Don't Kill The Mellinger

Twitter Tuesday, and the greatest Kansas City sports week I can remember

Kansas City Royals fans gathered at the J.C. Nichols Fountain on Tuesday morning, Sept. 30, 2014, for a "Take the Crown Day" rally. The event featured Royals mascot Sluggerrr, music by D.J. Joe & MOVE, free t-shirts, face painting and lots of excitement about the Royals first postseason appearance in 29 years.
Kansas City Royals fans gathered at the J.C. Nichols Fountain on Tuesday morning, Sept. 30, 2014, for a "Take the Crown Day" rally. The event featured Royals mascot Sluggerrr, music by D.J. Joe & MOVE, free t-shirts, face painting and lots of excitement about the Royals first postseason appearance in 29 years. The Kansas City Star

Well, it’s really going to happen now. A playoff game a generation in the making will rock Kauffman Stadium like it hasn’t been rocked in the memories of many who will be rocking it.

Grown men will cry.

This will be the coolest sports event that many people in attendance have ever been to. You know all this. We’ve written all of this. Lots of times. But I know a way to make it just a little bit better, even if at this point it’s probably too late to make new plans:

Have Bret Saberhagen throw out the first pitch. He threw the last playoff pitch for the Royals, 29 years ago, the one that ended up as a fly ball and the last out into Motley’s glove.

And here’s a way to improve upon even that:

Have Saberhagen throw the first pitch to George Brett.

And, as long as we’re talking about first pitches: invite Frank White.

There are far too many sore feelings on both sides for this to happen immediately, of course, but if White and club president Dan Glass could both grow up and publicly put White back into the organization’s good graces it would set off a wild celebration and put both sides in a better place.

I’ve probably written enough about their silly riff, and why both sides should be above such pettiness, but especially if the Royals win tonight it would provide the perfect opportunity to do something that should’ve never needed doing in the first place.

In the meantime, the parking lot opens at 3 and the stadium at 5 for the wildest baseball party in a generation. If you skip work tomorrow, your boss will understand.

This week’s eating recommendation is the brisket nachos at Kauffman Stadium. The reading recommendation today’s Royals coverage.

As always, thanks for reading and thanks for your help. Let’s get weird.

I got a lot of this, as you probably suspected …

… which is a nice break from what we’re usually talking about this time of year. I still hold out hope that the success will turn Ned Yost’s Nedness to a 12, so that he answers every question, “29-year playoff drought…” — and here he would turn his hand into a gun and pull the trigger — “… boom, Yosted.”

I’m also curious how many of you are prepared to live in a world where Dayton Moore is the one who pushed the Royals into the playoffs, and where David Glass helped the whole thing by becoming essentially a model small-money owner.

Lot of folks have gone all-in on the “GMDM stinks” thing, and I every time I write something like the previous paragraph I get emails and voicemails from people unwilling to admit that Glass made a drastic and critical change from his miserly ways in 2006.

I’ve been at the Star since 2000, when I was immediately big leagued by a second-team All-EKL tennis player, and I can’t remember anything like this.

The Chiefs last night, the Royals’ first playoff game in a generation tonight, and the NASCAR race this weekend. Throw in Mizzou’s impressive win at South Carolina if you want, or even Kansas making the obvious decision to fire Charlie Weis.

I’m trying to think of what the competition would be here. This is bigger than the first-round Chiefs playoff games we’ve seen. I guess you could make a case for the week in November 2007, when Mizzou and KU played a football game at Arrowhead with pseudo national title implications.

Honestly, I don’t think it’s particularly close. You probably have to go back at least to the Chiefs playing the AFC championship game in Buffalo after the 1993 season, or maybe the 1985 World Series for something that would rank with what we have this week.

Kansas City is overdue for something like this, I think we’d all agree. Enjoy it.

Abso-freaking-lutely, and the only reason I’m answering that was is that this is a family website. That trade ended a stretch of 17 losing seasons in 18 years, and brought the Royals into the playoffs. I think a lot of times we fans and media types can overrate and overstate leadership, but even if you ignore the intangibles entirely, there is no way this is happening without James Shields and Wade Davis.

If he loses the playoff game, so what. It’ll be disappointing, sure, but far outbalanced by watching the best Royals team in a generation. The Royals will get a draft pick out of Shields leaving in free agency, and have Davis under club control for three more seasons.

It’s also worth pointing out that Wil Myers hit .222/.294/.320 for Tampa Bay this year. I’ve written a few times that the Royals’ scouting staff, generally speaking, never thought as highly of Myers as the industry consensus. If they are proven right on that part of it — not just the impact Shields and Davis are making in Kansas City, but a sort of bubble ready to burst on Myers’ talent — the trade goes from a necessary sacrifice to something closer to a steal.

People have probably mentioned this already, but in the old playoff format, the Royals would’ve won the wild card and gone straight to the five-game division series against the Angels. None of this do-or-die wild card game stuff.

The reaction of a lot of folks when baseball created a second wild card was that it was a way to manufacture more playoff teams, more hope, especially for teams like the Royals.

But there was also something more subtle going on, and something that actually works against teams like the Royals. Winning the division is emphasized like never before since the creation of the wild card, both with the unpredictability of a one-game playoff and that teams are forced to use their best starting pitcher just to get to the division series.

I like the current format. I like that more teams are involved in the playoffs. I like that winning the division is emphasized. I LOVE that we’re guaranteed two do-or-die, one-game playoff games every year. There just isn’t anything like a winner-take-all baseball game, and I am so happy for Royals fans that they’ll have one for themselves in Kansas City tonight.

Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve ever been more excited to go to a game in my life.

These are strange days, I’m telling you.

But I can’t figure this team out. I mean, I’m the idiot who wrote off their playoff chances before the Dolphins game.

There are some inside-football things about why the Chiefs look so much better the last two weeks, and especially last night. They’ve figured out a way to maximize the impact of their tight ends, especially in formations where three of them are on the field together. Against Miami, they did a lot of run blocking. Against New England, some more action in the passing game.

I haven’t rewatched last night’s game, but initially my biggest takeaways are that Charles is healthy, and that having him and Knile Davis at full strength is a brutal matchup for defenses. These two factors — the tight ends and the running backs — are the best way the Chiefs can make up for a weak group of receivers and offensive line.

Keep in mind, too, that De’Anthony Thomas hasn’t played yet. The coaches are very excited about what they have in him.

Hard to believe this is the same team that was embarrassed by the Titans in their last home game.

Seriously.

Andy Reid takes all the blame for the bad, and none of the credit for the good but it’s obviously not that simple. I’m working under the assumption that the thorough failure against Tennessee came at least in part because the Chiefs were covering up for something.

Maybe they had Thomas as a big part of the gameplan, and his relatively late scratch turned everything on its head. Maybe Charles wasn’t actually healthy, and that’s why he didn’t get the ball enough.

Whatever happened, that team played with no energy, no confidence. That team would’ve lost 91-3 to the Chiefs last night.

But, like I say, I can’t figure this team out. I’m guessing you can’t, either.

I’m expecting to expand on this if I get a chance, but it has to be someone who really, really, really wants the job. It has to be someone with energy, someone who understands the history of not just the university, but the state and the football program — the advantages and disadvantages.

Sheahon Zenger’s hire of Charlie Weis was as predictable a mistake as you find in major college sports, and there has to be a vastly different process this time around. Instead of desperation, there needs to be a real plan.

Clint Bowen, actually, fits a lot of what I think the criteria should be. He’s young, passionate about the job, and has some winning experience. He’s lived what it takes for KU football to be good. But there has to be more to it than that, if Bowen ends up as the guy, the process needs to be more inclusive and realistic than the last time.

I assume this is being asked at least in part because of the news that CTE was found in Jovan Belcher’s brain. The tentacles of this story are incredibly far-reaching, because it’s at the intersection of the NFL’s two biggest threats and issues at the moment — head injuries and domestic violence.

I want to be clear that CTE — the degenerative brain disease often found in former football players — is not an excuse for the heinous act of Belcher killing his girlfriend, then himself, leaving his baby daughter orphaned.

But CTE has been shown to disrupt brain function and decision-making. It’s been linked to aggression and depression. If it’s proven to be a contributing factor to Belcher’s monstrous crime, the NFL has an enormous problem.

Belcher was never officially diagnosed with a concussion while playing for the Chiefs, even though in hindsight it’s clear he suffered at least two. This is another big problem for the NFL and football, no matter how much better their concussion procedures are now than two years ago. Belcher was only 25 years old, in just his fourth season in the NFL.

CTE has generally been linked with older players, guys who played much longer in the NFL. As we learn more and more about CTE and other brain injuries and how they may be caused by football, it’s hard to imagine any of the news being good for the league or sport.

I don’t think football will cease to exist. It’s far too popular, and makes far too many people far too much money. But I also think about my baby boy, seven months old, and how precious he is to me and my wife. I would be so happy if he never wants to play football, and if he does, his mom and I will have a tough decision about whether to allow it. I always think of Malcolm Gladwell’s story about football and dogfighting from five years ago.

I don’t mean any of this as a judgment on any parent with a kid playing football. We’re all just guessing, and we’re all trying to do what we think might be best. There are benefits of playing football that I’d be sad for my son to miss out on.

But I also know that there are a lot of parents like me, who, even those of us who love the sport, would rather our children find a different passion. It is a certainty that that sentiment is out there, and will in some form or other change the next generation of football. How much, none of us know.

But it’s entirely possible we look back at the last five years or so as the beginning of football’s end as the undisputed king of American sports.

My assumption is there’s more to it than what was on the podcast. I haven’t read a lot about it, but what I have, it sounds like it was the dare more than anything else that got him suspended. If that’s the case, combined with some residual inner-office politics, it makes a little more sense.

But, generally speaking, obviously I think it’s ridiculous. Not just the length, but the act. I’m not sure what Simmons said that was so controversial. ESPN’s own terrific reporting essentially called Goodell a liar. If Simmons — the most high-profile employee ESPN has, and someone the company pays for his opinions — can’t state his opinions, then there’s a major problem. And without knowing how their process works, I also think it’s strange that ESPN is suspending him for something ESPN published. But, whatever.

I also think there’s a bit of what they call a “work” in the professional wrestling world here, and shout-out to Andy. ESPN gets to tell the NFL — they are business partners, don’t forget that — it won’t stand for personal attacks on the commissioner. And Simmons gets to pad his chops as the renegade.

He’s a hero and inspiration to every American and all that this country stands for, I’m told.

I have nothing against Jeter. Great player, great career, all that stuff. But, yeah. I’m thrilled that as a country we’re done (?) treating his retirement like the curing of cancer.

Let’s just say that the Shuttlecock committee is paranoid. They had one of their finest moments in January, when the Chiefs blew that lead, but the curse is under serious attack.

Everything we know will be reevaluated after tonight.

Now, now…

This week’s Knoda:

 

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

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