Baseball fans, internet trolls and sports writers can afford to be impatient; we haven’t invested time and money in a player, so if that player falters or scuffles, we can immediately say he stinks and ought to be traded, sent to the minors or face a firing squad at dawn. And we can say all that without the first clue about who would replace the player we just got rid of.
We can also say those things because no one is going to hold us accountable when it turns out we didn’t know what the hell we were talking about; but let’s take a shot at reminding everyone how wrong we can be.
Since I started covering the Royals in 2010 here’s the list of current players that at one time or another some fans wanted demoted, traded or pinch hit for:
▪ Alex Gordon
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▪ Alcides Escobar
▪ Eric Hosmer
▪ Wade Davis
▪ Luke Hochevar
▪ Franklin Morales
▪ Greg Holland
▪ Mike Moustakas
If I missed anyone I’m sorry, but this list should make the point; at one time or another all these guys scuffled — it’s the nature of baseball — but someone was smart enough to be patient and wait for the guy to figure things out.
That doesn’t mean a player has forever and can keep scuffling year after year; at some point teams do have to move on. But having faith in some players can eventually pay off and nobody is a better example of that than the latest All-Star, Mike Moustakas.
And, boy, did Moose scuffle.
One of the worst things about not hitting is that every night you have a group of people around your locker who want to talk about you not hitting. Early in his career, night after night, Mike Moustakas would have to stand by his locker and talk about keeping his nose to the grindstone, having faith in himself and appreciating the team having faith in him as well.
Let’s find something else to talk about.
At the time this incident happened, Mike was a kid in his early 20s, struggling to find his stroke and having to talk about his struggles on a regular basis. If he didn’t get a hit the media would come in and poke at that sore spot. One night I waited until everyone else finished talking to him and then told him I admired the way he was handling the situation, but there wasn’t really anything new for him to say about his struggles at the plate and I wasn’t going to ask him about hitting until he actually started hitting.
Mike laughed and said he’d appreciate that.
If you’ve followed the Royals, you know Mike Moustakas continued to scuffle off and on, and the 2014 regular season was the low point. Teams had started shifting on him and his average was the worst yet: .212. A reporter asked Mike if he avoided looking at the scoreboard when he came to the plate to avoid seeing how bad his average was. Mike said no. He made sure to look at the scoreboard to see how bad his average was — he didn’t want to kid himself into thinking things were OK.
Spring training of 2015
Everyone thinks spring training is too long and that includes me. Once the grind starts, I’m working pretty much every day until the season’s over, so I’m in no hurry to get started. I usually go for the last week or two of spring training, and this year was no exception.
The first time I saw Mike Moustakas take batting practice, he hadn’t finished his first round before I saw something different: he was hitting line drives to left field. The guy who was such a pull hitter that teams lined up most of their roster and a couple of beer vendors between first and second base wasn’t going to take it anymore — he was going to hit the ball the other way and beat those shifts.
Assuming you’ve followed what Moose has done this season, the rest is history. He’s hovering in the neighborhood of .300 and headed to his first All-Star game.
We now talk hitting
Longtime baseball people — like Art Stewart — say they’ve never seen anything like it: they’ve never seen a guy become a completely different hitter over one winter. And if Art Stewart hasn’t seen it, it probably hasn’t happened.
Moose will still pull the ball on occasion. He and I talked about when that might happen. He might look to get the bat head out in front of the plate on certain pitchers, in certain counts and in certain situations.
Me: “But other than that the game plan is to take the fastball the other way and pull the off-speed stuff when a pitcher leaves something up?”
Moustakas: “That’s the plan.”
Me: “What took you so (expletive deleted) long?”
Moustakas: “Better late than never.”
We should remember this the next time someone scuffles
There’s a good lesson to be learned here: the next time someone scuffles we should show some patience. Maybe they’re never going to get it and the team will have to move on, but it’s unlikely that anyone in the media or baseball fans surfing the ‘net knows exactly when that is.
Remember that some of us were down on players who later became All Stars.
Remember that some of us also wanted the All-Star manager fired. Remember that others wanted to get rid of the general manager who eventually put this team together.
Patience is a virtue especially if you’re running a baseball team. Mike Moustakas proved that.