Sam Mellinger

Eric Hosmer left Kansas City. But let’s not miss the point of his time here

Eric Hosmer on his time in KC: ‘We’ll all go down as World Series champions’

In a September 2017 interview, Eric Hosmer shared fondest memories of playing in Kansas City and his message to future players coming up through the Kansas City Royals organization.
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In a September 2017 interview, Eric Hosmer shared fondest memories of playing in Kansas City and his message to future players coming up through the Kansas City Royals organization.

In some corners, there’s a combination of anger and bitterness and disappointment that Eric Hosmer is gone. That’s OK. That’s understandable.

San Diego? Really? The Padres lost 91 games last year, and they have a nice young core, sure, but if Hosmer’s free agency took him to another rebuild, why would he not do it here? No place will love him like Kansas City loved him, and that word should be in the past tense now, because his career here is in the past tense.

In some corners, there’s a combination of relief and encouragement and joy that Hosmer is gone. That’s OK. That’s understandable.

One hundred and forty-four million? Really? Hosmer is a talented player, a cornerstone of the Royals’ rise from trash to trophies, but even if you believe in his value, why would the Royals spend that much when they will almost certainly stink with or without him? This is a rebuild, one that will take more than a few years, so why spend that much now when you can’t be sure what you’ll need when you’re ready to win?

Those are the arguments of the moment, but they miss the point. Hosmer’s time in Kansas City can best be remembered by moments — but sure as heck not this moment.

Hosmer had something like the perfect Royals career. We can nitpick. Goodness, sports fans can always nitpick. He hit too many grounders and not enough homers. His defensive range doesn’t match his athleticism, and for Royals fans of a certain age his career may bring to mind Bret Saberhagen — excellent in odd-numbered years, not as much in even.

The hardest thing to do in modern times is to step back, to see the forest and not just the trees. That’s particularly true in sports, and especially so at this instant — as an athlete who came to mean so much to Kansas City turns down an enormous contract here to sign somewhere else ... and there’s a compelling case that the Royals will be better for it.

There’s plenty of time for that debate, but having it now feels a little soulless, a little like turning sports into classwork instead of recess when the whole point of the Royals’ last decade has been a core led most consistently by Hosmer turning baseball here into the greatest sports story and funnest ride we’ve had in decades.

Hosmer’s time in Kansas City can best be remembered by the day he was called up, way back in May 2011. The Royals sold nearly 10,000 tickets in the few hours between that news breaking and the first pitch. He represented real hope, finally.

Hosmer’s time in Kansas City can best be remembered by the night he hit a triple off the top of the left-field wall in the 12th inning of the 2014 Wild Card Game, bending down and punching the air with his fists. He called it the biggest at-bat of his life, and to that point it was the Royals’ biggest at-bat in 29 years. There would be bigger, including later in that game, Hosmer helping to rewrite a franchise’s history.

Hosmer’s time in Kansas City can best be remembered by the night the Royals completed a sweep of the Angels in an American League Division Series. Hosmer homered that night, then invited all of Kansas City to McFadden’s for a drink, and then put his credit card down for a bill than ended up around $15,000.

Hosmer’s time in Kansas City can best be remembered by the night he sprinted home on a grounder to third in the ninth inning in a World Series game, some combination of scouting and preparation and guts conspiring for one of the best moments in franchise history. A few hours later, he was popping champagne. A few days after that, he was in a parade.

There are, literally, hundreds of these moments, from Hosmer’s drawing a walk in his first plate appearance in the big leagues to his homer after a standing ovation in the last game of the 2017 season.

Baseball doesn’t allow for perfect endings, at least not often, but Hosmer had something close to the perfect Royals career. He was always the most talented prospect in a wave that made the Royals’ farm system one of the best in decades. The expectations were impossible, if we’re being fair, but dangit if Hosmer didn’t meet them.

First baseman Eric Hosmer became a free agent for the first time after the 2017 season. Here are his top five moments with the Kansas City Royals.

He performed, especially in the biggest moments. He was an exemplary teammate, embraced a city he had no previous connection to and helped drag a franchise from industry punchline to baseball’s championship.

He grew up here, from a 21-year-old kid with bushy hair and his parents in the stands to a 28-year-old man with the talent and timing and guts that led to his World Series ring. He became part of Kansas City in a way athletes rarely achieve. He was burdened with an assignment bigger than he could have understood, and somehow completed it.

Every high school kid drafted by a big-league team dreams of doing what Hosmer did: All-Star Games, championships and moments that a city will never forget, all without a hint of off-the-field problems.

That should matter more than whether he’s ever slugged .500 in a season (he hasn’t), and more than whether he’s a strong clubhouse asset (he is).

This is not the way the Royals wanted this part of their story to end. They planned their offseason around Hosmer, shedding payroll and making an offer that would have nearly doubled the largest in franchise history. The team knows it is in for a long and painful rebuild with or without Hosmer, but felt his presence and skill would’ve eased the hurt and perhaps sped up the process.

But more than anything else, Hosmer is the embodiment of what the Royals always wanted to be: committed, helpful, encouraging and talented. Humble enough to work, cocky enough for the big moments. That’s what they hope to be again, too,

Not pursuing Hosmer would have felt hypocritical, and disingenuous. Without a big league-ready prospect at first base, there are worse examples for young players. Even those of us who believe the rebuild can be made easier without him will appreciate what he did here and hope he’s remembered accordingly.

Barring any free-agent additions in the final days before spring training, the Royals are expected to spend more than $110 million in payroll in 2018, a reduction of more than $30 million from last season, according to a Star analysis of the proje

He is gone now, joining a different team’s rebuild, but in ways that can’t be undone he will always be Kansas City’s. He became famous here, grew up here, became rich here. He won a championship here, told Alex Gordon to GIVE ME A (EXPLETIVE) HUG!!! here, and someday he will be back to be inducted to the team’s Hall of Fame.

Arguing is part of what we do with sports. But at least for now, at least in this moment, the arguments block the fun. Hosmer was a wild success here. Every ballplayer should do what Hosmer did. The Royals are better for having Hosmer, and Hosmer is better for having the Royals.

Now, it’s up to the team to do the whole thing again.

Sam Mellinger: 816-234-4365, @mellinger

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