Rich Gannon hasn’t lived in Kansas City since 1998. That’s 15 years, but more like 150 in sports terms.
By SAM MELLINGER
The Kansas City Star
When Gannon last lived here, Donnell Bennett was the Chiefs’ leading rusher. Gunther Cunningham was the defensive coordinator (the first time). Mike Sweeney was the Royals’ catcher, and Carlos Beltran was a September call-up. Larry Smith coached Missouri to a bowl game, Roy Williams was adjusting to life without Paul Pierce, and Bill Snyder … well, not everything has changed.
Gannon spent just four seasons with the Chiefs. Started 19 games, which is fewer than Dave Krieg and Damon Huard. Less than half of Matt Cassel and Elvis Grbac. But Gannon has a legacy here in Kansas City, one that’s only grown stronger in his absence. It’s hung over the Chiefs and Royals, and athletes as different as Alex Tanney and Kila Ka’aihue. Royals outfielder David Lough is the latest.
Lough is at the center of our city’s sports discussion now, a promising ballplayer in his own right but also the next unwitting actor in a Kansas City quirk we might as well get to know as The Rich Gannon Effect.
The simplest way to explain The Rich Gannon Effect (or RGE) is this. Any time Kansas City fans clamor for a backup to replace a starter, it’s fueled by a wicked confidence sparked by one particular franchise-defining mistake (which every fan in town saw coming) and emboldened by watching two teams that are each a generation removed from their last playoff win.
Sports fans of a certain age remember this. It’s the mid-1990s. The Chiefs need a quarterback and trade for the 49ers’ backup (like we say, not everything changes). Elvis Grbac wins eight of his 10 starts his first season in Kansas City. He looks the part of a quarterback: 6 feet 5 and 230 pounds, a Michigan man. This is at a time when the Chiefs are winning a lot of games with a lot of old 49ers quarterbacks.
Grbac’s backup is Gannon, who starts games over parts of three seasons. Each time he plays, Gannon makes the Chiefs better — first when Steve Bono struggled in 1996, then when Grbac was hurt in 1997, and again when Grbac turned it over too much in 1998.
But the Chiefs choose Grbac after the ’98 season, letting Gannon leave as a free agent. Grbac plays two more years in Kansas City, making the 2000 Pro Bowl, but never another postseason. Gannon, meanwhile, makes the next four Pro Bowls, wins the 2002 MVP and leads the Raiders — the RAIDERS! — to the Super Bowl.
“Grbac” became a cuss word around Kansas City, Gannon a hero in Oakland, and the whole episode something of a microcosm about a Chiefs franchise that’s often been lost when it comes to quarterbacks.
So, to review: fan base generally loves one quarterback, can’t stand the other, watches team choose the former and fail, while the latter takes the most-hated rival to the Super Bowl.
This is what backup quarterback syndrome would be like with Lance Armstrong’s chemist. A fan base was dead right about the most important position in major sports, a team dead wrong about it.
The Rich Gannon Effect gives Kansas City fans encouragement to assume the Chiefs and Royals will screw up personnel decisions, and the Chiefs and Royals have often lived up to that expectation. Trust is broken, in other words, then amplified by a generation of mostly failure and frustration and more bad decisions by the Royals and Chiefs until it’s part of our local sports DNA.
Sometimes, fans are right, and Jamaal Charles really is a star. Sometimes, the team is right, and Kila Ka’aihue really does have a slow bat. The RGE is a moody minx.
Which brings us back to David Lough.
Don’t misunderstand. Lough is a fine ballplayer. Shows promise. He is athletic, covers a lot of ground in the outfield — though he’s much better in right or left than center field — and is hitting .296 since being called up last month.
But he is not Mike Trout.
His on-base percentage was below .300 as recently as Wednesday. His adjusted OPS calculates him as just below average for a big-league hitter. He has only one walk in 100 plate appearances this year, and batting left-handed means the lineup would become a little more imbalanced.
If it was up to me, Lough would stay in Kansas City and the Royals would figure something else out. Lough is at least looking the part of a big-leaguer, while Jeff Francoeur is tracking what would be a historically inept season.
Jarrod Dyson is coming off the disabled list soon, and if the choice is between Jeff Francoeur, Lough makes the Royals better except in balance, big-league experience, and especially depth (Francoeur would need to be released, while Lough could play in Omaha).
But the more likely outcome is for Lough to be sent down, at least temporarily. That would give Francoeur a little more time to start hitting, and protect against injury with a group of outfielders who’ve had their share of injuries.
There are logical baseball reasons to do that, and competent teams around the sport that would, even if that alternative is being cast by many in Kansas City as some sort of crime against humanity and puppies.
Again, this is not an argument that Lough should be sent down. This is only a call for reason, and the recognition that our own unique history here is turning a legitimate baseball decision into a preemptive freak-out that in many ways is about something else.
This is The Rich Gannon Effect.