Judging the Royals

You don’t have rivalries with bad teams

The White Sox's Jeff Samardzija (center) fights with Royals players during the seventh inning of Thursday’s baseball game in Chicago.
The White Sox's Jeff Samardzija (center) fights with Royals players during the seventh inning of Thursday’s baseball game in Chicago. AP

If you’re old enough — and I am — think back to the late 1970s and how you felt about the New York Yankees. The Kansas City Royals kept running into the Bronx Bombers in the postseason and things often got nasty. In the 1977 ALCS, Hal McRae body blocked Willie Randolph into next week with a takeout slide and just a few days later George Brett got kicked in the face by Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles; Brett responded by punching Nettles in the head.

If you were a Kansas City Royals fan and didn’t hate the Yankees — or at least heartily dislike them — you were probably in the minority. Heck, even New York Yankees fans didn’t always like the New York Yankees. In 1977, hating the Yankees was the real National Pastime.

Why?

Because the Yankees were good and they knew it. They won 100 games that year and if you were a fan of any other team, the New York Yankees had probably beaten that team somewhere along the way.

Now think how you felt about the Toronto Blue Jays in 1977.

What, you didn’t have any feelings about the Jays back then? That’s probably because the Toronto Blue Jays lost 107 games that year and if you were a fan of any other team, the Toronto Blue Jays had probably lost to your team somewhere along the way.

How could you dislike them? Why would you dislike them? They were a soft spot on your schedule.

Back when the Oakland Raiders were good, the Kansas City Chiefs considered them to be their main rivals. So did the San Diego Chargers. And so did just about any other team that had to play them. Now that the Raiders aren’t so hot the rivalries just doesn’t have the same spark.

If you’re mediocre, people don’t hate you.

That helps explain what’s been going on with the Kansas City Royals this season. The Royals are no longer an underdog; they’re the American League champs. The Royals are good and they know they’re good and other teams are feeling less charitable toward them.

Jeff Samardjiza started things when he hit Lorenzo Cain with a pitch on opening day. Brett Lawrie started things when he hurt Alcides Escobar with an unnecessary takeout slide. Scott Kazmir started things when he hit Lorenzo Cain with a pitch. Jeff Samardjiza started things once again when he yelled at Christian Colon. Adam Eaton started things when he yelled at Yordano Ventura. The one incident that was started by the Royals was Ventura’s ill-advised confrontation with Mike Trout, but every other incident was started by another team.

Back when I was still playing football (man, those leather helmets itched) our coach told us that referees had the habit of missing the first penalty, but throwing a flag on the guy that responded; that sounds a lot like what’s currently happening with the national media. The media is going after the Royals, but have less to say about the teams that provoked the Kansas City team. These days, everyone is taking a shot at the Royals, but that’s because right now the Royals are on top.

And you don’t have rivalries with bad teams.

Why left field is harder than right

That’s Rusty Kuntz’s opinion, not mine. I’ve played outfield and thought they were all hard, but had always been under the impression that right field was the most technically difficult spot.

Here’s why Rusty disagrees:

Left-handed hitters tend to be low-ball hitters and right-handed hitters tend to be high-ball hitters. (I could get into why, but that’s another column.) So if lefties are low-ball hitters they tend to drop the bat head — like swinging a golf club — and get under the ball and elevate it. So right fielders have more time to get under an elevated ball.

Right-handed hitters tend to stay on top of the ball and that means they hit sinking line drives that hook to the line. Rusty told me that’s why we so often see Alex Gordon charging in and diving on ball hit to his right — and that’s a more difficult catch.

I’ve got no statistical data to back up what Rusty said; but I’m not about to argue with a guy who’s forgotten more baseball than I’ll ever know.

How to tell when Mike Moustakas is about to get an off-speed pitch

Let’s start at the beginning: middle infielders can see the catcher’s signs, corner infielders can’t. It’s quite helpful to see those signs because then you know which way you should be moving as the pitcher delivers the pitch: to the opposite field for a fastball, to the pull side of the field for an off-speed pitch.

But since the corner infielders can’t see the catcher’s signs, they need some help. So smart middle infielders help out the guys on the corners: the middle infielders make a hissing sound — psssst — if the pitch is off-speed. That way the corner infielders know the ball is more likely to hit the ball to the pull side.

The hissing sound comes too late in the pitcher’s windup for a first or third base coach to pass along the information to the hitter; by that point the batter is locked in on the pitcher’s release point.

But first-base coach Rusty Kuntz said he hears the sound in time to take some precautionary action: if it’s a left-handed, dead-pull hitter, Rusty starts backpedaling — he wants a little more reaction time if a line drive is hit his way.

So keep an eye on Rusty and you’ll know Mike Moustakas is getting a slider before Mike does.

Why Kurt Suzuki got hit by that foul tip

When the Twins were in town you might have seen catcher Kurt Suzuki get hit by a foul ball when he was on the on-deck circle. If you did, you know he went down like he was shot.

Oswaldo Arcia fouled a ball off and it rocketed into Suzuki’s shin. Later, Kurt told me he never saw that ball, so I asked him what he was doing. Suzuki got a dreamy smile on his face, looked into the sky and said: “Visualizing.”

Getting a laser beam off the shin must have been a rude awakening.

I then asked Suzuki what he was thinking while he was lying on the ground and he said: “If I don’t get up and take this at bat, Jay (Jason Kendall) is going to call me a (expletive).” Kendall was Suzuki’s mentor when they were both with the Oakland A’s and Jason taught him to not show pain.

Kendall’s attitude has yet to rub off on me; I’d go on the DL if I had a paper cut.

To reach Lee Judge, call 816-234-4482 or send email to ljudge@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @leejudge8.

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