Thank You, Alex

We all knew this was coming.

Maybe you weren’t for sure it would be at the end of this season, but it was on the horizon. The truth was that most of us were well aware that we were seeing the tail end of Alex Gordon’s career.

So when the news arrived on Thursday, it wasn’t a complete shock. I was out of town when I found out and it didn’t really hit me at first. Sure, it sounded right and made sense, but my brain wasn’t really processing everything.

It would be later that day I realized there would be no more sliding catches in left. No throwing out runners at home. No long drive into the fountains.

Fourteen years is a long time to play baseball. It’s an eternity if you spend it playing for one team. Some days it feels like just yesterday that the young man from Nebraska made his debut at third base, wearing number seven. Other days it feels like he has been in Kansas City forever and we can’t remember a time he wasn’t in Royal blue.

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But it all wraps up this weekend. A relationship that started in 2005 is ending (for now; a betting man would expect Gordon to be kept in the organization in some capacity that will be announced in the near future) and it’s hard not feel like an era in Royals history is wrapping up as well. Gordon was that connection between era’s; he was drafted before Dayton Moore became Kansas City GM and was also part of the foundation that brought playoff baseball back to Kansas City.

Even Gordon’s career is a story of both frustration and joy. Early in his career he was the struggling youngster, a kid who was supposed to take the mantle of being “The Next George Brett”. In 2010 he was sent to the minors to learn a new position (left field) and by the end of 2011 had worked himself into one of the best all-around players in the game. Gordon’s story was always one of hard work and persistence, a story that lines up with Moore’s attempt to build the Royals back into an elite franchise.

He was here when the team was a bunch of nobody’s plodding along, making an attempt to appear as close as possible to being a major league baseball team. He was also here when the team returned to prominence, even providing some of the biggest moments in Royals history. If someone was writing the complete story of the Kansas City Royals, it would be impossible to do without a large section devoted to Alex Gordon.

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The all-time Royals numbers prove it. Fourth in bWAR and home runs. Fifth in total bases and extra base hits. Sixth in games played, plate appearances, hits and runs batted in. Alex was a three-time All-Star, a seven time Gold Glove award winner and a Platinum Glove winner. He is considered one of the greatest defensive left fielders of all-time and might even be the greatest.

Just like George Brett was the leader during his era, the Royals teams of the 2010’s followed by Gordon’s example. His work ethic is legendary at this point and while he wasn’t always the most vocal teammate, he was one who spoke volumes by the amount of work he put into his job. There is a reason that so many former Royals honored Alex this past week and spoke of what he meant as a teammate to them. It really makes one wonder ‘What If?’ after the 2015 season if he hadn’t re-signed with the Royals.

While many have decried the signing five years later, I still insist it was vital for Gordon to return to Kansas City. It spoke volumes that Gordon didn’t want to play anywhere else and even the thought of playing with another team bothered him. It told other players that in the right situation, the team was willing to pay and reward loyalty. But more than anything, what Gordon meant to this team and his leadership would have led to more players questioning whether they wanted to stay in Kansas City. Instead, most all talk about their time with the team as being a positive and I would tend to believe Alex being around was a big part of that.

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For me as a fan, Alex meant hope. As mentioned, Gordon began his career during one of the lowest points in team history. The Royals had one winning season between 1995-2012 and it was a long 29 years between playoff appearances. From day one, Gordon was a sign of the future and hope that the team could get back to the promise land. I’ve always hated the moniker of “Next George Brett” that has been stuck on many a Royals prospect and it was no different for Gordon. Alex Gordon needed to find who he was and not worry about what he was expected to be.

I always loved his work ethic. When he was asked to learn left field, rather than question it, Gordon put his head down and tried his best to make it work. Commitment. Work ethic. Those words really describe what Alex Gordon was all about. How could you not root for that guy? He was going to try everything possible to be a successful baseball player and eventually he got there.

Maybe that is why I gravitated to Gordon. I was always taught that if you work hard and keep your head down, success will come your way. Honestly, it’s a very midwestern type of mentality and Gordon was always one of us. Grew up a Royals fan. Loved watching them while growing up in Nebraska. Gordon wanted to see this team succeed as all of us did, because he was invested. We were invested.

My favorite player growing up was George Brett and he will forever be #1. But #2 is Alex Gordon and it isn’t close. The dives. The arm. A gapper hit into the outfield for extra bases. Diving into the stands to make a catch. Climbing a wall to get an out. He was always in the best position to make a play and never half-assed it on the basepaths. His uniform was always dirty by the end of the game and you never had a doubt that he had just given 110% out on the field. Maybe Alex got closer to being George than we thought; that sure sounds a lot like the attributes of #5 that we all adored.

Credit: Jason Hanna/Kansas City Royals

So when the curtain falls on Sunday, one of the greatest in Royals history will leave the field for the last time as a major league ballplayer. There won’t be any fans to cheer him off and in some ways I’m sure Gordon is fine with that. He has always been humble and not one to preen for the attention.

Which is going to make the next step awkward for him. He will easily be a member of the Royals Hall of Fame. He will get his number retired, the fourth in Royals history (unless Ned gets his retired before). He will also get a statue out behind the outfield, probably of him pointing his finger in the air as he rounds first base after hitting a home run in Game 1 of the 2015 World Series. I promise you all these things will happen and Alex Gordon deserves all of them. We were lucky to watch him all these years and I am so glad to see he played for my team and only my team.

Some day, maybe next year, us fans will be welcomed back into The K and the Royals will honor Alex Gordon. Everyone will stand and cheer, tears will flow and smiles will be littered across the stadium. While it won’t happen on Sunday, it will happen eventually. A chapter in Kansas City Royals baseball is ending and I couldn’t be happier that I got to witness the entire ride. Thank you, Alex. Thank you for just being you.

A Season in Doubt

Credit: Kansas City Star

Up until Monday, things had been going fairly smooth for major league teams as they had opened up Spring Training 2.0 (or Summer Camp. Let’s be honest here: Summer Camp brings a grin to my face) and started getting ready for the 2020 campaign. In fact, there has been some great nuggets of info coming out for the Royals.

For instance, Josh Staumont is regularly hitting over 100 MPH on the radar. Sure, that’s not a big shock but it’s good to see the time up didn’t make it to where he would have to rev back up again.

Seuly Matias put on a power display the other day that made all his injury woes and slumps look like old news:

But there was also some troubling news from Royals camp over the 4th of July weekend:

Salvy appears to be asymptomatic. In case you are wondering, here is some of the criteria Perez would have to meet to get back into camp:

So while the news on Salvy wasn’t great or awful, the news filtering out on Monday for other major league camps was sobering:

and…

So teams are having issues getting their results back, which makes it hard to feel safe moving forward with any kind of team activity. In fact, we should probably point out that without accurate and timely testing, the idea of getting through a 60 game season feels like wishful thinking. It appears Nationals GM Mike Rizzo agrees with that sentiment:

At this point it is only fair to point out that I have been skeptical of having any sort of MLB season go off without any problems. Considering how as a country we have given up on dealing with this virus and have decided to play a dangerous game of chicken, it has felt like baseball (or any other sport for that matter) would be hard to pull off without seeing a start and stop at some point.

Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

In some ways, the idea of fitting in any semblance of a major league season has seemed foolhardy at best and irresponsible at worst. I as much as anyone misses baseball, but when Covid-19 cases are rising across our country over the last few weeks, it feels weird to think that any sport thinking “THIS” is the time to get going seems selfish. In fact it has been annoying to see baseball fans clamor for guys to ‘shut up and go play’ for the simple task of amusing us. If you can not see the dangers at hand for many of these players and how it could be an unsafe environment, then you aren’t really paying attention.

But baseball owners want to make at least some money this season. Players want to play, but is it worth it? We have already seen many stars opt out for this season, guys like David Price, Ryan ZimmermanIan Desmond, and most recently Nick Markakis. Notice something similar in these players? Yes, they are all veterans:

It only makes sense that players who are in a good financial situation would weigh the risk and rewards of this season and decide sitting it out isn’t the worst thing in the world. In that same regard, it is easy to see how younger players who want to earn a big league job or at the least make an impression on the people in power in their organization would rate the reward a bit higher. In some ways, they don’t have the same options that a major league veteran would have.

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So what will it take before baseball shuts this all down? I tend to believe it will take more than it should if we are being honest. It might take a major outbreak, where the players testing positive reach double digits. It might take testing results interfering in actual games getting played. Or it might even take someone, whether it be a player, coach, umpire or even clubhouse attendant getting deathly ill to pull the plug. More than anything, it feels like it will take too long to make a decision that should be easy to make.

I guess that is my biggest concern: is it worth it to even attempt a season? If Covid cases across the country were slanting down and real effort was being put into keeping everyone safe, then having a season wouldn’t feel like a stretch. But I can’t sit here and confidently say things are being taken care of as they should when it comes to the health of everyone this could affect. Instead, it feels like a business opening too soon and causing unnecessary risk for the sake of $$$.

There is something to be said here about our need of entertainment during this global pandemic. Just like how players have to weigh the risk and reward to do this, I wish more fans would think about whether having baseball is really necessary for their entertainment. As a culture, many latch onto sports to fill some sort of need for competition, to give them a connection to people. That being said, there is a point where that need goes overboard and reality becomes an afterthought.

The reality is this virus is dangerous. The reality is that baseball is entertainment. As much as we all love the game, for me 60 games isn’t worth endangering lives and causing health issues for not only players, but also their families. I don’t think MLB is going to be able to pull off this season and I definitely don’t think we are going to see 60 games. The reality is that baseball comes in way behind containing the virus at this point. It’s too bad people in higher positions within the game don’t see that at the moment.

 

The Greatest Center Fielder in Royals History

For a franchise that has been around now for 50 years, you would expect some big names to fall under the radar when talking franchise best’s at certain positions. The Kansas City Royals are no different and while positions like third base or second base are no-brainers when it comes to the best in Royals history, other positions aren’t quite as easy.

For instance first base feels like a dogfight between Mike Sweeney and John Mayberry. At shortstop, arguments can be made for both Freddie Patek and Alcides Escobar. Even left field could get interesting, although Alex Gordon numbers tend to topple someone like Johnny Damon pretty easily.

But initially I thought center field would be a nice little battle, as the Royals have had some great players manning the middle the of the outfield in their history. It would be easy to see how someone could imagine a tug-of-war going on for the best at that position between Amos Otis, Willie Wilson and Carlos Beltran. Unfortunately, there is a blow away winner and he quite possibly might be the most underrated player in team history.

In fact, when I started this post I fully expected a nice back and forth between these three players before one of them would decidedly pull away and be considered the best center fielder. Instead, it didn’t take long looking at the numbers to see that Amos Otis is not only the best at this position, but that the other two aren’t really keeping it a close competition.

The other interesting part to this is that I’ve long felt Otis was vastly underrated when it comes to talking Royals legends. Royals fans spend a lot of time praising the usuals like Brett, White and Saberhagen but sometimes we forget what guys like Leonard, Cowens and Otis did during their time in Royal blue. In fact what I say next might even be the most shocking thing I mention today: Amos Otis might be the second best Kansas City Royal of all-time.

Before we get to that, let’s look at just how great his career was. Otis is second in Kansas City history in bWAR for position player, offensive WAR, runs scored, total bases, walks, stolen bases, runs created, times on base, sac flies, RE24 and WPA. Otis is also third in games played, plate appearances, hits, triples, home runs, RBIs, adjusted batting runs, adjusted batting wins, and first in Power-Speed #. In other words, he not only did a great job with accumulative stats, but also the ones that mattered in the most important situations.

I really thought Willie Wilson was going to make this a closer race, even while knowing that his power numbers weren’t going to even come close to the level that Otis had. While Wilson’s WAR numbers were right behind Amos (and defensively, Wilson had the higher total while Otis didn’t even crack the top ten), most of the other ones lagged behind a bit. It does say a lot about Willie, as he sits just under Otis in all-time Royals hits and runs scored, and even tops Otis in triples, stolen bases, and singles.

But stats like extra base hits and total bases I expected to be quite a bit closer and even runs created was a big gap between the two outfielders. It does appear that when Wilson’s numbers started declining in the mid 80’s, it was a lot more drastic than Otis’ gradual decline. While both men are mainstays when it comes to many of the Royals all-time offensive statistics, there is a noticeable gap between the both of them.

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When it comes to Carlos Beltran, his short stay in Kansas City ends up hurting his chances of taking top center field honors. In fact Beltran’s power numbers easily top Otis (he is top five all-time in slugging and OPS), but he also left the Royals in his prime and played in an era that was a bit more offensive driven. I do think that if the Royals had been able to lockdown Beltran rather than trade him ( and maybe that was possible if Kansas City ownership had made him more of a priority) this conversation could be a lot different. Instead, we are stuck with ‘coulda, shoulda’ type discussion that leans heavily toward ‘what could have been’.

Which leads us back to Otis. It seems clear that he was the second biggest offensive force in team history and the argument for being the second best player is close as well. According to Baseball-Reference WAR, Otis sits at 44.8 while pitchers Kevin Appier and Bret Saberhagen are at 47.1 and 40.7 respectively. If you wanted to say Appier or Sabes are right behind George Brett, I’m not sure I would put up much of an argument.WAR isn’t the be-all, end-all, but it does give you some weight on their overall value. To be fair, a stat like WPA holds quite a bit of weight with me and Otis and Appier are pretty close there too, 27.5 to 25.4.

So if we say Otis is the second greatest statistical Kansas City Royal of all-time, then it raises a number of questions on why he isn’t mentioned more often. I have to believe that his strained relationship with the media was a big part of it, as back in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, the media could make you or break you. It probably also hurt him that he played on a team with flashier players like Brett or Hal McRae. Whatever the reason, even within Royals circles, Amos Otis isn’t talked about as much as he should be.

Credit: Royals.com

As a younger fan, I just hardly ever knew much about Amos. Maybe it was because he left the Royals after the 1983 season and I started following baseball in 1984, but over the years Otis isn’t put on the same pedestal that other former Royals are. In fact most of us talk more about Bo Jackson (and justifiably we talk about this once in a lifetime athlete) than we do a guy who should be at least considered for the team’s Mount Rushmore. Amos Otis was very close to being a five-tool player (his power numbers were a bit lacking) and finished 3rd in the MVP voting in 1973 and 4th in 1978. For some reason, Otis has fallen into a background character rather than one pushing his way near the front of the line.

Credit: Focus on Sport/Getty Images

There is also a story that shows the person that Amos Otis really was:

On September 12, 1977, with Kansas City cruising to its second straight American League West crown, a game in Royals Stadium was postponed because of a drenching storm. As 16 inches of rain swamped the city and flooded many areas, eventually resulting in 25 deaths, Otis came across eight wet, frightened boys. He piled them into his Lincoln Continental, fed them, and lodged them for the evening. One of the youngsters to whose aid Otis came, Richard Brown, eventually became a Missouri state legislator and in 2017 sponsored a proclamation commemorating the flood and honoring Otis as a Good Samaritan and humanitarian. “I was doing what any other dad would have done,” Otis said

So while many us talk about George and Frank, Quiz and Bo, Sabes and Splitt, I hope moving forward that the name ‘Otis’ will get floated out there as well. The Royals have great, rich history and it feels like a shame that one of the biggest names doesn’t even get brought up as much as he should. Amos Otis is the greatest Royals center fielder in team history, case closed. Let’s hope we start talking about it more, Royals fans.

 

 

 

All Hail King George

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On Friday, the greatest Kansas City Royal in history celebrated his 67th birthday. Yes, Hall of Famer George Howard Brett was honored by many this week, including MLB Network who aired a couple of interviews, a Royals feature and even a couple of classic games in George’s career. George was a “layup” for the Hall and is considered the 5th best third baseman in baseball history according to the Hall of Stats.

George was also my favorite player growing up and a big reason why I love baseball. Nothing beats watching Brett hustle on every play, diving or sliding for everything he earned. Watching George play was like watching a sprinter use every last ounce of strength to get themselves to the finish line; he had no idea how to half-ass anything. Looking back, it is easy to see how a whole generation of Royals fans look to Brett as the definition of what it means to be a Kansas City Royal.

All that being said, I realized today I have never really written an in-depth piece on George. Considering this blog has been around since 2012, it’s weird that I haven’t written thousands of words on what made him a great ballplayer. Maybe it’s because he is George Brett and we all know how great he was. Maybe it’s because I would drone on and on about the numbers that encapsulate his career and place in the fabric of the game. Or maybe I just don’t feel like I can do him justice.

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So instead, I decided to veer in another direction. Today, I want to take a look at some of the greatest George Brett stories out there. While the numbers will speak of what a great ballplayer he was, the stories will define who the man truly was. Look, I am fully aware that Brett is no saint and some of us have heard (or even experienced) the horror stories involved when meeting a cranky George. He is human and I’m hoping we can take a look back at some of those great human elements that helped make him a one of a kind baseball great.

Credit: Getty Images

Let’s start with a great story told by a man who worked at a Cleveland strip club. While I’m sure you are already thinking something seedy is going on,  instead it is more of a look at his generosity:

“Here comes George Brett in the club—I recognized him right away—and I showed him to a chair and got him a complimentary drink. I ran the tables. And if I said somebody got a drink, they got a drink.”

In the Hustler bathroom, Door George is half-seated on the sinks with his head cocked in what the uninitiated might mistake for a parody of ‘fond recollection.’  Chris Brown’s “Don’t Wake Me Up” is blasting overhead and an upbeat announcer is imploring us to keep it going for a dancer of unseen endurance and felinity.

“This was ’87, and the Kansas City Royals were in town,” George goes on. “This was the year after Buckner let that ball go through his legs in the World Series. And, well, I didn’t recognize Buckner, but I recognized Brett. And somebody was giving Buckner a hard time on account of that ball going through his legs.

“And I took care of them, moved them to a more private table and got them drinks. And Brett, he appreciated it. He asks me ‘Can you come to the ballgame tomorrow night?’ And I say, sure.

“Next day, here comes a limousine and an envelope with $100 and two tickets to the game with a note thanking me for looking out for them.” George raises an index finger, the story’s not over.

“From that day on—I never saw him again in my life—but every time the Royals were in town, sure enough, I got an envelope with $100 and two tickets, up ’til the day he retired. That George Brett, now there was a classy guy.”

 

Many wondered why George came back to be a hitting coach for the Royals in 2013. Brett had spent years in the Kansas City organization after his retirement and never did any coaching outside of helping out a bit during Spring Training. But a story from a few years back in Arizona probably points out that the love of the game (and organization) is the biggest reason he helped out the team seven years ago:

Brett is smiling as he talks, shaking his head as he replays the moment in his mind. From the outside, especially recently, it’s easy to wonder if Goose Gossage and Oscar Robertson speak for all former stars when they go off on back-in-my-day rants.

But here is Brett, one of the greatest players of all-time, the man who so openly labels the 2015 Royals better than his own 1985 World Series champions, moved to goose bumps by a play in the first inning of a Cactus League game that most who watched have probably already forgotten.

This is part of what Brett loves about this time of year. He tried to be the team’s hitting coach a few years back and burned out after a few months. He figured that would happen. The hours are brutal, the travel is one of the main reasons he retired as a player, and he grew frustrated that his passion for hitting did not translate into a message he felt was helping.

But here, now, this is baseball in its simplest form. No planes. Little media. Just days full of ball, of seeing someone new, or something new, like a leadoff hitter turning a sharp liner to center into a double.

“I (freaking) love that,” he says. “It reminded me of Hal McRae, in the first game of the World Series in Kansas City against the Phillies.”

 

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention George the competitor. But of what made Brett so great was his ability to tap into a part of him that would not give up, no matter the circumstances. Even an injury wouldn’t slow down George, as told here by ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian:

 

 

 

If you have heard any stories from his bachelor days, you know that Brett enjoyed the night life during his prime and was quite the ladies man. That being said, his teammates had to know that if they went out with George, there was a chance they were going to be left at the bar as he might head out on a date. This was the exact predicament that Clint Hurdle and Jamie Quirk found themselves in during one of these “trips”:

“One night, the three bachelors went partying in Kansas, all in the same car– unusual, Hurdle says, because, “You don’t wanta depend on one of those guys for a ride” — and Brett found a date and went off with her. Hurdle and Quirk got back to the house at four in the morning, drunk, and discovered they had no key to the front door. And Brett was not at home, either. “We said, the hell with it,” Hurdle laughs. “I put my shoes up on the doorstep and slept on the lawn. A neighbor lady came out at about six thirty in the morning and asked if we wanted to come in the house.” Hurdle snorts. “There was dew all over us.”

Did such antics constitute a public nuisance? Did the neighbors complain? Hurdle shakes his head. “Everybody loved George.”

 

Brett was a big star by 1985 when the Royals made it into the playoffs. Around that same time, Chris Berman was being told by ESPN management to cut out his famous nicknames he had for players. Once George got wind of this, he was not happy . Here is the story told by Berman:

 

“I remember, I was very good friends with players my age, and one of the biggest fans of the nicknames was George Brett, Hall of Famer, great guy, great player. And they were going to the postseason. And I called him to wish him luck with a week to go or whatever it was, ‘Good luck, I’ll be rooting for you, I don’t know if I’ll get to the World Series or whatever it was, I don’t cover that, oh, by the way, I can’t do the nicknames any more.’ And he exploded over the phone. I said ‘Well, don’t worry about it,’ you know, whatever.”

“And I was not there at Game 1 (of the American League Championship Series), Kansas City played Toronto, and I guess all the news media gathered around him at the workout the day before, because he’s George Brett, right? And George Grande went up to him, one of the great people in our early anchors, one of our baseball guys, the baseball guy along with Lou Palmer then, and he said ‘George, can I get you?’ And [Brett] said ‘Wait a minute, hold on.’ And he unloads, not at George Grande personally, but ‘What is your management doing?! I’m not going to watch ESPN any more, they’ve told my guy he can’t do nicknames!’”

Among those in the circle was [USA Today sports media columnist] Rudy Martzke, who hadn’t been aware because it was not announced, right? Not ‘He’s not doing them anymore,’ because that would be stupid. But that got written up about eight places the next day, and I’m told that, in the 80s now, that the mail that came when people heard about it, was unprecedented at that time. I’m not saying that meant my stuff was great or this, but the people cared that much that they showered ESPN with letters in 1985. And next season, they were back and he [presumably the producer] was gone.”

So whether you love or hate the nicknames that Berman was doing, you have Brett to thank for them sticking around.

Most of you are fully aware of George’s infamous “Pine Tar Incident”. In fact I even did a “live tweeting” version of the full game right here on this blog a few years back. You would think a Hall of Famer wouldn’t want a moment where he goes loony to be the main moment people think of when your name is mentioned. But for Brett, it could be worse, as he explains:

 

“After the World Series in 1980, every city I went to, I was ‘The Hemorrhoids Guy,’ ” he said. “And you get these people sitting near the on-deck circle, and they have their pops. The first two or three at-bats, they don’t say anything. And then they get a few pops in them and they start making hemorrhoids jokes.

“Well, I heard every hemorrhoid joke in the world –- my best response is, ‘My troubles are all behind me.’ … From October of 1980 to July 24, 1983, that’s what I heard. And from that July 24 to 2013, now I’m the pine tar guy. So it’s really the greatest thing that ever happened to me. Thank you, Billy Martin. I went from having an embarrassing thing that people remembered me for to something positive.

“Pretty much every time I play golf, they always want to check my clubs for pine tar. If I’m playing with strangers or in a pro-am or some type of celebrity tournament, the gallery at every hole brings it up. It’s kind of funny the first couple of holes, but after a while it gets old. And of course, that’s what I’m known for. It could be worse.”

 

But the ultimate story is one you have probably heard and probably numerous times. If we are being honest, this story never gets old:

 

 

 

I don’t know whether I love this story more because here is a baseball Hall of Famer relating the time he crapped his pants, or because he just goes up to guys in Spring Training and is almost giddy telling them about his “accident”. No one is going to tell George to NOT tell that story, even if they don’t want to hear it.

Also…”Who’s the pitchers in this game?”

Credit: USA Today

So happy birthday, George. If anything, this was a reminder that while I still would have loved ‘George, the ballplayer’ no matter what, the fact that he is a charming and fun guy points out why he will always be my favorite. Brett is royalty, not only in Kansas City but in baseball. Nothing will ever change that…no matter how many times he eats bad seafood.

The Season Where We Wait for Games to be Played

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It feels weird to be sitting here in May with no baseball. No exhibition games, no random blowouts, no rainouts to be made up at a later date. Normally this time of year we are already digesting the numbers, figuring out who is for real and who is a fluke while going through the daily grind of following our team. Normally we are enjoying the game that never really gets tired for us as fans.

Instead, we sit here with what feels like an extended offseason, but with no roster moves. We wait to hear on just when we might have baseball again, only to be disappointed to find out nothing definite is on the horizon (Thanks, Trevor Plouffe). It truly is the unknown that will drive you crazy.

I don’t know about you guys, but when the world feels a bit heavy and I need to get away, I always have baseball to lean on. Whether you are watching a game, reading a box score or sifting through Baseball Reference, baseball is that “happy place” I can always dive into and feel better. But what happens when the game has been paused?

There are no numbers to crunch. No players to watch develop. No veterans to appreciate while you can. Yes, we are getting classic games to go back and watch and trust me, I have. I still get the goosebumps watching the 2014 Wild Card Game between the Royals and A’s and probably always will. But it doesn’t quite fit with what is going on right now.

You see, the problem isn’t only that games are not being played. It’s not only that most of us need some break from a news feed that is constantly regurgitating unsettling statistics about this pandemic that reaches that part of your insides that want the best for your fellow humans (sorry, too close to home?). No, the bigger issue is that this game we love, the one that most of us have adored since we were children, is laying a big goose egg and there is not a game in sight to help us avoid a reality where nothing but bad news fills the air.

Go ahead and take your pick on what baseball news you find the most disturbing. How about the purging of minor league teams? Ever since the idea was floated out, it has felt like an awful choice. This outbreak appears to be the final nail in the coffin for some of these teams and there is no good coming from less baseball, even at a lower level.

Credit: Ross D. Franklin, AP

How about the cheating scandal within the game of baseball? The Astros have been punished and a few coaches careers have taken a slight detour but it felt like Boston received a slight slap on the wrist and this shutdown has allowed baseball to sweep all the ugly bits under the rug. I’m not saying we should continue to dwell on this issue until the end of time, but it also seems as if baseball got their ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card and are running with it.

There was even talk of adding MORE teams to the playoffs, ruining what would appear to be a playoff system that has really flourished over the last few years. I have yet to see a reasonable explanation for why this would be a good plan and hope if anything that with everything else going on that this idea is now swimming with the fishes.

All this without even mentioning how baseball can come back while keeping everyone safe, and I do mean everyone. This issue was addressed earlier today by Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle:

This is a long thread, but there are some very important issues that hopefully are being discussed as we speak. It’s not just the players whose safety we have to look out for as there are also staff members, coaches, umpires, vendors, security, grounds crews, etc..you get the picture. You would need a multitude of tests and I seriously hope MLB would be able to receive all that is needed.

Credit: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

This isn’t even mentioning the news that came out on Monday about a proposal that owners have put together to present to the player’s union. In fact one tidbit appears to be an instant sticking point:

Yes, things don’t look good. I haven’t even mentioned the MLB Draft for this year and how it could end up only going five rounds. I honestly don’t know what good actually comes from all this. I really don’t. It feels like baseball needs an overhaul and the people in charge appear to be seeing things from a very small ($$$) perspective. It truly is a sad state of affairs.

Normally, when the games infrastructure is failing, I can always digest games to take my mind off of negligence of the business side of the game. Unfortunately, there are no games to distract me. Sure, I’ve taken in some KBO games and enjoy the action. But it doesn’t have the same feel that I am looking for.

Maybe this is what baseball needs. Maybe MLB needs all this chaos to go on to fix the problems that have been piling up. It has felt the last few years that the players and owners were on a collision course and the result would be changes that are needed for everyone involved.

Maybe things have to be torn down so they can be built back up again. It’s not like the game is that far away from being everything we really wish it was. There will always be flaws, ugly habits in the game that linger for years. But they always appear to right the ship.

That could be the saving grace of this pandemic. Yes, we have to suffer through a (mostly) lost season. But in the end, some areas of concern could be fixed. That is what baseball needs. I just hope cooler heads prevail.

Strap yourself in. This ride is going to get bumpy.

 

He’s Back

Credit: Getty Images

If you spent the winter fretting over whether Royals outfielder Alex Gordon was going to come back to Kansas City or retire, this past week’s news that Gordon was returning on a one-year, $4 million dollar deal should have been a relief. Gordon has been with the organization since he was drafted by Kansas City back in 2005 and has been in the big leagues (outside of a few trips to the minors) since 2007. Gordon is the link between the past and the future, a man who has been around longer than even GM Dayton Moore. When you think of the Royals over the last dozen years, you probably think of Gordon.

Gordon is everything that is good about this organization. Whether it’s the charity work, the countless hours spent on honing his game, the learning curve of leaving third base behind to roam the outfield while at a career crossroad, the defense in left field, the home runs in the postseason and even the struggles over the last four seasons, Alex Gordon has been a constant and the closest thing they have had to George Brett since he retired in 1993.

With all that said, not everyone is happy that Gordon is coming back. Some will argue that a man who is entering his age 36 season will just hold back a younger player who could receive valuable playing time this season if Gordo had stayed home. Some will point out that his best offensive season since 2016 was last year, and even then he could only muster an OPS+ of 96, which is just a smidge under league average. Some will say it is time to move on and let the past stay in the past, as a new era of Kansas City Royals baseball is getting ready to begin.

Photo Credit by Rob Tringali/MLB via Getty Images

But I’m not one of those people. I actually think the best thing for the Royals this season is for Gordon to be in tow. To me, having Gordon back gives this organization some stability as they maneuver into uncharted waters with a new owner and a new manager. To me, the script for the Royals this season just wouldn’t feel right without Alex out in left field.

So today, let’s weigh the positives and negatives of this signing. There are easily a nice dose of both and I will even admit that I see some of what the naysayers are saying when they view this as a poor signing. So let’s take off the “fan” hat for just a moment and put on our “subjective” hat and dissect the return of Alex Gordon.

First let’s look at Alex’s offense. As I said earlier, he did post what I will generously list as a league average season offensively in 2019. With that being said, he did improve his strike out rate, he saw a slight increase in his power numbers (including ISO) and improved his on base stats. But it doesn’t change the fact that at 36 years old, Gordon is a league average hitter at best and history has shown us that most players are likely to regress moving forward rather than improve. He will get on base at a decent clip, provide some power off and on, but his days of being an offensive force are essentially over.

Is Gordon blocking a younger player from getting quality playing time? This is a bit harder to really estimate, but there are two younger players (Brett Phillips and Bubba Starling) who an argument could be made would receive playing time if Gordon had not re-signed.

At this point, it’s not really known if Starling would receive the extra playing time no matter what. Bubba got a chance to show what he could do the last few months of 2019, and while defensively he might be the Royals best in the outfield, offensively he struggled. Over 197 plate appearances, Starling put up an OPS+ of 50 (league average is 100) and posted a negative WAR from both Baseball Reference and Fangraphs. Add in that he has only had two minor league seasons where he was an above average hitter, and it just appears that Starling is better suited to being a 4th outfielder or defensive replacement.

When it comes to Brett Phillips, there is at the least an argument that he should receive more playing time. Phillips struggled again in the big leagues in 2019 (.138/.247/.262, 35 OPS+), but showed some progress in AAA. From June 1 to August 13, Phillips hit .277/.404/.613 over 238 plate appearances and while he still struck out a decent amount (52 times over 58 games), he also walked 40 times and combined for 28 extra base hits.

The changes didn’t really transfer over during his time in the big leagues last year, but he did enough to at least get an audition at some point in 2020. Gordon being back in the picture might hinder that a bit, but you can say the same thing when the Royals acquired Maikel Franco and moved Hunter Dozier to right field. If the Royals were confident in Phillips, Franco wouldn’t have been signed. Gordon coming back appears to have been expected all along, so his return doesn’t appear to be the one blocking Phillips from playing time.

Credit: Royals.com

Gordon’s defense is still a plus for the team, as shown by him winning another Gold Glove award this offseason. He isn’t quite the defender he was in his prime, but he is still considered among the elite at his position. He might be a step or two slower, but he makes up for it with positioning and knowing how the ball moves as it makes its way to left field.

More than anything, it feels that Gordon is at a point in his tenure in Kansas City where he decides his own fate. You can’t blame the front office for wanting Gordon to stay in the fold, as his leadership and work ethic alone gives him value to the organization. There might not be any better stories than the ones told by younger players who want to prove themselves by showing up early in spring training and proving to management their dedication to making the team…only to find Alex Gordon is already there and has been working out for awhile. Gordon is the bar to climb towards in the organization and is the model when it comes to putting your all into being a part of the Royals.

So after 13 years, Gordon should be the one to decide whether he comes or goes. He doesn’t strike me as a player who will stay past his welcome and the Royals don’t appear to be a club that would allow that to happen. Considering that Kansas City will want to keep him in the organization whenever his playing career is over, allowing him to go out on his terms seems like the smart and respectful thing to do for the guy who has only wanted to play for one team.

Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

So while we are looking at the twilight of his career, it makes more sense to keep Gordon around than to not. We shouldn’t expect him to be any more than he has been these last few years and there is a good chance we don’t even see him take the field for more than 150 games in 2020. But considering all the reasons to let him go, keeping Gordon around feels like the right thing to do for this Royals team.

While some fans (like myself) love the numbers involved in baseball and even make suggestions based on those numbers, sometimes keeping a player around has very little to do with the statistics. Sometimes the right thing is to bring back a player who has been the core for this Royals team for the last ten years. Gordon has all the attributes that we love in our baseball players and has earned that respect.

If anything, the Houston Astros have proven over the last four months that structuring an organization based purely off of winning and losing allows for behavior that can be detrimental for any team. For as much grief as we give Dayton Moore, one of the characteristics that he should be applauded for is creating a family atmosphere within the Royals organization. Alex Gordon is the one of the wise father’s of this club and instead of looking at the possible negatives, I’m choosing to look at the positives as he makes his final turn around third base. Gordo has earned it.

My 2020 Hall of Fame Ballot

(Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

We have reached that time of year again, where the discussion reverts back to the greats of the game of baseball. It’s the time of year where the “hot” isn’t really for the stove as much as the debates on which former players are most worthy of going into the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Last year, four players from the current ballot (and a couple from the Today’s Game Era committee) received induction into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown, which appears to have cleared up the logjam we had seen on the ballot for years.Add in a sparse incoming class of eligible players and you have a year where there is one certain selection and a number of questions after that.

As a member of the IBWAA, this will be my sixth year of voting for ‘the Hall’ and as I have said in years past, I have no issue voting for anyone suspected for PED use, since I feel those players played within the parameters of the rules allowed at that time. I’ve long considered the Hall of Fame a museum of the game, not a church, and because of this I vote based on performance alone.

Now, there are a few differences between us in the IBWAA & our brethren in the BBWAA, one of which is the players we have already inducted. Last year we inducted Mariano Rivera and Roy Halladay. In years past we had elected Roger Clemens, and Barry Bonds, so they did not show up on our ballot this year. Also, we are allowed to vote for up to 15 players, where the BBWAA can only vote for 10.

Before we get to my actual votes, you can read my previous votes: Here is 2014201520162017  ,2018 and 2019. Also, follow Ryan Thibodaux on Twitter. That way you can follow how the voting is going before the big announcement on January 21st.

Without further ado, here are my votes for the 2020 Hall of Fame ballot. I have shaken things up this year, so you won’t get the usual huge article breaking down every vote. Instead, this year I am going to break them down by category and explain a bit why I voted the way I did this year. In fact, this year saw a couple of firsts for me.

The Longtime Holdover

This will be the 10th and final year for Larry Walker to appear on the BBWAA ballot and there is still a lot of uncertainty from some on whether Walker is a legit HOFer. It took me awhile to come around, as I was always concerned about how much time he missed due to injury, but over the last few years Walker has become a regular on my ballot.

The numbers tell a story of a great all-around player: he could hit, field, run, hit for power and had a great arm in right field. There are batting titles, Gold Gloves, Silver Slugger awards and even an MVP award back in 1997. Love the black ink? He’s got a lot of that as well. I’m always big on guys who are statistically in the Top 100 of all-time in a number of strong categories, and Walker checks those off as well.

In fact there isn’t much that Walker doesn’t rack up when it comes to what we look for in a Hall of Fame player. According to the Hall of Stats, Walker is the 7th best right fielder in history and 10th according to JAWS. If you believe in the ‘7 Year Peak’, Walker has six seasons with a bWAR of 5 or more. It’s easy to see some of the concerns that are floated about, but when you look at overall weight, Walker is on par with most of the greats in right field.

So will he get in? That is the big question. As of this writing, he is sitting at 85% of the ballots made public. There is normally always a bit of a drop-off once all the ballots are counted, so it will be interesting to see just how big of a drop he has. In fact, he needs 69% of the rest of the ballots to reach the 75% needed for induction. It’s going to be a close one, so keep your fingers crossed that he reaches the final goal.

Credit: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

The Usual Suspects

There are a number of players who have become “regulars” on my ballot over the years. This year that includes Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones, Todd Helton, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, and Billy Wagner. They all have their strong points and reasons for me to check the box for them. If you want a real in-depth look at these candidates, I have covered them in full detail over the years. Here is a quick summation:

Jones and Rolen were defensive excellence and when you add on their offensive production, you have Hall of Fame talent. The big question for both of them is the length of that excellence and how far they dropped from their greatness. Rolen’s claim is a bit longer than Jones’, but both were impressive for a decent amount of time. You can also make the argument that they are both the best defensively at their respective positions, which should bump them up even more in the eyes of the voters. I’m a big proponent of a player’s “peak”, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that I have voted for these two.

Ramirez and Sheffield have amazing offensive numbers and have put themselves in the Top 100 of a number of offensive statistics. I know many refuse to vote for Manny based on his testing positive for multiple drug tests and I respect that. I am one who just votes based off of the numbers, so both Manny and Sheff feel like surefire HOFers.

Helton and Wagner were dominant during their prime. While Wagner’s accumulative numbers don’t quite stack up, the average on those numbers are downright jaw-dropping. Relievers already get shortchanged when it comes to voters, but in my eyes if you are as dominant as Wagner was, you deserve a plaque. Helton was someone who’s numbers are impressive but the ballpark he called home makes him lose votes from some writers. When you look at the overall package though, you have a guy who was one of the best players in the game for a good chunk of his prime. I can see the argument for length of peak, but if you are a “Big Hall”  kind of person, Helton should feel like a slam-dunk.

Schilling has been a lightning rod for controversy over the years and his comments about journalists has not gone unnoticed by the people filling out those ballots. As much as I don’t agree with a lot (most) of what Schilling says, I’m only concerned about what he did between those white lines on the baseball diamond. Schilling was an elite pitcher throughout his career and has immaculate postseason numbers. This should be why he gets a plaque in Cooperstown, even though it feels like it will take at least another year or two for that to happen.

The Lock

The one person that we know will have his name announced on Tuesday is Derek Jeter and really the only question about his induction will be whether or not he receives 100% of the vote like his former teammate, Mariano Rivera, did last year. Jeter was an easy vote for me, since he has the numbers, the postseason glory and mystique that most look for in their Hall of Famers.

My only real knock on Jeter is his defensive prowess or lack thereof. I know some will glance at the Gold Glove awards on his resume and assume excellence, but Jeter at best was an average defender and below-average later on in his career. This doesn’t take away from his spot in Cooperstown, but I feel we should point out a part of his lore that has been exaggerated over the years because of plays where he has ran into the stands to catch a foul ball or the play in Oakland where he dished the ball to the catcher. While they are great highlights, they don’t speak of his actual defensive standing.

I will admit to loathing the media coverage of Jeter during his final season and it would be hard to even put him as one of the top ten shortstops of all time (JAWS has him ranked 12th all-time). Part of the “Jeter Love” stems purely from the national media, which if we are being honest is essentially the East Coast media. My fellow friends in the Midwest will agree with me that most of the media coverage about baseball leans very much to the New York’s and Boston’s of the world and while I understand most are based there on the eastern portion of the country, it would be wise for them to realize that the entire baseball community does not revolve around there little portion of the world.

So you will hear a lot of smoke blown up the arse of Jeter over the next few days and even the weekend he is inducted. While he was a great player, he wasn’t the greatest ever and he definitely doesn’t deserve to go into ‘The Hall’ on his own. Just a bit of reality would go a long way for some of us who would like to acknowledge his greatness without feeling like we will be told he is a God.

Maybe?

For the first time this year, I voted for two players that I don’t really know whether or not I believe they are Hall of Famers but I wanted more time to review their cases. In years past, there has been such a backload of worthy candidates that it was hard to justify a players vote purely to keep them on the ballot. Since most of that has been cleared out now, I went ahead and voted for Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi so I can continue to review their careers.

Abreu’s case is interesting, since he was never a true superstar but was that solid middle of the lineup bat that always put up solid numbers. There isn’t much black ink, and outside of a few All-Star nods, a Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove, no major awards were really thrown his way.

But what Abreu did do was get on base and rack together a solid 18-year career. He has a few statistics that are in the Top 100 of all-time (something I always look for) and even some that have filtered into the Top 30. Abreu is that borderline case that can go back and forth and while right now I’m not a ‘yes’, I wanted to continue looking into it which is why he received a vote from me.

Same could be said for Giambi, who does have an MVP award to his credit, with a few All-Star appearances and Silver Sluggers to his resume. Giambi has less of a case than Abreu (in my eyes), but his career power numbers are impressive: 50th all-time OPS, 68th slugging percentage, 43rd home runs, 65th RBIs, 82nd OPS+, 67th runs created, 87th extra base hits, 37th RE24 and 47th WPA.

Giambi also has a lot of black ink in his career, and for awhile was one of the top players in the game. His career started tapering off sooner than most would like, but his numbers are intriguing enough that I wanted to try and keep him on the ballot. I tend to think he will never get a 100% ‘yes’ vote from me, but keeping him around for another year or two to fully judge his career isn’t an awful thing to do for someone with his career.

So there are my picks. Like most, I always look forward to this time of year and see the greats of the game truly get the honor they rightfully deserve. The question this year becomes whether or not Derek Jeter is joined by a Larry Walker or a Curt Schilling and just how close the votes get. The voters have done a pretty good job over the last few years and I hope that continues as the years go by. More inductions are good for the game and help show off the diversity that litters Major League Baseball. This should be a showcase for the game, one that allows us to put baseball up on a pedestal. The more crowded the pedestal, the better, in my opinion.

 

Better Late Than Never: My 2019 Year End Awards

A few weeks ago, the BBWAA announced their year end award winners, mostly with approval amongst the baseball community. That also means that a group that I am a part of, the IBWAA, announced their winners as well. Per usual, I took part in the voting for all of the awards and normally I go through my picks in this space, breaking down my choices and why it went the way it did.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find the time to write about my votes, so instead you will get a condensed version this year. Before we get started, here are my winners from 2018. You will notice a big difference in articles this year, but I wanted to at least get my votes out there and see how close I was to the mass majority. As always, it is a true honor to have this opportunity to vote and I always vote with the utmost respect. With that being said, here are my picks to win awards in 2019:

American League MVP: Mike Trout

My Top 3: 1-Trout, 2-Bregman, 3-Alvarez

IBWAA Winner: Mike Trout

BBWAA Winner: Mike Trout

National League MVP: Christian Yelich

My Top 3: 1-Yelich, 2-Bellinger, 3-Rendon

IBWAA Winner: Cody Bellinger

BBWAA Winner: Cody Bellinger

American League Cy Young Award: Gerrit Cole

My Top 3: 1-Cole, 2-Verlander, 3-Clevinger

IBWAA Winner: Justin Verlander

BBWAA Winner: Justin Verlander

National League Cy Young Award: Jacob deGrom

My Top 3: 1-deGrom, 2-Scherzer, 3-Ryu

IBWAA Winner: Jacob deGrom

BBWAA Winner: Jacob deGrom

American League Rookie of the Year: Yordan Alvarez

My Top 3: 1-Alvarez, 2-Biggio, 3-Anderson

IBWAA Winner: Yordan Alvarez

BBWAA Winner: Yordan Alvarez

National League Rookie of the Year: Pete Alonso

My Top 3: 1-Alonso, 2-Tatis, Jr., 3-Soroka

IBWAA Winner: Pete Alonso

BBWAA Winner: Pete Alonso

American League Manager of the Year: Aaron Boone

My Top 3: 1-Boone, 2-Baldelli, 3-Cash

IBWAA Winner: Rocco Baldelli

BBWAA Winner: Rocco Baldelli

National League Manager of the Year: Mike Shildt

My Top 3: 1-Shildt, 2-Martinez, 3-Counsell

IBWAA Winner: Brian Snitker

BBWAA Winner: Mike Shildt

American League Reliever of the Year: Liam Hendriks

My Top 3: 1-Hendriks, 2-Rogers, 3-Chapman

IBWAA Winner: Liam Hendriks

BBWAA Winner: Aroldis Chapman

(Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports)

National League Reliever of the Year: Kirby Yates

My Top 3: 1-Yates, 2-Hader, 3-Lugo

IBWAA Winner: Kirby Yates

BBWAA Winner: Josh Hader

So there you have it, another season officially wraps up as we reward those that reached the highest of achievements. It is a great honor that I get to vote every year like this and I can only hope I do a respectable part to show the value of an organization like the IBWAA. This is a game we all love and while we might squabble here and there on numbers, it really comes down to what you value. I can only hope 2020 brings us just as many highly contested winners. Here’s to baseball being back sooner rather than later.

Royals Hire Matheny as Their New Manager…and You Shouldn’t Be Happy About That

The inevitable and expected happened on Thursday, as the Kansas City Royals announced that Mike Matheny would be their new manager, taking over the for the retired Ned Yost. This move can be traced all the way back to last November, when the Royals brought him into the organization to be a special advisor to player development.

While this was expected for months, it has also been a very unpopular hire within the Royals fanbase, with many like myself pointing out many of the issues that led to his dismissal in St. Louis. This hire has left many shaking their head and wondering why the Royals braintrust felt giving Matheny a second opportunity at managing was wiser than taking a chance on a younger option like Pedro Grifol or Vance Wilson.

If I am truly being fair here, lets look at some of the positives that pop up on Matheny’s resume. Under his leadership, Matheny guided the Cardinals to the playoffs his first four years at the helm, including a World Series appearance in 2013 and leading baseball in wins in 2015 (when the Royals won the World Series over the Mets). He accumulated a record of 591-474 over his six and a half seasons in St. Louis, which is impressive for someone who had never managed before and was following in the footsteps of the legendary Tony LaRussa.

What eventually led to his dismissal in St. Louis has been well documented and feels like a list of ‘Do-Nots’ for any manager to follow. He showed a preference to veterans, struggled with communication when met with resistance, was not open-minded to advance analytics, showed poor decision-making when it came to tactical decisions, neglected fundamentals and was not open to outside advice. If you really want a window into why so many Royals fans (and analysts within the game) have been against the hire, this is probably a great way to start.

So with all that said, why was Matheny Dayton Moore’s choice? For one, he is an old school leader who follows in line with Moore on how the game should be played. Both are firm believers in a style that focuses on putting the ball in play, bunting runners over into scoring position and a love of the sacrifice fly. In some ways Matheny is an extension of Ned Yost, at least when it comes to the tactical side of a managers job. As a baseball fan, this part isn’t the worst thing in the world, as the ball being put in play more has proven to be a more exciting product to watch and one that was very successful for the 2014-2015 Royals teams.

The issue lies in the problems that arose in St. Louis near the end of his run. The Royals are in a rebuild (whether Moore acknowledges it or not) and with that comes a higher focus on young talent. Matheny showed a tendency to lean toward his veterans while the younger players would ride some pine if met with any struggles. At this point of development, the younger players in Kansas City will need the playing time and a long stint on the bench won’t really do them any good. Yost was great working with the youngsters, even going back to his time in Milwaukee. This was one aspect of Ned’s managerial style that he was praised for and one that Matheny would be smart to adopt.

Maybe this will change for Matheny since he is in a different situation than the one he was anointed in St. Louis. Matheny was thrown into the pressure cooker when he was hired by the Cardinals, as he was replacing a legend in Tony LaRussa and left with a roster that was playoff-ready. There was no rebuild going on during his stint in St. Louis and the expectancy to win was much higher than it is going to be in Kansas City the next two years. We should know pretty early whether or not Matheny has changed in this regard and it will be interesting how he handles a different side of the game, one that can expect more lows than highs.

Another issue that has to be addressed would be his communication skills. Matheny was known as someone who would shut down for long periods of time and sometimes even ignore certain players. This can’t happen in Kansas City and is a big part of my concern with him taking over this job. He will be working with younger players who need feedback on what they are doing correctly and incorrectly and having a manager that isn’t there to teach them is a major problem. During the press conference on Thursday, Matheny talked a lot about “growing” and acknowledging his “blind spots” and for this to work, this can’t be just talk.

So is it just talk? Obviously at this point there is no way to tell but Moore saw enough that he felt the change was real. Matheny did take an analytics course to grow his knowledge and even hired a consultant to help him deal with the media. At the very least, these are signs that Matheny wanted an opportunity to manage again and was willing to take the steps necessary to make it happen. He was very stubborn during his first managerial job when it came to not only the use of analytics but also taking any other comments, opinions or suggestions as a form of growth. Matheny would be wise to soak in everything that is tossed his away and at the very least consider the advice that is sent his way. If he is serious at growing, he needs to be an open-minded manager.

With this said, the biggest reason I don’t feel Matheny is the right hire for Kansas City is because to me he isn’t the best choice. To me, the best choice has been in the Royals dugout for years now and his name is Pedro Grifol. Grifol has been with the big league club since 2013, when he was brought in as a special assignment coach when George Brett was hired as interim hitting coach. Grifol has also served as the quality control coach, catching coach and hitting coach during his tenure in Kansas City. While he was with the Mariners organization, Grifol was a manager, scout, coordinator of instruction and Director of Minor League Operations. You could probably name it, and Grifol has done it.

So why do I feel he is the best choice? Not only does his wealth of knowledge in all aspects of the organization help, but he is also bilingual, has the respect and admiration of the current players and has watched many of the players move up through the organization as well as watching the current crop that is still down in the minors. Grifol has shown an ability to learn and grow and is someone thought highly of not only within the Royals organization, but other organizations as well. Currently he is on the short list of candidates to become the new San Francisco Giants manager and has been considered for managerial jobs in the past in both Detroit and Baltimore. Grifol would have walked into the Royals managerial job with a leg up on everyone else while having all the tools that organizations look for in their field generals.

So with that said, why the choice of Matheny over Grifol? Managerial experience is almost certainly one of reasons, but there is another reason that isn’t talked about as much but one I addressed just last weekend. Dayton Moore is a deeply religious man and so is Mike Matheny. We have seen over the last few years Moore get more and more aggressive with this beliefs being pushed out in public, most publicly with his battle against pornography. As Royals fans, we have known about Moore’s faith for years and for the most part it has never been a big issue. Craig Brown at Royals Review talked extensively about this the other day (which I highly recommend you click that link) and I felt better after reading it because I wasn’t alone in believing that Moore hired Matheny in part because of his religious beliefs.

I know some will disagree with this, but much like Matheny talked about his “blind spots” when it came to managing, I firmly believe Moore’s “blind spot” is his faith. Part of that faith is believing in second chances and in my opinion that is what is going on here. Moore sees Matheny as a good Christian man and wants to reward him for that by giving him another managing job. By no means am I saying Matheny shouldn’t be given a second chance at some point. Far from it. At some point I do believe he should be given that second chance, as long as he has shown that he has learned what failed him during his first managerial job.

But he is just 15 months removed from that firing, which feels too soon. Add in a candidate in Grifol that feels like the superior choice and you start wondering “why Matheny?”. It seems very apparent where the dots are connected here and why Matheny was Dayton’s choice. Personally, I have no issue with anyone and their religion. As comedian Katt Williams would say “You do you, Boo-Boo”. But when it comes to baseball and hiring coaches or signing players, I care nothing about religion. I want the best person for the job, the person who will give the team the best opportunity to win. Unless they are just an absolutely deplorable human, it doesn’t matter to me whether you praise Jesus, Buddha, Allah or any other deity. I want the best person for the job and Matheny is not that person for the Royals.

Moore has made his decision and I will call it now: this move will be the beginning of the end for Dayton. Over the last couple years, he has made some questionable moves and we’ve seen his decision making become more and more questionable. It used to just be free agent signings or trades but now it has started to seep over into whether his personal belief system is on a higher plain than winning. Need more proof? Look no more than his defending of Luke Heimlich. Moore’s want to give people a second chance almost gave the organization a giant stain that would have been hard to recover from. It is obvious what his mission is at this point and on a daily basis I question more and more whether or not that goal is winning. The hiring of Matheny could very well be his eventual downfall, especially with new ownership getting ready to move in.

So it is very obvious that Matheny being hired by Kansas City was not well received at my house. The hope for those of us who dislike the move is that he proves us wrong and he has truly changed his ways. For the longterm health of this organization, I hope that his hiring won’t push back the progress that has been made these last few years. The good news is this: when Ned Yost was brought in, many like myself looked down on the hire and eventually Yost proved us wrong. Now it’s Matheny’s turn. For our sanity, I need to be wrong.

Musings and Opinions About October and Baseball

(Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports)

With the MLB postseason in the stretch run, I thought I would run through a few topics that are hitting the baseball news cycle this month and put a bit of a personal slant on it. With that being said, let’s start with our Kansas City Royals.

The Wrong Choice?

If you are a Royals fan, you are probably well aware that former St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny is the frontrunner to take over for Ned Yost in the dugout. You are also probably aware that Royals fans have been very adamant about their dislike of Matheny and the feeling that he would be a horrible choice to take the helm in KC. In fact, if you thought Yost caught a lot of flak, it’s nothing compared to Matheny and he hasn’t even been hired yet.

If you are unaware of why many of us within the fanbase are not fond of Matheny, it basically comes down to his dealings with the players near the end of his run in St. Louis. Matheny wasn’t even talking to outfielder Dexter Fowler and it even sounds like he allowed bullying to go on in the bullpen. Go ahead and read this to get a better idea of what was going on while he was with the Cardinals and there is also this from a few Cardinals fans. To say there is some skepticism about Mike and his handling of the clubhouse would be an understatement.

While I have concerns with all of this (and worry how this could effect a young team like the Royals), there is another issue that I have with the idea of WHY exactly Royals GM Dayton Moore would hire a man with this much baggage. It has to do with Matheny’s faith and how Moore seems to want to surround himself with people who are very religious and wear it like a badge of honor on their sleeves.

I almost hate to keep bringing this up, since I have no issue with what anyone believes in or doesn’t believe in. To me, it comes down to whether or not you are qualified to do the job at hand and no matter what team, you should hire the person best suited for the job. If Matheny was coming off a great run in St. Louis and was a good fit for Kansas City, I couldn’t care less what his religious beliefs were. If he was the best choice, he should be the man hired to take over for Ned.

But instead, it feels like Dayton is continuing to hire based more on faith rather than logic. I’m all for giving someone a second chance and the Cardinals job was Matheny’s first managing job. It would be ridiculous to think he didn’t learn anything from it. But the Royals are in a position where they are a young team that needs proper leadership to help them grow and eventually flourish at the big league level, to the point of them possibly contending within a couple of years. Hiring someone like Matheny, who doesn’t appear to work as well with younger talent as well as veterans, would seem to be a weird hire for a team that is in full-blown rebuild mode.

The Royals have two coaches in-house (Pedro Grifol and Vance Wilson) who have had their names tossed around in managing circles and would appear to both be good choices for any team that is considering hiring them. Both have been with the Royals organization for years and have seen many off the current roster make their way through the Kansas City farm system. Both have good relationships with the players and embrace advanced analytics, which every team is now using to help the development of their players.

This feels like a no-brainer, but you have to really worry about a team that thinks Matheny is a good fit to lead the Royals into the next realm of their development. Maybe Grifol has been the choice all along and we’ve all spent a ton of time worrying about nothing. But it doesn’t feel that way and it feels like the beginning of the downfall of Dayton Moore. I hope I’m wrong, because what awaits us if Matheny is hired could be tough to endure when all Moore has to do is make the best choice for the team.

Nationals Devil Magic     

The funnest team to watch this postseason has been the Washington Nationals. Not only are they an underdog (going from the Wild Card game to the World Series), but they are a jovial team that appears to enjoy each other’s company. In fact, it hit me the other day that part of why I like watching this Nationals team as much as I do could be because they remind me of the 2014-2015 Royals teams that had a little bit of luck on their side.

Offensively there appears to be a lot of the Royals formula in their style. This is a team that just finds a way to get on base and numerous times this postseason has managed to compile multiple run innings by “moving the line”. Washington has a bit more power than those Royals teams, but they know how to keep an inning alive and make their baserunners count.

Pitching-wise, their rotation is miles better than Kansas City’s was, but the Royals had an edge when it came to their bullpen. Switching around the roles, the Nationals lean on a dominant rotation while the Royals leaned on their dominant bullpen. There are slight differences (and it makes the late innings a bit more stressful if you are a Washington fan), but you can see enough of a similarity that it’s not hard for a Royals fan to cheer for their brethren in D.C.

If Washington can seal the deal, they would have a giant monkey off their back, much like the Royals did in 2014. The hard part for them was winning a playoff series, which they had never done before. Since then, they have been playing with house money and you can tell how much looser they are on the field…just like when the Royals won the Wild Card game in 2014. Bottom line is while they aren’t carbon copies, they are close enough that it has been easy to get behind the Nationals this October. I can only hope they are able to do what the Royals did in 2015.

Everything’s Coming Up Soto

(Credit: AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The biggest joy I have received from this postseason has been the attention given to Nationals outfielder Juan Soto. Soto, who just turned 21 (I know, you hadn’t heard that yet), has flown under the radar these last two years, especially to the casual baseball fan. But for those of us that follow it more closely, his success is something we pretty much expected. In fact, he probably should have been praised more before even getting to the playoffs.

With all the hoopla for Ronald Acuna, Jr. these last two seasons (and trust me, it’s deserved), Soto is right there with Acuna. I would even go so far as to say they are very similar players, as the numbers will attest. First, Acuna:

Now, Soto:

As you can see, the two have very similar numbers, with Acuna utilizing his speed more and probably the better defender. With that said, it has been nice to see Soto get the attention that Acuna has been receiving since before his recall to the majors. In some ways these two will be linked together till the end of time, much like Harper and Trout or Williams and DiMaggio. I’m not saying these two are on that level, but in the same regard they could be at the level soon.

So enjoy watching Soto in these next few games. It’s a treat that we get to appreciate him on the biggest stage with the biggest spotlight.

The World Series is nearing the end. Award season is just around the corner. And after that? I would like to say Hot Stove season, but the last two winters it has been anything but hot. So enjoy this week. While Major League Baseball has dealt with the de-juicing of the baseballs, the fiasco with the Houston Astros front office, and the news of a possible restructuring of the minor leagues, baseball needs a strong finish to the postseason and hope for an active offseason. The ball is in your court, baseball. Be smart with your next move.

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