The letters come once a week, sometimes more, addressed by hand to 1 Royal Way. The name in the top left corner of the envelope has become familiar in the clubhouse. They are cherished, something like single-spaced trophies, sometimes posted in the training room for professional baseball players to read with amusement.
Some 200 of these letters have been sent. Two, written to the right audience at the right time, have been shared publicly by the ballplayer who received them.
You are confused and nobody seems to have any ideas what is needed to turn you around. Below are my thoughts. I am sure they are not unique but are sent to get you to thinking.
Duffy posted that one on Twitter, including photos of himself mockingly following the advice. The letters have come for 10 seasons now, the original to former Royal Mark Teahen urging him to back off the plate. A more recent missive was directed to Hunter Dozier after a botched rundown. The letters have been addressed to dozens of players, manager Ned Yost and general manager Dayton Moore in a tone meant to be direct and helpful, even if it's not always taken as such.
The messages have ranged from mechanical tips for hitters (Alex Gordon should keep his head on the ball) to philosophical points for pitchers (Jeremy Guthrie should quick-pitch) to strategies for Yost (more small ball, fewer shifts) and Moore (stay away from power hitters).
At some point, the author stopped signing his name, but by now that's irrelevant. Everybody knows when they receive a Bill Palcher letter.
Billy Boy, they call him in the clubhouse.
"Some I've sent more letters than others," Palcher said. "Like Gordon. He's been in a slump for how long?"
Palcher is a 74-year-old Navy veteran and former accountant who will tell you he made the Ban Johnson All-Star Team all four years he played for the Milgram Mustangs. He beat Steve Renko one day in that league, shortly before Renko went to Kansas on an athletic scholarship and later played 15 years in the majors.
Palcher coached his kids' teams before high school. That was a long time ago, but when an old teammate saw the letter Duffy posted on Twitter, he texted Palcher's younger son.
"Is this your dad?"
Joey Palcher felt an undeniable familiarity with the words. He had not talked to his dad, and did not know his dad had written Duffy.
"But I'm like, 'This has to be Bill,' " he said. "Just has to be Bill."
Bill Palcher swears he is shy, and Joey confirms. He does not like to engage with strangers, and mostly keeps to himself at his home in Shawnee. The one exception is baseball, because he could sit with a complete stranger and talk through a three-hour game point-by-point, pitch-by-pitch, which he actually did once in Oakland while on a business trip.
He only wrote that first letter because his friend kept urging him. Palcher has a tendency to lose himself in the details of each game, even when the Royals are bad, the granular details of defensive positioning and footwork and strategy an endless thought experiment to him. Baseball is personal to Palcher.
Anyway, one day in 2009 he was going on about Teahen again, so he started a new file on his computer and typed a message. Palcher swears that would've been it, he'd have been done, but the dangdest thing happened — Teahen shouted him out in an interview.
"Bill Palcher, he's a genius, I guess," Teahen said. "I'm not sure I'm doing anything he said, but ever since I got the letter, the swing's been coming along. Hopefully he keeps sending them, and other guys are starting to request them around the locker room."
Teahen is one of the most delightfully sarcastic players in recent baseball history, and the entire thing was directly in his wheelhouse. Palcher knows this, and knew it then, but can't get it out of his head that when someone asked Teahen about the letter, the Royals player recited all the bullet points — move off the plate, move the right foot forward, look down, and if the pitch makes your head move, don't swing.
"He had verbatim everything I had in my letter," Palcher said.
That told Palcher all he needed to know, so blame Teahen if you want, but the letters have come regularly ever since. Palcher claims some significant success stories — Wade Davis' move to the bullpen, Mike Moustakas using the opposite field, James Shields not falling so far toward first base.
Some of the advice is, um, strange. Palcher urged Duffy to throw his fastball and sliders from different arm angles, which would presumably be easy for big-league hitters to recognize. He urges aggression and patience simultaneously, sometimes in the same sentence.
There is no way to know who read what, of course, and even if they did, there's no way to know how seriously the advice was taken or how many other voices were expressing similar messages.
Palcher is not a ballplayer whisperer as much as he is a hyper-engaged fan, a man whose harmless hobby has provided satisfaction and some level of recognition in a clubhouse that's turned over multiple times since that first letter.
"Look," Yost said when asked about Palcher this week. "If I get a letter that has advice, I read the first line and then I rip it up and throw it away. So I have no idea. It's like, 'I appreciate it, but you don't know what you're talking about.'
"Tell him to save his stamps."
Not everyone is so dismissive. Teahen still has some of Palcher's letters, saved at home in a scrapbook of sorts he has from his career. When Duffy posted the recent letter, Teahen responded almost immediately, recognizing it as a Palcher.
The reactions are about what you'd expect. Some dismiss him out of hand, like Yost. Others see comedic relief in the long grind of a season. Duffy says he reads everything written to him. Doesn't mean he uses everything or even anything he reads, but the communication is part of the fun.
"Heck yeah, dude, come on," he said. "I'll take advice from anybody. Especially if I'm giving up the freaking house. Hopefully he hits me and sends one that's like, 'See, I told you.' That would be an awesome letter to get.
"'Dear Danny Duffy, you're not confused anymore. See? Told you so. Signed, Billy Boy."
Duffy says all of this with a genuine amusement, a complete lack of ego, and I can't help but say back to him: Baseball's great, right?
"Yeah," he said. "And the internet is, too. Like, they need to start charging for Twitter."