Normally, my least favorite column of the year is off the first round of the NFL Draft. I hate this column, for lots of reasons, most notably the very tight deadline to come up with an opinion about a player and a pick when all I want to do is scream NONE OF US KNOW NOT EVEN THE MEN PAID MILLIONS OF DOLLARS TO KNOW.
I usually end up trying to analyze the thought process behind the pick, which is fine, but also unfulfilling, even as the Internet fills with #hottaeks about how the Chiefs just ruined or guaranteed their Super Bowl chances.
I am here to tell you that this year — in two days — I will feel differently.
I have used, literally, every platform that people are dumb enough to give me to talk about how I believe the Chiefs should draft a quarterback. I have written this in the paper. I have said this on TV. I have said this on the radio. I have said this on Facebook Live. I have said this to my 3 year old, who just wants to eat mac and cheese.
But I keep thinking this:
If the Chiefs draft a quarterback, I will be excited as a sports writer, and as a Kansas Citian, and believe the team is doing the smart thing for its future.
And if the Chiefs draft a quarterback, I will probably feel a little bad for that quarterback.
Because there’s no way he will live up to what will be expected, or hoped.
I know this would be true in a lot of places. Most places, even. But this “not since Todd Blackledge” thing is such a part of the Chiefs and following the Chiefs, it will complicate things to the point that it could impact a young player’s development.
That’s life in the big city, just like it will be for Alex Smith, who will instantly know his backup’s jersey will be worn by thousands of fans on gamedays.
But, it is something I’ll think about.
This week’s eating recommendation is the fried chicken sandwich at Howard’s, and the reading recommendation is Derrick Goold on how the Cardinals sought inspiration from world soccer teams to win baseball’s next frontier.
I mean no doom when I say: this has always been the most likely scenario.
That’s not griping, just #math. The Royals were never likely to be a playoff lock, so if you take those teams out of it, there are always more teams in the race at the trade deadline than teams in the playoffs.
But I would pump the brakes a little here on the freakouts. The Royals are 3 1/2 games back with 143 to play. They have a championship core that has overcome much worse, much later in the season.
They have a group with a track record, and I know I do this a lot, but I’d remind you that there are no boats without holes. Everyone has flaws.
The Indians can’t get to their bullpen, because the rotation stinks so bad. The Tigers have given up more runs than any team in baseball. The White Sox have exactly two regular hitters who don’t stink so far. The Twins are vulnerable whenever Ervin Santana isn’t pitching, and have based much of their future on Byron Buxton, who is currently hitting third and slashing .105/.177/.140.
So, I guess I’d alter your statement just a bit. The worst case scenario for the Royals is being good enough to be in the race at the deadline, but not make it into the playoffs — and know their fans can see pictures from a parade less than three years ago.
I mentioned this on Sunday Sound Off, but defending Dale Sveum is not a hill any of us should be willing to die on. He is the hitting coach of a team whose hitters stink right now.
We should all want to find someone in our lives who speaks as glowingly of us as Ned Yost speaks of his coaches, and just last week, he said that Sveum is the best hitting coach he’s ever been around. But even good hitting coaches are sometimes fired in hopes that a new voice will help. The Royals have done this as much as any team in baseball.
Now, all that said: this is not Dale Sveum’s fault.
I get tired of blaming managers and coaches in Major League Baseball for a team’s failure. They are, for the most part, good men with brilliant baseball minds and I cherish every conversation with any of them. But they don’t make the engine run.
Major League Baseball is about the players. That’s where the power is. The players know this almost as well as the managers and coaches.
One of my subtle but constant sources of entertainment is the way many swung so wildly from demanding Ned Yost be fired in July of 2014 to believing Ned Yost is one of baseball’s best managers in October of 2014.
He was, and is, the same guy. He wasn’t terrible before, and he’s not amazing now.
Dale Sveum is paid, I assume, considerably less than a million dollars per year. His job is to be available to hitters. To be in the cage, to help them get extra swings, to look at video and tell them what he sees.
It’s an important job. One of the old baseball lines you hear from people in the game is that nobody in any organization works harder than the big-league hitting coach.
But I hope we can hold accountable the players whose salaries include two commas, most notably the stars who get all the credit when things go well.
Dale Sveum does not tell Eric Hosmer to hit the ball into the ground. He does not tell Alex Gordon to try to pull everything. He does not tell Alcides Escobar to swing at pitches well outside the strike zone, especially when he’s ahead in the count. He does not tell Brandon Moss to stop being able to hit fastballs.
It’s OK to hold the players accountable when they don’t perform. I wrote about Eric Hosmer’s part in this, and if you’ve spent any time cursing him or especially his grounders, I hope you read it. But some other numbers that, to me, are borderline astonishing:
▪ The Royals rank last in runs, doubles, hitting, on-base, slugging, and OPS.
▪ Their team OPS is .577. Last year, the worst OPS among 146 qualified hitters across baseball was .594.
▪ They have scored 47 runs in 19 games. In 2013, their offense was so atrocious in May that they won just eight games. It was their only losing month, but it effectively ruined their playoff chances, and led GM Dayton Moore to fire the hitting coach. In the last 19 games before they fired the hitting coach, they scored 65 runs.
You can fire the hitting coach if you want. I suspect that if this continues long enough, the Royals will probably do that. But the new coach isn’t going to be a magician. It’s up to the players to perform.
They are all capable. They’ve proven that, at the big-league level. But they have to do it.
This is what I’m talking about. Ned is not holding them back, any more than he was the reason they came back in the Wild Card Game, or in Game 4 at Houston.
You guys. The players do it, or don’t. The coaches watch.
If you think a fresh voice is needed, fine, there is some logic to that case. But it is my firm belief that most fans would be astonished at how little power and control is held by coaches and managers in Major League Baseball.
This makes me sad.
Alex Gordon is one of my favorite Major League Baseball players. I assume that comes through, and doesn’t surprise many of you. I love his story, his ascension, his resiliency, his attitude.
I love that early in his career, the lazy narrative on him was that he didn’t care. That narrative could not have been more wrong, but for some reason people clung to it, and Gordon never said anything, which only let the narrative run more. He ended it the only way he really could’ve, which was by succeeding, but now he is coming off his worst full big league season with an even worse start.
Last year, through 19 games, he was hitting .234 with a .347 on-base and .359 slugging percentage. He was terrible.
This year, through 19 games, he is hitting .178/.259/.219. He’s been worse.
Gordon is roughly 36 percent of the way through a four-year, $72 million contract, but it’s actually worse than that, because the Royals thought he would continue to be a great all-around player for the first two or three years of the deal, then perhaps taper off the last year (when he’ll be 35).
So far, he’s been worse at the beginning of the deal than the Royals could’ve imagined he’d be at the end.
People will talk about how Gordon’s contract meant the Royals could not keep Ben Zobrist or Wade Davis, and that talk is patently false, for a few reasons, but this is obviously an organization that must spend wisely and effectively — and so far the biggest contract in franchise history has been a total bust.
Last year, I was convinced that Gordon’s wrist was bothering him. It was the explanation that made the most sense to me, particularly knowing that it was an explanation that Gordon himself would never offer.
But it’s hard to make that case now. He’s swinging more often, and more often at pitches outside the strike zone. He appears to be trying to pull everything, even as he’s consistently defended with shifts to his pull side, and is generating very little power.
My guess is that Yost will soon give Gordon a game or two off* to clear his head some, because he has every symptom of a man pressing too hard.
* He often likes to do this in front of scheduled off days, so maybe on Wednesday, though the lineup is full of guys who could use a day to clear their head.
Either way, I hate to see him going like this. I want him to be remembered as the face of the franchise’s rise, the one who got here when it was the worst, and led the way to it being the best. He should be remembered for the home run against Familia.
There’s plenty of time for all of that. But it’s been so long since he was going right.
I asked around a bit about this during spring training. So, keeping in mind things could’ve changed since then, the feeling I got was that Moustakas wasn’t interested in talking about a long-term deal.
This could be for a lot of reasons. His value took a hit when his ACL tore* and he might see 2017 as his chance to get that back. Nobody wants to sign a long-term deal at a time when they might be negotiating from a disadvantage. The idea is of a long-term deal is to insure yourself against major injury, not bake it into your contract.
* I never agreed with this, by the way. Moose has been very durable in his career, and an ACL for a hitter and player like Moose should not be a major red flag.
Or, it could be because he wants to hit free-agency, and see what’s out there. I think of Hosmer similarly here, but I believe Moose sincerely appreciates the Royals, enjoys Kansas City, and loves the organization. I think all of that stuff is real.
But I also believe that Moose is from Los Angeles, and may want to get back to California, where there are three Major League Baseball* within a relatively short drive from his childhood home.
* Four if you count the Diamondbacks. Phoenix is a six-hour drive from his hometown.
Either way, I don’t know how you could fault him. He is absolutely the kind of player the Royals want to build around. He embodies so much of what the Royals want to be about, and if he has to phase away from third base at some point, first base will likely be open after Eric Hosmer hits free-agency.
But it takes two sides*.
* Which is most of why the Zobrist talk is silly. He was never going to re-sign with the Royals.
Anybody want to talk about something more positive?
Jason Vargas had the worst outing of his post-Tommy John surgery life last night. His ERA more than tripled.
And he still ranks ninth in baseball with a 1.40 ERA.
Danny Duffy ranks fourth, at 1.32. No other team has two in the top six. Ian Kennedy ranks 12th, at 2.08. No other team has three in the top 20.
You can look at this either way, I suppose. Positive or negative. But the Royals have allowed three or fewer runs in 11 of 19 games, and they’ve allowed five in three others (including once in 12 innings).
A year ago, they won 80 percent of games in which they allowed three or fewer runs.
The hitters, at least in theory, are much better than they’ve shown.
That’s a very low standard, obviously, because it is no exaggeration to say most of the Pacific League could do more than the Royals’ hitters are doing right now. It’s been 10 days since they scored more than two runs in a game.
Jayson Stark had a great stat, and by great, of course I mean frightening: the Royals are batting .199, and the last team to hit that poorly in April was the 2003 Tigers, who lost 119 games.
Wait. Dangit. We were supposed to be talking about good stuff here.
Maybe we should stop talking about the Royals, then.
I like your ambition.
We’re all guessing about basketball prospects, the same way we’re all guessing about NFL draft prospects, but here’s something you may disagree with:
Kevin Knox, Rivals’ No. 9 overall player, is not as important for Mizzou as Jeremiah Tilmon, the No. 42 overall player.
I say that because small forward/recruiting coordinator/vp of ticket sales Michael Porter Jr. can presumably do everything Knox can do but more and better. Add in Jordan Barnett, and Mizzou is set with athletic wings, with or without Knox.
But they do need some size. Some rebounding. If you put Tilmon on that team, he makes Kevin Puryear better, by limiting the amount he has to play out of position. He probably makes Porter better, too, because it further complicates how to defend him.
But, yeah. Obviously Mizzou would love to have either. Or both.
They are wonderfully positioned to do it. I’m barely reasonable enough to understand there are more factors that go into it, most obviously who else is available, but particularly with all the extra draft picks — 10 rookies aren’t making this team — I hope the Chiefs are aggressive in moving up if they see the right guy falling a bit.
And, look. There are other needs. If Reuben Foster was available at No. 27, and the Chiefs took him over a quarterback, I don’t know how passionately I could disagree with that.
They could use an interior defensive lineman, but the organization has been effective in finding those guys outside the top of the draft. Cornerback is never a mistake. A big-play running back would be nice.
But — assuming the Chiefs believe one of these prospects can be a good player with some time to learn — no pick could potentially better impact the future of the organization more than a quarterback.
And if the draft isn’t meant to potentially improve the future of the organization, what is it for?
I love this question, and I assume you’re asking who’s in second place, behind Doug Smith.
My goodness, I thought there was precisely a zero percent chance he would not be a star. I will never be so wrong on someone, in part because being so wrong on someone taught me to never be so sure on someone.
Anyway, some more:
Robert Griffin III. Had everything. Brains, talent, charisma.
Akeem Ayers. I wanted the Chiefs to draft him, thought they had a 10-year star linebacker. They took Jon Baldwin instead. So we both got it wrong.
Tyson Jackson. Yeah, me too.
Evan Turner. Not sure if he’s a bust, but I thought he could be what Draymond Green has become, only a better scorer, and not as crazy, or such a habitual crotch puncher.
Reggie Bush. Like Turner, probably not fair to call him a bust. But I would’ve bet even money he’d be a Hall of Famer.
Byron Leftwich. I was all-in on him after he marched Marshall down the field on a broken leg.
Jay Williams. Yeah, the motorcycle wreck.
Marcus Fizer. Legitimately thought he was Karl Malone.
One thing I like about the Derby: from what people say, it is the one sporting event that best serves its richest and poorest fans.
One other thing I like about the Derby: my complete ambivalence for it is a reminder that many things I care deeply about could not matter less to most people.
Long live the Derby!
The one that always comes to mind is from July 2014, when I wrote a column critical of Dayton Moore, but did not say that he and Ned Yost and everyone else who drew paychecks from the Royals should be fired.
Remembering how things were back then, I suspect that if I merely wrote they should be fired, I still would’ve received backlash and hate from people wondering why I stopped short of saying they should be publicly humiliated and perhaps even dismembered.
Those were angry times.
I want to include one that I got wrong, too. I was critical of Mizzou when Derrick Washington was kicked off the team in 2010. I thought they were moving too quickly, and too extremely, thinking they could’ve just suspended him until everything played out.
Obviously, I was wrong about that.
One thing I learned is to better separate personal feelings. I’d covered Washington a little when he was at Ray-Pec, and had come to like him and his parents. So I was biased toward believing him, that he wouldn’t have committed those terrible crimes, and didn’t give enough credit to the coaches and administration at Mizzou who knew a lot more about what happened than I did.
My listening habits roughly break down as follows: lots of podcasts, mostly old-school rap when I (rarely) work out, rock when I drive, with some talk radio thrown in. I don’t listen to a lot of new music, is what I’m saying, and I hate how old that makes me feel but it’s true, dammit.
But I downloaded this the other day, on my way to Costco and then to pick up the kid from school, and instantly felt like the guy in this commercial.
Humble is the best hype song I’ve heard in years, Loyal is terrific, and there are some more on the album growing on me.
Also: this is probably all an argument that the album is overrated.
But LeBron likes it too!
The Royals are averaging 26,346 fans through eight home games. Compared to previous seasons...
One important point: eight home dates is not enough of a sample to make any meaningful conclusion, and attendance in Kansas City has always depended more upon school letting out than in many places around the country.
All that said, yes, the organization is concerned. I want to be clear: I haven’t talked to anyone directly about this. But I know the organization enough to know they’re concerned, and not just because they are always concerned about attendance.
For business purposes, a hot or cold start means much more than what it does to attendance. It tends to set a tone, or standard, that more casual fans — the fans who decide whether attendance is good or bad — hang onto.
With the fact that local revenue generated means a bigger percentage of the total budget in Kansas City than a lot of places, yeah, there will be some concern.
As a kid, I always wanted to go to Royals games for my birthday, so we used to drive up on or around the day. My dad knew this is what I would ask for every year, so he got the tickets early, which meant we usually had pretty good seats.
George Brett and I happen to have the same birthday. At least in my memory, they used to sing Happy Birthday to him between innings. Or, maybe that was just some random fans. Either way, my parents would join in, and while everyone else sang for George, they always finished with, Happy Birth-daaaay, dear Saaa-aaaam...
You get the idea. It was one of my favorite things in the world. This particular day, we were sitting down the right-field line, in the first row, and Brett pulled a grounder straight at us. I’m sure I brought my glove, but I was like 7 years old, so I couldn’t reach.
My dad took the hat off my head, bent down for the souvenir, and when he came back up all he had was a hat with a hole in the top from where the ball ripped through.
We both tried to act like it was no big deal, after all, nobody expects to get a foul ball at a game. But I was sad, and I’m sure I did an awful job of hiding it.
A while later, a big manilla envelope came in the mail, and the return address had the Royals’ logo. It was addressed to Samuel Mellinger. I didn’t think much of it. My dad and I have the same name,* and I never got mail except for my birthday, which by this time was long past.
* My son is the seventh Samuel in our family.
But my mom told me to open it, and inside was a letter on Royals stationary, saying they heard about what happened at the game, and were sorry I didn’t get a ball on my birthday. They thanked me for being a fan, and offered a present.
Included in the envelope was a picture of Brett, autographed in black Sharpie:
- George Brett
The second ‘t’ in Brett is smudged a little bit, because my friends told me the autograph must’ve been fake, and that the only way to know would be to see if it rubs off.
Any sports writer in Kansas City has reason to talk with George every now and again, and I’ve probably had more reason than most. I keep that picture in a drawer of a desk at home. Obviously, my perspective is much different than it was 30 years ago, or however long it’s been.
But I like to remember how much sports mean, and the magic of it all.
That’s also why I made this, which hangs above the chair I work from at home: