Billy Butler can now, if he chose, boast of an achievement that even George Brett can’t match after being selected Wednesday as the Royals’ player of the year for the third time in four seasons.
Brett was an eight-time recipient in a Hall of Fame career that spanned 21 seasons, but he never garnered three awards in a four-year span. Butler now adds the 2012 honor to his selections in 2009 and 2010.
Mention this to Butlerand he stops you.
“I can’t be compared to George,” he said. “George is a Hall of Famer. He did it for over 20 years, and he’s out of my league. It’s great to be mentioned in the same sentence with him, but I’m not anywhere close to that type of player.”
Even so, Butler, at 26, joins Amos Otis and Mike Sweeney as three-time recipients. Brett is the only player chosen more than three times. Left fielder Alex Gordon was last year’s winner. Seven of the award’s 25 winners are in the club’s Hall of Fame.
“If we didn’t have Billy Butler,” general manager Dayton Moore said, “we’d be looking for a player like Billy Butler.”
The award – officially the Les Milgram Player of the Year – dates to 1971 and is determined through a vote by the Kansas City Chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
The group previously selected shortstop Alcides Escobar as recipient of the Joe Burke Special Achievement award and closer Greg Holland as the Bruce Rice Pitcher of the Year.
The award, for Butler, caps a remarkable year of personal achievements:
Selected in January as the Hutch Award winner, which annually honors one big-league player for on-the-field achievement and off-the-field charitable works.
Chosen in July to the All-Star Game for the first time in his career, which led to rousing support throughout the festivities from hometown fans at Kauffman Stadium.
Put together the best season of his career while setting numerous career highs, including 29 home runs and 107 RBIs. Like newer metrics? He also set a career high with a 140 OPS+ (i.e., a combination of on-base percentage and slugging percentage adjusted to a player’s ballpark).
“I was really pleased by everything that happened this year,” he said. “Hopefully in the future, I’m doing it on a playoff-contending team. That would mean even more.”
Brett, at .305, is the only other player with at least 500 games as a Royal to own a higher career batting average than Butler’s .300. And Butler, after batting a club-leading .313, is surging: a .306 hitter over the last four years while averaging 159 games.
“Billy can hit good pitching,” manager Ned Yost said. “Some guys are good hitters but can’t hit good pitching. When they face the elite guys, they’re not going to hit much. Billy is like (Detroit’s Miguel) Cabrera – he can hit everybody.”
Butler said he welcomes the responsibility of being the lineup’s primary run-producer.
“I definitely pride myself on driving in big runs,” he said. “I believe there are players who raise their game when team needs it most, and that’s what I want to be for this team. It’s what I’m expected to do in the lineup.
“And when I do it, I don’t want it to come as a surprise because that’s what I’m paid to do. That’s why I’m in the lineup. If I’m not doing that, I’m not doing my job.”
The award is named in memory of the former president of Milgram Food Stores who also served on the Royals’ first board of directors. Les Milgram was the 1972 recipient of the Mr. Baseball Award for contributions to professional baseball in Kansas City.
Those efforts included helping to bring the A’s to town in 1954 from Philadelphia and, later, convincing Ewing Kauffman, a former classmate, to invest in an expansion franchise, the Royals, after the A’s departed for Oakland in 1968.
Milgram died in 1976, at age 58, from brain cancer.