Judging the Royals

Eric Hosmer is face of the Royals franchise

Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer with starting pitcher Yordano Ventura.
Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer with starting pitcher Yordano Ventura. jsleezer@kcstar.com

One day, quite a few years ago, I watched a big-league team do its pregame group stretch. But not all the players were stretching; the team’s star players ignored what was going on and wandered around, talking.

I mentioned this to one of the team’s coaches and at first he defended his players, but later admitted I was right; the star players were sending a bad message to their teammates — if you were a big enough star, you could ignore the rules.

Like it or not, big-league teams are run by the players.

If a coach schedules a workout and a player chooses to skip it, there’s only so much that coach can do. Players can be fined, benched or sent back to the minors and that might happen to a rookie, a role player or a guy without much time in the big leagues, but teams are reluctant to get in public disputes with star players — it’s bad for business.

So if a star player is a jerk he can bring his team down, but if a star player is a good guy he makes his team better; star players set the tone for the rest of the team.

And Eric Hosmer is a star.

Getting the right guys in the clubhouse

Royals general manager Dayton Moore has received a lot of praise for putting together this current group of players and deservedly so. He went after athletes that could cover ground in Kauffman Stadium’s outfield, built his pitching staff back-to-front so his bullpen could take pressure off his starters and gave power to his coaches and players; they didn’t have to follow a rigid baseball philosophy handed down from the front office — the coaches and players were empowered to make their own decisions on the field.

And you’ve gotta hand it to Dayton; the Royals have won two American League championships and one World Series playing the game in their own unique way.

But there’s one area where Dayton hasn’t gotten the credit he deserves; he’s put together a team of good guys and has tried to weed out the jerks.

In baseball, you don’t throw players under the bus; a guy might be a horse’s rear end, but teams never say so, at least publicly. But when you see a player bounce from team to team year after year, or wind up playing in Japan because no one in the U.S. wants him, there’s usually a reason; the player’s worn out his welcome and his team decides to let him go.

Dayton has said he’d take a player with lesser numbers if he thought that player was a better fit in his clubhouse. Get a whiner or complainer in there and he’ll find teammates to whine and complain to, and pretty soon you have factions; then guys undermine the coaches’ and manager’s authority.

And it’s especially bad if that clubhouse cancer is a star. Nobody listens to a bench player complain; everybody figures that guy should keep his mouth shut and just be happy to be in the big leagues. But if a star player starts complaining, there’s a good chance his teammates will follow along.

Hosmer and the media

To be a star player you have to put up numbers and this season Eric Hosmer is doing just that: a .299 batting average, 13 home runs and 49 RBIs so far. And Tuesday night Hosmer added to his star status by being named MVP of the 2016 All-Star Game.

So Eric Hosmer could get away with being a jerk if he wants to, but night after night Hosmer stands by his locker and talks to the media. Because he’s articulate, willing to talk and a star, Eric Hosmer has become the face of the Royals franchise.

And nobody is better at stringing clichés together than Eric Hosmer. When I met Eric’s dad I told him he raised his boy right: Eric could talk for 30 minutes and not say a damn thing — when I said that, both Eric and his dad cracked up.

If Hosmer speaks in clichés, it’s not because he’s dumb; he speaks in clichés because he’s smart. He’s protecting his team and teammates by giving the media quotes that won’t hurt anybody or start any controversies.

Hosmer’s leadership

I’ve seen Hosmer pull Yordano Ventura aside and talk to him about keeping an even keel. I’ve seen Hosmer defend teammates to the media. I’ve seen Hosmer go out of his way to be nice to kids and fans. Hosmer is always one of the first ones to celebrate somebody else’s accomplishments.

When a star player does that stuff it sends a message to his teammates — and it’s a very good message.

By playing well, being articulate and gracious, Eric Hosmer has become the face of the Royals franchise. Eric Hosmer is a star and Tuesday night that star got a little brighter.