The Royals and Yankees Just Don’t Hate Each Other Like They Used To

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This Friday the New York Yankees travel to Kauffman Stadium as they open a three-game series against the Kansas City Royals. There will be many a discussion about the “old days” and how at one time the Royals and Yankees had one of the biggest rivalries in baseball. But in 2018 that is no more and hasn’t been for a very long time.

Back in the late ’70’s/early 80’s the Royals and Yankees hated each other as much as Rob Manfred hates anyone standing still. The two teams battled it out in the American League Championship Series from 1976-1978 and then again in 1980. While the feud was mostly based on competition and the desire to reach the World Series, there was also a real built-in hatred there.

Let’s start with 1976 and the series deciding Game 5. In the Top of the 8th inning, George Brett would come up and put the game into a 6-6 deadlock:

Unfortunately for Kansas City, Chris Chambliss would break the hearts of Royals fans everywhere with this walk-off home run to win the series:

In 1977, the play on the field would get even rougher thanks to one of Hal McRae’s patented slides:

This was from Game 2 of the ALCS and it showed that both teams would do whatever it took to come away victors. That would get ramped up even more during the 1st inning of Game 5:

So at this point it is pretty easy to see that the Royals didn’t like the Yankees and the feeling was mutual from the Yankees. The Yankees would rally for three runs in the Top of the 9th and would seal the deal in the bottom of the inning:

The two teams would meet again in the 1978 ALCS and would split the first two games in Kansas City. For the Yankees to win Game 3, they would have to stop George Brett:

Despite the three home run day for Brett, the Royals would fall short again, losing both Games 3 and 4 as the Yankees would once again punch their ticket to the World Series:

While the Yankees were always the team ending up on top during those three years, the truth was that Kansas City was right there with them in most of those games. The two teams would face off 14 times in the playoffs during that three-year stretch and 6 of the 14 games would be decided by two runs or less. Finally in 1980, the Royals would get their revenge:

While many consider Brett’s homer off Gossage in the ‘Pine Tar Game’ to be the most iconic homer of Brett’s career, he would never hit a bigger shot than the one in Game 3 of the ALCS in 1980. After years of falling just short of New York, sweeping the Yankees in 1980 was the definition of things finally coming back around.

The two teams would continue to battle for American League dominance over the next few seasons but wouldn’t ever meet back up in the playoffs. In fact maybe the most remembered moment of their feud was the aforementioned ‘Pine Tar Game’:

After years of feuding, Billy Martin was still looking for a way to stick it to Brett and the Royals. As most of us are aware, this would eventually backfire on Martin, as the American League President Lee MacPhail would uphold the Royals protest and the home run would stand. The Royals would end up winning the game when they restarted the game almost a month later.

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Credit: Associated Press

After that? Well, the feud pretty much dissipated. The Yankees would have a long playoff drought and not return to the playoffs until  1995. While it would have been great for the Royals and Yankees to continue this rivalry, the truth is that the two teams were hardly ever relevant at the same time. With the main players in the feud gone and retired, the hatred and animosity trickled away as well.

Now in 2018, it’s just business as usual when these two teams meet up. Many of the players not only know each other but are friends with the other side and there is a different aura when the two clash. If anything the only real vitriol that remains is from us, the fans.

In fact if I am being honest, it is mostly from us older fans. As a kid I was trained to hate the Yankees. It wasn’t because they were a big-market team or because they would sign our players when they hit the free agent market. No, we hated them because they were the team the Royals had to jump over to get to the World Series. We hated the Yankees because of all the times they broke our hearts.

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Credit: Associated Press

While there is still a vile taste left in the mouth when mentioning the Yankees, for younger fans it is more of a ‘Big Market vs. Small Market’ hatred than anything else. Over the last 20 or so years, there are very few moments of the Yankees personally doing something to the Royals to really make us despise them.

I guess you could be mad at former Yankee Robinson Cano for not picking Billy Butler in the Home Run Derby in 2012 or be mad at Derek Jeter for being Derek Jeter. But actual, legit beef for doing something dastardly to our boys in blue? It just isn’t there.

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To be honest, it saddens me that this feud has tapered off. There is nothing quite like a healthy competition between two teams that want to win and will do anything to do it. Call it David vs. Goliath, or to modernize it a bit maybe Thanos vs. the Avengers.

There is nothing quite like a good underdog story and for years the Royals played that tune ‘to a T’. Sometime in the future it will happen again and these two teams will rekindle their venom for each other. But for now, it’s just two teams trying to win a nice game of baseball. It’s compelling, but it just doesn’t have the same bite to it.

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More Than Just Thankful For Baseball

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It’s that time of year where most of us look back fondly on what is good in our life and how lucky we really are. The more and more I threw this idea around in my head today, I kept coming back to all the joy baseball gives me. With that in mind, here is what I am thankful for this holiday season, at least where baseball is concerned.

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  • I am thankful that ‘The best Farm System in Baseball’ eventually did pan out for Kansas City, as players like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez all turned out to be All-Stars and quality big leaguers.
  • I am thankful that Lorenzo Cain stepped up his game in 2015, proving there is more to him than just one of the best gloves in baseball.
  • I am thankful that when Mike Trout is inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, I can say I remember when he was a rookie and we had no idea that what we were seeing was greatness.
  • I am thankful that the extra round of playoffs in baseball has worked and has made it even more exciting than it was before.
  • I am thankful that Matt Harvey realized an innings limit didn’t matter in the playoffs…and that he was stubborn enough to convince his manager to keep him in for the 9th inning in Game 5 of the World Series.
  • Speaking of the Mets, I am thankful that my favorite team only has to face the Mets young arms in one series next year. They are the real deal.
  • I am thankful that baseball has a crop of young superstars(Trout, McCutchen, Stanton, etc.) that they can be proud of and should be promoting as to why they are great for the game.
  • By the way, I am thankful that a baseball town like Pittsburgh can tout a talent like McCutchen and add him to a legacy of true stars that deserve to be looked at like stars, much like Roberto Clemente before him.
  • I am thankful that we get to see a historic season like Bryce Harper this year…then remember he is only 23!

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  • I am thankful for a baseball world where Bartolo Colon is still a thing…and gives everyone great material on a monthly basis.
  • I am thankful for a sport where you can argue for years about possible Hall of Fame players and still change someone’s mind after a ‘deeper look at the numbers’.
  • I am thankful my son loves the Hot Stove League as much as I do.
  • I am thankful that baseball has gone from a game where ‘experience is king’ to a game where now ‘youth is king’.

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  • I am thankful for Rusty Kuntz’s flowing mane…damn!
  • I am thankful that we now live in a world where phrases like ‘exit velocity’ and ‘efficient route’ are part of the lexicon.
  • I am thankful for bat flips.
  • I am thankful predictions mean nothing in baseball; it’s why you play the games.

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  • I am thankful that certain ballplayers can make my hair look suave…thanks, John Jaso!
  • I am thankful that I can watch a different baseball game everyday and learn something new, even 30+ years after I first started watching the game.
  • I am thankful that the history of the game is still woven into the fabric of today’s game.
  • I am thankful that my son thinks I would be a better analyst than Harold Reynolds.
  • I am thankful for the Royals defense.
  • I am thankful that I got to watch Brett, Saberhagen, Jackson, Wilson, McRae and White in my youth. Those players made me fall head over heels for baseball.
  • I am thankful that I am not the only person who believes Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.
  • I also am thankful for the push the last couple years for Tim Raines and Edgar Martinez for their deserved spot in Cooperstown.
  • I am thankful I still remember Oddible McDowell,  Razor Shines and Danny Darwin.

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  • I am thankful that Ken Griffey, Jr. still smiles.
  • I am thankful to have witnessed the transformation of Wade Davis from human to cyborg.
  • I am thankful that I have been given the chance over the last 4 years to do things around this sport that I never imagined possible.
  • I am thankful that I waited out all the bad years of Kansas City baseball. It has made these last two years even more joyful than I can ever put in words.
  • I am thankful that I was wrong about Dayton Moore and Ned Yost.
  • I am thankful for all the late comebacks by the Kansas City Royals.
  • I am thankful for Lorenzo Cain’s running.
  • I am thankful for Alex Gordon’s clutch slugging.
  • I am thankful for Eric Hosmer’s daring baserunning skills.
  • I am thankful for a lockdown Kansas City bullpen.
  • I am thankful to call ‘my Royals’ the World Champs. I honesty wondered if I would ever see that again in my lifetime.
  • and I am thankful that the people in my life who I care most about not only support my love of baseball, but they share in the love. They make all of this even better than if I was just enjoying it on my own.
  • Oh…almost forgot. I am thankful for Jonny Gomes mic skills. His speech will never get old.

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Honestly, I could go on and on. I love this game and there are so many little bits of information or plays that remind of the nuances of this game that spark my love. Let’s all be thankful that baseball is still flourishing and despite some of the things we would fix with the game, for the most part it is as good as it was when we first got hooked. Thank you, baseball. Thank you for being you.

The Fall Classic Formula

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We are now three games deep into the 2015 World Series and I think it is safe to say that what we have gotten so far is one instant classic, with two games that are close early on before one team breaks away in the middle innings. What we have also learned is that there is no shortage of talking points, some worthwhile while others are downright pointless. So what is worth discussing? Without further ado, here are some topics I have found worth my time so far in this last series of the year.

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  • Let’s start with what has been one of the Kansas City Royals weaknesses in 2015, starting pitching. For a team with as many questions within their rotation as a 6 year old walking in on their parents “sharing a moment”, it sure appears as if this has been one of their strong points so far in the World Series. Yordano Ventura’s start aside(and we will get to him in just a moment), the Royals rotation has strung together game scores of 50 & 80. Edinson Volquez ran into a little bit of trouble on Tuesday, but was able to throw 6 solid innings, allowing three runs. It was a solid effort from the Royals most consistent starter this year, all while being unaware of his father passing away earlier in the day. This was followed the next night by quite possibly the best start ever by a Kansas City pitcher in the playoffs:

When Johnny Cueto is on his game, he is a force to be reckoned with. Cueto pitched a complete game 2-hitter, only allowing one run on the way to putting the Royals up two games to none in the series. Cueto has been very inconsistent during his tenure in Kansas City, but this start(and also the ALDS start against Houston) is why the Royals picked him up at the deadline. Cueto won’t be coming back next year but that wasn’t the point of his acquisition. The point was to get a big game pitcher for big games in the playoffs. Hey, he might go out there in his next outing and stink up the joint, but at least he has had two stellar starts for the Royals this postseason, putting them in a better position to reach their goal: a championship. The Mets have a number of young fireballers in their rotation, but so far they have been outpitched by Kansas City’s rotation. That is, except for Ventura…

  • Yordano Ventura did not have a good start in Game 3. He was pulled in the 4th inning, and the big concern was his dip in velocity. What is normally mid to upper 90’s was 92-94 mph most of the night. Obviously when his fastball loses the extra gas he becomes more hittable, but an old friend seemed to show up as well: pitching from the stretch.

It doesn’t sound like anyone has an idea why ‘Ace’ had such a loss in velo, but it seemed to take his confidence with it. The Mets were nailing his fastball, making his other pitches less effective in the process:

So where does this leave the Royals going forward in this series? It leaves them with another question mark in the series, a rather huge one considering he would be on schedule to pitch a Game 7 if they get that far. That begs the question: Are you comfortable with Ventura starting an elimination game for Kansas City with it all on the line?

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  • A lot of press has been given to leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar this postseason, but Ben Zobrist has been just as efficient batting in the second spot in the order. Zobrist has been 4 for 15 so far in the World Series, including three doubles and two runs scored so far. In fact, Zobrist has been accumulating doubles like crazy this postseason:

It has been a productive October so far, as Zobrist has a line of .310/.359/.534 with 9 extra base hits, 6 RBI’s and 6 walks. The argument can be made that Escobar has been the ‘Most Valuable Royal’ so far this month, but Zobrist’s name could also be picked out of the hat. While Cueto’s acquisition has only paid off in spurts, Zobrist’s has been a constant and steady win for Kansas City.

  • Speaking of excellent moves by GM Dayton Moore, Chris Young not only turned in a really good regular season, but he has been as reliable as any other arm for the Royals in October. In 3 games this postseason, Young has thrown 11.2 innings, giving up 3 runs while striking out 15. All of a sudden Young has become a strikeout pitcher, and in Game 1 he would do something he hasn’t done since 2009:

Yep, Chris Young reached 90+ mph 8 times on that night. He has dealt with some shoulder issues in-between that span, but it’s obvious his adrenaline was pumping as he pitched 3 solid, shutout innings in that outing. In fact, Young’s performance in extra innings possibly has been the key Royals pitching performance in this series, outside of maybe Cueto. All of this from a guy who wasn’t offered a major league contract all winter until the Royals offered him one as Spring Training had already begun.

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  • A couple of big achievements for Kansas City this postseason has put Eric Hosmer and Alcides Escobar in the Royals postseason record book:

Now, you do need to put these numbers in proper context. There is now an extra round of playoffs(two if you count the Wild Card game)which obviously means more games. But they are still big achievements, especially since a number of Royals appeared in consecutive years in the late 70’s. In fact, players like George Brett, Hal McRae and Willie Wilson played in not only those playoff teams in the 70’s, but also in 1980 and 1985. It really goes to show how solid the Royals bats have been these last two years in postseason play.

  • Speaking of those Royals bats, the question was asked before the beginning of the World Series ‘how would a strikeout rotation like the Mets have do against a team that doesn’t hardly strike out?’. Well, the first two games appeared to show the Royals ‘make contact’ offense was superior to the Mets power arms. In fact, Jacob deGrom seemed to really struggle against this Royals offense:

The other question was how would the Royals, the team with the best average against 95+ fastballs this year, do against a a high velocity Mets team? Well, early on the narrative got shifted on Kansas City:

Ah, but the narrative sometime is the narrative for a reason. In the end, the numbers don’t lie. Here is what happened in Game 3:

Early on, it appears both teams have adjusted. The Royals have adjusted and hit better against the fastball while the Mets have adjusted, looking more for pitches they can handle and trying to drive them. This normally makes for a solid series.

  • And finally, there were a lot of questions being asked when Raul A. Mondesi was put on the Royals World Series roster, especially considering he has never appeared in a major league game. Well, you can cross that off the list, as he pinch hit on Friday, striking out as he did something no one has ever done since the beginning of the ‘Live Ball Era’:

It’s a lot of pressure for a young kid, and he does appear to have a bright future in front of him. But if he makes another appearance in this series(besides pinch running) then that means something has gone awfully wrong. I look forward to seeing him soon, but more like 2016 soon.

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Obviously, I want the Royals to come away with their first World Championship in 30 years, but I also like the idea of a nice back and forth World Series that goes at least six games. So far this has looked like a good matchup, one that could see even more surprises. We have already seen one classic game, so don’t be shocked if another one is in our future. All I know for sure is that October has become a month of excitement, stress, and an extreme lack of sleep. In all honesty, I wouldn’t have it any other way. All that is left to do is to ‘Take the Crown’!

Motown Mowdown: Royals Win Series Over Tigers

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Sure, there are series’ that are ho-hum and feel like just another day at the office. Then there are ones that are more important, or at least important to the mind. As we speak the Detroit Tigers are in last place in the American League Central, a once strong powerhouse now turned into a tamed kitty. Over the last five years we have seen the Tigers spank the Royals on such a regular basis that most of us got used to the routine. But the last two years have been a different story, as Kansas City has held their own and even taken a number of important games from the Tigers. So to say it felt good this week to see the Royals take two of three from Detroit would be an understatement. To see Kansas City pound the ‘Boys from Motown’ well, that felt great. Two blowouts of a division rival is enough to put the biggest smile on any fans face. So how did we get here? All it took was some solid all around baseball to get to your answer.

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Series MVP: Kendrys Morales   

There was some tough competition for this honor, as Lorenzo Cain and Ben Zobrist both put up some hefty numbers in these last three games. But Kendrys Morales was an offensive juggernaut against Detroit, going 8 for 14 with 2 home runs, 8 RBI’s, a BAbip of .600 and raised his OPS over 20 points. The first of his two home runs was hit on Tuesday night, in the Royals one loss in this series:

Morales would get another deep blast on Wednesday night, driving in 3 runs that night.

He came just a few feet short of a third home run in this series on Thursday, but had to settle for a double and 4 RBI’s. Morales is currently sitting at 98 RBI’s with four weeks left in the season but I can almost guarantee he won’t reach the all-time leader for RBI’s by a Royals designated hitter. Hal McRae owns that honor, driving in 133 runs back in 1982. Morales has shown this year that he still has some gas left in the tank(I will fess up to being one that thought he had begun his regression) and has been a vital cog in the middle of this Royals batting order. Morales has been hot as of late(.327/.417/.635 over these last two weeks) and hopefully he can continue this hot streak all the way into October.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Yordano Ventura  

Most concerns about Yordano Ventura were alleviated with his start on Wednesday night, a start that showcased just how dominate he can be. Ventura went 7 innings, giving up 5 hits and 1 run while walking 1 and striking out 11. That is two consecutive starts that ‘Ace’ has struck out 11, a feat only duplicated by a few other Royals:

In fact Ventura has looked more like the pitcher we envisioned he would be this year over his last five starts, stringing together some numbers that can put a smile on even the most pessimistic fan’s face:

In some ways he just made the Tigers hitters look silly:

The most impressive part of his outing was how Ventura was able to mix his curveball and change-up in with his electric fastball. In fact, Ventura used his fastball only 57% of the time, while his curve was used 25% and the change-up 16%. Going back to the end of July and Ventura was using his fastball more(62%) while only using his curve sparingly(14%), even throwing in a few cutter’s. When Yordano has a good feel for his off-speed pitches he can set batters up with his fastball and then get them by throwing something off-speed. He has been able to do that a lot more this past month and if this is the Ventura we see the rest of the season, he easily locks down a spot in the postseason rotation.

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Down Goes Detroit! Down Goes Detroit!

The Royals offense is a curious thing. It’s not nearly as bi-polar as in year’s past, but it still has their moments. Then there are games like Wednesday and Thursday, where the Royals bats were so hot that I expected to see smoke rising off of them. Kansas City was able to get Detroit’s starters out of both games early, leaving the Tigers bullpen to try and stop the bleeding. Problem is, the Tigers pen is one of the worst in baseball. The Tigers pen has a -0.3 WAR so far this year(28th in baseball), 2nd highest FIP, 71% LOB percentage(26th in baseball) and an ERA of 4.76, the 2nd highest in baseball and highest in the American League.

So you can see why the Royals eyes got larger and feasted on this atrocity of a bullpen. It should be no surprise why Morales, Cain, Cuthbert, Orlando and Zobrist all contributed with home runs in this series and why the offensive numbers were off the table for these three games. In years past Detroit has been able to get away with a creaky bullpen due to their solid rotation and aggressive hitting. Now that some of those key parts have been traded and the team has had to deal with injuries, that pen becomes a giant bullseye for all teams to target. Knock out the Tigers starters and you have a good chance of picking up a ‘W’.

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Plenty of more goodness coming from this series win for the Royals. Brace yourself; time to spill out some news and notes from this first week of September:

  • Alex Gordon was activated on Tuesday, which was great news for those of us that worried Gordon would be lost for the rest of the season when he went down back in July. Instead, he made a quick recovery and got a heroes ovation in his first at bat back:

He would get a sac fly in that at bat, helping put Kansas City on the board. Gordon is a big part of this Royals team and having his back is nothing but a plus. It appears he will be batting 6th most of the time this month, but don’t be surprised if we see him hitting leadoff come October:

It’s great to have Alex back but if you want to understand the true depth of this team, check this out:

It’s almost like the Royals didn’t miss a beat. It does appear as if Alex will be rested fairly often, as he has been in the lineup about every other day since Tuesday. I am totally on board with this, as we want him as rested as possible before October rolls around. So yes, I am excited Gordon is back. But I’m not the only one:

  • The Royals beefed up their bench on Monday with an acquisition of Jonny Gomes from Atlanta:

Gomes has postseason experience and will mostly see action against left handers, as per his success against them:

He also isn’t too shabby playing at ‘The K’:

If things got bad enough, he could even fill in out of the bullpen:

He also can fight off a pack of wolves:

Good acquisition by Dayton Moore, as Gomes could be a solid bat off the bench in the playoffs. It also appears as if this trade was made because of the uncertainty of Alex Rios’ condition. Speaking of…

  • Word trickled out on Tuesday that Rios and Kelvin Herrera both came down with a case of chickenpox:

It’s a little unclear how this affects the team going forward. It looks like both players will be cleared to return in about another week, but chickenpox is much worse if you get it as an adult:

So it will be interesting to see if there is a period where Rios and Herrera play at not quite full speed. The good news is that it appears no one else on the team came down with the illness. It also appears as if we don’t have to worry about Morales and Gomes:

  • The September call-ups have begun:

There is a good chance we see quite a bit out of these guys, as manager Ned Yost rests his regulars throughout this month. It also appears this could be all we see of players recalled from the minors:

Some of these players have already become a necessity. All saw action in this series and Cuthbert saw starts in the last two games:

It also helps when you blow the other team out of the water for two straight nights. Just saying.

  • Justin Verlander started against the Royals Tuesday and was coming off of his one-hit effort against the Angels last week. But Verlander has a history with Kansas City:

Verlander went 6.2 innings, giving up 7 hits and 4 runs(2 earned) while walking 1 and striking out 4. The Royals didn’t dominate him but you could also say the same about Verlander. Maybe it’s because the two teams play each other so much, but it definitely seems like the Royals are not fooled by Verlander. Verlander might look more like the Verlander of old, but the Royals are not impressed.

  • The Royals celebrated their ‘Franchise Four’, which was selected by the fans before the All-Star game this summer. George Brett, Frank White, Bret Saberhagen and Dan Quisenberry were chosen for this honor and it was great to see three of the honorees on the field this week:

All four men hold a special place in my fandom, as they were all prevalent stars when I began watching baseball in the 1980’s. It was also great to see Frank White out there, as he has been at odds with Royals management over the years and has only been at a few games since his firing a few years ago. I had been asked when this voting was going on who my four would be, and this was who I chose. I think there are legitimate arguments for the likes of Willie Wilson, Kevin Appier and Amos Otis, but I think the fans chose the right four. Hopefully we get to see White return next month to throw out a first pitch before a playoff game. Yes, fingers are crossed.

  • Finally, Johnny Cueto struggled in his start on Tuesday, the third straight start he has had issues. There was lots of concern about Cueto, but I’m not one of them. If he looked like he was compensating on the mound for an injury, or even had a loss of velocity I would have my worries. But it appears his problems are purely location:

Dave Eiland has already worked with Cueto and they think they have fixed an issue with his arm slot. Remember, three starts is a small sample size and while it is a bit concerning, we are talking about one of the best pitchers of the last four years:

Now, if he struggles again this weekend…

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Tweets of Royalty

Kansas City Royals' Lorenzo Cain (6) celebrates with Salvador Perez after Cain hit a solo home run during the third inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

So 29 games remain in this regular season for the boys in blue and the magic number continues to dwindle:

Most of us have been in a playoff frame of mind for awhile now, but Kansas City not only has to lock down the Central, but also home field advantage in the playoffs. Regulars will be rested during this month, but they also need to keep their eyes on the prize. The White Sox are headed into Kauffman Stadium this weekend to take on the Royals and while they haven’t performed up to expectations this year, they have given the Royals fits throughout the year. Kind of like that gnat that lingers and won’t go away, no matter how often you shoo it away. So by no means will this be an easy series. At this point, every win is another game closer to lowering that magic number. There will also be a battle for the 4th starter spot for the playoffs, which at this point looks to be between Kris Medlen and Danny Duffy. Three games up, hopefully at least two go in the win column. Steady wins the race, as has been the case all year for the Kansas City Royals.

It Is Still a Kid’s Game

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Let’s be honest for a moment: as adults, we take sports too seriously. I know I am just as guilty as anyone else. You have seen my rants about Ned Yost, right? Because we take something like baseball seriously we sometimes forget that it is a kid’s game being played by adults. We forget that most of us fell in love with baseball as kids. But we do have reminders every now and then that take us back to when we were kids and just loved the game blindly. That reminder came to me this week as my son got to meet his favorite baseball player, Billy Butler.

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I feel like I need to tell the back story of how this came to be. For the first time in quite awhile, the Royals Caravan planned on making a stop this year in Emporia. I found out about it and planned on getting my son’s baseball cards signed, since the event was going to be held while he was in school. Honestly, I hadn’t thought the whole thing out yet. One of my close friends, Scott,  called me later that day, asking if I had heard who all was going to be here for the signing. While discussing it, he made a great point-as a kid I would have done anything to meet my favorite player, George Brett, and get an autograph. It would have meant the world to me and I would recall that memory still to this day. Why not give Levi that memory? Scott was dead on. I made sure it was okay to take him out of school that day, and once that was cleared we were good to go. Except for one thing…

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I love surprises. Plus, I knew if I told him what we were going to do, he would be worthless at school that entire morning. So instead, we told him he had a dentist appointment that day, which would be why I was taking him out of school. So instead of him bouncing off the walls leading up to that day, I got to hear him complain about going to the dentist. It was great! Everything was set and I went to pick him up at school. Once we got into town, I turned on a street that leads to Bruff’s Sports Bar & Grill, which was holding the event. I handed him his Royals hat and told him to put it on. My girlfriend handed him his baseball cards and told him he was going to need those. Levi still looked completely puzzled, until I told him he didn’t have a dentist appointment. The light bulb went off, and he know knew what we were doing. That moment was priceless.

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We pulled into Bruff’s and the parking lot was already filling up. We went inside and waited for the Royals to show up and Levi tried being mad at me that I didn’t let him in on what we were actually doing. Sorry son, I can tell you aren’t mad when you are grinning while trying to play angry. Finally the players(and Sluggerrrr. and Steve Physioc, who I have to believe could play a mean Joker. Smile away, Steve!) arrived and we got in line so Levi could get his autographs.

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First was Brian McRae, former Royals center fielder. Levi really didn’t know who he was other than Hal’s son, who he only knows from me talking about him.

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Next was Aaron Crow, current Royals reliever. Levi was excited to see him, but we all knew who he was there to see…

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I wish I could have gotten a better picture. You can’t even imagine how big my son’s smile was. He had told me later that he wanted to tell Billy he was his favorite player, but he got nervous. Trust me, I totally get it. The one thing I think of in this picture is how creepy Physioc looks. I laugh every time I see this. Sure, my first thought is how happy my son was in this moment. But my second thought was “Physioc could play a villain in a superhero movie. Or chase after people with a chainsaw while only wearing sneakers”. One of those two. I almost lost Levi after this, as he seemed to be floating away on cloud nine. He got to meet his favorite player and got his autograph. It’s probably similar to when I was in Cooperstown. I could have died and I would have been a happy man. Levi was more than happy at this moment.

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This is the grin I saw the rest of the day. He has learned from me, as he was insanely careful with his Billy Butler card and made sure it didn’t touch anything else, even the other baseball cards. At the end of the day, I was able to give him a memory that he will remember when he is old and gray. It was my reminder that really we are all still kids when it comes to the things we love. I’ve often been told that I become a little kid again once I am at the ballpark. That’s probably true, as there is just something about being around baseball that makes me happy. I totally understand how Levi felt this past week.  He can’t trade away this memory. I’m just glad that I could make it happen. He probably has no clue that I was just as happy as him, only for a different reason. It made my day as well. It was also the best dentist appointment ever!

Put That in Your Pipe and Smoke It!

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If you have been a fan of the Kansas City Royals for as long as I have been(or even longer), you are well aware that the teams they trotted out in the late 70’s and early 80’s were overloaded with talent. Sure, everyone knows about George Brett and Frank White. Most will have heard about Willie Wilson or Dan Quisenberry. Real diehards will mention Amos Otis and Dennis Leonard as key players to Kansas City’s success. But a key cog in the Royals machine for most of those years(and a man who has always been taken for granted) was Hal McRae. In fact, it might be safe to say McRae and his hitting was almost as vital as Brett’s for a lot of those Royals teams.

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McRae’s professional career began in 1965, as he was drafted in the 6th round of the amateur draft by the Cincinnati Reds, the 117th overall pick. It’s hard to believe, but at one point Hal was a speedster, a center fielder that could cover a lot of ground. Before the 1969 season though, McRae suffered a multiple leg fracture in the Winter League and he went from being a player who could fly to just being of average speed. As much as the injury hurt his speed, what really hurt Hal in Cincinnati was the pool of talent the Reds were accumulating, a team that would soon be referred to as “The Big Red Machine”. The Reds at that point had an outfield of Cesar Geronimo(who would end up in Royal blue in 1981), Bobby Tolan and some guy named Pete Rose. With George Foster also in the picture, the Reds found McRae expendable and dealt him to Kansas City after the 1972 season. McRae didn’t instantly show Cincy that they had made a mistake, as he would struggle in his first season with the Royals, hitting .234 in 106 games.

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It’s safe to say though that the 1974 season was Hal’s coming out party. McRae would play in 148 of the Royals games, hitting .310 with an .850 OPS and a 3.9 WAR. McRae fit perfectly in the Royals lineup, a contact hitter who didn’t hit for a lot of power but got on base and drove in runs. Kauffman Stadium(at the time known as Royals Stadium) has always been known as a good park for gap hitters, and back in the 70’s it was even better with the artificial turf. McRae would also spend a lot of his playing time at DH, a fairly new position that was somewhat looked down upon. McRae would embrace the role and some would say became a pioneer for the position.

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1976 would be a banner year for Hal, as he continued his hot hitting. In fact, McRae was leading the league in hitting going into the final game of the season, with teammate George Brett and Minnesota Twin Rod Carew right behind him. Brett would go 2 for 4 and clinch the batting title by a margin of less than .001. McRae was not happy though, as he felt the Twins had conspired to help George win the title. Twins left fielder Steve Brye would misplay a fly ball in the 9th inning that helped Brett win, a move that McRae felt was racially motivated. McRae was so incensed that as he headed back to the dugout after getting out in his final at bat, he would turn toward the Twins dugout and flip the bird toward Twins manager Gene Mauch. A scuffle would ensue, and McRae would let his feelings be known after the game:

“Things have been like this a long time. They’re changing gradually. They shouldn’t be this way, but I can accept it.” […] “I know what happened. It’s been too good a season for me to say too much, but I know they let that ball fall on purpose.”

McRae was never one to be shy or not let his feelings known, and this would be one of those moments. Overall, McRae had a great season in 1976, as he would get picked for his second straight All-Star team and ended up fourth in the MVP voting. 1976 was also the first year that DH was his primary position. Things were definitely looking up for McRae.

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The rest of the 70’s McRae put up solid numbers, even if they weren’t quite at the peak of his 1976 season. McRae would lead the league in doubles in 1977 and continued to be a solid run producer for the Royals. Hal would also be known for being an aggressive base runner. So aggressive in fact that the rule that states a runner must slide into second base to break up a double play is known as the “Hal McRae Rule”. McRae was known to cross body block infielders while sliding into second, which many players had learned to avoid.

Oakland A's v Kansas City Royals

Injuries had started taking their toll on Hal starting in the late 70’s and continuing into the early 80’s. After appearing in only 101 games in 1979, McRae came back in 1980 and was a vital part of the Royals team that would make their first World Series appearance. He would lose close to 40 games to injuries that year, but still put up solid numbers that many had started expecting from him. After having a rough ALCS that year, Hal would have a very good World Series, hitting at a .375 clip, with 9 hits and an OPS of .923. It wouldn’t be enough as the Royals would fall to the Phillies in six games.

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1982 would see McRae stay healthy, which helped him have a season that would rival 1976. Hal would hit over .300, put up his highest OPS of his career(.910), hit the most home runs of his career(27) and lead the league in both doubles(46) and RBI’s(133). The Royals would not make the playoffs that year, but it wasn’t because of Hal. This would garner him with another All-Star nod, a Silver Slugger Award, and fourth place in the MVP voting.

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1983 would see another solid season from McRae as he would play in all but 5 games for the Royals that year. Injuries would return though in 1984 and so would the regression expected at his age(he turned 39 in the middle of the ’84 season). Hal would appear in just a shade over 100 games in both 1984 and 1985 and his hitting took a hit as well. McRae would hit about .260 for both the ’85 season and the ALCS that year, and with no DH in the World Series that year, McRae would see only pinch hitting duty. The Royals would finally get their first(and only) World Series title that year and luckily he got to be a part of that. But it had become apparent that he was nearing the end of his career.

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1986 would be McRae’s last full season in the big leagues, appearing in only 112 games and hitting a paltry .252. The man who had once been a major cog of the Kansas City Royals machine was nearing the end, and on July 17, 1987, he would play his final game in the majors. During his 19-year career, McRae put up some very strong numbers, numbers that even today he should be proud of. Hal would be a career .290 hitter, with over 1000 RBI’s and close to 500 doubles. He would rack up a career OPS+ of 123 and a career WAR of 27.9. Maybe his biggest accomplishment though was his embracing of being the DH and realizing that a career could be made just batting. As guys like Harold Baines and Edgar Martinez would do later on, McRae would not let injuries end his career and in fact helped him flourish. McRae helped make it easier for players to play the majority of their games at DH, as he showed that you could actually make a career out of it.

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With his playing career over, Hal would return to Kansas City’s dugout in 1991, this time as the team’s manager. Much like his playing career, he was hard-nosed and expected the same from his players. McRae would actually turn into a good manager for the Royals and in 1994 had the team playing their best baseball since the late ’80’s. The Royals were making a run at the playoff spot that season before the strike hit and ruined the Royals hopes. When the strike went down on August 12th, the Royals were only four games out of the American League Central and half a game out of a Wildcard spot. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be and McRae would be fired before the 1995 season would get underway. But before this happened, there was one defining moment during Hal’s run as Royals manager. It might be one of the greatest post-game blowups of all time. Words cannot do this justice. Just watch:

Just epic. All these years later and people still flock to that meltdown. To clarify, McRae didn’t even think about pinch hitting Keith Miller for George Brett. Actually just typing that makes me agree with Hal. Who would pinch hit for #5, even late in his career? By the way, my favorite part of that is the twirly bird. Fantastic.

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McRae would manage one more team before it was all said and done, managing the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for a couple of seasons in the earlier 2000’s. McRae would also show up as the hitting coach over the years for the Reds, Phillies and Cardinals and was St. Louis’ hitting coach in 2006 when they would win the World Series, McRae’s second ring. As far as I know, McRae is out of baseball now, but I can’t help but feel like he could help a team. I hope when everyone thinks of those great Royals teams of the ’70’s and ’80’s, they remember that McRae was a big part of them and in fact they probably wouldn’t have gone as far without Hal. His tough as nails style rubbed off on his teammates and pushed them to be better. Between that and his being a pioneer for the Designated Hitter, McRae has more than enough to be proud of when looking back at his career.

Warming the Heart of a Jaded Royals Fan

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Younger fans don’t remember, but when baseball went on strike back in 1994, the Kansas City Royals were making a run for the playoffs. The Royals were 64-51 when baseball shut down, 4 games out of first and closing on the division leading Chicago White Sox. The season had started slow for Kansas City, but Hal McRae’s squad was one of the hottest teams in baseball at the time and there was a good chance that team could have made it to the postseason. But instead, the strike happened, McRae was fired, and the Royals team that took the field in 1995 when baseball came back was not the same team. Since that year, the Royals have only one season of above .500 play. One winning season, that is it. ONE. Sure, the Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t had a winning season since 1992. Poor Pirates fans. I’m sure they understand us Royals fans. They understand our pain, the misery we’ve seen. Every year, we keep asking: is it OUR time. Wait, bad choice of words. Royals fans keep asking: is this the year we finally have a reason to cheer? Is this the year we don’t have to look for silver linings? Finally, in 2013, we might have. Yes, I am showing up late to the party. But after this past weekend, I might finally be a believer. This Royals team could possibly contend this year.

Cleveland Indians v Kansas City Royals

So let’s start at why I didn’t think this team would be where they are this year. To be honest, I saw a team that looked a lot like the 2012 team, just with some new pitchers. Now, granted those pitchers didn’t seem all that horrible. I knew James Shields would hold his own, and I was happy with Jeremy Guthrie coming back. But I was unsure about Ervin Santana and I think we can all say there was skepticism with Wade Davis. But outside of that, it was the same cast of characters. The offense couldn’t score runs last year, and they brought back the exact same lineup. The bullpen was still good, but manager Ned Yost was coming back too. It just didn’t feel like anything had changed. Now, to be fair here, some hasn’t. Davis hasn’t shown that he can completely revert back to the rotation yet, and Yost is still, well, Yost. Frank Yost, that is. The lineup had trouble early on, but they seemed to have improved over the first couple weeks of the season. None of these factors though are why my mind has shifted since Opening Day.

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No, the change is with the mentality. This team believes. They believe they can win. They believe that no matter the deficit, they can get back in the ball game. I know Shields has been a big part of this transformation,  as he wanted to bring over the winning environment he was around in Tampa. The rumors of him being a big time leader seem to be true, as he has this young group of players believing they are Superman and no one has their Kryptonite.  I mentioned the offense earlier and their struggles. They still aren’t kicking on all cylinders, but they’ve received something that winning teams have; clutch hitting. Get your hits when it counts, and it won’t matter where you rank in the league. Just ask the 2012 San Francisco Giants. The starters have stepped up too, making sure the team is always in the game. Can’t remember the last time a Royals team did that? Me either. All this team seemed to need was some big wins under their belt, and the newfound confidence would do the rest.  But there is some credit I probably should hand out.

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First, credit needs to go to Dayton Moore. I know, I rag on him quite a bit, and most of it is deserved. Seriously, he acquired Yuniesky Betancourt twice. You get flogged in other countries for worse crimes. But he knew his butt was on the line this offseason and went out and picked up pitching. Shields, Guthrie and Santana have been better than advertised and have helped change the atmosphere at the K. Santana more than anyone seemed a long shot. Here is a guy who was awful for the Angels last year, gave up the most long balls in the league, and had a 12 million dollar contract(albatross) around his neck, yet Moore was still willing to take a flyer on him. So far, it’s working. Moore also put trust in his offense, expecting the youngsters to step up and improve this year. Now, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer aren’t quite where we wish they would be, but you still see glimmer’s of hope. Alex Gordon and Billy Butler are still the pillars of the offense, and Alcides Escobar has even turned into a really good offensive player. Lorenzo Cain is in the top ten in average, and Salvador Perez is starting to turn around his season. Hell, Jeff Francoeur is even contributing. Maybe his faith in these players was crazy, but it seems to be working. It could be better, but so far Moore’s gambles have paid off.

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This is even more painful for me; a little bit of credit has to go out to Ned Yost. Now, you all know my dislike of Neddy. I still feel like he isn’t the guy for this job. But…so far, he has pushed a lot of the right buttons this season. He stuck with Greg Holland during a rough few outings. He also wasn’t afraid to pull him if the situation dictated it. He has juggled with the lineup a bit, but he has kept Gordon and Escobar at the top this entire time, and they are your two most consistent hitters. He has even done a good job with the bench, lately using George Kottaras in situations that help the team. You see, Kottaras is one of those guys who is really patient at the plate and doesn’t go up there hacking. The Royals lineup doesn’t have a lot of those guys, so late in a game, Kottaras is just as big a weapon as Jarrod Dyson. He has made a few guffaws(he still occasionally doesn’t know when to pull a starting pitcher, and still hasn’t realized to not put Luke Hochevar into a game when runners are on base) but for the most part he has let these guys go out there and do their thing. I still want him fired, but right now he seems to have learned how to properly manage.

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So has my prediction of 78-80 wins changed? I won’t say changed as much as I can see them being above .500 now. I am still a realist, and I know there is still a lot of baseball yet to play this season. The Royals really haven’t had to face much adversity yet, so one does wonder how they will handle it. What I will say is this is a different team. This team has confidence, and just like how you need confidence when approaching a woman, you also need confidence if you are going to be a winning baseball team. This gang of Royals have that. For right now, things are good in Kansas City. But we are all aware that the wheels could come off the bus tomorrow. Santana could come back down to earth. The offense could start struggling again. Neddy could have flashbacks to his Milwaukee days. But for now, the Royals are winning…and winning feels good. Change is definitely a good thing.         

Sure, Your Promotional Schedule is Okay, But…

promotionsYep, I’m one of those fans. Every year when the baseball schedule comes out, I eagerly await the promotional schedule put out by the Kansas City Royals, and to a degree, base my going to the ballpark around it. There are exceptions, but if there is something I really want, I make sure to try and be at that game. Looking at the 2013 promotional schedule, I felt very underwhelmed. Sure, the Billy Butler bobblehead is a fantastic idea, and should have been done a long time ago. I always love when the A’s come to town and the Royals pay homage to the old Kansas City A’s. But looking past those items this year, the promotions are sorely lacking. Does any self respecting fan think they need a mustard, relish and ketchup bobblehead? They would just seem out of place on my shelf with Carlos Beltran and Joakim Soria. A cooler that looks like a gun case? A scarf on Mother’s Day? To save Royals management, I, free of charge, will give them some ideas for promotions. Granted, the schedule has already been made, but these can be used in the future. Or you can make your own. Whatever. I just came up with ideas. Here we go.

1) Mike Moustakas Powder Blue Dirt Shirt

mooseYou might be wondering what this even means. Well, as you can tell from the above picture, Mike “Moose” Moustakas is known for getting quite dirty while out on the field. To celebrate his likeness with Pigpen, the Royals could have a powder blue shirt for Moose with dirt on the shirt. Well, not REAL dirt, but it would look like dirt. The Royals did this a few years ago with a George Brett shirt, putting what looked like pine tar on a powder blue shirt. It looked like this:

Brett_shirtPretty cool, huh? Do this same kind of shirt with Moose, add some dirt, and the fans will flock. It also promotes one of your younger fan favorites, which they should be pushing more, in my opinion. If that doesn’t work, make a Moose stuffed animal that when you press its feet it makes the “Moooooooose” cheer you hear from the fans at the ballpark.

2)Anything with Bo Jackson

bo_openingdayAll these years later, and Bo Jackson is just as wildly popular in Kansas City as he was during his prime. Bo knows popularity. ESPN’s 30 for 30 on Bo was one of the most talked about in a long time and brought Bo back to the forefront of everyone’s mind. Jackson even made an appearance in Kansas City at the celebrity softball game during the All Star Game festivities this past year. So what better time to jump on the Bo bandwagon then now? Now, what you do with the promotion doesn’t matter. Bo sells himself. Bo knows variety. Bo bobblehead. Bo replica jersey. Bo camo hat(I think Bo would dig this). Bo cooler. Bo doggy outfit for Bark at the Park day. Make Bo show up to race mustard, ketchup, and relish(seriously, who thinks they can outrun Bo??). Bo knows condiments. You literally could do anything involving Bo Jackson, and it would be a winner. Jackson was one of the most popular players in Royals history, so it seems only fitting to somehow make him a promotion at some point. Safe to say I will be at the ballpark that day. Bo knows Sean still thinks he is great.

3) Negro League Video Night

negroleaguesbaseballmuseum006aalrOne promotion that is always a plus for Kansas City is the night they honor the Negro Leagues. The players dress up in the old uniforms, and throughout the night they honor the old Negro League players. But with the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, they can take it a step further. Put together a video of the history of the Negro Leagues. Give it away to the first 5,000-10,000 fans that come to the ballpark. Make them realize not only how fascinating this era was but how great these players really were. This is a win/win, as the Royals get a great promotional night, while putting out some plugs for the museum. This should be a partnership that helps both sides and seems like a perfect match.

4) Girls Night Out Photo Night(AKA Quit being drunk ass idiots at the ballpark)

7-2220girlsThe Royals Girls Night Out is one of the team’s highest attended promotions. It is also one that I dread every year. Every year, a bunch of women flock to Kaufman Stadium for this yearly event and a large portion end up sloppy messes by the end of the night. Sure, who doesn’t love their women to be loud, abrasive and completely unaware of their surroundings? I’m sorry, but when I got to a ballgame, I want to sit back, enjoy the action and pay attention to what is happening on the field. On Girls Night Out, that isn’t possible. No, on Girls Night Out, I have to listen to these drunk women blather on about their pitiful lives and how men have done them wrong. Then, if you are sitting anywhere near them, you have to get up every 10-15 minutes to let them out so they can either go pee/get more drinks/find their other friends who can’t find them. I’m sorry your bladder is full, Cindy Jo, but can I please just watch the damn game? So my idea is to have a photo night about a month before Girls Night Out, handing out photos to all these women, showing them for the drunken messes they were the previous year. Sure, it probably won’t do any good. I mean, they will probably just find it funny and continue to make a horse’s ass out of themselves like they do every year. But maybe, just maybe–someone will realize how embarrassing it is and decide to stop after two beers instead of seven. I can only pray. I just want to watch the game. That is why we pay for a ticket, correct?

5) More Bobblehead Nights(of actual players, not condiments)

royalsbobbleheads Anyone who knows me knows that I love bobbleheads. Baseball bobbleheads are even better. Over the years, the Royals bobbleheads have been fantastic, and if you take a second to hop on over to ebay, you find most of these there, granted for a hefty price(except for Larry Gura. Sorry, Larry!). The Billy Butler one this year looks great. But the condiments are an awful, awful idea. All these years of great Royals players, and they are bumped for the stuff I put on my hot dogs? It’s not hard, guys. Amos Otis doesn’t have a bobblehead. Great player back in the day, former All Star and a vital part of the championship Royals teams. Seems like a slam dunk. Hal McRae? Another good choice. I could literally go on forever. Mark Gubicza, Al Cowens, Kevin Seitzer, Jeff Montgomery, and Kevin Appier just to name a few of the players from the past. Hey, just look at the here and now. Alcides Escobar, Salvador Perez, a miniature Johnny Giavotella, or Bruce Chen. Sure, I don’t particularly like Jeff Francoeur, but if they had a bobblehead of him with an actual cannon for an arm, I would want it(thank you for leading me to that idea, Anna). It is so simple. It is also an easy way to get me to the ballpark. Let’s make a deal now, Royals promotion department; no condiments next year. Worst. Idea. Ever.

6) Disco Demolition Night

discoMaybe this time it will end different…

…and if not, can we destroy every existing copy of ‘Friends in Low Places’?

garthGod, I hate that song. Make it go away. Forever.

So those are just a few ideas. I can only hope that for 2014, the Royals step up and give us promotions worth being proud of. If not, we will have our own Royals promotional night at my house. For a fee, of course. I’m not just giving away those Ned Yost shirts I have tucked away in my closet…

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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