Steve Busby was a major part of the Royals’ first championship team construction, the foundation building, the climbing process and finally the final brick in 1976.
He was the team’s first All-Star pitcher, the only one to throw two no-hitters and joined Amos Otis in the inaugural class of the Royals Hall of Fame.
Busby helped push the Royals their first playoffs, but he couldn’t participate. He made 15 starts in 1976 before being diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff. “Buzz” was the first pitcher to undergo surgery for the injury but he never returned to form.
He’s spent most of his post-playing career working in the Rangers’ broadcast booth, and with the Royals working toward their first playoff spot since 1985, I asked him about the process of building toward that first championship.
Accountability became a motivating factor.
“It may have been a little easier then,” Busby said. “There was no free agency, no influx or outflow of players. We all had come up together, me, George (Brett), John (Mayberry), Hal (McRae), Amos (Otis), so many guys. The core of the team was developed over three or four years.
“We learned to depend on each other. We played for each other. You didn’t want to embarrass the club and the guys you play with because you care about them.”
Through a series of great trades and draft selections, the Royals turned a winner in their third year, 1971 and were part of the American League Western Division race after the All-Star break in 1973. They slipped the next season but won 91 games in 1975. In 1976, they finally caught the A’s, who had won five straight division titles.
The Tigers, winners of three straight AL Central Division titles, is the current target.
The 1976 Royals moved into first place on May 18 and never surrendered. They built a 12-game lead in early August, watched it fall to 2 1/2 with five games remaining, but clinched with a couple of games to spare.
Maybe the biggest move by the Royals came in late 1975, when manager Whitey Herzog replaced Jack McKeon.
“It was a different voice at the right time,” Busby said. “When the change was made, everything was in place. Whitey allowed it to come together and it took off.”
Times have changed, and so have methods in building clubs. But the core of these Royals, especially position players Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar has been around for several years. All but Moustakas has played at least 500 games with the Royals and he’ll cross that milestone by the end of the season.
“It’s an outstanding group,” Busby said. “But inexperienced from a certain standpoint.”
Just like Busby’s Royals, until 1976.