The Greatest Center Fielder in Royals History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

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

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

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

Credit: Royals.com

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

Credit: Focus on Sport/Getty Images

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

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

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

 

 

 

The Royals Want All the College Pitchers

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Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the 2018 MLB Draft will go down as one of the most pivotal in the history of the Kansas City Royals, one way or the other. The Royals farm system has been continuously ranked as one of the worst in baseball by almost every publication around. With Kansas City getting compensation picks this year from the free agent losses of Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer, this year’s draft was the perfect time to re-stock the farm and begin the slow climb back up to contender. If their goal was to make a big splash, then they have succeeded.

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Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals first pick was at #18 and their pick was Baseball America’s College Player of the Year Brady Singer from Florida. Most had Singer going in the top five of the draft and some felt the lowest he would drop would be around #10. So what did Kansas City get with their top pick? Here is part of the scouting report from MinorLeagueBall.com:

Singer is listed at 6-5, 210 (he was 180 in high school), born August 4th, 1996. His fastball is his best pitch, up to 95-96 with boring action in on right-handed hitters when things are going well. He can also show a plus slider and has made good strides with his change-up this spring; a recent in-person report from Burke Granger at 2080 Baseball describes the change with “above average deception and tumble, parachuting out of the zone.” One of the few complaints about Singer in 2017 was the need for a better change-up and it sounds like things are going well in that department.

So why did he drop to #18? I’m sure sign-ability came into play, but there were also some concerns by some scouts when it came to Singer:

Despite the good statistics, several observers have noted Singer’s harder pitches, especially the fastball, flattening out at times this year. This is traced to changes in his arm angle although the exact cause/effect chain is a bit unclear from a distance.

His delivery has always been somewhat unusual with a three-quarters approach and some whippy action. His arm angle and release point looked higher at times this year and this has been enough to lower his projection in the eyes of some very respected observers.

So there are a few worries about Singer, but overall he has a plus arm that is already pretty far along in his development. What this means is as long as things go according to plan, Singer could be in the majors by the end of 2019. This was a great pick for the Royals and one that could pay off sooner rather than later.

2017 College World Series: TCU defeats Florida 9-2
Credit: Steve Cheng

With the 33rd pick in the draft, the Royals would draft Singer’s teammate at Florida, Jackson Kowar. Kowar is an interesting pick, as evidenced by the reports on him this season:

As a prep his fastball was generally 88-92 with higher peaks. In college that’s up to 92-95 with peaks as high as 97-98.

His best secondary pitch is his change-up, drawing plus ratings. Development of his breaking ball has been key this spring and while it is sharper and more consistent than in 2017, it is still his third pitch behind the fastball and change. Further refinement of the breaking stuff and general sharpening of his command will obviously be the first items on his agenda as a pro.

So while Kowar isn’t as far along as Singer, there are a few scouts that preferred him to Singer:

When Kowar is at his best he shows three plus pitches. He’s not as close to being a finished product as Brady Singer but in some ways Kowar is a more conventional prospect than his teammate and some scouts like Kowar better.

Kowar might be the more interesting pick to watch out of the two Florida boys, and I like the idea of the two teammates getting to move through the Royals system together.

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At #34, Kansas City would stay in the college ranks and draft left-handed pitcher Daniel Lynch from Virginia. Here is an assessment of Lynch earlier in the year:

A lean and narrow 6’4’’, Lynch won’t overpower hitters and needs to hit spots to have success. He throws from a clean abbreviated windup, getting consistent extension over his front half with little overall effort in his mechanics. He repeats well, able to stay around the zone with a four-pitch mix. The fastball has fringy velocity, sitting right around 90 mph while ranging anywhere from 88-to-93 mph without a lot of lateral movement. He’ll mix a cutter in the mid-80s as well, though the pitch has light, sweeping action and doesn’t project to be more than a wrinkle pitch to keep hitters off his fastball. Lynch commanded both sides of the plate with his four-seam fastball and cutter, though the loud contact allowed shows the limited margin for error he has within the zone. He’s more comfortable with a changeup than a breaking ball, showing more confidence in a fading low-80s circle-change that can get righties out on their front foot.

While Singer and Kowar would probably be ranked as power arms, Lynch appears to rely more on location:

Lynch projects to be a finesse lefty at the professional level. Scouts cite his thin frame as reason to wonder if his already fringy stuff backs up when he pitches on a more demanding schedule in the minor leagues. The best-case ceiling is that of a fifth starter who can soak up back-rotation innings, though he could fit a long or situational reliever if he ultimately lacks the stuff to face lineups more than once pitching out of the rotation.

So through their first three picks, Kansas City went with college pitchers with a good amount of upside. Their next pick didn’t stray far from the pattern.

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Credit: Stanford University

With the 40th pick (a competitive balance pick), the Royals would draft Stanford lefty Kris Bubic. Bubic has a delivery similar to Dodgers star Clayton Kershaw but that is where most of the similarities end:

Bubic is armed with a fastball that works best in the low-90s. He has a little reach-back velocity and can touch 95 MPH. It has some natural arm-side run, as is common with most lefties. What really has him on a path to success is a plus-changeup. He’s able to repeat his delivery and arm slot with it, giving it the look of a fastball. It has good fade down-and-away to right-handers, but he isn’t afraid to throw it against any hitter in any count. His curveball is a work in progress. He didn’t use it much during his first two seasons with the Cardinal, but it has improved enough this season to be a viable third pitch.

The good news is that while his ceiling is a bit unknown, his floor is higher than most:

A standout in the Cape Cod League last year, Bubic has the ceiling of a low-end No. 2 starter should everything click. More likely, he’s a solid No. 3/4 guy who thrives with his command/control profile and a borderline double-plus changeup. He could move quickly if he takes well to professional instruction. But don’t expect much more velocity, as he’s physically maxed out.

I’m interested to see how Bubic develops and he feels like a pitcher to keep an eye on. His change-up should get him places and it will be interesting to see what the Royals will want to do with his curve.

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Credit: Joe Murphy/University of Memphis

At this point it just made sense to continue on the trajectory they were on, so the Royals drafted another college pitcher, going with Memphis right-hander Jonathan Bowlan at #58:

The Memphis product has a solid fastball in the low-90s. The slider will flash better than average at its best, while an average changeup completes his arsenal. Not really a guy who will punch out a lot of hitters unless there is a serious uptick in stuff, Bowlan is probably a fifth starter or middle reliever within a few years.

Bowlan appears to be a underslot signing for Kansas City, but it also felt like the Royals had a direction they wanted to go in once Singer fell to them and they just went with it.

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Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

So what direction might that be? Maybe it’s just what lingers on the surface, but it appears Kansas City went the safe route with their picks on the first day by going with college pitchers. The Royals have been burned in the past by prep pitchers, so maybe they felt going with the older, more mature arms would garner a higher success rate than going with a high school player who has more talent but would take much longer to develop.

It also would make sense that the college pitchers could possibly start at a higher level, possibly in A ball. Maybe someplace like Lexington, where Royals prospects Nick Pratto, MJ Melendez and Seuly Matias are currently playing at. Maybe, just maybe, the Kansas City brain-trust remembers how the core players from their 2015 championship (Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Danny Duffy, Salvador Perez, etc.) came up through the minors together and won together on their way to the major leagues. Maybe…they are looking to repeat history. I could just be reaching here, but if I’m not it’s definitely not the worst idea in the world.

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The one thing we absolutely can determine from the draft is that the Kansas City Royals have done a good job of replenishing the farm system, especially with their pitching. It will be years before we can determine the true value of these players and where they rank among other former Royals draftees.

The one thing we can say is the team went in with a game plan and it appears they followed it down to the letter. The baseball draft always feels like a crap-shoot and as far as we know none of these picks will truly leave their mark. But there is a chance they could be the next Splittorff, Saberhagen, or Duffy. Pitching is the currency of the sport and the Royals just increased how much they have sitting in the bank.

 

 

Duffman: Signed, Sealed & Delivered

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Most of the focus this winter for the Kansas City Royals has been on how they were going to bounce back in 2017 while trimming payroll, as the team’s cavalcade of free agents after this year looms in every conversation about this team. Throughout all this, there has been a growing sentiment (one of which was from me last summer) that the Royals real focus should have been on getting a new long-term contract worked out for staff ace Danny Duffy. After word leaked out back in November that Duffy and the Royals were negotiating a contract extension, it was hard not to get excited about a deal getting done before Spring Training in February. But as November became December and December became January, worry started to set in. Luckily, all that worry was for not, as Kansas City has locked up Duffy with a 5 year, $65 million dollar deal. Now that Duffman is signed, sealed and delivered, let’s break down the deal and how it will affect the Royals.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Kansas City Royals

Let’s start with the specifics:

Duffy had asked for $8 million through arbitration last week and the Royals had countered with $7.25 million for 2017. Obviously, GM Dayton Moore has backloaded this deal, which trims some money from Kansas City’s 2017 payroll. Not a big shock, as Moore has shown a tendency to backload contracts to keep the current payroll as low as possible. This will give the Royals some flexibility this year in case the team decides to make any further moves, which it would appear very well could be the case. This is a move that not only is exciting for us fans but for Kansas City management as well:

“We’re very excited to have Danny Duffy with us for the next five years,” Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore told MLB.com. “Danny is someone who fits in with our organization and within our community.”

It was obvious that Duffy’s 2016 season was a deciding factor in working out an extension with him:

“He has begun to separate himself among the top left-handers in the game,” Moore said. “As I said, very excited to know he’ll be a Royal for quite some time.”

Considering how the market has grown the last few years, especially for pitchers, this deal could actually turn out to be a steal for Kansas City, as it is a fair comparison to other elite left-handed starters in baseball. As an example, Chris Sale (who will be the same age as Duffy next year) will be making $12 million this year, $12.5 million in 2018 and $13.5 million in 2019. Duffy’s deal will be just slightly less than Sale’s but within that same ballpark. While Sale has had more success to this point in his career, they are very similar pitchers in many different aspects and it is easy to see Duffy being discussed in the same sentence with Sale if he continues to pitch the way he did in 2016.

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Maybe the biggest advantage to getting Duffy locked in is making sure the rotation is taken care of past this upcoming season. If Duffy had left through free agency after the 2017 season, that would have left Yordano Ventura and Ian Kennedy for the Kansas City rotation followed by a bunch of question marks. Chris Young has a team option and Mike Minor has a mutual option for 2018, but both are question marks in the first place so who knows how valuable they will be in 2017, let alone the year after. Matt Strahm is a possible future fixture in the rotation, but at least in the immediate future he looks to be ticketed for the bullpen. Nate Karns could also be in the back-end of the rotation, but he could also be better suited for the pen. What about any prospects in the farm system? Pitching-wise, there is very little on the immediate horizon, as guys like Miguel Almonte and Christian Binford have taken a step back, Kyle Zimmer can’t stay healthy and Josh Staumont will probably end up as a valued piece of the bullpen. The good news is that the Royals would have had options, but none of the names mentioned would be able to be what Duffy was last year, which was the stopper, ace and leader of the pitching staff. When the Royals scored 0-2 runs in a game, Duffy had an ERA of 1.37 and a strike out to walk ratio of 11.0. Having that guy at the top of the rotation can help a team’s confidence and make a few losses not turn into a long losing streak. Danny Duffy is that guy for the Royals.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Baltimore Orioles

More than anything, this gives the Royals a homegrown starting pitcher to build the rest of their rotation around, which has been few and far between during Moore’s tenure as General Manager. In fact the only homegrown pitcher to flourish during his time as GM (besides Duffy) was Zack Greinke, who was drafted in 2002, well before Moore was employed by the Royals. If there is one part of the Moore regime that has failed, it is the development of starting pitching. Locking up Duffy gives the Royals a homegrown pitcher that can lead the team into the future and possibly give the younger arms in Kansas City’s system someone to aspire to, an organizational cog. With Duffy signed, the team doesn’t have to go outside the organization and sign a staff leader, or trade a top prospect to get that arm to Kansas City. Instead, they have rewarded a player drafted by the team and can spend the money or prospects on something else over the next five years. Signing Duffy, in some ways, is growth for this franchise.

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Over the last couple months there have been more questions than answers in Kansas City and with this signing there is one less question to be answered for the future of the Royals. The future looks a little bit brighter and (dare I say it) a little more gnar. While some might question the Royals ownership decision to not “push all the chips in” this year (and you can probably count me in that group), it is evident the front office is looking past 2017 and well into the future. Long ago, Danny Duffy said “Bury me a Royal” and while it felt a tad like pandering, you could tell the man meant it and was extremely grateful for this organization and what they had done for him. Now it is his time to return the favor. I honestly can’t think of a better representative to lead the future of this franchise into whatever direction they will be going into. Duffy is a sound investment and hopefully in the future will be discussed the same way the generation before talked about Leonard, Splittorff and Busby.

Royals Retro: Bret Saberhagen

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Back in the spring, I got to thinking about the history of the Kansas City Royals and how it was embedded into the fabric of my fandom as much as anything else. In the past I have done pieces on Hal McRae and have taken a look back at the history of the team, both at shortstop and a ‘Where are They Now’ piece as well. But I really wanted to dive into the past a bit more here on the blog and knew that during the season wouldn’t exactly be an opportune time to do that. Instead, I decided to wait until the off-season to get started with a monthly segment that will be called ‘Royals Retro’. Once a month, I’ll take a look back at the career of a past Royal who deserves to have a light shined on their career. I honestly couldn’t think of a better candidate to start off with than possibly the greatest pitcher in Royals history, Bret Saberhagen.

MLB Photos Archive

Saberhagen wasn’t a glorified first round draft pick by the Royals as I assume many would think he was. Instead, Bret was drafted by Kansas City in the 19th round of the 1982 draft, a high school pitcher out of Reseda, California. Saberhagen would sign late in July of that year, but wouldn’t make his professional debut until the 1983 season. In fact, 1983 would be Saberhagen’s only year in the minors, starting 27 games, posting an ERA of 2.55 over 187 innings, averaging 6.3 strike outs per 9, 2.3 walks per 9 and a WHIP of 1.134. Saberhagen took the fast track to the major leagues, as he would make his debut in Kansas City just one year later in 1984, splitting time between the rotation and bullpen for the Royals. He would throw 157 innings over 38 games (18 games started), posting an ERA+ of 115, striking out 4.2 batters per 9, and a FIP of 3.64. As probably expected, Saberhagen put up slightly better numbers in his 20 appearances out of the bullpen, posting an ERA of 2.32 over 54 innings, while averaging 4.1 strike outs per 9. One aspect of his game that was evident even early on in his career was how Sabs was good about trusting his defense and making pitches for the batter to put in play. Spanning his career, Bret’s ball in play percentage was on average anywhere from mid 70% to upper 70%; during his rookie year, it sat at 79%. Saberhagen would also make his first postseason start, throwing 8 innings while only allowing 3 runs, 2 earned. Nothing overtly stands out in his 1984 numbers that showed how he would break out the following year, but it was at least obvious that the Royals had a keeper.

Kansas City Royals

Saberhagen would enter his age 21 season and it wouldn’t take long for him to become the Royals ace. By the end of the season, he would lead the American League in FIP, WHIP, walks per 9 and strike out to walk ratio. He would also rack up an ERA+ of 143, an ERA of 2.87 and would win his first Cy Young award while coming in tenth in the AL MVP voting…basically on two pitches:

“The year Bret won 20, he relied mostly on two pitches: his fastball and his changeup, which he throws extremely well,” said Kansas City pitching coach Gary Blaylock. “Even though he also threw a curveball and a hard slider, he never really had control of either of them. Too often they were just waste pitches.

The icing on the cake was during the Royals playoff run that October. During the World Series in 1985, Saberhagen would make two starts, throwing two complete games, including a complete game shutout in Game 7 to help Kansas City take their first championship. Bret would end up MVP of the World Series, while his wife would give birth to the couple’s first child, Drew William, on the night of Game 6. All in all, it felt like the beginning of a very prosperous career for the young righthander.

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But Saberhagen would fall back in 1986, as a nasty combination of struggles and injuries limited him to 25 starts and 30 appearances overall. Injuries were the biggest issue, as Bret dealt with shoulder, elbow and foot problems and contributed to a 4.15 ERA, a 102 ERA+ and just 2.0 bWAR, a year after racking up an impressive 7.3 bWAR. Many wondered  back in ’86 if success had spoiled Sabs, but Saberhagen was just as unsure as anyone else:

“Everybody’s trying to come up with a solution or theory of what I could have done to change things,” Saberhagen said before the Kansas City Royals met the Angels Tuesday night in Anaheim Stadium. “When you’re not going as well as you should be, everybody shines the light at you and asks why.”

1986 would also be the beginning of weird odd year/even year pattern where it concerned his success. It appeared over time that Bret excelled in odd years, while struggling during even years. This odd phenomenon would continue throughout his Kansas City career.

Kansas City Royals

1987 saw Saberhagen restore his old glory, throwing an impressive 257 innings over his 33 starts, compiling 15 complete games, a WHIP of 1.163, an ERA+ of 136 and 8.0 bWAR. Bret would also earn his first All-Star nomination and a WPA+ of 19.1. A big part of his success that year was the added use of a curveball, a new addition to his pitching repertoire:

“That’s why we decided to take the hard slider away from him in spring training and have him work on perfecting his curveball, which actually fits his mechanics a lot better,” Blaylock continued. “Now he can consistently get hitters out with his curveball, where before it was just there. I won’t say that’s the chief reason for Bret’s fast start this season, but that’s part of it.”

It also appeared that any distractions he had in ’86 were in the rear-view mirror:

Saberhagen reportedly is also a lot more disciplined on days when he is scheduled to work than he was last year, when on at least one occasion he came to the park early, not to work on some of his problems, but to film a car commercial. This year he definitely seems more organized, more able to block out distractions, and more willing to challenge the hitters with a fastball that has been clocked as high as 96 m.p.h.

The one downside to 1987 was a shoulder injury in the second half of the season that affected his performance on the field, as only 4 of those 15 complete games were in the second half. Saberhagen would also allow more hits, runs and home runs in the second half, all in 42 less innings than he had in the first half.

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The pattern would continue in 1988, as Bret struggled, allowing the most hits in the American League and giving up the most runs in his career. Saberhagen would post an ERA+ of 106, a FIP of 3.08 (which actually wasn’t that bad) and a bWAR of 3.8. The good news was that he stayed healthy and that health would remain as he ventured into 1989. ’89 would be his career year when it came to numbers, as he would lead the American League in wins, W-L%, ERA, complete games, innings pitched, ERA+, WHIP, FIP and strike out to walk ratio. His bWAR that year was the highest of his career, 9.7, as he would earn his second Cy Young award, while earning his first Gold Glove and finishing 8th in the AL MVP voting. From July 26th on, Saberhagen would compile four shutouts and only once in a game over that period would a team score more than two runs on him. In many ways, 1989 was the year that Saberhagen went from being a really good pitcher who won the Cy Young award at one point to one of the best pitchers in the game and an elite ace. Most Royals fans will discuss his 1985 campaign when talking about his greatness, but 1989 was easily his best year.

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1990 was the expected off-year for Saberhagen, as he would appear in just 20 games while throwing 135 innings. The one positive for him was his second All-Star game appearance, one in which he would pick up the win for the American League. Bret would pitch in one game during the second half before being shelved, as he would have successful arthroscopic surgery on his elbow in July. At this point, he was 26 and the litany of injury issues were starting to pile up.

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1991 would be Bret’s final year in Kansas City and as patterns go, it was another solid season. Saberhagen would throw 196 innings in 1991, with seven complete games, an ERA+ of 135, a WHIP of 1.070 and a bWAR of 5.1. The crowning moment for him that season was his first career no-hitter, as he blanked the Chicago White Sox, 7-0. All these years later and it is the last no-hitter thrown in Royals history. Bret really didn’t think about getting it until about the 7th inning:

“The funny thing is that once we got to the seventh inning — and I’d been at that point a few times before in my career (with a no-hitter) and I’d never been able to finish it off — I started to think about getting that darn thing,” Saberhagen recalled. “So at that point, I told myself I was going to go at every batter like he was the last batter of the game.

The toughest out might very well have been the final out:

“It was a breaking ball to Frank, and he hit the ball to Terry Shumpert at second base,” Saberhagen recalled almost 23 years later. “Terry got it and fired to first and that was it. Such a cool feeling.”

How ironic, 25 years later, that this would be just a few months before Saberhagen’s time in Kansas City would wrap up. It seems fitting that possibly the greatest pitcher in Royals history would throw a no-no in his final year as a Royal.

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On December 11, 1991, the Royals shockingly traded Saberhagen to the New York Mets (with Bill Pecota) for Kevin McReynolds, Gregg Jefferies and Keith Miller. Bret was entering his age 28 season, and while there were some concerns about injuries, this was a way to fill three holes in the Kansas City offense:

“Any time an organization gives up a player of Bret Saberhagen’s caliber, it’s a hard thing to do. But we had to take a risk and do some things that you don’t always want to do. But we feel we’re a better ball club because of it. We were able to fill three holes. The Mets probably were the only club in baseball talent-rich enough to do something like this.”

What is interesting to see all these years later is the reactions, such as this one from former Mets GM Al Harazin on whether or not New York felt like they overpaid for Saberhagen:

“I think we gave up an awful lot of talent, but we got one of the best pitchers in baseball. I’ll leave it to others to decide if we overpaid.”

It was a shocking move, even for Bret as he wasn’t expected to leave Kansas City:

“When you win a couple of Cy Young’s you start thinking maybe you’re a fixture and one of the main reasons they’ve accomplished what they have in the past.”

The move was equally as shocking for Royals fans. I remember being crushed as a 15 year old Royals fan to learn one of my favorite players was no longer a Royal. At the time I wasn’t as privy to the business side of baseball; all I knew was a player I had gotten attached to was now going to pitch in New York. So how did the trade work out? Not great for the Royals. Saberhagen would accumulate 11.7 bWAR during his time in New York, including a third place finish in the National League Cy Young voting in 1994. Miller would play parts of four seasons with Kansas City, raking in 1.4 total bWAR in that span. McReynolds put together 1.9 bWAR in his two seasons in Kansas City (and never endeared himself to Royals fans), while Jefferies had a 2.2 bWAR in his lone season in Kansas City. Jefferies at one point was considered a future star, but was a slightly above average player whom the Royals would trade the following winter for Felix Jose. Jose was an even bigger bust, posting a -0.2 bWAR during his time in Kansas City. It’s hard to say one move could lead to the downfall of one organization, but the Saberhagen trade didn’t accomplish what Royals management was hoping it would and instead began a downfall that would fall even farther in upcoming seasons.

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The Mets would deal Bret to Colorado during the 1995 season and would finish out the year with the Rockies, including pitching in a Colorado playoff game that fall. He would sit out the 1996 season due to injury, but would return to baseball the following year, joining the Boston Red Sox. Saberhagen would pitch part of four seasons in Boston, and while at times he would show a glint of his past success, at this point of his career he was a nice middle of the rotation starter. He did become the Sporting News Comeback Player of the Year in 1998 and would also win the Tony Conigliaro Award. He would miss the 2000 season and while he tried a comeback in 2001, he would only pitch in three games and retire at the end of the season.The latter part of his career was littered with injuries and stunted what at one time was considered a possible Hall of Fame career.

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So two questions have gnawed at me over the years: one, ‘is Bret the greatest Royals pitcher in history?’ and two, ‘how close did he actually get to becoming a Hall of Famer?’. Let’s start with the first question, his place in Royals history. In all-time career bWAR, Saberhagen is just behind Kevin Appier, 47.3 to 40.8. He is fourth in ERA (behind three relievers), sixth in wins, fourth in win-loss%, 1st in WHIP, 2nd in walks per 9, 6th in innings pitched and fourth in strikeouts. At this point, it is pretty close between him and Appier, so I’m going to venture to the advanced side of things. Saberhagen is 5th in team adjusted ERA+ (second behind Appier for starters), first in team FIP and third in WPA. With all these numbers at hand, I would say in a very close race that Kevin Appier might just slightly edge out Bret for being the greatest Royals starting pitcher of all time. That also tells you how super underrated Appier really was.

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So how about the Hall of Fame? Going off the great website Hall of Stats, Saberhagen is in, as they gave him a Hall Rating of 122, as they take the top 217 players (the amount of players currently in the Hall of Fame) based just off of their career statistics and nothing else. Their formula?:

The Hall of Stats uses a formula called Hall Rating to rank every player in baseball history. Hall Rating combines the value of a player’s peak and longevity into a single number that represents the quality of that player’s Hall of Fame case. It’s not perfect, but there’s a lot to be said for rating all players in history according to the same objective criteria.

Now this factors in both longevity and peak of career, which has become more and more important over the years. Saberhagen’s case is 62% peak and 38% longevity and by their Hall Ratings he is 152nd all-time, 134th among eligible players and 45th among pitchers. Saberhagen will be eligible for the upcoming Today’s Game Era Committee, but the likelihood of him getting voted in is probably pretty slim. What this does tell us though is that his battle with injuries late in his career probably hurt his case and has made many voters ignore his numbers during his peak. The good news is that Saberhagen is already in the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame, which is a great honor in Kansas City and was also voted one of the ‘Franchise Four’ for the Royals back in 2015.

MLB: World Series-San Francisco Giants at Kansas City Royals

For a number of years, it felt like the Royals had forgotten about Saberhagen and his place in the team’s history. There were a few public acknowledgements, but that was about it. It always bothered me, considering his place in franchise history. Luckily, over the last few years while the Royals have made their epic playoff runs, Saberhagen has continuously been seen at Kauffman Stadium. After all these years, it is still great to see ‘The Kid’ at the stadium, even for just a moment. I’m sure a kid from California never imagined while he was growing up that he would become such a large part of the fabric of a team in the midwest, but he has. When you talk about great Royals pitchers, names like Splittorff, Leonard, Busby, Appier and Greinke are often mentioned. But for me, the conversation started and ended with Saberhagen…and it always will.

 

 

 

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!

 

No Baseball Makes Me Crazy!

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This happens every year. Some time in January, I start to get “baseball antsy”. What that means(since I just coined the term) is I get to a point where not even Hot Stove talk keeps me satisfied. I get to a point where the only thing that can keep me from going completely out of my mind(or crazy insane, got no brain) is for Spring Training to get here…or for me to create baseball stories to keep me occupied. Now, I’m not saying this is healthy. In fact, I can feel them sizing me up for a straightjacket. But it keeps me even keeled and able to function like a normal human being, not as a baseball junkie who is frothing at the mouth and needs his fix. Hey, just because I daydream of Tim Kurkjian being my best friend doesn’t mean I have a problem!

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Okay, I have a problem. Anyway, here is my delusional baseball dreams that have kept my mind occupied the last couple of weeks. I promise none have Tim Kurkjian playing doctor. That even disturbs me.

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Puig is My Surfing Buddy

Yasiel Puig is misunderstood. Sure, he seems cocky and one of the few people in the world to pull off pink jorts. The jorts make me think that he is probably a great surfer. I’ve never surfed, but I have a feeling Puig can do everything at least fairly good(once again, pink jorts). I picture him teaching me the way of the ocean, where I learn to listen to her and connect with my inner chi. Not only would I learn how to surf, but we would have long discussions about the true meaning of life and why Jack Johnson is just misunderstood as a musician. I would probably ruin it by saying that Bo Jackson was a better athlete than him, but before that we would start a Beach Boys cover band with less Brian Wilson substance(you can take that either way; they both fit in this scenario). All in all, it would be a great five days on the beach. I’m going to go practice saying ‘Puig’ like Vin Scully now…

Alex Rodriguez

A-Rod Was Framed 

Most of us are pretty sure that Alex Rodriguez wasn’t framed and that he probably had this coming at some point, karma and all. But what if this was all an elaborate setup like we see on the fifty gajillion crime shows on television? Here we go: baseball Commissioner Allan Huber Selig is fed up with Rodriguez’s great play and his ability to serenade a mirror. The last straw is Rodriguez stealing Selig’s supermodel wife away from him because she isn’t fond of Wisconsin as a whole. Selig plots to get A-Rod banned from the game that he loves. He starts by getting the media to believe that Rodriguez is fake and the least genuine person you have ever met. After that seed is placed, he uses water torture to get A-Rod to admit to steroid use during his time with the Texas Rangers. When that doesn’t get him to retire, Selig hatches his grand finale. He hires a comedic actor to play Tony Bosch. I’m picturing someone with range like Dom DeLuise. At first no one believes this Bosch character, but then Selig schedules a 60 Minutes interview for Bosch and himself the day after having Rodriguez suspended for the 2014 season. In the interview, “Bosch” pulls off a great performance and have people actually believing that A-Rod was a big time substance abuser.  Selig  makes an appearance as well and makes it sound like Rodriguez is the worst person he has ever meet, just because the supermodel doesn’t find six different kinds of cheese fascinating. Selig even pays off A-Rod’s lawyer to be even shadier than he usually is, so now everyone thinks Alex is worse than Hitler. Of course this means a sleuth detective needs to get on the case and try to clear A-Rod’s good name. What is Monk up to these days?

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Baseball Celebrates First Cyborg Player

It was easy to wonder why Chris Davis had such a breakout season in 2013. For years Davis was a mild mannered, free-swinging giant of a man that could crush the ball whenever he wasn’t helping out the breeze around the ballpark. What looked to be hard work and better plate discipline turns out to be that the ‘Real’ Chris Davis died a few years ago and Cyborg Davis took his place. Half-man, half-machine, Davis is now a power hitting threat with no real emotion at the plate. Machines aren’t perfect, which explains the 199 strikeouts, and he sometimes needs oiled when out on defense. Since baseball rules say nothing about Cyborg’s being against the rules, Davis will be allowed to play again in 2014 with opposing pitchers now knowing his weakness against the knuckle-ball and bad accents. He’s also playing for the perfect manager, Buck Showalter, who is also part robot. Expect the Orioles expenses to go up this year, as they have to add WD-40 to their team rider.  Time will only tell is Davis ends up taking his real name, F630Z.

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Wilson Gets Off-Season Job 

Years and years ago, most baseball players had to get a job in the off-season. Back then players didn’t get paid as much so they needed some extra scratch to get them through the entire year. Lou Brock operated a flower shop. Paul Splittorff used to work in a dairy. Davey Lopes was a teacher. Nowadays this doesn’t happen as much, but it didn’t stop Brian Wilson from working kid’s birthday parties as a clown. It really isn’t hard to picture Wilson putting on a rubber red nose and the big floppy shoes. Actually, he’s been close before-

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Granted, that’s a bit more “selling men’s aftershave” than “clown for kid’s birthday party”, but you can tell he loves dressing up. I’m sure the kids would love the crazy baseball player who can tell them not only about pitching in the World Series but taking Big Foot to an awards show as well-

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Kids will love him, dammit! If anything, this gives Brian something to fall back on once his arm finally falls off and the beard just doesn’t amuse us anymore. Now, he needs to see just how many people he can get into his car at once…

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Hunting With Neddy 

It really wouldn’t be a successful off-season unless you get to go hunting with Royals manager Ned Yost. Neddaniel normally goes with pal Jeff Foxworthy, but I tend to think I would run him off. I can only imagine that Yost is a better hunter than baseball manager, so I could learn a thing or two while out in the rough with Yosty. For one, he only has focus on one main thing instead of a bunch of small things. You also wouldn’t need to bunt while in the wilderness. I also wouldn’t have to talk baseball with him, which will save me from losing my mind. Just focus on the hunting and we can be simpatico. Even better, Neddy wouldn’t have to deal with the media.  Nope, the only issue would be him naming the deer as they frolic by. I will have a hard time keeping my trap shut when he refers to a deer as ‘Wil Myers’. On the plus side of that, I would look forward to shooting the deer named ‘Frenchy’. Good to see Yost spends his off-season not thinking about baseball. It’s not like there is any pressure on this upcoming season or anything. On second thought, the best part of this trip might be if I just pull a ‘Dick Cheney’. It wouldn’t be the first time Dale Sveum was asked to step in for ‘The Man They Call Yost’.

Streaker  Photo by Rick Giase

Okay baseball, time to come back. I’m already having dreams of doing bad things to Ned Yost. That’s a sign that I need a distraction. How about you come back here in a few weeks and we can discuss how everyone is in ‘The best shape of his life’. Or how Carl Pavano will get hurt this year. Or how Luke Hochevar is ‘just about to turn the corner’. Baseball, you are my sanity…

These are Just Some of My Favorite(Baseball) Things–Of All Time

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The other day I talked about some of my favorite things in baseball that get me excited in the current game. But going through all those exciting players made me think of all my favorites from when I was younger. So it seemed only appropriate to visit the past and go through those players I’ve enjoyed over the years. Much like my friend Chuck Samples took a look earlier this year at his favorite starting nine, I’m about to take a look at what a lot of my baseball youth was surrounded by. So here we go–back to the late 80’s/early 90’s for the best of the best(at least in young Sean’s mind).

Barry Larkin roaming the infield

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I was more than overjoyed when Barry Larkin was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I had always felt he wasn’t as appreciated by some because he wasn’t the biggest, wasn’t the flashiest and wasn’t playing in a big market. What he was? A great, complete hitter, a clubhouse leader and a great defender. In fact, if I had to choose one thing I loved the most about Larkin, it was his defense. He was so smooth with the glove. He did it all, as this video bio shows:

Sure, Cal Ripken, Jr. was The Man at shortstop during this period. But Larkin could do more than Ripken, in all honesty. That was why I loved watching Larkin. He was a five tool infielder who made the Reds better because of it.

Lee Smith closing out a game at Wrigley Field

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Growing up, I watched a lot of Cubs games. I mean A LOT! With WGN showing the Cubs almost every day, and them playing mostly day games, I got to witness Lee Smith in his prime. It wasn’t just the fastball that popped in the catcher’s mitt. It wasn’t just the stoic, cold stare that Smith would give every batter. No, what really made Smith fun to watch was a batter stepping in with Smith on the mound at Wrigley Field–with the shadows around home plate. Like it wasn’t bad enough facing this big guy with the ridiculous fastball. No, let’s make it even harder by trying to see all this through the shadows! To say it was scary would be an understatement. All those things added up to another Cubs win…and a ‘Holy Cow’ from Harry Caray!

Bo Being Bo

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When Bo Jackson debuted back in 1986, we had never seen an athlete quite like him. Since then, we still haven’t seen a player who compares to Bo and we might never see such a player. He was a once in a lifetime athlete that I feel fortunate was on my favorite team. Bo would hit home runs farther than anyone else. Bo would run like an Olympic racer. Bo could throw a runner out at home from the deepest parts of the Kingdome. Bo could do practically anything.

Bo’s ability was unlimited, and one wonders just what he could have accomplished if not for the hip injury. I start dreaming about what the Royals would have been AS he got even better…seriously guys, goosebumps. Bo Jackson was so fun to watch and to this day I get giddy just talking about him. We were lucky to get to see him play, even if it was for such a short time.

‘Young’ Barry Bonds

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Before 1999, Barry Bonds was the best player in the game. Not only the best player in the game, but one who could do everything: hit, hit for power, run, and play great defense. He was as close to a well rounded baseball player as I have ever seen. I loved watching Barry make the game seem simple and doing everything on the field. Hell, he stole bases at a higher rate than his home runs at one point! He was what every player wanted to be on the field.

But we all know how this ends. Bonds, after watching Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa steal the spotlight in 1998, decides he can do what they did and Bonds bulked up. He bulked up to the point that he was hardly recognizable. He bulked up so much his defense suffered, he quit stealing bases, and became a home run hitter. Sure, he became the best home run hitter EVER, but everything I loved about watching Barry Bonds went away and I was bored with him. The younger version of Bonds? Loved. The older one? Dull and predictable. But at one point, he was a blast to watch.

Van Slyke’s Hustle

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Andy Van Slyke was never a big star. Hell, he wasn’t even the best player on his own team(hello, Barry Lamar)! But Van Slyke busted his butt out on the field, and I loved watching him do it. Offensively, you would have thought every at bat was his last. Defensively, you would have thought his hair was on fire. He worked for everything he achieved, trust me.

Van Slyke’s career was over by 1995, and injuries took a toll on his body. But those great Pirates teams of the early 90’s wouldn’t have gotten there without him. He was just as important a cog as Bonilla, Drabek and Bonds. It’s too bad he isn’t remembered as fondly as I remember him.

Sabes Shining

Kansas City Royals v Oakland Athletics

The first time my heart was broken was when the Royals released Bo Jackson. The second was when they traded Bret Saberhagen to the Mets in the winter before the 1992 season. He was the Royals ace, the winner of two Cy Young awards, and a no-hitter against the White Sox back in 1991.

Saberhagen was almost unhittable when he was on–which was normally in odd years. Seriously his stats in odd years were great, while they were ‘eh’ in even years. Don’t believe me? Click here. Most importantly, he was OUR ace. He was the guy on the mound when the Royals won the World Series. He was that generation’s Busby, or Leonard, or Splittorff. To me, Saberhagen was just as important as White, or Wilson, or Quisenberry. To me, he will always be a Royal.

Brett: The Best

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George Brett was and will always be my favorite player. George was everything good about the game. He was a great hitter, become an above average defender, and was as clutch as clutch gets. The 1985 ALCS was proof of that.

Brett WAS the Kansas City Royals. Sure, I loved Bo, I loved Sabes, and loved Frank. But George…George was the heart of this team. It wasn’t until I got a bit older that I realized despite me watching the latter part of his career, I still saw a guy who went out there and killed himself despite his body falling apart. I have so many great memories of Brett, so here are just a few.

and that’s just what I could find! I remember him sliding into the St. Louis dugout trying to make a catch in the 1985 World Series. I remember his 3000th hit, which happened late at night in Anaheim. It was off Tim Fortugno(I still remember this, like it was yesterday), and capped off a 4 for 5 night for Brett. In fact, I can close my eyes and picture the hit. I was staying at my Grandma Thornton’s that night, and remember being so excited that he finally got it. I also remember the batting title he won in 1990(his third career), which most didn’t expect, as he had an awful first half of the season, but bounced back to claim the title in the second half of the season. I remember betting my PE teacher that he would win it, and of course I won. Brett IS Kansas City Royals baseball. Sure, I’ve heard the stories about him being a jerk, and of him getting drunk and being less than friendly to fans. I’ve heard the Vegas story. But…I still loved watching him play. Maybe the best I will ever see, but I am heavily biased. To me, George Brett is simply the best…and he gave us this.

So there you go, a peak into my youth. I would love to wait another 20 years and see what my son’s list would be. I can only hope he has as fond memories as I have of the best game on earth, America’s Pastime.

 

FLASHBACK: The Return of Zack

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!

zack-greinke-posnanski2012 is a very pivotal year for the Kansas City Royals, especially for those of us that have been following “the process”. This is the year in which we find out whether or not all the time and money that has been put in developing the new crop of Royals will pay off or not. Now, that is not to say Kansas City is playoff bound(although it could be interesting in the lackluster American League Central), but we should know by the end of the season just how close the team is to contending. Predictions have always been that 2012 we would start to see improvement, and be on the brink of contending, with 2013 as the possible arrival date. If all goes as planned, the Royals might be a team just in need of a solid #1 starter, one guy who can dominate every fifth day when he takes the mound. Is that guy Zack Greinke?

imagesNow, I probably just threw out a no-no. How dare I mention Judas! Look, I’m with all of you; if anyone was not happy with Zack’s attitude when he left, it was me. I’m a huge proponent of locker room chemistry and what a solid character guy(like Jeff Franceour) or a cancer(see Guillen, Jose) can do and what it means to a winning team. By the end of his tenure in Kansas City, Greinke had become a cancer in that locker room, a less than solid influence for the younger players to look up to. It showed in his pitching, as he looked uninterested in taking the mound for the Royals. He went from a one of a kind year in 2009, one that very few pitchers ever experience, to a year of mediocrity. As Royals fans, we understand his frustration in the team continuing to lose. Look, I’ve been a fan since 1984, and the last 15 years has taken it’s toll on me. But at the end of the day, I still bleed Royal blue, through and through. Why couldn’t Zack see the future was coming?

Zack+Greinke+Bob+McClure+Minnesota+Twins+v+X4ybjsukAPqlThe part of the whole deal that killed me is the team stuck with him through his issues and let him come back at his own pace. They didn’t rush him, letting him play in the minors with no pressure and learn what he loved about the game in the first place. So to have him then turn around and want to leave when things were tough really left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. After years of awful pitching, the Royals had a guy they could put up there with Leonard, Splittorff, Saberhagen, Cone and Appier.

Just like that, he was gone. Now, most of us will agree that the return for Zack softened the blow. This year we’ll get to see just how good Lorenzo Cain, and Shortstop Jesus has made the trade of Greinke seem like a great move. Soon, we’ll get to see Jake Odorizzi who has been compared to Greinke in alot of circles.  Trading Zack helped make “the process” seem even more plausible.  But what if at the end of this year there is still that one piece of the puzzle to acquire?

Every team that yearns to reach the World Series knows they need a good #1 starter if they have any chance of making it deep into the playoffs. Detroit has one in Justin Verlander, a guy who can go out every fifth day and pretty much guarantee his team a ‘W’. That is what the Royals will eventually need if they are serious. As much as we might hope he is Danny Duffy or Mike Montgomery or even Jake Odorizzi, know of those guys will be in a position to fill that slot to start off 2013. Zack Greinke will be a free agent after this season and when his head is on straight, he is a number one guy.

Zack+Greinke+Toronto+Blue+Jays+v+Kansas+City+Tdqf0koN7dclSo should the Royals go after the guy who spurned them just one year ago? I think it should at least be looked into. Greinke will never survive in a major market like New York or Boston. Philadelphia would eat him for lunch. His best bet is to stay in a smaller market where the scrutiny won’t be so harsh. He is familiar with Kansas City and already knows what to expect from management. He would have to mend some fences, and prove to some people that he isn’t going to bail out at the next sign of trouble, but it could be done. The Royals should at least invest into the thought of whether or not he could help return them to the playoffs. It might be a smarter move than originally expected.

 

Frank, Don’t Go Away Mad(Just go Away)

News came out today that Frank White, former Kansas City Royals legend, is getting ready to release a new book. A big selling point for the book is Frank delves into the messy split from this past offseason between himself and the ballclub. You can read a few excerpts here . Most Royals fans(myself included) was not pleased when the team bid him goodbye this winter. But as time has gone on, I now just want it to end. At this point, Frank White just needs to go away.

Frank White was one of those feel good stories that we all like to hear about. White went to college in the Kansas City area and when the Royals opened their baseball academy in the early 70’s, White ventured there and got himself signed by the ballclub. White rose through the minor leagues and eventually displaced the popular Cookie Rojas at second base. White was in the lineup because of his defense, as he would win eight total Gold Gloves, six in a row between 1977 to 1982. He was also a five time All Star, and by the mid 80’s had improved his offense enough that he was often slotted into the middle of the lineup. When Frank’s playing days were over, other than a short stint as a coach for the Boston Red Sox, Frank stayed in the Royals organization, floating around in different roles. White would do everything from coaching in the majors to managing in AA. He would also work in the Royals front office in the community relations department and most recently as a color commentator for the Royals TV broadcasts. White was relieved of his duties on Royals broadcasts in December of last year, and that seems to be White’s main source of bitterness.

In happier days…

White’s firing wasn’t the first issue between himself and the Royals. After managing three seasons for the Royals AA team in Wichita, White was given an interview for the open Royals managerial job and was even considered a favorite of Dayton Moore during the process. Alas, the job went to Trey Hillman, and White quit managing, feeling that he was ready for the next level. White felt that even though the team interviewed him, they only did it as a courtesy. The truth is Frank didn’t have a lot of experience, which I’m sure hurt his case.

White has always seemed to have a sense of entitlement when it comes to the Royals, with his presence in the community and him being  fan favorite being used against Kansas City management. White has been notorious over the years for complaining that the Royals weren’t using him in the correct role or making him a bigger part of the organization. This actually even goes as far back as the end of his playing career, as the Royals were letting him go and he “threatened” to go sign with another ballclub. It has been like this, back and forth, since then, but for the most part the two sides needed each other. White is loved by the Kansas City community, a local boy who became a local legend. It has always benefited both parties to work together, and for the most part they have. Unfortunately, White’s firing from his broadcasting job seems to have been the final straw.

White and the Feev.

Frank had started broadcasting for the Royals in 2008, as fellow former Royal Paul Splittorff had come down with a medical condition, that eventually was diagnosed as cancer. White wasn’t the greatest color commentator in the world, but he had been a baseball man all his life, and gave fans the point of view of the player in the game. He would call a play how he saw it, and sometimes even break down plays, explaining why it was either a good or bad play or call. White was gradually improving as time went on, and more than anything he spoke as a true Kansas City Royal. But Frank spoke his mind, and in the end, that is what cost him his job.

When word came out of White’s firing, the one thing that was mentioned was his “negative” remarks during broadcasts. Now, you can realistically see this both ways. One, no team wants their broadcasters talking down the ballclub. It just isn’t good for business. But there is an exception to this rule. When an organization has had losing seasons 17 out of the last 18, you can’t sugar coat it to your fans. You need to be honest about the situation, and that is what Frank did. The last thing any Royals fan wants to hear is that everything is great and just grin and act like there isn’t a problem. So for management to drop Frank for him vocalizing this, well, it comes across as short sighted and thin skinned. No one has specifically said who particular in management didn’t like White’s opinions, but Frank believes it is President Dan Glass. It doesn’t really matter who, as much as someone didn’t like it. Add in White leaving his community relations job at the beginning of 2011 due to salary complaints and it seemed like Frank was being unjustly pushed out.

Since the firing, Frank has said he is done with the organization and will never return. He has done countless interviews and has publicly denounced the organization over and over. Fans voiced their displeasure with the move, and most never accepted his replacement, Rex Hudler. But a funny thing happened as the year progressed. Frank’s bitterness came across more and more, and some fans felt less and less sorry for White. Some even now understood what the Royals had been putting up with. This fan was one of them.

I have always been a Frank White fan. He was one of my favorites early on, and he was one of the key pieces of that 1985 World Championship team. I even have a Frank White autographed ball that holds a special place in my heart. He will always be one of my all time favorites, but I’m finding it harder and harder to justify his complaints against the Royals. They have always treated him as an all time great, retiring his number and even building him a statue at Kauffman Stadium. But that isn’t enough for Frank. I hate to say it, but a lot of his bitterness stems from jealousy.

       It has been mentioned more than once, but it has always seemed that Frank White wants to be treated like George Brett is in Kansas City. Brett is adored in Kansas City, and it’s pretty simple to see why. He played his whole career in Royal blue and topped it off with a trip to Cooperstown. He was “the man” in his playing days and the fans still treat him as such. White wants that adoration. White wants to be “the man”. But the truth is he isn’t. He was really good, and deserves all the accolades he has earned. But he isn’t a Hall of Famer. He isn’t George Brett. Truth be known, the Royals have for the most part done right by Frank White. But ask yourself this question: has Frank White done right by the Kansas City Royals? At one point, I would say yes. But as time passes, it is looking more and more like White hasn’t done right by the only organization he ever knew as a player. It’s not all about Frank White; it’s about the community, the fans and organization. If he can’t see that, then he should never return. Frank, don’t go away mad. Just go away if this is how you are going to be.

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