This is baseball’s All-Star week, which means all sorts of think pieces about the sport’s problems. This will not be a think piece — but only because it won’t be long enough.
Maybe this is a think crumb?
Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about baseball as a business, and the Royals’ place in it. Some of this is a result of doing the two-part State of the Royals — Part 2 is scheduled to arrive Thursday at fine internet connections everywhere — and some of it is the franchise’s pending rebuild and new TV contract.
The current CBA is bad for the Royals.
It’s bad for the Royals because it incentivizes losing, which means more “competition” for the high draft spots that come with last-place finishes. It’s bad because it limits the Royals’ ability to rebuild the way they did it the first time, a proven method that included record expenditures in the draft and internationally.
It’s bad for the Royals because it limits the ways they can build from within, and while there is more revenue sharing than ever before, the financial gap is still so large that they are essentially playing a different game than most of their competition.
This will be true even with the new TV contract, by the way.
I do not bring all of this up to mindlessly fill some space before we get to the real issues of our times, like the Chiefs in July, or Frank White selling his World Series trophy or downtown parking.
I bring all of this up because we are a season and a half into a five-year CBA, and there is a discontent among players with that CBA, and the next negotiations will go a long way toward determining how the Royals can compete.
Their options at the moment are rather limited, and somewhat vague. They have to be better in the draft. They have to hit internationally, because a swing and miss on (for instance) Noel Arguelles will eat up too much money otherwise.
They have to maximize every avenue to acquire talent, which makes the recent trades that prioritized money more frustrating. That’s on ownership, and part of what we talked about in the first part of The State of the Royals.
The Royals didn’t get themselves into this easily, and they won’t get themselves out easily, either.
This week’s eating recommendation is the buttermilk chicken sandwich at Brown and Loe*, and the reading recommendation is the incredible Ramona Shelburne behind the scenes on LeBron James’ signing with the Lakers.
*We parked 200 feet from the door, for free, on a Saturday night. Then took the streetcar, for free, to get a beer and ice cream. There is not a parking problem downtown, you guys. More on this later.
More and better information is available in more and smarter places than ever before, which is such a cool thing for sports fans in 2018, but generally speaking we know much more about “our” teams and basically the same about other teams.
If I had a real job, for instance, I would know absolutely nothing of Kendall Fuller. Maybe I would just know him as the guy Travis Kelce beat for the long gain down the middle on Monday night last October but, let’s be honest, I probably would’ve forgotten about that.
I certainly would not have watched every snap of his from last year, and CERTAINLY would not have watched every snap of his from last year twice.
So I wouldn’t have seen his wicked combination of athleticism, confidence, aggression, smarts, and preparation.
I would not have watched him dominate as a slot corner, which is an incredibly difficult thing to do, because you don’t have the sideline and have to account for every route in the tree.
I would not have noticed that even when he gives up completions, it’s almost never because he was just beat by a better man, but because of a strong route and good throw and perhaps some wider context that made his job more difficult than usual.
So, yes, I believe Kendall Fuller is the best new player on the Chiefs’ roster.
Better than Sammy Watkins, better than Anthony Hitchens, better than Xavier Williams, better than any of the rookies or any of the 83 running backs.
But, if allowed to take your question far too literally, I wonder if the answer is Hitchens.
Because Fuller is essentially replacing Marcus Peters. Indications are that he’ll play on the outside like Peters, though the versatility required in the slot likely means he’ll be able to “travel” from sideline to sideline, which would be different than Peters.
Just on the surface, I would expect Fuller to have some adjustments to the outside, and to make fewer big plays than Peters, and likely be more consistent.
But, in very broad strokes, the Chiefs are replacing one terrific corner with another.
So is that pushing them into the playoffs?
The biggest upgrade could be with Hitchens. Reggie Ragland was something like a revelation at inside linebacker, a steady and smart influence for a defense in desperate need of help against the run.
Again, in very broad strokes, Hitchens replaces Derrick Johnson and whatever any of us want to say about what Derrick Johnson once was, replacing the 35-year-old version with the 26-year-old version of Hitchens is a significant upgrade at a place of dire need.
I still worry about the guys in front of them, but when Ragland and Hitchens are on the field at the same time the Chiefs should be more difficult to run against than last year.
If you’re wanting to go optimistic, that’s as good a place as any to start.
Again, the defensive line is still surrounded by questions, and linebackers can often only be as good against the run as their defensive linemen allow them to be, but if the Chiefs get closer to league average defensively it will almost certainly be in large part because they are no longer a wet paper bag against the run.
And that will almost certainly be in large part because of Hitchens.
Mahomes isn’t technically a rookie, but I get your point, and if we’re counting the group that was redshirted last year as rookies in 2018 can I take Tanoh Kpassagnon?
This is basically an expression of trust in the Chiefs’ scouting and coaching departments, but it’s also based on the film of the Week 17 game against the Broncos.
If we lived in a world in which Patrick Mahomes did not exist ... well, first of all, that world would be bad for my particular business.
But, let’s just say we lived in that world, then I believe the biggest takeaway from that game would be Kpassagnon.
He will always have a head start on most because of his physical gifts, but I thought in that game he showed a greater ability or willingness or awareness to do the subtle stuff — set the edge against the run, rush the right lanes against the pass, stuff like that.
He was far from perfect, and if he doesn’t continue to improve it doesn’t matter, but as a sort of progress update from the thoroughly raw prospect the Chiefs drafted in 2017 I thought it was promising.
But I also think Breeland Speaks will have moments at camp, and I’m particularly intrigued by Dorian O’Daniel. His skills and versatility feel like a good fit for Bob Sutton, though I wonder how quickly we’ll be able to see that.
If/when Salvy gets traded, does the Salvy splash die off or does it get rebranded?— Randy Speer (@RandySpeer_DSJ) July 16, 2018
I’ve put far too much thought into this sort of thing, but the best way for the group that led the rise would be a collective statue of the celebration in New York. Wade Davis, arms up, Sal Perez running in from the dugout, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer hugging, the whole bit.
One statue of that moment frozen in time. Put it in the outfield somewhere, or maybe in front of Gate B, where the Brett statue used to be.
But if they decided to break it up, you could really have some fun with it, and I’m getting closer to answering your question so please stay with me but I’m going to tangent for another paragraph:
You’d have Alex Gordon with his finger to the sky rounding first after homering off Familia, Lorenzo Cain leaping into the air after scoring from first against the Blue Jays, Yordano Ventura’s leg kick, Mike Moustakas going horizontal into the dugout suite and, my personal favorite, Eric Hosmer signing the check at McFadden’s.
My choice on Sal would actually be leaning over the plate and somehow pulling a ball six feet outside down the third-base line, but it’s also possible you could make a pretty sweet looking statue out of a splash, and now is where I answer your question in two parts:
First, I don’t think Perez will be traded. Some of that is because his value is diminished during a terrible offensive season, and some is because the front office values his presence, particularly with fans.
Second, if we are even talking about something being frozen in time with a statue, we are probably agreeing that it’s an original and should not be copied.
If we’re honest, the splash has already gone past its Best By date, and no offense to Drew Butera or Cam Gallagher but if they’re running out with a bucket of water it’s not going to have the same effect.
The Royals’ rise was great while it lasted, but if we can look at this in a meta way, part of the problems today are because the front office tried to stretch the vibes too far without enough support.
Time to move on.
Given the not-so-ringing endorsement Jeff Long gave Beaty, how many games into the season do you think he makes it?— Alex Boyer (@AlexBoyerKC) July 16, 2018
The following might be the worst thing you can say about a program but I believe it applies to KU football so here goes:
The string of events required for David Beaty to keep his job long-term are hard to imagine, the advantages of firing him now or three games into the season are hard to find, and barring major surprises the reasons he deserves to finish the season are hard to come up with.
I also believe it’s true.
If Long has his hire in mind, and if that hire is currently available, then maybe it makes sense to give the new guy as much time as possible to recruit with a fresher message and brighter hope.
But doing that would also mean cutting out potential hires who are now working in other places, and I just don’t know the advantages would outweigh the risks there.
Part of the appeal of an in-season move is if you have someone on staff you want to consider long-term, you can give that guy a tryout for the job.
But who is that person at KU?
Tony Hull may or may not be worth holding over for the next staff, but he’s not going to be the next coach, and neither is Clint Bowen, and neither is Doug Meacham, so what are we talking about here?
It’s a truly horrendous situation, and I don’t know what solution exists that doesn’t either a) limit the field of candidates, or b) give away another year of recruiting.
You can try to thread the needle and work back channels to see which working coordinators or lower-level head coaches might be interested to interview after the regular season, and that’s probably the best alternative, but it comes with other complications.
Good luck with all that.
What’s your take on Frank White selling his WS trophy? Seems like a slap in the face to the organization.— Brandon Sieckman (@bsieckman) July 16, 2018
White is a Kansas City icon, and in a different reality, he’d have been known only as the kid who grew up down the street, literally helped build Kauffman Stadium as part of the construction crew, went through the innovative Royals Academy, won eight Gold Gloves, hit cleanup for the franchise’s first World Series champion, and then broadcasted for the team that would become the franchise’s second champion.
Instead, his image and the way he’ll be remembered have taken unfortunate turns, starting with a completely unnecessary falling out with the franchise, and now a political career that has predictably included lots of drama, and some well-publicized financial issues.
White makes $145,000 per year as county executive, and receives a pension from baseball that could be worth up to $9,351 per month.
That’s more than the vast majority of Americans make, but you never know what twists a man’s private or financial life have taken, and White’s house has been listed for foreclosure three times.
This isn’t a slap at the Royals. This is a man trying to make ends meet, and struggling despite means that exceed some 98 percent of Americans.
My assumption is this is a combination of bad decisions and bad luck. I’ve always enjoyed talking baseball with White, and he was obviously a big part of the Royals teams I grew up watching, a reason I still love baseball today.
So I hope the $80,000 from auction can help relieve some of this stress, but the problems have been going on long enough that it’s a hope and not belief.
What are the most overrated things in KC? Here are mine: the Western Auto sign, St. Patrick's Day/Irishfest, the wings from the Peanut, Denny Matthews.— Denis Schmidt (@Aluminomics) July 16, 2018
I will fight you over those wings.
Denny Matthews is an interesting choice, and I say this as someone who really likes him, but I don’t think he’s rated incredibly high for a lot of Kansas Citians. At least, not when you account for his history with the organization.
But I digress.
The most obvious answer is a parking problem downtown. There is no parking problem downtown. There are areas we could improve, most notably slashing the number of single use lots, but mostly the “problem” exists only to the extent that you believe you should be able to park as close to a front door in the Crossroads or City Market as you can in a Lee’s Summit strip mall.
Other cities would KILL for our parking problems, traffic problems, basically any problems of convenience. I’ve believed this for a long time: one of Kansas City’s greatest strengths is convenience, but it can also be a hindrance to progress because we tend to demand A+ convenience for every single thing.
Loads of parking exists downtown. You have to pay for most of it, and you can get fooled into thinking it’s farther from your destination than it actually is, but the parking exists.
But that answer is too obvious. My real answer probably isn’t the kind of answer you were looking for, but it’s my answer, so I’m going to tell you why I believe the most overrated thing in Kansas City is the progress that’s been made in Kansas City.
Yeah, I said it, and I want to be clear.
A lot of progress has been made. It’s obvious, and it’s everywhere. My wife and I moved out of downtown in 2012, and it’s impossible not to think about how much different the place is now.
More restaurants, more shops, more stuff to do. Downtown used to be mostly empty, then it had life for certain events — the Big 12 Tournament, for instance — and then it had life on the weekends but now it has life 365. That transformation fills me with pride, and here comes the part where I tell you why I think it’s overrated.
The first reason is that a lot of places have made a lot of progress in the last six, eight, 10 years, whatever metric you want to use. The economy is light years better, demographics are shifting and people are more interested and willing and motivated to live in and near downtowns all across the country.
I’m guessing we’ve made more progress than most in this area, but my point here is that we are not in a vacuum and we had so much ground to make up so in many ways the progress mirrors or gets us closer to matching other places.
The second reason is probably more important, and it’s that I fear a sense of complacency has begun or soon will.
Progress didn’t just happen. We had to have people make it happen, and the obstacles here are more substantial than a lot of other places. Ours is a metro area divided by a state line, which creates all sorts of political challenges, not to mention silly and counterproductive tribal pissing matches.
We waste tax money stealing jobs from one side of the metro to the other, and any major civic project is always saddled with this underlying debate about whether Johnson County is paying its fair share.
User taxes are a creative way to get around some of that, and have been vital in building the Sprint Center, among other projects. But there are areas we still need to address where user taxes probably aren’t applicable, like infrastructure, and sometimes I wish someone smarter than me would come up with a way for Johnson, Jackson, Wyandotte, Clay and Platte counties to work as one collective instead of five squabbling siblings.
We’re on a really nice winning streak here. Sprint Center, the new airport terminal, the streetcar, downtown revitalization, etc. We can poke holes in any these projects, and none have been perfect. But overall, it’s impossible to argue that Kansas City isn’t better now than it was five or eight or 10 years ago.
My fear is that the momentum will be slowed by complacency, or halted or worse with a setback.
A lot of this is self-inflicted by the culture and history of local politics here, but there is a distrust of public projects, and a tendency to think of why something will fail instead of succeed.
So I wonder what will happen if, for instance, the new airport terminal doesn’t spur growth. I wonder what will happen if the streetcar extension turns ugly, or if the economy goes the wrong way, or even if we don’t get any World Cup games.
My point here is not pessimism. There is so much to be hopeful and excited about.
My point here is that I wonder how Kansas City will react to bad news, to the inevitable setback, about whether we will collectively go defeatist and return to our corners or whether we will power through and work more for what’s good for Kansas City in general rather than whatever particular county or city or neighborhood we have chosen.
This progress is fragile, is what I’m saying. We all need to guard and protect it.
I want to be informed and take part for once, so please humor me and briefly discuss what you believe are the most important issues for Kansas Citians to consider in the upcoming mayoral election.— R-S-H (@ryanscotthall) July 16, 2018
I don’t live in KCMO — but, like a politician might say, I can see it from my back yard! — and have not studied the candidates much but I do have a lot of thoughts about what’s important.
I believe the single biggest problem that KCMO has is the school district.
I believe this because of the obvious reasons, sure, but also because of the missed opportunity it represents. With better schools and education, fewer families go to the suburbs, and property values go up, tax revenue rises, crime goes down, and a lot of the other issues we face are easier to deal with.
I don’t know how critical a mayor can be in that, but to me, that should always be the most important issue. Whatever problems arise in any particular moment, the school district is always there, and a fertile ground for innovation.
Some of the rest of this will follow some of the sentiments from the previous question, but in a very general sense, it’s critical that the next mayor be a consistent, stubborn, relentless voice for continued progress.
Sly James’ greatest attribute has been his ability to cheerlead for Kansas City, and to be an advocate in matters both internal and external. We need more of that, and if it was someone who could further cut through the selfish and petty garbage that too often clouds progress around here, even better.
I want the next mayor to help stabilize the airport terminal construction, manage more development downtown, push for an east-west streetcar line that could really inject energy into parts of the city that need it, and somehow find a way to deal with so many divergent, important, and often isolated interests — retail, luxury, and low-income housing downtown, the Westport merchant drama, the needs east of Troost, and expanding development to new parts of the city
That’s a long and probably impossible list, so assuming we can’t find an actual unicorn, I’ll be happy if the next mayor is someone I feel truly understands the problems Kansas City faces, is willing to push innovative ideas to fix them, and is able to continue pushing energy forward.
I liked it!
I sort of wish I didn’t, because complaining about it would make for better #content here, because then I could pretend to be part of the Twitter groupthink that believes Alexi Lalas is a stain on civilization, but I thought their coverage was fine.
My expectations are probably different. I basically just care about the games, not as much the talk in between, and I want a broadcast team that’s informed and fun, and a production quality that’s clean and reliable.
I thought Fox checked all those boxes, and by the way, I can’t be the only one who at least twice a game was distracted at how much Meola sounded like Joe Buck.
In a perfect world, I would’ve preferred a little more innovation. Different camera angles, different coverage angles, something like that.
But given the choice of the two, for something like the World Cup, I’d much prefer the network go straightforward with its coverage rather than miss on any big swings.
I thought Fox was fine. My biggest disappointment is that we have to wait four years for the next one.
Take 3: In your humble and professional opinion what is the best menu item at each major KC BBQ joint aka Q39, Joe’s KC, Slaps, Gates, Arthur Bryant’s, etc. A list?— Brennen Wohlford (@BrennenWohlford) July 16, 2018
This is the third week in a row Brennen has asked this question, and I’ve so far avoided it, not because it’s not worth answering, but mostly because I don’t know how to answer it.
I love all my children.
Of the places you mention, Q39 has the most great items, if that makes sense. Literally, I’ve never had a single meat item there that I didn’t think was at least very good. Never had it, because I can’t get away from the barbecue, but I have a friend who swears by the fried chicken sandwich there. They just don’t miss, is my point.
I’m not crazy about their sides, I suppose, and I argue the greatest advantage Kansas City barbecue traditionally holds over rivals in Texas and Memphis and other parts of our great land is ... well, first it’s in the burnt ends. But after that, it’s in the sides. For me, Q39 is merely average here.
If the standard is in which menu item most separates a restaurant from its competitors, with Q39, I’m going with a dark horse pick and saying the wings. The move is to order wings for an appetizer, and then claim your particular corner of the barbecue world with your dinner order (mine is typically a burnt ends/ribs combo).
With Joe’s, it’s the Z-Man, a terrific combination of creativity and traditional strength, though the fries there are absurdly delicious.
Slaps, it’s the onion rings, and I know that’s a weird thing to say about a barbecue place that does good barbecue, but they might be my favorite rings in town. It’s so hard to get the onion and batter to marry like that.
Gates is a wild card. I’ve always believed you can get the best barbecue meal possible at Gates, and you can also get the worst. At the top of their game, I’m not sure anyone does burnt ends better, but the safer choice is beef on bun.
Bryants is probably the most distinct of any of the places you list here, but I’m not sure I’d pick any of their meats or sides as the best in the city. Their sweet heat sauce, however, might be my favorite in the world.
I need to schedule my trip back to KC for my annual Royals game. Which game should I schedule to attend and why.— Chad Chitwood (@ChadChitwood) July 16, 2018
Preference for September when it may not be 1000 degrees in KC.
If you’re locked in on September, I might shoot for the last weekend of the month, which doubles as the last weekend of the year and the reasons aren’t great but here they are:
The very last games of a disastrous season tend to take on a different energy or feel than you’ll have in, say, late August. There is a perspective, and the dread is mostly gone because everyone can see the end.
Also, they play the Indians that weekend, so you’ll see a playoff team, even if they’re unlikely to be playing all-out ahead of a postseason series.
But the other thing I was trying to do is see what else might be going on that weekend. The Plaza Art Fair is one of my favorite events in the city every year because it has a place for every stage of your life — I’ve had fun there as a kid, as a teenager, in my twenties, and now as a husband and dad of two.
The Royals are out of town that weekend.
You might check around for some concerts that would interest you. The Royals play the Twins the weekend of Sept. 14-16, and Beck plays at Starlight on the 17th. Does that interest you?
If you do that last weekend in Sept., depending on your allegiances, K-State plays Texas at home on that Saturday. Could be a fun weekend. Royals Friday night, K-State on Saturday afternoon (assuming it stays a noon kickoff) and you could still make first pitch at the K on Saturday night.
You would probably need Gatorade and Advil that night.
Darren Sproles announced he will be retiring after this upcoming season. Has a very legit chance to finish top 5 all time in all purpose yards, literally did everything when it came to moving the football over a long career, and is a stand up guy Does the local kid belong in HOF?— Lee Beck (@RightfulLee_So) July 16, 2018
He’s talked publicly of that goal, which is realistic, and immediately makes me think one more time about how stupid so many schools were to overlook him out of Olathe North.
Good grief, you guys. Stop obsessing over height and watch film one time.
If he’s healthy for even 10 games in 2018 he is likely to pass Steve Smith, Marshall Faulk, and Tim Brown for fifth place in career all-purpose yards. All eligible players in the top 10 are in the Hall of Fame, with the exception of Brian Mitchell, and that’s significant because like Sproles, much of Mitchell’s worth was as a returner.
Over his career, Sproles has been a more dangerous offensive player than Mitchell, so the analogy isn’t perfect, but the point here is that Sproles’ case is likely to be more about how voters weigh the value of returners than it is anything Sproles can do in 2018 or has done so far.
He certainly won’t be in the Hall of Fame soon, and I’m slow to comment on a voting process I’m not involved with, but my guess is Sproles never makes it.
He’ll be considered on senior committees, something like that, but it’s already a crowded field of players on the outside. Herschel Walker isn’t in. Are you going to put Sproles in ahead of him? Edgerrin James? Not to mention all the players from other positions, like Steve Hutchinson or Brian Dawkins, or those who will be eligible in the future, like Adrian Peterson or Marshawn Lynch.
It’d be cool if there was a spot in the Hall of Fame for someone like Sproles, who did a specific thing as well as anyone who’s ever done it.
I just don’t believe voters will decide the body of work rises above others for a small number of spots for the sport’s highest honor.
Have you ever gotten your a$$ in the jackpot?— Swimp (@brentbeats) July 16, 2018
Buddy, let me tell you one thing: I’ve been in the jackpot since birth.
I was turned down for the first three internships I ever applied for, including one at The Star.
My first job here was basically on probation, this sort of Hunger Games situation where you’re hired as part of a group of four or five or six others to cover high schools with the understanding that the clock is immediately ticking because two years after your start date you have to have either been promoted, find another job, or sit on the couch.
The worst I ever had it here was sometime in the mid-2000s, back when Jeff Flanagan did a Page 2 column for The Star. Whenever he took vacation it created this weird domino around the department where we all had a turn doing the column for a day. I once heard someone say that even if you didn’t like Flanny’s column, the best argument for his talent were the days the rest of us had to do it, and there was more than a little truth in that.
Anyway, one week I had the Sunday column, which I turned in Friday because I was leaving for one of my best friend’s bachelor parties. I sort of rushed through the column, sent it in, called to confirm they got it but didn’t get an answer and because I was super smart and responsible just sort of forgot about it.
Well, you can probably guess what happened next. The bachelor party was in a place my 2004-ish cell phone didn’t work, and besides, I was on a bachelor party so I didn’t spend a single second worrying about it.
So, yeah. On the drive back, when my phone found a tower, one of the lowest moments of my life was dealing with a killer hangover while listening to a series of eight or nine voicemails, starting with sincere pleasantness, then earnest reminding, then polite demands, then furious statements of objective facts of my failure, then justifiably righteous anger, and finally the worst message of all, something like this:
“Hey it’s Kevin again, not sure where you are or whether you still care or ever cared, but whenever you’re back from whatever was so important you forgot you have a job you should thank Howard Richman for saving your (rear) because once we realized you were AWOL he did what was supposed to be a full day’s work for you in about 15 minutes. So, good job, see you later I guess.”
I deserved every ounce of it.
When I got home, I left a message for my boss, basically cursing myself out and offering to wear whatever punishment he felt was appropriate — I think I even said he should suspend me.
My boss back then, not exactly known for his, um, forgiveness, called back the next day and said he’d never been so disappointed in me but couldn’t find it in himself to punish me after listening to what I believe he called the most pathetic voicemail of his life.
So, there’s a lesson, I guess?
If you screw up really bad at work, call your boss and kick your own rear end worse than he or she can, and maybe-just-maybe you’ll get to keep your job and live to tell the story in a ridiculous weekly time suck that is unexplainably part of why they pay you actual money.
This is the American dream, kids.
The last few weeks, whenever we’ve had a moment like that, my wife and I have been watching the Staircase on Netflix. Loved it. Sort of like Making a Murderer. These true crime documentaries where the cops frame a guilty man are so good.
There’s so much at play, you know?
Passion, crime, human fallibility on all sides. Give me more. For the record, I usually watch with a nightcap of something rye.
But you asked a question, so here is my answer:
A dark, strong beer, something like Rye On Rye On Rye* and Patrick Sweany’s Pandora station on.
*... or one more Rye, because I had the Rye4 (can I call it that?) for the first time recently and good lord how is that beer 15 percent.
I hear you, and I don’t even mind that you’re mocking me for choosing a Pandora station, but I love the idea that I’ll hear new music — I don’t hear enough new music otherwise — but it’ll generally be stuff you’ll like.
That’s the best of both worlds, you guys.
This week I’m particularly grateful for the opportunity and ability to take a couple quick trips. We have a weekend on a lake with the kids where we’ll have a boat and grill steaks, and then a couple days on a beach with my best friends in the world where we’ll tell the same dumb stories we’ve told for 20 years and laugh like they all just happened that afternoon. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about how lucky I am to be able to do this.