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.
The first cycle in the history of Kauffman Stadium came from an unlikely source, but at a huge moment for the team. Unlike the previous two entries on this list, the Royals would use the win as a springboard to a division title.
If you’ve followed along with the other ongoing series I’m working on, a daily recap of the 1977 team, you know that they struggled for the first two months of the season, digging themselves into a pretty large hole in the AL West standings. They played better in June and July, but entered August still 5.5 games behind Chicago.
Fortunately, the Royals had a three-game series against the White Sox on the schedule for the first weekend in August, a week after Kansas City had dropped three of four games at Comiskey Park, despite holding a lead in all three losses. So a raucous crowd of 38,079 was on hand at Royals Stadium for the Friday night opener to see if the home team could begin closing the gap.
The unlikely source for the cycle was Royals first baseman John Mayberry. A slugger who held the team’s single-season home run mark of 34, set in 1975, Mayberry was no one’s idea of a speedster. Despite spending his entire career to date playing in the cavernous Astrodome and spacious Royals Stadium (and one year in Municipal Stadium before the Royals moved into their new home), he had 12 triples in his career entering the 1977 season, in 3,455 plate appearances. Mayberry had also stolen a grand total of 16 bases in that time. And finally, with a batting average of .237 entering the August 5 game, he wasn’t much of a singles hitter, either. In fact, Mayberry, with his power and patience (he led the league in walks in 1973 and 1975) was more of a modern-day “three true outcomes” player. And to make matters worse, he had been battling a sore back; this was the second game in a row he was serving as DH to give his back a rest.
Mayberry collected the game’s first hit, a single with one out in the second against White Sox starter Chris Knapp. Amos Otis and Darrell Porter followed with back-to-back home runs for a 3-0 lead, delighting the crowd, who gave both players long ovations until they came out of the dugout for a curtain call. This was a response to the Chicago fans, who had been doing the same thing for much of the season. That had annoyed the Royals’ players a bit, but they were happy to return the favor in their own park.
“I don’t think they would do that against anybody else. They did it just because they were doing it to us there (in Chicago).”–Mayberry, quoted by Chuck Woodling, Lawrence Journal-World, August 6, 1977
The Royals would add two more runs in the inning, chasing Knapp from the game and handing Kansas City starter Dennis Leonard a 5-0 lead. Chicago got one run back in the top of the third, but Mayberry led off the bottom of the inning with a majestic home run off Chicago reliever Bart Johnson. Mayberry’s 17th home run of the year went over the right-field foul pole for a 6-1 lead. The Royals added four singles and a sacrifice fly in the inning, and the rout was on as they stretched the lead to 8-1.
With one out in the fourth, Mayberry got the elusive triple. Although he would be thrown out at home on a fielder’s choice, he now had four more innings to complete the cycle with a double.
However, he grounded out to end the sixth inning. That led to the second of two benches-clearing incidents involving Johnson and Porter. All that trouble began in the fourth, when Chicago first baseman Jim Spencer ran over Porter on a play at the plate. Porter held on to the ball for the final out of the inning, but when he came to bat in the bottom of the inning, the catcher was still mad. He hit a grounder to the hole at second, and when Johnson came over to cover first, Porter simply charged into him.
“He was wrong. He’s just an excitable guy and gets so wrapped up. There was no call for him doing what he did.”–Royals manager Whitey Herzog, quoted by Chuck Woodling, Lawrence Journal-World, August 6, 1977
Amazingly, the umpires let both players stay in the game. But as the teams changed sides after the sixth inning, the two men exchanged words, then started shoving each other and throwing punches as the benches cleared again. This time, both players did get the heave-ho.
With that settled, the only drama was whether Mayberry would come to the plate again, as the Royals’ big lead almost certainly meant they only had two more turns at bat. Luckily, Kansas City took advantage of two errors in the seventh to score three more runs, these off Johnson’s replacement, Don Kirkwood. The last two came on a George Brett home run, followed by yet another curtain call.
Now Mayberry was due up third in the eighth inning, so he would get one more chance. Al Cowens singled, and Mayberry followed with a double into right field, driving in one more run and completing the cycle.
“I’m not swinging as hard as I usually do. Maybe they should kick me in the back all the time and keep my mind straight. I’m just taking nice, easy swings and making contact.”–Mayberry, quoted by Greg Aiello, UPI, August 6, 1977
The Royals went on to sweep the series, moving to within 1.5 games of Chicago. Less than two weeks later, they took over first place, then cemented their hold on the division with a 16-game winning streak, part of a larger stretch of 24 wins in 25 games.