Don't Kill The Mellinger

Twitter Tuesday: Royals records, Chiefs promise, Hoiberg, hangovers and ice cream

Iowa State Cyclones head coach Fred Hoiberg celebrated the team's 74-65 win over the Baylor Bears in the Big 12 Basketball Tournament championship game at the Sprint Center on March 15, 2014.
Iowa State Cyclones head coach Fred Hoiberg celebrated the team's 74-65 win over the Baylor Bears in the Big 12 Basketball Tournament championship game at the Sprint Center on March 15, 2014. The Kansas City Star

One of college basketball’s brightest coaches leaving for the NBA is not a Kansas City story in the direct or traditional sense, but there are some ripples here around the Fred Hoiberg news that are worth considering.

Barring a Billy Donovan or Dana Altman situation, Hoiberg will be the Bulls’ next coach. They are expected to make the announcement this afternoon.

Hoiberg took over an Iowa State program that had four straight losing seasons, and built it into a national power. The Cyclones won 53 games and the Big 12 tournament in each of the last two seasons, finishing in the top 10. They have a loaded roster, and will probably be in the top 10 to start next season.

Hoiberg was the most legitimate reason to believe the Big 12 could shake Kansas’ absurd 11-year run of at least a share of the regular season championship, and if nothing else, had at least put Iowa State in position to be KU’s most serious basketball rival.

So, personally, I hate that he’s leaving. Hate it for Iowa State, which is losing a coach with closer ties to the program than anyone else in the country. Hate it for the Big 12, and hate it for college basketball.

But, in and around Kansas City, I do wonder if it can open some minds. This is a place where the argument against putting an NBA team in the Sprint Center often begins with, “Kansas City loves college basketball, not the NBA.” I know I’m not the only person in the area who grew up in a household that loved the college game and dismissed the pro game and, to be sure, there have been times where that’s been the right approach.

Perhaps most notably, the NBA product was slow and hard to watch after Michael Jordan’s second retirement from the Bulls and into the early 2000s. But that’s changed. The NBA made some strong and productive changes — changes that the college game would do well to emulate — and is now in a good place. Generally speaking, the game is fast, with good movement and flow, no team better representing this than the Warriors, who are favored over the LeBrons in the NBA Finals starting on Thursday.

But for whatever reason, I do think there are a lot of people around Kansas City who don’t believe that, and either won’t give the NBA a chance at all, or if they do, will watch a game looking only for the bad — the flops, the clear-outs, the last two minutes that can stretch for days, all of which are also problems in college basketball.

Most of those people love how Hoiberg built Iowa State, even if they didn’t realize he’d basically been running an NBA team. Hoiberg has done that both in personnel (lots of transfers, which is college basketball’s version of free agency) and in strategy (lots of movement, lots of isolating mismatches). He does what the NBA does, and he likes the pro game enough that he’s willing to leave the place where he grew up, was a ball boy as a kid, a basketball star in college, and brilliantly successful as a coach.

The NBA still has problems, of course. They could shave about 25 games off the schedule, for instance. But it is the best and most beautiful version of basketball available. I wonder if Hoiberg’s move to the NBA can help open some minds in and around Kansas City.

This week’s reading recommendation is Christina Kahrl on the meaning of Caitlyn Jenner, and the eating recommendation is the kitchen sink at Succotash.

As always, thanks for your help, and thanks for reading.

Other than missing my wife and son and dog, it’s perfect. We’re on a boat all day, catching fish, drinking beer, making fun of each other. I mix in a cigar or two. I mean, what could be better? This is way north in Minnesota, an hour or two from Canada, I think, so cell phones don’t really work, which is more than fine. Though they added wifi this year, which meant I could FaceTime with the family.

This year was particularly special for me, because my dad went. We left a day early to make a road trip out of it, catching a minor league game at a stadium that looked cool online. I’m lucky to see my dad regularly, but it’s been a while since we’ve been able to spend that much time together. Reminded me of trips we used to take like that when I was kid, and gave me some ideas of things to do with the boy when he gets older.

I wouldn’t change a thing, is what I’m saying, and it’s cool of you to ask. One of the things about this silly weekly ritual that I really like is a sort of community that has built up, you know, we get to know each other a little bit and …

… oh. Never mind.

Better, because, let’s be honest, you’re not missing much here. I do want to make a few points about the Royals’ slump here, though.

They have lost five of six games. Just going through the first-place teams, the Yankees had a run of 10 losses in 11 games, the Twins lost six of seven, the Astros lost six of eight, the Nationals lost six in a row (and five of six in a different stretch), the Cardinals lost five of seven, and the Dodgers lost six of eight. The Royals have dropped five of six. It’s not that big of a thing, particularly when you compare to what happened in many past Mays.

The Royals still have the third best record in the American League, and fourth best in baseball. I don’t know anyone who thought their offense was as good as it had been the first 40 games or so, when they were second in the league in runs, and, well, this is what regression to the mean looks like.

But just like they aren’t as good as those first 40 games, the hitters also aren’t as bad as the last eight or so games. They’re not going to finish second in runs, but they might finish fourth or fifth. And with their run prevention, that’s more than good enough to be a playoff team.

One other thing I’d point out — the general reaction of Royals fans to this slump is telling. At least from what I can see, the reaction is more about what this does to the Royals’ playoff chances, and less about freaking out that the season is ruined. The Royals earned themselves a lot of trust over the last year, and particularly over the last 80 games or so.

Cool to see, really.

Except for when he goes on a misinformed whine about Royals fans not showing up to the ballpark, I haven’t found reason to be as critical of Yost as a lot of people want. I think he’s fine, with significant strengths and significant weaknesses.

If I was the manager — and I feel like we should pause to acknowledge how ridiculous that would be^ — I’d have pinch hit for Ventura in the seventh, and if not, would not have let him face Coghlan in that situation. A fully rested bullpen with an offday the next day would’ve swayed me.

^ I’d give the best quotes, though, and ridicule Andy even more than Ned does now.

But I say that knowing that there is a compelling case for Ned to do exactly what he did. Pinch hitting for Ventura with two outs has a very low chance of leading to a run, and Ventura was pitching very well. Ned has always erred on the side of being confident in his guys, and if a manager is going to err, that’s exactly what you want.

We all saw how it worked out, so if you want to say it’s the wrong decision because of the result, that’s fine. But these are decisions that are made in real time, and this was not a Jonny Gomes or Daniel Nava situation.

Like I say, it’s not the move I would’ve made, but when you look at it in context, I can’t say it’s the wrong move.

I assume you’re talking about the response from some about the ridiculous voting numbers that were updated yesterday.

My first response is that the MLB establishment does not hate the Royals’ success. Like, not even a little bit. Depending on what “establishment” you’re talking about, MLB loves the Royals’ success because it is a shining example of the sport’s parity, and if anything, national media loves the success because it’s a different story to be able to tell.

But, MUCH more than any of that … I touched on this a bit in the column, and I know this is something we’ve talked about before here, but my biggest response is that Kansas City must lead the league in fans caring about national perception.

We could do a lot of armchair psychology about this. Maybe it’s a flyover state thing, or a Midwestern desire to be liked, or Kansas City being the second biggest city in Missouri, or a sudden burst to compensate for decades of sports irrelevance. But whatever it is, at least in my view, it’s accentuating what I’ve always perceived to be a civic inferiority complex here.

Kansas City seems too often to be the one raising its hand to make sure it’s noticed, when it should be the one confident enough to know its got the goods.

But, I’m probably reading way too much into this. It’s also a time-tested pastime for sports fans to rally around the “nobody respects us” thing.

Positive: Alex Gordon’s climb up the list of the best Royals of all-time^ or Ryan Madson’s comeback.

^ He has a chance to pass Frank White for seventh in career WAR (Baseball-Reference’s version) in franchise history.

Negative: Greg Holland has pitched 11 1/3 innings, been on the disabled list, and his fastball velocity is down more than 2 mph.

The NFL’s concussion treatment is flawless, Steph Curry is boring, Kim Anderson is universally adored by Mizzou fans, David Beaty’s going to win a bowl game this season, and Wade Davis will never give up a run the rest of his life.

See? I can lie.

Except, actually, the part about Wade Davis might actually be true.

Guys. I think the Chiefs are going to be really good this year. Like, really good. Eleven wins good. Maybe more. But I’ll be genuinely surprised if they don’t make the playoffs.

I touched on this before the draft, but the Chiefs have more going for them than they have in years. Maybe a decade. Maybe more. They have a young roster^, addressed their most serious weaknesses in the offseason, and have a nice mix of established stars^^ and emerging stars^^^.

^ Last year, they began the season with the league’s third-youngest roster.

^^ Justin Houston and Jamaal Charles, most obviously.

^^^ Travis Kelce, most obviously.

Who has a better group of three-position playmakers than Jeremy Maclin, Travis Kelce and Jamaal Charles? We probably talk way too much about Alex Smith, but I really believe he’s in line for a big season, assuming health. He has so much going for him, including an offensive line that may improve up to average.

They have a very good coach, and personnel that fits what the coaches and front office want to do. They have holes, because they play in the NFL, but they also have a lot going for them.

The Chiefs will probably break your heart, because that’s what sports ultimately do, but there’s every reason to believe they’ll give you some bright moments before then.

Honestly, it feels really weird to be this positive about the Royals and Chiefs at the same time. Something’s going to go wrong. Pretty sure about that.

So, I don’t know how anyone can think the arrests are going to change much with FIFA. I know that sounds pessimistic, or cynical, but I don’t think the 14 officials who were arrested or Sepp Blatter are unique.

I think they are people responding to the incentives in place with the system, and I just don’t know how to change those incentives or the system. No one in this world thinks FIFA is clean, or makes decisions without bribes. And who believes that most of the countries with a FIFA vote aren’t fine with that? Worked out for Qatar. And Russia. And a whole host of other countries who’ve received grants and money for development and, I think we all assume, many other things.

Arresting some FIFA officials isn’t going to change any of that. Replacing Blatter isn’t going to change any of that. They are just placeholders, who’ve risen through a system that favors bribery. Take them out, and others motivated by a piece of the action will replace them. That’s how the system is set up.

And the thing is, I don’t know what’s the perfect system. I’d love to hear ideas. If everyone is ethical, the idea of One Country One Vote is beautiful. But it does act as a fertilizer for corruption. So, what’s the solution? Should the votes go with population? That would bring about just as many problems.

Ultimately, FIFA is full of money and it has virtually unchecked power. What part of human history can you find a place full of money and unchecked power that doesn’t act corruptly?

Friend of mine from college taught me a dandy. It requires a little bit of foresight, and it’s been a while, so I hope I have this right. But when you get home, you take some Advil with as much water as you can possibly put down. You wake up in the morning, and you do an Alka-Seltzer, more water, and at least a bottle of Gatorade. Top off with some food — you’ll probably go with a burrito or burger or pizza, but don’t overlook a french dip — and you should be good to go.

That friend is now a doctor, now that I think about it. Can’t argue with medicine.

Well, ketchup is absolutely the answer. So good on you there. But if you’ve already taken ketchup, I gotta go somewhere else, and if soda can be a food item I’ll say soda. I’m a Coke Zero or Dr Pepper 10 guy by trade — you don’t get a body like this drinking Coke Heavy — and you can miss me with that Pepsi or RC or whatever.

But if it has to be a food, and I can’t take ketchup, I’m going with ice cream. Some of it is the idea that if you’re going to eat something terrible for you, make sure it’s as delicious as possible, but most of it is that cheap ice cream tastes cheap. Even if you just got it at the store, you can taste some freezer burn, but either way the flavor is more of an insinuation than reality. Good ice cream — and I don’t know of a better place in the city than Murray’s — can change your day.

Warriors in five, but I hope Warriors in seven.

I should say here that I am looking forward to this NBA Finals more than any since Jordan retired, and I love basketball, and have always watched the Finals, and was excited for any number of series — particularly in recent years, with Spurs-Heat and Thunder-Heat.

I’ve always been a LeBron guy, and if the Cavs lose, I’m already sick of people saying LeBron has only won two of six Finals. Both Cavs teams he took have been garbage and, really, so was that last Heat team. He is a force of nature, the player of his generation, and basketball would be a better sport if the most talented guys were as unselfish as he is, and worked as hard to diversify their games as he does.

But the Warriors have a much better team, better players, and I also think basketball would be a better sport if their fluid and selfless style caught on more.

So, either way I’ll happy for the winner. Sort of the exact opposite of how I felt with Lakers-Magic.

Nothing turns grown men into princesses like the discussion of sports uniforms, but that being said, both the Packers and Monarchs jerseys were fabulous. I’m going with the Monarchs here, though, because really, I’d be all on board if they made those the regular Sundays. Those jerseys looked bluer in person than on TV, but either way, so simple, so strong.

I feel like that’s the kind of jersey I’ll buy the boy when he’s of a certain age.

I really believe the attendance record is going down. Right now, they are on pace for 2,577,015. That would clear the record set in 1989 by nearly 100,000, and we’re just getting to the summer, where attendance is generally higher, and if the Royals are still in a playoff position in August and September I’d expect them to be averaging well into the thirty thousands.

The Balboni record is probably safe. Hosmer has seven home runs, which is a pace for between 23 and 24. Gordon, Morales and Perez have six. Moustakas has five. To get to 36, each of those guys would have to hit more home runs the rest of the season than they have in any season of their career. The exception is Morales, who hit 34 for the Angels in 2009, when he was 26 years old.

The franchise record for wins is 102, set in 1977, and before we go on any further, a few crazy facts about that team…

▪ They were 28-31 on June 16. Played 74-29 ball the rest of the way.

▪ Yes, it was a much different time, and he was a freak, but George Brett walked more than twice as many times (55) as he struck out (24) in 627 plate appearances. He only struck out twice in one game. He went all of July with just one strikeout.

▪ Every starter had at least 20 doubles. Hal McRae set a franchise record that still stands with 54, and had 11 triples and 21 homers.

▪ That team had at least four future big league managers (Hal McRae, John Wathan, Buck Martinez and Clint Hurdle) and two others who were close (Frank White and George Brett).

Anyway, yeah, the 1977 team. To tie them, the Royals would have to finish the season 73-41. That’s a .640 win percentage and a 104-win pace over 162 games, which is a significant-but-not-outrageous increase from their current .604 percentage and 98-win pace.

The win record would be a stretch. The division is extremely competitive, the Royals would have to stay healthy, and the rotation would need to be a strength rather than so unpredictable. But, mostly, the reason it’s a stretch is that it’s a stretch that any team will win 102 games this year. The last team to do it was the 2011 Phillies.

So, with all that said, let’s put all these numbers into the proprietary DKTM machine…

The attendance record: 59.231 percent chance of being broken.

The wins record: 5.138 percent chance of being broken.

The home run record: 3.825 percent chance of being broken.

That’s just math, you guys.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365 or send email to smellinger@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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