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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Whitley’s World

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Almost from the moment he made his major league debut in 2016, Whit Merrifield  became a fan favorite. Maybe it was the extra hustle, maybe it was the long journey it took him to get to the big leagues. There was the dazzling defense, the clutch hits and even the boyish grin. Most importantly though was Whit’s production: .283/.323/.392 slash line and 1.6 bWAR. He got off to a fast start with Kansas City before hitting a bump in the road, finishing with an OPS+ of 90. It was believed most of the offseason that Merrifield would take over the second base position for the 2017 season, but in the end Raul Mondesi won the job and Whit was optioned to AAA. He was only in the minors for nine games this year before being recalled and since then he has been nothing short of amazing, producing at a higher level.

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Over 100 games, Merrifield is hitting .293/.330/.473 with an OPS+ of 109 and 3.4 bWAR. He has already toppled his number for Total Bases from last year (186 to 122) and his power numbers have seen the biggest increase. Whit’s home run total of 14 easily beats his total from last year (2) and his 17 combined this year (between the majors and AAA) is an increase over his combined totals last year (10 total between the big leagues and minors). But it’s not just the home runs; Merrifield has seen in increase in his doubles and triples, and his slugging percentage and wOBA have seen an uptick as well. Whit has increased his body mass over the last two offseasons, which has been a big part of the increase in his power numbers. Maybe the most surprising revelation last winter was that he had bumped his meal intake to seven meals a day, increasing his muscle mass. To me, this read as a guy who was 27 years old coming into the 2016 season, knew he was going to have to improve to not only make it to the majors, but to stay as well. Whit has done just that and put himself with some impressive company.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Kansas City Royals

When comparing Merrifield to other second baseman, he is right there among the top at the position in the American League. Whit is 3rd in WAR and slugging percentage, 6th in wRC+, ISO and doubles, 5th in wOBA, 4th in OPS and first in triples. These numbers have put him right there with the Cano’s, Pedroia’s and Altuve’s of the world, which is very select company in the league. In fact, most of his numbers have either been on par or better than Ian Kinsler, Brian Dozier and Rougned Odor, all mainstays in the second base conversation. Whit has put himself in this discussion with his production, but it does beg a question: Is he better left at second base, or would he better served to go back to being a utility guy?

Minnesota Twins v Kansas City Royals

I ask this question because that has always been the plan for Merrifield, but the Royals need at second has been stronger. For right now, Whit is a good fit where he is at. But for the long run (and the longevity of his career) he might very well be better suited for the utility role. While some Royals fans have thrown out the idea of him being comparable to former Royal Ben Zobrist, I’m not as sure that Merrifield is quite that good. During the peak of his career, Zobrist was putting up solid 5.0 fWAR seasons. While Merrifield isn’t too far off this year with his 3.4 bWAR, offensively Whit isn’t quite the player Zobrist was. Ben had more power than Whit but where the big difference is notable is in walks. During his prime years, Zobrist would regularly post a 11-15% walk rate. In his two years in the majors Whit has posted a 5.7% and a 4.7% walk rate. In fact, the highest walk rate of Whit’s career, both minor and majors, was a 11. 6% in 190 plate appearances back in 2014. While both players can fill in admirably at numerous positions, Zobrist was a more complete offensive player while Merrifield is probably more comparable to a Willie Bloomquist or Sean Rodriguez. There is nothing wrong with that and in fact there might be more value in him moving around position to position in the future. Right now the Royals don’t have a second baseman to take his place, but if and when they do, Merrifield’s role on the team would probably adjust back to that utility role.

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There is no idea what the future is going to hold for Whit Merrifield, but it is safe to say that he is probably in the majors for good. The scrappy infielder who moved himself up the Royals farm system has entrenched himself into the Royals starting lineup and endeared himself to Royals fans everywhere. It will be interesting to see what he does this offseason to improve on his game and one can only hope he ups his meal total to nine a day (I’m joking…I think). Whit is proof that hard work and dedication do pay off. We all hope he is able to maintain his current pace and continue to excel when given another challenge. While you won’t see him batting in the middle of the order, he might just be the glue that keeps this entire team flowing. I tend to believe at some point Merrifield will come back to earth…but I’m also not going to count him out either. Perseverance be Whit’s name!

Selection Tuesday: Which Royals Are All-Star Worthy

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On Tuesday, Major League Baseball will announce the All-Star team rosters and it appears that the litany of Kansas City Royals players on the roster will not be as hefty as they were in 2015. With that being said, manager Ned Yost will once again be at the helm of the American League All-Star team and will have a say in some of the participants of the team. There will be Royal blue in San Diego on July 12, but how much? Let’s go ahead and look at my predictions for the Royals and who will be joining Yost at Petco Park next week.

All-Star Locks

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Salvador Perez

Salvy, a fan favorite not only in Kansas City but all around Major League Baseball, was leading the AL catcher position last we checked so the likelihood of him going is about 99.999999%. Normally Perez gets to the All-Star game on his charming positivity and his stellar defense behind the dish. But this year you can add a lethal bat to the mix; .281/.315/.490, 12 home runs, 37 RBI’s, 110 wRC+ and 2.1 WAR. I remember back in 2012 when former Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa was being interviewed the day before the All-Star game and was asked about Perez, who was in his first full major league season. LaRussa had compared Sal to Cardinals elite receiver Yadier Molina, which at the time was the highest of compliments. At this stage, it feels like Salvy has overtaken Molina and is the standard-bearer for catchers, at least in the American League. This won’t be a shock and will be well deserved when Perez starts next week in San Diego.

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Eric Hosmer

Hosmer has been battling the first base position out with the Tigers Miguel Cabrera for the starting nod and deservedly so. Hosmer has produced like a star so far in 2016, hitting .303/.361/.490 with 13 home runs, 49 RBI’s, 127 wRC+ and a 0.4 WAR(with his defensive metrics dragging this number down). Hosmer has looked the part this year of offensive force rather than just potential,  and at this point is probably more worthy of starting the game than Cabrera. Hosmer is a lock either way to be on the roster, it’s just a matter of whether he is voted in or heads to San Diego as a reserve.

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Wade Davis

I’m sure there will be someone out there, somewhere, who will say Wade doesn’t deserve to go to San Diego next week because he “isn’t quite as dominant” as he has been the last two years. That is pretty much the equivalent of Mike Trout’s numbers falling a smidge but still being an MVP candidate. Davis has thrown 29 innings so far this year, and while his numbers don’t pop out at you like in the past(K rate is down, walk rate is up) he is still producing. Wade has an ERA of 1.23, FIP of 2.69, and is still stranding 87% of his runners on base. He is easily one of the top five relievers in the game and deserves to be an All-Star. No way Ned doesn’t make that happen, if he isn’t voted there by the players. Wade will be an All-Star, period.

All-Star Probables

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Lorenzo Cain

This will be a complicated pick, but one that should happen. Cain is currently on the disabled list, which means he would be unable to play in the All-Star game, but he can always be picked as a reserve and then have someone else take his spot; not like that has never happened before in All-Star’s past. Cain is hitting .290/.336/.416 with 8 home runs, 39 RBI’s, 1.9 WAR with 9 defensive runs saved. Sure, Cain is not tearing it up offensively the way he did in 2015(April was not kind to Lorenzo), but he is still considered one of the elite center fielders in the game and that’s what this game is for: the best of the best. It will interesting to see if Cain gets a spot, as it would be another honor that he could use when negotiating a new contract with Kansas City after the 2017 season. I feel he is worthy, but he might end up being a borderline selection by the players and coaches.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals
(Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY)

Kelvin Herrera

To me this is an easy pick but Herrera could be cast aside for another Royals reliever this year(more on that in just a bit). Herrera has put up dominating numbers this: 11.41 strikeouts per 9, 1.63 walks per 9, 87% left on base percentage, 1.40 ERA, 2.01 FIP and 1.3 WAR, all over 38 innings of work. Herrera added a slider to his repertoire late in 2015 and it has made him even more unhittable than he was before. The Royals aren’t the defending World Champions without Herrera and he has continued to be the bridge to Wade Davis this year to help lock down the late innings for the Royals. Herrera is an All-Star; now we will see if he actually gets the honor or is passed over for a bullpen brother.

All-Star Longshots

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Luke Hochevar

Yep, bet you probably didn’t see this coming. Above, I mentioned Herrera could get passed over for another Royals reliever and of course I was talking about Hochevar. Hoch, a man who I once despised, has been one of the most reliable Royals relievers this year and the numbers back that up: 10.16 strikeouts per 9, 2.03 walks per 9, 79% left on base percentage, 2.90 ERA and 0.4 WAR over 31 innings. Sure, these aren’t eye-popping numbers like Davis or Herrera, but they are more than solid and worthy of the adulation. Now, if Hoch gets picked it will be by manager Ned Yost, who will want to reward Luke for his hard work out of the pen and the fact he doesn’t get a lot of the recognition that his bullpen mates get. Yost has asked Hochevar to perform in a lot of high-leverage situations this year and for the most part he has been highly effective in that role. If he is rewarded with the honor, it will show just how loyal a man like Yost is and a nice nod for a guy who turned his career around after being a failure in the rotation.

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Whit Merrifield

Okay, okay, I know; Whit has played in only 40 games for Kansas City and more than likely has no business even being in this discussion. But…those 40 games have been stellar with steady production from a guy who is supposed to just be an afterthought after the season started. Instead, Merrifield has posted a line of .308/.328/.426 with 26 runs scored, 15 RBI’s, a .385 BAbip, 100 wRC+ and 1.3 WAR…all in 40 games! Merrifield is 8th in WAR for second baseman in the American League and while Robinson Cano, Jose Altuve and Ian Kinsler are all worthy of roster spots this year, the story of Whitley Merrifield would make a great story. It’s not going to happen and for the most part, it shouldn’t. But it’s hard not to root for this guy and everything he has accomplished in about six weeks. To see him gaining an All-Star nod would be about as warm and fuzzy as one can imagine. Think of watching ‘Toy Story’ while cuddling with a bunch of puppies and you will be close…not quite, but close. So Merrifield isn’t going to San Diego, but I felt like I should at least mention him. Rock on, Whitley.

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The Royals aren’t going to send as many players to San Diego as they did last year in Cincinnati(no bus needed this year. Sorry, Rex) but I would expect a healthy dose of Kansas City blue at the festivities next week. For years Royals fans would hem and haw about who actually deserved to get Kansas City’s lone spot at the game, and there were even years were no one was really worthy(hello, Mark Redman!). The Royals will have enough players going this year to where you should probably pay attention to the game to see if any of the players end up playing pivotal roles. Just don’t take the game too seriously; it is an exhibition game after all. An exhibition game where Salvy could throw a runner out, Hosmer could hit a home run and Wade could record the final out. Sure, there is a good chance none of that happens, but you never quite know.

 

 

2015 Predictions: The Search for More Glory

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Last year I waited until the last minute to post my predictions for the 2014 season and ended up guessing 8 of the 10 playoff teams correctly. It was total luck but it also meant I didn’t sit around and hem and haw about what I thought would happen. I went with my gut and it was pretty darn close. So this year will be another short version for predictions. If anything, it will be fun in 6 months to come back here and see how far off I was. Without further ado, here are my 2015 predictions.

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American League East

1. Baltimore Orioles

2. Boston Red Sox

3. Tampa Bay Rays

4. New York Yankees

5. Toronto Blue Jays

If there was a division I would feel comfortable just flipping a coin to guess who would win, this would be it. No team stands out more than another and all have their flaws coming into this season. Baltimore had more subtraction than addition this winter, Boston has pitching questions, Tampa’s offense is meager to say the least, New York is old and Toronto has been bit by the injury bug. If in 6 months we come back here and the standings are completely flipped I wouldn’t be shocked. What was once a powerhouse division in the American League might now be the weakest.

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American League Central

1. Cleveland Indians

2. Detroit Tigers

3. Kansas City Royals

4. Chicago White Sox

5. Minnesota Twins

This is always the hardest division for me to pick, as I am heavily biased being a Kansas City Royals fan. That being said I didn’t pick them last year to make the playoffs(oops!) and believe they will fall just short this year. I have a full preview up here if you are interested. This division got a lot better this offseason and I look for it to be a race with 4 teams being in contention for a large chunk of the season. Even Minnesota could be a pain to deal with, although I don’t see them holding up for the entire season. I’m giving Cleveland the nod here, as they were right there near the end of last year and have improved their team going into this season. No matter what, expect a dogfight here in the Central.

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American League West

1. Seattle Mariners

2. Oakland A’s

3. Los Angeles Angels

4. Houston Astros

5. Texas Rangers

Speaking of good divisions, you could throw the AL West in as one of the better divisions in baseball. Seattle wasn’t eliminated from the playoff picture until the final weekend of the season and have added offense to their stellar pitching and solid defense. None of us have an idea what Oakland did this past offseason but I am not about to count them out and the Angels should be in the chase as well. The ‘surprise’ team of the American League could very well be Houston, as they’ve got a nice mix of veterans and youngsters that could be better sooner rather than later. All in all this looks like a division that could go down to the wire, unlike last year when Los Angeles ran away with the division.

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Wild Card Winners

Oakland and Detroit

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American League Championship Series

Cleveland over Baltimore

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American League Award Winners

MVP: Robinson Cano

Cy Young: Sonny Gray

Rookie of the Year: Carlos Rodon

Comeback Player of the Year: Shin-Soo Choo

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National League East

1. Washington Nationals

2. Miami Marlins

3. New York Mets

4. Atlanta Braves

5. Philadelphia Phillies

After acquiring Max Scherzer, it appears the Nationals have strengthened their rotation and made them almost a lock to win this division. I will say I am highly intrigued to see how Miami does this year, as they have a great group of young talent and are looking to get Jose Fernandez back at some point this year as well. The Mets look as if they could contend as well, especially if Matt Harvey is as good as he has looked this spring. At this point, the Braves and Phillies will round out the bottom of the East, and have a chance of having very forgettable seasons, unfortunately.

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National League Central

1. Pittsburgh Pirates

2. St. Louis Cardinals

3. Chicago Cubs

4. Cincinnati Reds

5. Milwaukee Brewers

This might finally be the year Pittsburgh wins the division and doesn’t have to endure another Wild Card game. The amount of young talent on this team makes it really hard not too root for them.  The Cardinals are still a force and the Cubs should be in contention this year, although I would expect 2016 to be the year Chicago management is eyeing as a better chance to be in the playoff hunt. Neither the Reds nor the Brewers are bad teams, but they aren’t at the level of the other 3 teams in the division. Like the American League Central, their National League counterparts should have another division fight on their hands here.

San Diego Padres Photo Day

National League West

1. San Diego Padres

2. Los Angeles Dodgers

3. Arizona Diamondbacks

4. San Francisco Giants

5. Colorado Rockies

This could be the year for the Padres, as they added some offense to their already good pitching. San Diego’s outfield defense could be questionable, although they also have more than enough defense on the bench to make up for it late in games. The Dodgers will be right there with the Padres, although I’m not for sure what they will get from new shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Arizona, Colorado and San Francisco all look to be on the outside looking in, although I like the D-Backs younger talent and think they could be a bigger pain than many think.

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Wild Card Winners

St. Louis and Los Angeles

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National League Championship Series

Washington over St. Louis

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National League Award Winners

MVP: Giancarlo Stanton

Cy Young: Jordan Zimmermann

Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant

Comeback Player of the Year: Matt Harvey

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World Series

Washington over Cleveland in 7 games

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So just like that I have thrown myself onto the fire and made my predictions for 2015. I’m sure a few of these we will laugh at in a few months, but the fun of this whole thing is to see just how close you can get. There is a reason that the games are played; if everything was predetermined the season wouldn’t be any fun. This whole thing can get weird in a moment; just as I started writing this Craig Kimbrel was traded to the Padres, which makes San Diego even more of a threat and Atlanta an afterthought. Just like that things can change and make the season even more unpredictable. All we know at this point is the next 6 months will be a blast following baseball’s every last move. I know I am always ready for this time of year. Now if we can just declare Opening Day an official holiday…

 

 

 

 

 

Celebration At 1 Royal Way

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This past Sunday night the Kansas City Royals completed their sweep of the Los Angeles Angels in the American League Divisional Series with a resounding 8-3 victory, advancing the Royals to the American League Championship Series. 29 years of no postseason action makes for many demons, not only with the organization but with the fanbase as well. The good thing is that the Royals have been purging many of these devils this October. For many of us, our mantra became “we just want to get to the playoffs”, as we knew how uplifting it would be for the franchise, the city and the fans. I was lucky enough to be one of the 40,000+ this past weekend to witness the completion of the sweep in person and purge my own demons at ‘The K’.

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A few days before this game I lucked myself into a playoff ticket thanks to a friend. There was no way I could turn down getting to see my favorite team for 30 years break down the walls and be part of the playoff atmosphere. Little did I know when I bought the ticket that the Royals would be in line for a sweep if the cards all fell right. As I made my way to the gates to enter Kauffman Stadium, it felt like any other time I have been there. There was a bit more energy in the crowd than normal, but for the most part it felt like it had most of this season at my home away from home. As I walked around, I noticed little differences. Postseason banners hung from the rafters and there seemed to be more urgency in getting Royals merchandise from the team store. I found my seat(upper deck, right behind home plate) with about 90 minutes before first pitch and got myself settled. From my vantage point I could see everything; I might have lucked into the best tickets for what was about to go down. Before too long pregame would start up, and that was when it really hit me; I was at a playoff a game, a Royals playoff game! I could lie here and say it didn’t affect me, but it did. During the introductions, watching the crowd go nuts for players like Terrance Gore made me just smile from ear to ear. Even while the announcer was trying to get everyone ready for the National Anthem, the crowd loudly(and I mean LOUDLY) started a ‘Let’s Go Royals’ chant, one so loud you couldn’t hear Mike McCartney. You could tell he was talking, but that was it. This rabid fanbase was ready and dying to see their boys in blue finish the sweep. As the flyover occurred at the end of the anthem, I teared up. For 29 years I just wanted my Royals to go out there and reach the playoffs. I was now not only at one of those games, but one with a bunch of crazy bastards who completely understood how I felt. It was hard not to just break down in happiness at what I was about to witness. I was about to fulfill a dream that I had started to believe would never happen.

Royals Divison Postseason 2014 vs Angels Game 3 KC

Once the game started the insanity didn’t stop. I have always said the loudest I have ever heard that stadium was during Robinson Cano’s weak effort at the Home Run Derby in 2012, but Sunday night it was louder. The crowd yelled, stomped and waved their blue and white towels(homer hanky?), cheering on their team and cheering on the fact that the Royals had made the playoffs. The crowd early on hung on every pitch; Mike Trout tried to upset the mood with a 1st inning home run off James Shields, but it only calmed us for a bit. The Royals would retaliate in the bottom of the inning, as team leader Alex Gordon continued his clutch ways with a bases clearing triple, putting the Royals up 3-1. Insanity ensued. At that moment any chance of me being even slightly sane went out the window. Complete strangers started high-fiving each other, as we were almost all of the same mind and soul. If we had to, we were going to will this Royals team to a victory. Luckily, no willing was needed as the Royals continued the onslaught, not bothering to let up on the Angel’s throat. Eric Hosmer would add a two run home run in the bottom of the 3rd and Mike Moustakas added a scorcher of his own the following inning. Not even an Albert Pujols solo job could deter things. By the 4th inning I was texting a friend, asking him if it was too soon to start counting outs. He said too soon; yep, we are a superstitious bunch. The roof about came off the place when Billy Butler stole a base; if there was ever a sign that the Royals were going to win, that was it. Billy Butler???

That’s what speed do! Between this and two amazing catches by Lorenzo Cain, it just seemed to spell doom for the Angels.

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Numerous times during the game I would look around me, look to the left and then to the right. Happiness, all around me. So much suffering was being let go that night and words can’t even describe how glorious that was. More than anything it felt like a giant weight was being lifted off of the collective shoulders of a fanbase that honestly could have just walked away and chose some other team to cheer for. Instead, we all stayed and were being rewarded for our loyalty.

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Before the top of the 9th, a video played on CrownVision. I wish I could remember it verbatim, but instead here was the synopsis; this is what we had waited for. It was almost time to celebrate the Royals advancing to the ALCS. Three outs later, everyone in the stadium lost their collective minds. I have never heard ‘The K’ that loud, and I seriously wonder if I ever will hear it louder than that. Strangers high fived, hugged and grown men openly wept. I have been a huge baseball fan for 30 years, and at that moment I had never been happier in my life. Sure, I remember 1985, but I was younger and thought that the playoffs would come again soon enough for Kansas City. This meant so much more to me, more than I can even try to describe here. We all yelled and cheered, hoping the moment would never leave. I know whenever I am old, and my mind starts to fade, there is a good chance I will remember this moment, as it will be hard to ever replace the emotion I was feeling at that time. To give you an idea of just how jubilant everyone was, as we piled out of the stadium, complete strangers started high-fiving everyone who walked by. There was no way I was not joining in, as I became part of the insanity. I would eventually walk out of there, and the rain would come. I was drenched and couldn’t care less. The Royals were going to the ALCS, and I got to be there to be a part of one of the greatest moments in Royals history.

Eric Hosmer

I’ve had a couple of days to reflect, and to be honest I can’t get the grin off of my face. I have felt over the years that I have been a very fortunate man to have gotten to experience some great baseball moments. Without a doubt in my mind, this was the best baseball experience of my life. It’s hard to really describe to people, especially those that aren’t Royals fans. This let out a lot of venom, a lot of pent up anger that I have held against this franchise for past mistakes. All I feel right now is love, to a team that I have loved since I started collected baseball cards and would try to get all the Royals player’s as soon as possible. The only thing that could have made this experience better would have been if my son, my grandma, my dad or girlfriend had been there(or all). In some ways though, it might have been good to let me have this all to myself. I have loved baseball for so long that I don’t remember not loving it; it has given me so much happiness over the years and I hope much more in the future. For one night 29 years of anger, sadness, stupidity, carelessness, and bad mojo just got swept away. Thank you, Kansas City. Damn that was awesome!

 

Two Days of Baseball Heaven

(Writer’s Note: I originally wrote this a couple of years ago for a weekly feature I do during the baseball season for 14 KVOE Emporia.  I stumbled across it today(ie. I cleaned my desk) and wanted to share it with everyone)

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Last week I had the privilege to be a part of the massive media that took over Kauffman Stadium for the 83rd annual Major League Baseball All-Star Game and the Home Run Derby. To say it was a once in a lifetime event is an understatement. When I decided to write about my experience, I wasn’t for sure at first what I should talk about. Then it hit me; why talk about all the stuff that you are used to hearing about the festivities when I could talk about the odd stuff that occurred during my time there? So let’s go with that, the quirky moments that I will never forget from my time at baseball’s mid-summer classic.

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First, there is Cano-Gate. I have been at “The K” countless times over the years, to the point that I am insanely comfortable when I am there. But I have never heard the stadium that loud. It was deafening and I loved every minute of it! It really showed just how passionate Royals fans really are. There is a pretty good chance I will never experience something like that again.

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I also got to ride up in an elevator with Dayton Moore. Well, the two of us and about six of our closest friends, crammed in there like sardines. The amusing part to me was that Mr. Moore is about my height, which is saying he is very short. Neither one of us will get mistaken for giants, nor even being of average height.

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Speaking of odd places to run into people, I had a nice conversation with Rick Sutcliffe in the tunnel, as I was preparing to walk out onto the field. Sutcliffe was a player I watched a lot when I was a kid, as I watched endless hours of Chicago Cubs games on WGN. Real nice guy and I’m sure Scott Hayes was just a bit jealous of me!

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I also almost ran over Scott Boras. Yes, super agent Scott Boras! I could have seen if he would negotiate my next contract here at the radio station but I have a feeling I wouldn’t be able to afford him.

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There was Chris Berman complaining down in the tunnel Monday afternoon about something in the Boston/New York game from the night before.

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Maybe the weirdest thing that happened to me in Kansas City was the gang of baseball mascots about running me down. I was headed up to the press box via the stairs, and at about level 3 or 4, the mascots came scurrying out of their dressing space. I might have thrown them off, as Mr. Met about ran straight into the wall…or it could be the giant baseball he has as a head!

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But one of the oddest realities that sunk in for me was during the barrage of media on Monday, as the press conferences and player availability took place. I would look to my left and there was FOX Sport’s Ken Rosenthal, a man who’s columns I regularly read and someone who I have a ton of respect for. To my right, Rob Neyer, a writer and former Royals’ fan who is a major supporter of the Sabermetric community in baseball. Here were guys who I read on a regular basis and I am in the same place as them. Talk about feeling like I was in way over my head!

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All in all, it was two days of baseball heaven for someone like me. I’ve always said that baseball is my first love. Monday and Tuesday in Kansas City was me being around the thing I love the most. I wouldn’t trade my memories for anything in the world. It was even better than I ever imagined.

Royals at the Winter Meetings: Dayton Rides Space Mountain

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Baseball’s Winter Meetings were taking place this week, and it seemed as good a time as any for the Kansas City Royals to go in and stock up on some needs the team has going into the 2014 campaign. The team was still in need of a second baseman, a power bat and possibly one more starter(cause let’s be honest–you can never have enough starting pitchers!). Instead…well, there was a lot of talking, but not any actual action on the Royals part. Since there were at least some hot rumors about the Royals, let’s dive into those rumors.

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Carlos Beltran Possibly Returning Home

Before the 2013 season had even ended, many a Royals fan would get giddy when the thought of Beltran reuniting possibly with the team that he began his major league career with. Then when word got out that the Royals were actually pursuing Beltran…well, safe to say Royals fans lost their minds(literally)! I even got caught up in the excitement, as the thought of adding a power bat to the lineup seemed rather enticing. But it didn’t take long to start seeing the cracks in this plan. For one, if Kansas City signed Beltran, there was a good chance Billy Butler was getting traded. Say what you will, but outside of last season’s off-year, Butler has been about as consistent for the Royals as you can ask of a player. Two, with the Royals already needing a big bat, adding Beltran then trading Butler would have meant they still needed another bat. Third, Beltran turns 37 in April and already has gotten to where he can’t play in the field on a regular basis. Fourth, most talk was that he was asking for a three year deal, which means he would be close to 40 by the end of the deal and more than likely a regular DH. And fifth, at that point the Royals would need money both to re-sign James Shields and/or Alex Gordon, and there was a good chance that money would be tied up on a player whose best days were in the mirror. So at the end of the day, it might have been a good thing Beltran decided to hop to the Bronx and take some Steinbrenner money. Sure, the idea of Beltran propelling the Royals to the playoffs would have been a great story, and he would have been a God in Kansas City. But the idea is more enticing than the actual reality.

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Omar Infante Might Stay in the American League Central

Word has been going around all week that the Royals are making a run at former Tigers second baseman Omar Infante. This has been an interesting story to follow for a few reasons. It appears that once again, the Royals are going up against the Yankees in pursuit of a free agent, as they are looking to replace Robinson Cano. The sticking point seems to be that Infante wants at least three years, with some reports even saying he wants four years. I don’t know about you, but that seems like a lot for a guy who will soon be 32 and isn’t an elite performer at his position. Now, with that being said, I like Infante. He’s a contact hitter who gets on base consistently and plays solid defense. He would be the kind of player you want up at the plate when you just need a single. So if the Royals got him for 1 or 2 years at $8 million a year, I would probably be okay with that. 3 or 4 years? Ummm….and that is where the issue lies. It’s very apparent the Royals need an upgrade at second base, but if it’s 3 to 4 years or nothing, I could live with Emilio Bonifacio roaming second. Time will only tell if Infante ends up in Royal blue, but I tend to think whether or not a signing like this would look good matters on the years, not the dollars. Like Beltran, you don’t really want to put that many years into a guy who is on the regression portion of his career.

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Rumors Abound

It just wouldn’t be the Winter Meetings without a bunch of rumors making the round. Here is just a taste of some of those rumors that have floated around this week:

Royals in on Mark Trumbo

Rangers once interested in Billy Butler, who could still be traded if they sign Nelson Cruz

Rockies still interested in Royals bullpen arms

Royals interested in Jason Hammel

Royals have shown interest in Johan Santana

Royals look into retiring Chris Getz’s jersey

Okay, I made that last one up. But you see the variety of rumors that have popped up just over the last few days. I actually think the idea of signing someone like Johan Santana to a low end,  incentive laden contract isn’t a bad idea. Because of them being a small market team, Kansas City has to be creative at times and look into guys coming off of injuries who might still have some life left in their arms. I also thought it wouldn’t have been a bad idea to go after Bartolo Colon, but he’s headed to New York to ruin the Mets’ post-game spreads and bathrooms(not exactly in that order). On the other end of the spectrum, the idea of Trumbo or Cruz signing just worries me. I know the Royals need power, but they don’t need guys who aren’t good defensively, strike out a lot, and don’t get on base enough(Trumbo). For now, these are all just rumors. But it does make you wonder what isn’t even leaked out if this is the stuff that actually gets out to the public. And sometimes what does leak out scares you a bit. Like this…

MLB: JUN 21 Diamondbacks at Royals

Royals Might Already Have an Extra Bat  

Word also got out this week that if Kansas City doesn’t do anything to beef up their lineup, they are okay with that. Why you ask? Because they feel the addition of Alex Gordon to the middle of the lineup will be like adding another bat. {Sigh}. Look, I love Alex Gordon. Next to maybe Alcides Escobar, he is probably my next favorite Royal. He is as good as advertised. I just wonder if he will produce as good in the middle of the lineup. Every time they have tried to move A1 to that part of the order, he hasn’t been awful, but he hasn’t batted as well as he does at the top of the order. Doesn’t mean I don’t think he can be the bat they want him to be, it just means history has shown he just doesn’t seem as comfortable batting 3 thru 6 as he does batting leadoff. I would actually be more intrigued at putting him second in the order behind soon to be leadoff hitter Nori Aoki. That way Gordon is still near the top of the order while still having your top hitters at the beginning of your lineup, which is what you should do anyway, right? I still think it would be smart for Kansas City to acquire another bat for the middle of the order, but if not it could be interesting to see how Gordon does batting (probably) fifth. Hopefully I am wrong and he flourishes. Looks like either way we are probably going to find out.

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Dayton & Ned say stuff; I Shake My Head   

Finally, it wouldn’t be a proper off-season without Dayton Moore and Neddy Yost making a bunch of comments that make me shake my head. There’s this. And this. Now, I didn’t get too worked up over either interview, as I’ve learned to take anything these two say with a grain of salt. Sure, a lot of what they say they mean, which scares me. But part of it is just normal interview, PR stuff that really doesn’t mean anything. I’ve also learned that if they are talking, I’m probably going to disagree with what they say, so it’s best to let it go in one ear and out the other. This will probably be the way it is as long as the two of them are employed by Kansas City. At the end of the day, it’s all just words until actions back up what they are saying. Since that doesn’t always come to fruition, it’s easier to not get too worked up over what is said. I just hope the two of them got to go on Space Mountain(WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!) during their time in Florida. That and I hope they are used to the roller coasters, because I’m not getting a real positive vibe off of their moves this off-season. It is only December; by February we could be having a completely different conversation. Strike that–I hope we are having a different conversation. Make it happen, Dayton. All I want is smart moves that are in the best interest of this ball club. Do that and I won’t complain–too much.

Royals Off-Season Needs: Second Base

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So far we have taken a look at right field and starting pitchers, the two main areas of concern this off-season for the Kansas City Royals. Now we take a look at the other need, which is second base. The only thing is I’m not so sure it’s of huge concern to this team. Sure, the Royals would prefer to use Emilio Bonifacio in a super utility role, which I also think is the best spot for him. But there’s also been word going around they would be okay if Bonifacio started the year playing second. Since there is a good chance at least that the Royals will browse the second base market, let’s take a look at some of the options and the likelihood any of them will be acquired by Kansas City.

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Robinson Cano

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

No. Won’t happen. Period. But man, would that confuse some Royals fans. Do you boo or do you cheer?

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Mark Ellis

This would be interesting, just for the reasoning that Ellis was originally drafted by the Royals. Ellis has put together a pretty successful major league career since his days in the Royals farm system, and would at least be a solid player at second base. He won’t hit a lot of home runs, or knock in a ton of runs. He won’t play flashy defense or wow you with his speed. But he is solid. At 36 his best years are probably behind him, but if he hits .270, plays solid defense and is a clutch bat in the lineup, he would be an improvement and good for a one or two year deal. Ellis isn’t a long term solution at the position, but it could happen.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Detroit Tigers

Omar Infante

Infante is a lot like Ellis. Solid bat, solid defense and is even a bit younger. I’m not so sure Infante will want to leave Detroit, but for the right price I think Dayton could swing this. Infante would be a good bat to put in the second spot of the batting order and is a good contact bat. Like Ellis, not much power, but he is nothing to sneeze at and would actually make the lineup a bit more credible. He can also play around the infield and outfield, so if someone came down with an injury, Infante could bounce around. Definitely one worth consideration.

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Brian Roberts

Roberts is an interesting player, just because it’s been so long since he has been healthy. Last year was the most games Roberts had played in since 2009 and he only played in 77 games. Roberts has been the walking wounded for so long you wonder just how much of his skills are still intact. If healthy, Roberts can provide some pop and a bit of speed, even though that has eroded a bit thanks to the injuries. Roberts can probably be had pretty cheap, but there is no guarantee he will stay healthy. If Dayton would go this route, he will have to have a backup plan, as Roberts just isn’t reliable. That last sentence alone will probably be why the Royals stay clear of him.

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Rafael Furcal

Furcal is a real possibility at this point, at least in that the Royals have at least shown interest in him. Furcal is coming off of Tommy John surgery, which is a bit different for positional players compared to pitchers. Carl Crawford came back from it and seems as good as new. Furcal probably will as well, and I would assume his gun of an arm will still be a weapon. Furcal is still a risk, but a risk worth taking. The injury should make it to where he could be had at a bargain, and he would be a nice addition to the top of the Royals lineup. Even if he isn’t what he was during his prime, he still has moderate speed and a bit of pop in his lineup. He would need some time figuring out second base, as he has only played 36 games at second in the majors, and most of those were early in his career. For the right price, Furcal could be a steal for Kansas City.

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Yuniesky Betancourt

Seriously, I would like to think this is a joke. Really, I wish I was just being a smart ass here. But…Dayton has acquired him twice. Yes, once wasn’t enough. You wouldn’t think they wouldn’t want to acquire him, let along play him regularly at second base. Anyone who has seen him play on a regular basis blatantly sees his flaws. But there is something about him that Dayton Moore likes. What? I don’t know. So he is an option…until he isn’t an option.

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Jerry Hairston, Jr.

Sure, Hairston isn’t a permanent solution. In fact, he is probably a lot like Miguel Tejada last year for Kansas City-on his last legs. But I like Hairston, as he is incredibly versatile and is able to do about anything that a manager asks of him. Actually, the more I think about this, I would prefer the Royals sign Hairston for their bench. A signing like this would give Bonifacio the second base job and give a solid backup for about anywhere on the diamond. Hairston’s best days are behind him, but every good team needs a solid bench if they expect to go anywhere. Hairston would give the Royals just that.

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Michael Young

I’m just going to go ahead and say it: Michael Young will probably be a Kansas City Royal in 2014. In what role, I don’t know, but I can see this happening. It could be at second base. It could be as a DH, if the Royals trade Billy Butler this off-season. Either way, I easily can see this happening. Do I agree with it? No. I would have loved having Michael Young 5 years ago. Today? He is a backup at best, and I’m not even for sure he is good at that. I hope they avoid Young like the plague. But I have a feeling…

Brandon Phillips

Brandon Phillips

I thought I would throw Phillips in, since Cincy is shopping him, but let’s be straight up right now; I don’t think this is going to happen, and I really hope it doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong, Phillips is a fun player to watch. But…his offense is not as great as some think. In fact, I would almost say he is regressing. He can’t take a walk, and let’s be honest-we have enough of those players already on the Royals. His defense? Not as good as you think it is. Sure, he’s flashy and can pull off plays a lot of guys can’t. But his range is slipping and sometimes messes up the routine plays. Add in how he can be a headache at times and his huge contract, and it is safe to say Phillips is a no-go. Let’s hope the Royals look at him the same way.

Kansas City Royals second baseman Chris Getz (17)

Looking at this list, and I almost think the Royals will start the year with Bonifacio at second. I think Furcal or Young have a decent chance of being there, but outside of that I don’t think there is much more than a slight chance for the others I listed. If it’s Bonifacio, I’m okay with that. He did a great job taking over the spot late in the year and that doesn’t mean the Royals won’t try to find someone during the season. Above all else, Bonifacio starting probably means one more thing; Chris Getz will be gone. Just throwing that out there puts a smile on my face. Whichever way the Royals go in 2014, second base will be a Getz-free zone. That within itself is an improvement.

C’mon Guys, Quit Picking on Billy

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Let’s take a trip back in time, all the way back to the All-Star break last year. The night of the Home Run Derby at Kauffman Stadium, the fans loudly cheered for one of their own, Billy Butler. Robinson Cano was booed mercifully, and chants of Billy Butler echoed throughout the K because of Cano’s going back on his word about selecting Butler for the derby. The next night at the All-Star Game, Butler received a standing ovation during his introduction, and was wildly cheered every time he stepped up to the dish. For the longest time, Billy Butler has been a fan favorite in Kansas City, in fact he might even be up there as one of the most popular Royals of all time. But for whatever reason, there is a section of the Royals fanbase that has soured on Billy this year, and it is quite troubling. So what has Billy done to deserve this scorn from a number of Royals fans? I think I might just have the answer…

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There could be a number of answers as to why Butler has taken some of the heat from the fans this year. The obvious answer off the top is he is not having the type of year he had in 2012. I had a feeling this would happen, as Billy had his best season last year and put up power numbers that he had never put up before. For years, people have felt like he should hit for more power, and last year they got it. Go ahead, it’s easy to compare the numbers. For a fan who just looks at the base numbers, Butler is under-producing and his numbers appear to be down. But if you take a closer look, a lot of the numbers are actually on par or even better than he has had in the past. His OBP is tied for his career high(heavily helped by his career high in walks. Yes, walks do matter!!), his OPS+ is the third highest of his career, and his total bases isn’t too far off from his career average. Now, with all that being said, this is a down year for Butler, and the numbers show that as well.

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Obviously, with Butler’s power numbers down, his slugging percentage would take a hit. At this point, it would be his lowest since 2008. Butler’s RBI’s are down, but I wonder how much of that is based on a combination of him not seeing the same pitches he saw last year and the batters ahead of him not consistently getting on base. In fact, the hike in Billy’s walks have a direct correlation to him being pitched around. Butler has always had a great eye, and that has never been as evident as it has been this year. The other stat I’m sure the ‘fans with pitchforks’ will use is the one where Billy leads the league in grounding into double plays. This isn’t something new, as fans have always thrown out the fact that Butler grounds into double plays as a major flaw in his game. Sure, it’s not the best stat to lead the league in, but do you know who else is in the top 5? Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez, Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols. Not a bad list, huh? Since we know Butler isn’t going to become a speedster anytime in the near future, I think at this point we should just accept the fact that Billy will be on this list in the future. You don’t have to like it, but it isn’t going anywhere,

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I hate to even bring up the other thing that Butler catches flak for, but it’s true. The fact that Billy isn’t a lean-mean-home run hitting machine gets thrown around quite a bit over the years. I mean, there is a reason he got the nickname “Country Breakfast”. I’m not for sure why people are so worried about his weight and how that plays into things. I could see it if it affected his hitting, but like we’ve pointed out, it’s not like he is at Francoeur-levels. In fact, history has shown that heftier players seem to do fine. Anyone hear of that Babe Ruth guy? He’s just one of the greatest players in baseball history. Boog Powell was a little hefty, and he was a hell of a slugger. Prince Fielder seems to do fine. Bob Horner was quite the power hitter back in his day. Kirby Puckett? Hall of Famer. So history shows that some extra weight isn’t a detriment. But it does play into all of this.

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Billy Butler’s weight I really feel is where some of the anger comes from. For one, it’s easier to pick on the fat kid. Don’t even act like that doesn’t happen, or you have never done it. Second, there is a belief that a guy his size should hit more home runs, or at least that is what most casual fans would tell you. The problem is that what makes Billy a better all around hitter is that he isn’t a power hitter. Billy’s career high in strikeouts was last year, which goes along with the increase in power. Now, I know in 2013 strikeouts aren’t frowned upon as much as they used to be, but they should be. I would take the guy who is a great hitter and doesn’t strike out much over the guy who hits a lot of home runs and strikes out all the time. I actually heard someone last week say they would rather have an Adam Dunn-type over Butler. Seriously? No way is Dunn or a Dunn-type player better than Billy. Ever. I’ve always felt Butler was more of a gap hitter, which holds up if you look at his doubles numbers over the years. Butler is more a John Kruk than a Boog Powell. Kruk was a great hitter, a career .300 hitter, and was a little overweight. He didn’t hit for much power though, and Billy is in that same category. In some ways, Butler will always catch crap from fans unless he goes out there and hits thirty homers every year. It’s not fair, and not the player he actually is, but it’s a fact of life.

Billy Butler

So one last time, I want you to look at Billy’s numbers this year. I fully acknowledge that he isn’t putting up quite the numbers he had last year, but there is a good chance 2012 will end up being his career year. If you go up and down the Royals roster, I’m sure we can all find flaws in all of these guys. None of them are perfect. But there are certain flaws you can live with, and others that end up costing a player his job. Billy has done nothing but hit over his seven year career, and his .295 average this year is just one telltale sign that he hasn’t having as bad a season as some think. Of all the players on this team, I’m pretty sure Butler should be one of the last ones we should be tearing down. The guy wants to end his career in Kansas City, although you wonder why with how some fans have been acting. At the end of the day, Billy Butler is not the problem with the Royals. Maybe he should be appreciated and lauded for being one of their best players instead of treated like he is Jeff Francoeur. Maybe some Royals fans should remember why they were cheering him like crazy just a little over a year ago.

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