At the end of their ropes
Even the eternally hopeful have a breaking point
The Kansas City Star
You never know what will make you snap. After all these years of horrendous Royals baseball, I never expected a nice Australian kid named Justin Huber to break me. But so it goes. Consider me broken. This is me snapping. The Royals are an embarrassment. A mess. A disaster. It’s time to blow up the whole thing and start new.
Of course, Huber is just the final straw. It is 10 full years of ghastly baseball that leads to this rant. Ten years, we’ve watched the Royals try out softball pitchers, get hit in the back with relay throws, fall off bases on pickoff attempts, jog toward dugouts while fly balls drop behind them, slash payroll, send out incorrect lineup cards, injure themselves in home-plate celebrations and sacrifice innocent young pitchers at Yankee Stadium.
All of that will get to you after a while.
Through it all, I’ve tried to hold out hope. Hey, it’s baseball. Ya gotta hope. Look at the Cincinnati Reds this year. Look at Detroit. In baseball, there should always be hope.
Then this Royals team came along. And you know what? There is no hope. They broke me. I am finishing a book these days, and so my mornings and afternoons have been spent in a writing fog. My evenings, though, have been reserved for the Royals. I have, for the first time as an adult, been able to watch baseball entirely as a fan, and usually with my oldest daughter on my lap. Elizabeth is 4 now, and she does not care at all about baseball, but she likes eating popsicles where she can make the biggest mess. To humor me, she will occasionally look at the Royals game, notice something similar to baseball happening, and ask, “Daddy, when will the commercials come back on?”
I appreciate the question. This Royals season has been awful. Every game has been torture. The commercial that shows termites attacking wood has been more inspiring.
Sure, it’s true the Royals have been awful almost every minute since the strike of 1994. But this team is a different kind of awful. This is the dreariest collection I can remember for any team in my lifetime. It isn’t just that the Royals can’t hit or field or slug or pitch or run or walk or throw or stay healthy — and that covers just about everything.
No, there’s something else. It is that as you look around the field, you see nothing but despair, nothing but castoffs who signed here for a chance or a few extra bucks, nothing but young players who go out and stubbornly prove every day they are not major league.
How did it get this bad? There’s plenty of blame to go around, from an owner who won’t spend money to a management group that never figured out how to win games to talent evaluators who recommended Eli Marrero and Albie Lopez, to aging veterans just cashing paychecks, to amateur scouts who championed Colt Griffin and Roscoe Crosby, to strength and conditioning people who can’t keep anybody healthy, to coaches who have not developed a single high-quality major-league starter or everyday player.
This team has been a crushing and colossal failure.
And we’ve hit the low point now. The Royals aren’t just bad, they’re old. Hitters two through six average 35 years of age. That’s pure hopelessness.
The Royals aren’t just bad, they’re funny. Last week, Esteban German — for reasons readily apparent to no one — was playing center field. He either forgot his sunglasses in the dugout or purposely left them there. Whatever, a fly ball smacked him in the face. I’m told German did wear his designer shades on the plane out of town that night.
The Royals aren’t just bad, they’re infuriating. John Buck — a key element in the Carlos Beltran trade — actually had a passed ball on a pitchout the other day. First time I’ve seen that one. And it reminds you that the Beltran trade, looking back, was the death knell for this organization. The Royals had one great player to trade, one of the best players in the game, and in exchange they got Buck, Mark Teahen and Mike Wood. A baseball executive e-mailed me that day to say the trade was a fiasco, a breathtakingly dumb move by general manager Allard Baird. I held out hope that the executive was wrong.
He wasn’t wrong. To this point, Buck and Teahen — the two key elements to the deal — are hitting a combined .190 with three times more errors than home runs.
Once the Royals failed to cash in on Beltran, the dominoes tumbled. They hired Buddy Bell, who had one of the worst managerial records in baseball history. They lost Zack Greinke, their best pitching prospect in a decade, to a personal issue that nobody, not even Greinke himself, seems to understand. They acquired a bunch of old pitchers. Before the Beltran trade, they signed Angel Berroa to a long-term deal, a move that at the time seemed like a decent gamble and now seems to have them stuck with a shortstop who has a knack for making disastrous errors and an addiction to pitches in the dirt.
It’s so dark now, you can’t even see bright spots.
That brings us back to Justin Huber. If you don’t know, Huber is a pretty solid Royals prospect. He should be the team’s first baseman of the future. He led the Texas League in hitting last season, he was hitting quite well in Omaha this season. The Royals wisely intended to keep him in Class AAA most of the season, maybe all season, so he could get experience playing first base and develop his power.
This week, the Royals called up Huber. Why? They concede he will not play first base — he’s not ready, and the Royals paid quite a bit of money to Doug Mientkiewicz to play there, and if you can believe it, Mientkiewicz leads the starters with a .322 on-base percentage (league average on-base percentage: .335).
The Royals also concede he will not be the regular designated hitter, not with 38-year-old Matt Stairs on the team.
So, they brought up Justin Huber, their first baseman of the future, to (drum roll, please) sit on the bench. I assume they could not think of any other way to slow his development. Maybe next week they will start whacking his toes with baseball bats.
I realize, of course, that we are talking about the Royals. This is the team that traded Jermaine Dye for Neifi Perez. This is the team that canceled the team banquet because it was too expensive. This is the team that has decided to give out T-shirts of its best players every Tuesday and has already run out of players, so next Tuesday they’re giving out T-shirts with condiments on them. This is the team that on Thursday tried to get out of its hitting doldrums by skipping batting practice. Next, they might stop wearing batting helmets.
So in the grand scheme of Royals catastrophes, this Huber move hardly ranks up there.
But you never know what it is that will make you snap. The Royals have utterly lost their way. There’s panic in the streets. They’re messing up prospects now. They’re skipping batting practice. It’s only a matter of time before they rush prize prospects Alex Gordon and Billy Butler, along with any other Royals hitter who gets two hits in a row. They’re going goofy.
And it’s clear that everything has to change. Everything. The leadership. The mind-set. The core players. Everything. The worst thing David Glass can do is let this thing linger, make Allard Baird a lame duck, let this organization drift for a minute longer. It’s bad for the club, and, frankly, it’s unfair to Baird, too. You can’t run a team like this. If you’re going to fire him — and you are — do it quick and do it now.
It’s time right now to find a GM who has been around winning. It’s time to pour money into scouting and development and the draft. It’s time to focus entirely on 2007 — this season is flat over. The only thing that matters now is getting some value for those veterans, making the right pick at No. 1 in the amateur draft, giving promising pitchers such as Jeremy Affeldt and Denny Bautista their innings and not squandering those good young hitters Baird and company were able to find.
The Royals finally won on the road Thursday, which was nice. But the Royals need to start on the long road back today.