Welcome back to “Judging the Royals” now in its fifth year. Some of you already know this, but for those who don’t:
The idea for this website goes back to 1990. That’s when my wife sent me to a Kansas City Royals fantasy camp as a Christmas gift. I thought I had a decent idea of how baseball was played, but after spending time with professional players and coaches I realized that I was nearly clueless. The people who played baseball professionally saw the game in a different way. They didn’t just talk about results; they talked about the process that led to the results.
I’d see a guy hit a home run, but miss the fact that he hit it in a 2-1 count. I’d also be unaware that the pitcher had been unable to consistently throw his off-speed stuff for a strike so when he got to a 2-1 count and had to throw a strike, the pitcher had to throw a fastball—a fastball the hitterknew
That’s the process that led to the home run.
Being around the pros got me interested in the game I’d been watching, but largely missing. I started playing in a men’s baseball league and wound up managing a team. (if you’re the worst player, you manage.) I spent the next 20 years playing and managing amateur baseball while trying to learn more about the game.
In 2010 I was asked by the Kansas City Star if I’d be interested in covering the Royals. I said yes, because I wanted to write about baseball from the players’ point of view—the one I’d been learning about for two decades. (I also needed the money.) Being around big league players and coaches I was once again reminded of how little I knew, but the guys I talked to were willing to teach me the details of their craft.
• Base runners might be more aggressive after a rain delay if the ball gets hit to the outfield. If the ball hits the outfield grass it can get wet and a throw to the infield won’t be as strong; the outfielder is throwing a slippery ball.
• If the catcher shakes his head while giving the signs to the pitcher, he’s asking the pitcher to shakehis
head. The catcher wants the pitcher to pretend to shake off the sign. Take the 2-1 count I mentioned earlier; if the pitcher appears to refuse the catcher’s sign in a fastball count it might make the hitter think something other than a fastball is coming. Then the pitcher and catcher might get away with the fastball they intended to throw all along.
• If an infielder tags a runner and leaves the tag on him, the infielder probably thinks the runner is safe and is hoping the runner will over-slide the bag (and if he doesn’t over-slide the bag on his own, an infielder might give the runner a little shove). If an infielder tags a runner and immediately brings the tag back up, the infielder probably thinks the runner is out; the infielder’s showing the umpire he made the tag and still controls the ball.
It turned out that baseball was much more entertaining when I knew what to look for. Knowing the batter wants to hit the ball to the right side of the field and the pitcher wants the ball put in play on the left side makes an at-bat much more interesting. The score could be 10-0 and there was still something interesting to watch.
At first I worried that I’d run out of material, but the more I learned the more I realized just how much I didn’t know. And the only way to learn this stuff is to spend lots of time at the ball park; if you only show up for the press conferences you’ll get the same information everyone else gets. If you want to know why the second baseman straddled the bag on a tag play on Monday night, but came out in front of the bag on a tag play 24 hours later, you need to get there early. Talk to the second baseman when he’s got time on his hands, not right after a game ends—at that point most players want to talk as briefly as possible and then go home.
When I started covering the Royals I called a friend; Tim Bogar. At the time Tim was the bench coach for the Boston Red Sox and I wanted to know if he had any advice for me. Here’s the first thing Tim said; “Watch the game.”
Sounds simple, but he meantreally
watch the game. Don’t talk, don’t text, don’t tweet, don’t check email. If I don’t lock in to what’s happening on the field I’ll miss the fact that the second baseman appeared to smooth out the dirt in front of him and managed to end up two steps to his left when he finished. (If the second baseman sees that a left-handed pull hitter is about to get an off-speed pitch, he might want to move to the pull side of the field, but doesn’t want to be obvious about it. A routine 4-3 might actually be a great play made to look easy by a veteran big-leaguer who positioned himself well.)
watch the game means I can’t write during the game; I take notes, but don’t start an article until the game is over. That means a very late night and a very long day. If I’m on the field to talk to a player or coach during early work at 2:30 in the afternoon, I might not finish writing until 1:30 in the morning—and I also have a day job that I do before I ever get to the ballpark. This schedule lasts from March until October. (OK, I’m done whining—for now—but I just want to make sure my editors know how much time this thing requires.)
In any case, I’m here for the duration and I hope you are, too. I’ll post something after every game and may have something on off days as well. I’ll do my best to pay attention—to watch the game—and then talk to the players about what they did and why they did it—and I hope you find that informative and entertaining. Some of you have been following along since the beginning and may hear some information repeated. That’s OK; hearing about pitch delivery times once a year won’t kill you. Fortunately, I learn something new almost every day I’m on the field. I’ll bring that new information back here to you; the baseball fans who like to learn more about the game.
Welcome back to “Judging the Royals.”