Royalty’s Notebook: February Royals Thoughts

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Spring Training is so close that we can practically smell the freshly cut grass and see the perfectly drawn baselines. It’s that time of year when the phrase ‘Pitchers and catchers report’ is music to any baseball fans ears. Over the last few weeks, I have had a number of thoughts littering my head and figured rather than writing four separate articles, I would shoot out a few short notes on some Kansas City Royals related activities that have been going on. What better way to start than with the pitcher we call ‘Duffman’…

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There are so many reasons to love Danny Duffy right now. Duffy showed himself to be a true front of the rotation starter last year and was rewarded with a nice new contract, which means he will be around for at least the next five years. There is his return to twitter where he is trying to do some good. Speaking of Duffy the good samaritan, if you weren’t already ‘Team Duffy’, than him meeting and talking to fans at Kauffman Stadium after Yordano Ventura’s death should have swayed you. But the story that made me really proud to know that Duffy is on ‘my team’ is the one where he bought a Yordano bobblehead. This story must be read, so click here. In short, a Royals fan in the Kansas City area sold his Ventura bobblehead on ebay and right before he mailed it off, he saw it was addressed to Duffy. He canceled the payment and sent Duffy a message, telling him he wasn’t going to charge him for the bobble. Duffy told the guy he was trying to buy up as much Yordano merchandise as possible and then mail it to his mom at the end of the season. When I first read that, a legit huge smile broke out on my face. I have long rooted for Duffy to succeed, if anything because the guy has shown again and again that he is an awesome human being. The fact that he was accumulating as much Yo’ memorabilia as possible because it would help her “remember the good times” was just phenomenal. Talk about being proud that he is in Kansas City; I have never seen an athlete who is so open about his feelings AND in such a positive way, to boot (Yes, that was slightly directed at Zack Greinke). We might love our Salvy, our A1 and our Moose, but dammit if I’m not a Duffy fan for life because of what he represents as a player and a person.

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Speaking of Ventura, there has been a call amongst many Royals fans for the team to retire his number 30 this season. I understand that for most of us there is an emotional attachment to the group of players who guided this team to their first championship in 30 years. I was just as broken up about Ventura’s passing as most other Royals fans and I figure the home opener on April 10th will probably cause a few lumps in throats. That being said, it feels like the push to retire his number is an emotional thought and not a logical one. Over the team’s 47 year history, they have retired three former Royals: George Brett (5), Frank White (20) and Dick Howser (10). That’s it. In my eyes there have been a few worthy numbers that could have been retired by Kansas City over the years, but I do like that they aren’t just retiring numbers left and right. To me, if you are going to go that route, it better be a player who really marked their spot in franchise history. While Ventura had a number of big moments in his short career, he did only have three full seasons under his belt, and was just slightly above league average overall during that time. I have heard a number of great ideas in honoring Ventura this year, like leaving the ball on the mound opening day and letting manager Ned Yost make a “pitching change”, or naming a baseball academy down in the Dominican Republic after him. Those are just two great examples of honoring his passing and I wouldn’t even have a big issue with putting him in the Royals Hall of Fame in the future, even if it would feel like it was being done because he passed away while still with the team. But retiring his number feels like an emotional reaction to his death and I just don’t agree with it. I’m sure the Royals will honor his time in Kansas City this year and they should; but lets not overreact. Honoring Ventura is fine, but retiring his number is unnecessary and to be brutally honest, not really earned.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals

With the Royals signing of Jason Hammel this week, Kansas City has marked off almost every need that they were searching for this winter…that is, except for another bullpen arm. The thought has been that the Royals would possibly sign one more reliever and with Spring Training looming in just a few days, there could be a last-minute signing, especially if they bring Luke Hochevar back into the fold. Hochevar is coming off of Thoracic Outlet Surgery but it’s been thought all along that as long as he is healthy, the team would look to bring him back to Kansas City. If not Hochevar, there are a few options still available on the market. Guys like Travis Wood, Jonathan Niese and former Royals Joe Blanton and Jorge De La Rosa are still available. The Royals also checked in on Seth Maness last week, the former Cardinals reliever who bypassed Tommy John Surgery and elected an experimental surgery that would have him back on the field in 7 months. While I tend to think Hoch will be back fairly soon, Kansas City has many choices and with a group of young arms also in the running ( Josh Staumont, Kevin McCarthy and Eric Skoglund among them) there will be some definite competition in the bullpen this spring for the Royals.

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The Hammel signing also meant that room would have to be made for him on the Royals 40 man roster, and Alec Mills was the unfortunate person to be sent packing. Mills was dealt to the Cubs for outfielder Donnie Deewees. Mills was a solid arm for Kansas City’s system but at best was probably someone who would have success out of the bullpen rather than in the rotation. Deewees is an interesting acquisition, as he is a speedy outfielder type that Dayton Moore continually covets. The scouts evaluation of Deewees seems to be on par with current Royals outfielder Billy Burns:

ESPN’s Keith Law recently rated Dewees 15th among Cubs farmhands, noting that he’s a 70-grade runner that can handle center field from a range standpoint but has a 20-grade arm that limits him to left field. Longenhagen ranked him 19th among Cubs prospects offering a similar take (albeit a 30-grade arm instead of 20), writing that without the power to profile as a left field regular, his best scenario is a Ben Revere type. B-Pro’s Steve Givarz was a bit more optimistic about his glovework but still pegs him as more of a fourth outfielder than a potential starter.

Deewees is still only 23 years old and more than likely will start the year in Kansas City’s High A Ball team in Wilmington. This could be a trade to monitor over the next couple years and see how Deewees has (or has not) developed. When all else fails, Moore will always lean towards speed.

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Finally, Kansas City went out and signed Brayan Pena to a minor league deal this past week. Pena is a former Royal who played for Kansas City from 2009-2012 and spent most of his time as a backup catcher. Pena is a serviceable receiver who has a bit of pop in his bat and is well liked in the clubhouse. The honesty is that this is a depth signing and much like Tony Cruz last year, Pena will most likely be spending his time in Omaha this year unless something goes wrong for Salvador Perez or Drew Butera. It’s good to see Brayan back in blue, but I wouldn’t expect to see much of him once the season starts.

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In just a few days pitchers and catcher will be reporting to Spring Training and we can actually start digesting some news on our ‘Boys in Blue’ and start getting a feel for what the major league roster will look like come April. I can say with all honesty that I feel better about the feel of this roster now than I did even a few weeks ago. For all intent and purposes, the Royals are looking to gain back what they lost last year, which would be the top of the Central Division. Next week, step one begins on a long road to their (hopeful) final destination, October baseball.As always, hope springs eternal.

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The Drought Is Over

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On Friday night, the 29 year wait ended. On Friday night, the Kansas City Royals clinched a spot in the 2014 playoffs, assuring themselves of at least a Wild Card spot when the postseason starts next week. As most know, the Royals hadn’t reached the playoffs since the won the World Series back in 1985. During that span, anyone associated with the Royals, whether it be players, coaches, broadcasters, front office personnel, vendors and even fans have felt the weight of this playoff drought. It had almost gotten to the point to where that became the team’s defining talking point, not anything that was actually going on out on the field or within the organization. I’ve had a little over 24 hours to think about this and what this means personally to me. Like a lot of people, a hefty weight has been lifted off of everyone’s shoulders.

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I immediately thought of all the people involved within the organization who had been around forever. People like Denny Matthews, who has been with the team since the beginning and has dealt with all the highs and lows. I made sure Friday night that I was listening to Denny’s call, if for no other reason than it is comfortable listening to him. Art Stewart came to mind, the long time Royals scout and even guys like Mike Swanson, VP of broadcasting, who has had a couple tours of duty with Kansas City, going all the way back to the 1970’s. I thought of how happy guys like George Brett, Mike Sweeney and Jeff Montgomery would be, former players who were still around and working within the organization. If anyone understood how it was for us fans, it would be these folks, who have endured just as much heartache as we have.

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I also thought of former Royals no longer with us. Dick Howser came to mind, as he was the last man to take the Royals to the postseason. Howser came down with brain cancer into the 1986 season and passed away in June of 1987. Dan Quisenberry and Paul Splittorff both came to mind as well, longtime Royals who also lost their battles with cancer. Former Royals announcer Fred White passed away in May of 2013 and if ever there was a good trooper for the organization, it was Fred. White was still with the organization when he passed away and no one would have loved seeing the Royals celebrate a playoff berth like Fred White. There are probably others I have forgotten about, all who would have loved this moment.It goes to show how much this team meant to so many different people.

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I then thought of my Grandma Thornton. Craig Brown has a great read about him watching games with his Grandfather and my story is somewhat like that. When I first got interested in baseball around 1984, I would go listen to Royals games at my Grandma’s, as we would listen to Denny and Fred call the play by play on the radio. She would tell me stories about growing up listening to the Yankees as that was the only team in the area that stations would broadcast, since there was no local team yet. Listening on the radio made you picture the action in your head, as Denny and Fred would weave their words to give us an idea of what was happening on the diamond. I fell in love with baseball and shared that with my Grandma for many years. Once the Royals started being on television more we would watch the games and  talk about what was happening. I sometimes wish I could go back to then, when I was more innocent and just watched the game without questioning managerial tactics or analyze statistics like I do today. I think I was one of Grandma’s favorites(easy for me to say!) and part of that reason was we both loved this game. Before she got sick she gave me some of her baseball memoribilia she had purchased over the years, as she wanted me to have them. At the time I felt weird about it, since she wasn’t even sick at that point, but I know now that she wanted me to have these items and was afraid I wouldn’t end up with them if it got into the hands of other family members. I still remember her sternly telling me I was to take them and this wasn’t up for conversation. I took them, even if it was reluctantly, and the baseball signed by all the 1990 Royals still sits on a shelf in my bedroom, along with other signed balls. I’m sure if she was still around she would have loved seeing the Royals in the playoffs, which puts a smile on my face every time I think about it.

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Lastly, I thought of Dayton Moore. Over the last few years I have been very vocal about whenever I felt Moore had madea move I felt was less than great. Most of the time it was earned, and when a General Manager is in charge as long as Dayton has been and not produced a playoff team it is only natural to question whether or not he is suited for the job. I still am not the biggest fan of him, but I will give credit where credit is due; Dayton did it. He assembled a team that got the Royals to the playoffs. I don’t agree with how he built the team and there will still be a few doubts about “the trade”(and I’m sure it will get brought up again in the future) but for now none of that matters. All that matters is that Dayton kept his word and got this team to posteason play. For that I will give him a “thank you, Dayton” and hope that this will just be the first of many appearances. Adding Jason Vargas has helped this team in 2014, but credit also must go to all the players drafted, signed and developed during his tenure. Sure, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are still question marks, but look at guys like Salvador Perez and Danny Duffy as two guys that have been huge for this team. Look at the profits of the Zack Greinke trade, as Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain are regulars in the lineup(and Jake Odorizzi helped bring in James Shields and Wade Davis). Even the bullpen has Moore’s fingerprints on this team, as both Greg Holland and Kelvin Herrera were developed in the Royals organization. Moore has made some questionable moves over the years and probably will again in the future, but for now he backed up what he promised, and that is what matters in the present.

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I have been critical of this organization in the past, and I will again in the future. It’s not out of spite or to complain, it’s out of love. I love this team, and I love all the joy that being a Royals fan has given me over the years and I always want them to succeed. Sure, there have been huge bumps in the road, but it has made this season even more special. On Friday night I sat there and thought about all the things I love about this team and this game and I am so glad I stuck with them. Sure, the Royals might play the wild card game on Tuesday and lose, and just like that it will be over. Or they will keep playing. And keep playing. Either way, the Royals have done what many of us weren’t for sure they could do, and that is break the drought. For that, I am perfectly fine with being wrong about this team.  I bleed Royal blue and will till the day I die; let’s make this a yearly thing now, boys!

 

Kansas City Royals History Did NOT End After 1985

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This past weekend I made a trek to my home away from home, Kauffman Stadium. With the temperatures reaching the mid-90’s on Saturday we decided to venture into the air conditioned Royals Hall of Fame, if for no reason than to keep cool. While in there we decided to check out a film the Royals have on the history of baseball in Kansas City. While we watched the video, I was reminded of just why Kansas City really is a baseball town. Near the end of the film they showed highlights from the Royals winning the World Series in 1985 and then proceeded to mention how former Royals manager Dick Howser would pass away just a few years later from brain cancer. They then discussed Buck O’Neil for a bit, showed a few highlights(including the Justin Maxwell walk off grand slam last year) and the film was over. Yep, the video basically wraps up after the Royals winning the World Series 29 years ago. As a longtime Kansas City fan, I felt a bit insulted. You mean we are supposed to believe that nothing has happened in 29 years? Trust me, I am well aware this team hasn’t appeared in the playoffs since then, and as fans we have endured MANY pitiful and craptastic teams…but we have nothing to show off since then? I disagree. In fact, I think they are quite a few things that should have been mentioned, even for just a mention in the film. With that being said, here are some moments I would have thrown into this film to celebrate this Kansas City Royals team.

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1) Bo Jackson

Yes, I know Bo isn’t one of the greatest Royals ever. I realize that he was a shining star that we only got to marvel at for a few years. But in those few years we saw possibly the greatest athlete in Royals history and a caliber of player we might never see again in our lifetime. Bo wasn’t about numbers, unless you count the distance on homers or how far it is to throw a baseball from the warning track to home plate with no bounce. Bo Jackson was that special player that only comes along once in a lifetime and he was a Royal, through and through. The film could have shown a few highlights from his time with Kansas City and some of the mind bending feats Bo was famous for. Bo had his faults as a player but he was a big part of those late 80’s Royals team and someone who was one of the most mainstream athletes of that era. Trust me, Bo Jackson is a big part of Royals history, even if he only makes sporadic appearances at ‘The K’.

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2) Bret Saberhagen Throws a No-Hitter

Bret Saberhagen was the ace of the Royals pitching staff from 1985 until he was traded to the New York Mets in the winter of 1991. But in August of that year, Saberhagen threw his greatest game ever, a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox. It was an odd game in that Sabs let his defense do most of the work on this night, only racking up 5 strikeouts and 2 walks in his 9 innings of work. It was the fourth no-hitter in Royals history and was a cherry on top of a fantastic career in Kansas City. Sure, you could mention the two American League Cy Young Awards he won, or his All Star elections, but throwing in a clip of the last no-hitter in Royals history would have been a nice touch and a great moment for the Royals.

 

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3) George Brett gets his 3,000th Hit

Brett is easily the greatest Royal in history and a man cherished by Royals fans everywhere. There were a few big accomplishments for George late in his career, like Brett winning his third batting title in 1990, the only man to record batting titles in three different decades. But his biggest moment late in his career was reaching the 3,000 hit mark, which almost assures a player induction into the baseball Hall of Fame(or at least it used to). Brett would have a four hit game that night in Anaheim and hit number four was lined past the Angels second baseman for the momentous hit. Brett would wrap up his career a year later, but throwing in this key moment in Royals history would seem like a “must have”.

 

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4) A Cavalcade of Stars

For a long time in the late 90’s and early 2000’s the running joke around baseball was that the Royals were a farm club for the bigger market teams like the New York Yankees. It wasn’t literally like that, but it was fairly well known that when a player would start to become a star for Kansas City they wouldn’t be able to re-sign them and would have to deal them before they became a free agent. The bigger point was that the Royals were developing stars that would shine on the baseball diamond. Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran, Jermaine Dye and Mike Sweeney all became star players during this period and pointing this out in the history of this team isn’t a bad thing. Sure, it sucked that the Royals felt forced to trade all of them(besides Sweeney) but these were all guys that we could say were Royals first(or in Dye’s case the place that gave him a chance to be a starter). To go a step further you could also point out in the film all the other talent the Royals have produced in the last 30 years, including the stars of today. What better way to point this out than to show three players who have been All-Stars for Kansas City the last two seasons: Alex Gordon, Greg Holland and Salvador Perez. This franchise has produced some major talent over the years and it’s something that should be marked down in the team’s history.

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5) Zack Greinke is Spelled ‘Cy Young’

Zack Greinke had a special 2009 season. A season that very few pitchers have ever achieved. A season so good that he would become the American League Cy Young Award winner that year. Most remember his messy exit out of Kansas City but for awhile there he was the heart of the Royals, a true ace on a losing team. Greinke would go 16-8 with a major league-low 2.16 ERA that season and received 25 of 28 first-place votes and three seconds for 134 points in balloting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Greinke was so dominate that year that the Royals scored just 13 runs in his eight losses and 21 runs in his nine no-decisions. He failed to get a victory in six starts in which he allowed one run or none. The Greinke/Royals relationship would become ugly soon enough, but for that one season the Royals could champion that they had the best pitcher in the American League.

 

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I’m sure if I thought about it more I could come up with many more positives the Royals have had over these past 29 years. Whether it is the 3 Gold Glove winners the team had last season or some of thrilling moments at ‘The K’, it’s not all been bad during this team’s playoff drought. We all acknowledge that there have been some rough times and we don’t want to relive most of them. But there are some great moments or personal seasons that the Royals could throw into their film and truly show the history of a great franchise. I don’t want to discourage anyone from watching the film at the Royals Hall of Fame; it’s a great film and deserves your time. But I think it could be better, and the suggestions above would make a great start. Who knows? Maybe this Royals team can secure a playoff spot this year so the team is forced to make a new video. Weirder things have happened. Don’t believe me? Just go back to 1985…

Why the Quiz was Better Than We Remember

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During the winter I watch a lot of MLB Network. A lot. While watching it, waiting for Spring Training to come around, a stat popped up that blew my mind. Former Kansas City Royals closer and a favorite of most of us in the 80’s, Dan Quisenberry was 5th in ERA since the beginning of the live-ball era(which started post 1920)! This was for pitchers with over 1000 career innings, which seems odd for a closer if you follow the game nowadays. Quisenberry racked up just over that total, eventually getting 1043.1 innings pitched over his 12 year career. While I knew he was one of the top closers of that time, I also remember the guy who struggled mightily in 1988 and was eventually released. I remember the guy who wrapped up his career in St. Louis and San Francisco, but not looking like the Quiz of old. So of course, I digged further.  What I found was a guy who should be held in higher esteem in baseball circles. What I found was a guy who was better than we remember.

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Dan Quisenberry made his major league debut in 1979 at the age of 26, four years after being signed as an amateur free agent. Just the fact that he made it to the majors was an accomplishment, considering he wasn’t drafted. But before the 1980 season, the Quiz tinkered with a submarine style delivery. The changes were noticeable, as Quisenberry led the American League that year by appearing in 75 games and saving 33 of those. This was just the beginning of an era of dominance, one that would last through the mid-80’s.

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Looking at the statistics from 1980 and running through 1985, Quisenberry was about as sure a thing as there was in baseball. With the new submarine style delivery that was recommended by former manager Jim Frey, and his pinpoint control, guile and deception, Quisenberry was the most dominant closer of that era. Think about this for a minute. He was more dominant than a couple of Hall of Famers in Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage. He was more dominant than a possible future HOFer in Lee Smith.  It should also be pointed out here that being a closer in the 80’s was nothing like it is now. There was no ‘one and done’, meaning very few closers pitched only one inning and that was it. Most of the closers of that era pitched 2-3 innings each outing, and it is noticeable by the numbers. During that six year span, Quisenberry threw over 100 innings a season 5 times! To put this in perspective, Mariano Rivera, the best closer in baseball history, has only thrown one season over 100 innings, and that was before he was the Yankees closer. In that same vein, Dennis Eckersley, who was the most dominant closer of the late 80’s-early 90’s, only threw one season like that, and once again, was not the A’s closer that season. So it is safe to say that Quisenberry was not only a lock once he came in the game, but he did it for more innings than the closers of the last twenty seasons. To add even more to how impressive that stretch is, he probably would have thrown over 100 innings all six seasons. So why didn’t he? Because of the strike in 1981. If not for that strike, there is a good chance the Quiz would have toppled 100 innings all six seasons.

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Statistic wise, there is more. During that span, he posted an ERA of 2.42 and won the Rolaids Relief Man Award all of those years. Quisenberry was even able to finish in the top five of voting for the Cy Young Award. He was the first closer to have back to back seasons of over forty saves and in 1983 was briefly the holder of the single season saves record. Quisenberry’s highest walk total in a season was 27 in 1980, and finished over 60 games five times. He was a three time all-star, received Cy Young votes and even MVP votes in five seasons of the six year span(all but 1981). This from a guy who did not have an imposing fastball, but a sinking one that induced ground balls. He seldom walked batters or threw wild pitches. He was that pitcher who threw strikes and the deception of his motion was a big part of the key to his success. To say he was dominant in this era might be an understatement. Dan Quisenberry even has comparable numbers to Bruce Sutter, who was voted into the baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. So why is Quisenberry not considered one of the best closers in baseball history?

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The easy answer to that question is that it was only a six year period of dominance. In fact, it seems odd that Quisenberry wasn’t still the man the Royals went to late in the game after their World Series win of 1985. Quisenberry still put good numbers up in 1986 and 1987, but the Royals had brought Steve Farr in and he took over some of the closing duties. Quisenberry held an ERA those years of 2.77 and 2.76, but only had 12 saves in 1986 and 8 in 1987. Whatever had worked for him from 1980-1985 seemed to start slipping and in 1988, the Quiz was relegated to middle relief and mop up duty before being released right before the All-Star Break. Former Royals manager Whitey Herzog took a chance on Quiz, as he would spend a year in a half in St. Louis before ending his career in San Francisco. There is often talk about how Sandy Koufax, despite his era of dominance being very short, is remembered for how great he was, but it is safe to say we remember what happened when he left the game. Koufax went out on top, while Quisenberry’s career ended in a whimper. It’s hard to say why Quisenberry is barely mentioned anymore while one of his peers, Bruce Sutter, made it into the Hall of Fame. The best bet is that Sutter revolutionized the use of the split finger fastball, a pitch that has been used for years since. Maybe Sutter’s longevity figures into this equation. Longevity wasn’t kind to Quisenberry, as he only played twelve years in the big leagues, and was 37 when he finally retired in 1990. Whatever the reason, Dan Quisenberry isn’t mentioned much outside of Kansas City. But that doesn’t mean he is forgotten.

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Quisenberry had just as an eventful career, post-baseball, as can be had. Quiz became a poet after he left the game, publishing three poems in 1995 and a book of poetry in 1998. He was also known for his gardening skills, and a sense of humor that is still fondly remembered today. Unfortunately, Quiz was diagnosed with brain cancer in December of 1997 and succumbed to it the following year. Quisenberry was the second member of the 1985 Royals to die from brain cancer, as manager Dick Howser did as well in 1987. Both men are remembered fondly all these years later, and it seems fitting to have them linked together. Both had more success than anyone ever thought they would. Both defied the odds and were part of a championship team that came from behind in two different series in the playoffs that year. Both are prominent at Kauffman Stadium, as Howser has his number retired and a statue, while Quisenberry is featured prominently in the Royals Hall of Fame, including being an inductee.

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So how will I remember Dan Quisenberry? I’ve always been fond of the man. I loved his humor and remember him spraying fans in the outfield seats during the middle of the summer, as somehow they ended up with a water hose in the bullpen. I always knew he was good, but before this winter I don’t think I realized just how good he was. Sure, he isn’t a Hall of Famer. But, he does have impressive stats that show that he was no slouch on the mound. When you are 5th in ERA after 1920 and 8th in advanced ERA+, that is a healthy resume. I think he should be remembered not only for being THE dominant closer of the early 80’s, but also as one of the most steady and reliable relievers ever. I’ve long hoped that the Royals would bring in some flower beds, or some sort of gardening items in the outfield seats or the bullpen and dedicate it to the Quiz. In some way, it just feels like he should be acknowledged more in Royals history. After all the research, I wonder if he should be acknowledged more in baseball history. Not the best closer ever, but one who was groundbreaking. Dan Quisenberry, I wish I had given you more credit than I have over the years. You deserve it.

FLASHBACK: The Curse of Buddy Biancalana

Author’s Note: The Flashback articles on here I originally wrote for the website royalsbaseball.net. That website has now become defunct, so I thought I would move them over here to Bleeding Royal Blue. I’d like to thank Joel Matheny for giving me the opportunity to write for his website, even if it was for just a few months. So enjoy, and go Royals!

buddy bMany a Major League baseball team have that one position they are constantly looking to upgrade. For whatever reason, they can’t seem to find stability and are stuck every few years finding someone else to take over that spot and hope they finally have found that player who will be there for years to come. Over the years, The Royals have gone through countless players at Shortstop and none ever seem to stick. Why exactly is shortstop a black hole for Kansas City?

patekIt wasn’t always like that. Back in the offseason of 1970, the Royals acquired a little known Shortstop by the name of Fred Patek from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Patek was not the tallest man alive(5’5″, some even say 5’4″)but Patek was like a hoover on the field. Patek was a three time All-Star with Kansas City and even finished sixth in the MVP voting back in 1971. Patek would end up being a vital cog for the Royals as they made 3 playoff appearances in the mid-to late 70’s. Former Royals manager and Hall of Famer Whitey Herzog once said about Patek that he was  “the best artificial turf shortstop he ever managed”, ranking him even higher than Ozzie Smith. Patek would leave the Royals at the end of the 1979 season, signing with the California Angels.  Alas, him leaving began the Royals carousel of revolving Shortstops.

ULPatek’s leaving left the spot open, and in slid UL Washington. Washington had been with Kansas City for a few years as a backup infielder and was going to finally get a chance to show what he could do. Washington had great speed, and was yet another success of the Royals Baseball Academy, a program that also netted them Frank White. Washington was above the league average in batting those first few years, and combined solid defense with excellent baserunning to give the Royals another weapon in their lineup. Washington had a career year in 1982 after coming back from injury, and it looked as if the Royals had their Shortstop for the near future. In 1983 UL slumped badly and injuries ruined his 1984 season, as Onix Concepcion had made his way into the lineup. After the 1984 season, Washington was dealt to the Montreal Expos.

Concepcion took over the job in 1984, and was the starter for most of 1985. Not happy with his play, Royals manager Dick Howser replaced him with rookie Buddy Biancalana, and Biancalana would finish not only the season as the starter, but would start all 14 playoff games for KC that season. Biancalana was inserted in the lineup more for his defense, but his offense in the playoffs was a big boost for the ballclub. His funny name even brought mentions on the David Letterman show, and eventually an appearance on Late Night. Buddy would come back to reality in 1986, hitting .242 in 100 games, although providing solid defense. By 1987 the Royals had traded Biancalana to the Astros and was out of the big leagues by the end of the next season.

stillwell_11Now, I joke about the curse of Royals Shortstops being on Biancalana’s head. Whether it was bad judgement or just plain bad luck, the Royals would continue to go through Shortstops throughout the next decade. The player that seemed to have the best shot of longevity for the Royals was one Kurt Stillwell. Stillwell was acquired from the Reds after the 1987 season, as the Royals parted way with lefthander Danny Jackson. The Reds had a logjam at Shortstop, as another youngster was ready for the bigs at the point. Some guy named Barry Larkin…ever heard of him? So Stillwell became the starter at Short and after injuries hit a few All-Stars, was an American League All-Star in 1988. Stillwell showed flashes of greatness at Shortstop, and would have streaks at the plate where it seemed he was really starting to advance, only to have equally as down periods. 1990 seemed to start off as Stillwell’s coming out party, hitting .386 in April and was still over .300
in June. Unfortunately, injuries hampered him the rest of the year and could only hit .205. In 1991, Kurt would get off to another hot start, but by Independence Day he was mired in another slump and manager Hal McRae ended up benching Stillwell. Kurt was not very fond of his new manager, and after the season wrapped up, Stillwell, still only 26 at this point, packed up and headed to San Diego. Later Kurt would say his relationship with McRae, or lack of one, sent him on his way, and alas another Shortstop for the Royals was out the door after only 4 years.

Over the next few years, a number of players tried to solidify the position, only to leave earlier than expected. Greg Gagne, Jose Offerman, Jay Bell and Rey Sanchez are just a few of the players who occupied the position. Most were solid players, but none were long term solutions.

berroaThat seemed to all change in 2003. Rookie Angel Berroa was handed the Shortstop job and seemed to be the future of this organization. Berroa had a rocky start to the season, but by years end his defense seemed to get better and his hitting had more than improved. Berroa hit .287 that season with 17 Homeruns,  73 RBI, and 21 stolen bases. Berroa would win the American League Rookie of the Year Award, being only the fourth Royal to accomplish such a feat. Things went downhill from there on. Season by season, Berroa seemed to regress more and more, especially defensively, as his error rate was the highest in the Majors during that period. Angel also seemed lost at the plate, not seeming to have any real gameplan and flailing at pitches out of the strike zone. Finally in 2007, the Royals acquired Tony Pena Jr. from Atlanta, and Berroa was sent to the minor leagues. Outside of nine games that season, Berroa spent the rest of his time in AAA Omaha. 2008
started the same way and on June 6th was traded to the Dodgers.

tony_pena_jr_2008_04_13Pena wasn’t the answer here either. As much as Pena was a good fielder, he couldn’t hit worth a lick. By mid-2008, Pena was out and in stepped Mike Aviles. Aviles was finally getting his shot in the Bigs, and he took advantage of it. Aviles ended the season hitting  .325 in 102 games, with 10 home runs and 51 RBI’s. Aviles’ season was so good that the Royals named him their 2008 Player of the Year. Aviles, unfortunately, would suffer an arm injury playing winter ball, and be forced to miss most of the 2009 season due to Tommy John surgery. Whatever it was that Aviles had in 2008, he never seemed to catch it again. Aviles split 2010 between Omaha and the Majors, but mainly as a backup. Mike started the 2011 season at Third Base for KC but never got going and was traded to Boston at the end of July. I was always an Aviles fan and really hoped that he would end up breaking the curse. Unfortunately, Mike Aviles was not meant to be that guy.

YuniWhen it became apparent in 2009 that Aviles would be gone for the foreseeable future, the Royals acquired Yuniesky Betancourt from the Seattle Mariners. Betancourt went from being one of the better defensive Shortstop’s in the game early in his career to a plodding Shortstop with no range by the time he appeared in Kansas City. Betancourt brought a little pop in his bat as well, and to be honest, at the time it wasn’t like there was a better option for the team either on the roster or in the minors.  In 2009, he had the lowest on base percentage of any starter in the major leagues, at .274, and the lowest slugging percentage in the American League with .351. His numbers did improve in 2010, but he still was a liability on both defense and offense. Yuni obviously wasn’t the long term answer.

In the winter of 2010, the Royals would acquire their current Shortstop, trading Ace pitcher Zack Greinke and Yuniesky Betancourt to the Milwaukee Brewers for Alcides Escobar and three youngsters. Escobar showed last season why he was a good commodity, flashing great defense at Shortstop. After the Berroa/Betancourt years, it was good to see a Shortstop with a great glove. Escobar even earned the nickname “Shortstop Jesus” by Royals fans. Escobar struggled with the bat, although he seemed to hit better as the season went on. By the time it was all said and done, Escobar hit .254 for the Royals, and some experts predict he could hit as high .269 this upcoming season.His defense though, is why he is in the starting lineup. Any offense is just an addition to his amazing play on the diamond.

EskySo is Escobar the one to break the curse? Time will only tell, but if Alcides can hit even in the .260 range, he seems like a good fit for the position for many a year. He was a .300 hitter in the minors, so it is possible. One thing is for certain; luck has not been on the Royals side when finding a Shortstop all these years. For them to break the curse, they need both good judgement and good luck…and maybe a guy who stands only 5’5″. Hey, it worked before!

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