked hard on his offense, though. The fielding was always exceptional, but White added enough offensive ability to make a case as the best second baseman in the AL, especially from 1977-1982, when he won a Gold Glove in each of those seasons and was an All-Star four times. Then he added some power to his game, reaching double digits in home runs each year from 1982-1987, including a career-high 22 in both 1985 and 1986. For a guy who was the classic “all glove, no bat” utility infielder when he reached the majors, it was an impressive development.
White ended the 1989 season with 1,954 career hits. He hit .256/.307/.328 that season, which wasn’t great (an 80 OPS+, meaning he was below-average) but not a complete zero. However, the Royals were eager to get a look at prospect Terry Shumpert. Among the many disasters going on with the Royals in 1990, as a 92-win team that had added the reigning NL Cy Young winner struggled to a 75-86 mark, the team’s handling of White’s future was definitely a big one. He wanted to keep playing; the team was non-committal.
But that didn’t matter on September 11, 1990, when White became just the second player in team history to reach the 2,000 hit plateau, after George Brett. The Royals were simply playing out the string on their disappointing season, and were also suffering through an eight-game losing streak when they took the field to face Toronto. At the time, the franchise record was 11 straight losses, so while this was not quite uncharted territory, it was unusual.
Toronto held a 5-1 lead when the Royals came to bat in the fourth. Blue Jays starter Frank Wills hit Gerald Perry with a pitch to start the inning. Singles by Jeff Schulz and Mike Macfarlane loaded the bases. Kurt Stillwell hit a sacrifice fly. White came to bat; after an 0-3 the night before and a fly ball in his first at-bat of this game, he was attempting for the fifth time to get number 2,000. This time, he came through, rifling a double off the center-field fence to drive in two runs. A crowd of 18,493 gave him a long standing ovation. White smiled and tipped his cap to the crowd.
“I respect them so much I had to give them a bow,” he said after the game. “They’ve been good to me for so long. I’m glad they were here to share it with me. It was their way of saying thanks, and I really appreciate it.”
Unfortunately, that was the final highlight of the night for the Royals. White was stranded at second, and the Blue Jays went on to win, 8-4. White ended the season with 2,006 hits, still second in team history.
Just for perspective, consider that only 291 major-league players have reached 2,000 hits. The closest active Royal to White on the franchise leaderboard is Salvador Perez. He has 1,217 hits as of this writing, so he would need to average 150 hits over the next five seasons (a mark he has reached exactly twice) just to be in White’s range. Obviously I hope he does it, but that’s a lot of hits.