I wrote something about this on my site, but it really applys well to the Reds current situation... IMO that is.
There’s no easy way to lose your sight
On the street, on the stairs
Who’s on your flight
Old couple walks by, as ugly as sin
But he’s got her and she’s got him
Never say never
Digging through my old Bill James Abstracts and his book “This Time Let’s not Eat the Bones.” I came across the subject of the Royals, a subject that James has great passion about, much like I have about the Reds and much like most of the folks I talk baseball with have. In the wake of the Reds new owners and management I found Bill’s comments on the Royals to be interesting to say the least, especially concerning the team and the upcoming 1984 season, a season that looked doomed on the heels of the horrible 1983 season (Drug Trials). Much of Bill’s chagrin can be seen as being aimed directly at The Royals general manager John Schuerholz, a man who spent his time in the player development section of the Royals organization during their successful run in the late 1970’s, a run that cumulated with an appearance in the 1980 World Series, which they lost. After the series Schuerholz took over as the Royals general manager and following a 90 win season in 1982 the 1983 Royals finished under .500 for the first time since 1974 (under Jack McKeon).
It was after that season in his 1984 Baseball Abstract that James wrote the following about the 3rd year GM Schuerholz.
James continues to dissect the moves made by the Royals and the pattern of bringing in veterans to plug holes. His disdain for this method is real, it’s something that he feels is wrong, to his very core and something he has no qualms about stating. He obviously has no confidence in John Schuerholz as he states,At this point in his career John Schuerholz has yet to try anything that has worked.Bill drags his real feelings of the Royals current plight to the surface when he declares.The pathetic thing about John Schuerholz is that he fancies himself a gambler, but a gambler is in fact, exactly what he’s not.
Fade to black…A return to the top of the division in the next 3-4 years is all but out of the question.
Fade in from black…
The 1984 Royals finished 84-78 and in first place.
All despite a negative run differential, thus becoming the first team to ever win a title of any type in major league history with more runs allowed then scored, in short they were special and what I mean when I say “special” is more a special that has to do more with being peculiar then being unique enough to want to emulate.
In honor of that Royals team and their accomplishment James entitled his chapter on the Royals in the 1985 Baseball Abstract as “Competitive Mediocrity” asserting that a team that achieves a feat similar to the Royals as being “over efficient.” In the 1985 Abstract James focuses his Royals essay on the teams main hitting weakness, getting on base, in short their inability to draw walks. The 1984 Royals walked only 400 times as a team, dead last in a league that had 14 teams. In this long study on walks and the power of avoiding outs James fails to mention the man who plagued him so the year before, he however creates a tome to the power of the walk in the game that should be read by any fan of the game who tends to think of them more as a gift then a hitters tool.
Later in the study James lists the ten teams that are most similar to the 1984 Royals team, this is done in attempt to prove that the teams overachievement would most likely not transfer into the next season. This is despite the presence of several Phillies teams from the mid 70’s and the top of the list was graced by the 1979 Phillies, a fact that isn’t lost on James as he states,Fade to black…Anyway the Phillies the next year after that, won the World Series, which is meaningless but you can base a hope on anything if you want to.
Fade in from black…
Late January 1985
Jim Sundberg traded by Milwaukee Brewers to Kansas City Royals as part of 4-team trade
The acquisition of a 33-year-old catcher and the departure of a 25-year-old catcher was perhaps the epiphany that James needed to better understand his feelings towards Schuerholz and the Royals approach to building a team.Code:* Kansas City Royals sent Don Slaught to Texas Rangers. * Kansas City Royals sent Frank Wills to New York Mets. * New York Mets sent Tim Leary to Milwaukee Brewers. * Texas Rangers sent Danny Darwin to Milwaukee Brewers. * Texas Rangers sent Bill Nance to Milwaukee Brewers.
In his Don Slaught piece he wrote:
Looking at a player over 30 and the player who is 25 the Branch Rickey in most of us will lean towards the younger player, especially the one who squats for a living. James of course was perplexed; it went against the grain of what he had determined to be the proper way to build a winning baseball team, the way that he spent a good part of his life mulling over. Rather then rant and rave and declare stupidity in every hallway of Royals Stadium he made a statement that most likely sums up what many Reds fans feel about the moves that Wayne Krivsky has made this season.The five most reasonable explanations that I can think of why anyone would trade Don Slaught for Jim Sundberg:
1. Don Slaught is a secret hemophiliac and his hobby is playing with chainsaws.
2. Don Slaught likes to jump out of airplanes and frequently forgets to put on his mask before the start of the inning.
3. Don Slaught made a pass at Ewing Kaufmanns wife.
4. Don Slaught made a pass at Ewing Kaufmann.
5. Don Slaught’s agent carries a razor.
If none of these conditions apply, then I really don’t understand the trade.
James wrote the following after laying out the reality of Don Slaught the player (not going to be a star) and the reality of Sundberg the player (solid, respectable catcher, but over 30):
To find a season that the Royals as a staff had a better ERA then they did in 1985 you’d have to go back to 1978, the 1985 Royals team won 91 games and came back from a 3 games to 1 deficit in the Division Championship and swept the lat 3 games, the last two on the road. To enrich it even more the Royals only allowed 5 runs in the final three games. To ensure the world that it wasn’t a fluke they came back from a similar deficit against the Cardinals and won the final three games of the World Series, this time only allowing 2 runs in the last three Royal wins.It was, rather, this: the unavoidable acceptance that I am, as a fan, rooting for an organization whose philosophies are diametrically opposed to my own, not only the question of whether you succeed, but to the question of how you succeed.
Perhaps, in the eighties, the Royals’ organization will teach me differently. Will teach me that success comes from cashing in the raw material of potential for the hard wealth of established talent. I’m afraid I shall find this lesson hard to enjoy.
Eighteen months after Bill declared in the 1984 Baseball Abstract that the Royals had no chance of finishing in the top of their division in the next 2-3 years they had two American League West Titles, a AL Championship and their first World Championship. Clearly it was evident that sometimes even the best baseball analysts sometimes swing and miss, sometimes they go on bad streaks and make poor decisions. Nobody is infallible in baseball, not the guys on the field, not the guys holding the radar gun behind home plate, the guys announcing the game and least of all not the guys who spend their lives trying to figure out a game that gripped them and likely will never let them go.
Like most great minds Bill was able to admit he was wrong and this summation, in his essay “The History of being a Kansas City Baseball Fan” covers his feelings on what he had written:
In 2006 we all know the story of both these men, both went on to greater success and both proved to have a firm grip on how to build a baseball team, both even have a World Series ring that reflects that knowledge and its application in the real world.In view of the success of the Royals over the last two seasons, it is incumbent upon me to consider whether my remarks at the time were unfair to Schuerholz. I don’t honestly know. The thing is I don’t really know what within the offices at Royals Stadium. But John Schuerholz has to be given credit for what he has done. It’s a simple game; if you win you deserve credit for it. John Schuerholz has built the Royals into one of the best teams in baseball
Life’s funny, I bet 20 years ago when James penned his mea culpa he had no idea that one day he would be working on the side of the game he currently resides in. But then again he didn’t think the Royals had a chance in hell of getting where they got to way back in 1984 and 1985.
As for where they are at today, I’m fairly certain he has an opinion about that.
Code:1983 2nd 79 83 .488 20 1984 1st 84 78 .519 +3 AL WEST CHAMPIONS 1985 1st 91 71 .562 +1 WORLD CHAMPIONS 1986 T3rd 76 86 .469 16 1987 2nd 83 79 .512 2 1988 3rd 84 77 .522 19.5 1989 2nd 92 70 .568 7