Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: Pearl-clutching, Royals winning, Chiefs defending, and much more

Kyle Zimmer talks about making his debut for the Royals at Kauffman Stadium

Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Kyle Zimmer spoke with reporters after making his major-league debut in Kauffman Stadium on Sunday, March 31, 2019. The often-injured prospect had nearly given up on his dream before having a stellar spring.
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Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Kyle Zimmer spoke with reporters after making his major-league debut in Kauffman Stadium on Sunday, March 31, 2019. The often-injured prospect had nearly given up on his dream before having a stellar spring.

I don’t know if the national sports media machine has another round of hand-wringing in it, but if Bruce Pearl leading Auburn to the Final Four can’t squeeze the last bit of juice then nothing will.

There’s already been a run of these stories and TV segments about a bad look for the sport because Pearl was fired from Tennessee amid “scandal” and had an assistant at Auburn fired after being swept up in the FBI investigation.

My personal interests here are a bit nuanced, and maybe wonky to explain, but I’m going to try anyway:

I hope there’s more (um) pearl clutching on the sport’s biggest stage, and that the next trial scheduled this month is at least as “shocking” as the last one. I hope national writers scream about this from the top of their Twitter feeds, over and over and over and over again until two things happen.

First, fans continue to see the sport for what it is.

And second, the NCAA finally updates rules and philosophies and worldviews that were outdated decades ago.

Pearl is a great example, actually. I’m not going to defend his secretly taping a recruit to try to bust a rival. That’s petty and slimy.

And I’m not going to defend his lying and encouraging assistants to lie through an investigation at Tennessee. But if we can step back and be adults here, we can see that he was taping a recruit to show that the NCAA’s dishonest rules are routinely broken and that he was being investigated for the high crime of ... hosting a barbecue with recruits at his house.

Auburn coach Bruce Pearl talked about what it meant to beat a team like Kentucky to advance to the Final Four.

Seriously.

It sounds like an Onion headline: “College Basketball Coach Investigated For Feeding Kids.”

I’m also not going to defend some of what Pearl’s assistants have been accused of. Chuck Person, for instance, allegedly accepted bribes to steer players to certain agents and financial advisors. I’m not sure that should be a literal federal crime, but taking advantage of a college kid’s trust like that is low and a fireable offense.

But the NCAA is complicit here in at least two ways. First, punishing the moral failure of a coach selling his influence over a kid he’s supposed to look out for loses impact when the governing body is essentially doing the same thing.

Person can’t sell his influence, fine. But the NCAA will litigate to the highest courts to protect its ability to sell access and influence to these same athletes.

The other NCAA failure here is that it has so many nonsensical and overly limiting rules that it loses credibility in other situations. Why shouldn’t a coach be able to have a recruit over for a barbecue?

Why shouldn’t an athlete be able to have the same rights as other students?

The system was never set up honestly. That was the original sin and the NCAA has been forced to duct tape and Jerry-rig the rules on the fly to justify its existence and profits.

The current investigations and trials are the harshest attack yet, and this is probably naive, but the hope here is that the truth is exposed so broadly and convincingly that the NCAA shifts its model more toward honesty and the cottage industries created by its own delusional rules.

Bruce Pearl isn’t dirty, and he’s not an outlier. He’s heck of a basketball coach, and a product of the incentives set up by the bureaucracy that claims to serve athletes’ interests but has steadily proven an interest solely in protecting its own existence.

This week’s eating recommendation is pretty much any sashimi at Bob Wasabi and the reading recommendation is Amy Chozick on the Kardashians as CEOs.

Please give me a follow on Twitter and Facebook and as always thanks for your help and thanks for reading.

This is really escalating.

In a lot of ways, this feels like Adalberto Mondesi’s rookie year but it’s actually his fourth in the big leagues. Fifth, if you count his cameo in the 2015 World Series. He is a high-ceiling talent, as they say, and absolutely capable of winning an MVP.

Pedro Grifol said as much in this column your boy wrote:

“He could be the best player in the game at any time. That’s putting a lot on his plate. I’m not saying he’s going to be. I’m saying he’s talented enough to be the best player in the game in 2019 or 2022 or 2021. He’s talented enough to do it.”

He’s already a good player. He’s better than Alcides Escobar, for instance, and despite what the more cynical Royals fans might focus on Escobar was the 2015 ALCS MVP and an integral part of a world champion.

Mondesi will be an MVP if he develops some plate discipline. Specifically, that means swinging at strikes and not at balls. Backfoot sliders have been a problem, on both sides of the plate, but the Royals have noticed some improvement.

If that picks up, he can be a vague version of Francisco Lindor. That’s MVP level stuff, though in a reality that includes the actual Lindor and also Mike Trout and Aaron Judge and so many others ... well, it’s a longshot.

Kyle Zimmer is a terrific story, but you already knew that, and the (justified) focus on his journey tends to distract from the fact that he is incredibly talented. This is categorized as a curveball, but looks a little more like a changeup, and either way is a mean thing to throw to a hitter who is expecting a 95 mph fastball:

The standards for Rookie of the Year are lower than MVP, obviously, but there is a deep field in the American League this year led by Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Eloy Jimenez.

It’s particularly difficult for a reliever to win the award, especially if he’s not going to be the closer (more on that in a minute).

So, I know this is sort of a rhetorical question, because neither is likely but I’m going to give you an answer anyway.

IF Mondesi becomes the full version of himself this year, and IF Trout doesn’t go Full Trout, and IF the Royals somehow contend ... you know what, that’s too many ifs.

Because if Zimmer is a lockdown reliever, and there are no overwhelming performances by the rest of the rookie class, he’ll have a heck of a sentimental and numerical case to be made.

“Neither” is obviously the most realistic answer, but if forced to choose, Zimmer by an inch.

I would, yes.

The primary concern is health, and then after that whether this version of Zimmer can keep the wicked pure stuff he showed over one inning and make it work over seven.

But, particularly at this point in the Royals’ development, I’d want to see the answer. There’s no compelling reason for them to “settle” for a one-inning reliever. The risk is in injury, but to me the potential payoff is worth it.

Because you either believe he’s fixed or you don’t. If you believe that Driveline unlocked something, then he’s no more prone to be injured as a starter than any of the other dozens of pitchers the Royals have transitioned from the bullpen.

Stretching him out to see what he looks like as a starter doesn’t have to be a forever decision. If he finds himself uncomfortable, or the swings he’s giving up indicate it’s a challenge too much, then you can pull back. You’ll always have him as a reliever.

I know I keep mentioning this, but I do it because it’s important: the Royals believe that one area they can do better this time than with the first rebuild is with developing starting pitchers.

Part of that means taking five college starters with the first five picks last year, part of it means taking a chance in the Rule 5 draft on Brad Keller, and part of it means exhausting every in-house option to find the best five starting pitchers possible.

Now, let’s all be realistic here. Zimmer has pitched one more big league inning than your dog. Even in the most optimistic scenario it will be some time before he has more big league games than surgeries.

We’re all dreaming a little here. But you’re asking me a question, and if he stays healthy and strong and comfortable I believe the Royals owe it to themselves and to Zimmer to see what he might have as a starter.

Probably the Chiefs? Let’s run through the scenarios.

A winning record for the Royals would mean very few things went wrong. Adalberto Mondesi, Brad Keller and Jorge Soler are the team’s three highest-ceiling players. At least two of them would need to perform close to their ceilings.

Jakob Junis would have to hold up as an above average starter. Jorge Lopez and Homer Bailey would need to be representative big leaguers. The bullpen would have to fill out, with Zimmer staying healthy and Ian Kennedy staying effective and probably some contributions from guys who are currently in the minor leagues.

An offense that was 13th in runs last year would probably need to be in the top half. Beyond Mondesi and Merrifield that would probably mean Ryan O’Hearn mashing, Billy Hamilton getting on base, and Alex Gordon providing some punch as the No. 3 hitter.

Surprises happen all the time, but that’s a lot.

A losing record for the Chiefs would mean many things went wrong. Maybe Tyreek Hill doesn’t play. Maybe Patrick Mahomes is injured. Maybe the defense is somehow worse.

The NFL is so tilted toward offenses that a rocket ship quarterback surrounded by talent and coached by one of great offensive minds of the last 20 years should be good for at least 9-7.

But the NFL is also a really weird league, one where the team with Aaron Rodgers has been under .500 each of the last two seasons. Drew Brees went 7-9 three straight seasons.

The Chiefs will play a first-place schedule that includes the Patriots, Bears, Texans, Colts and Vikings. The Packers should be better. The Ravens, too. The Jags. Not to mention the division schedule.

The NFL is built for teams like the Chiefs to have dips. Major league baseball is built for teams like the Royals to need a year or two to get going.

Both are possible, but the NFL provides more gravitational pull than baseball provides potential boosts.

It’s the right number, but let’s remember what we’re talking about. It’s not quite the Pro Bowl, but last year 37 players were selected to the American League All-Star team. In the National League, it was 36.

So there’s room for every team to get two.

If Sal Perez was healthy, I would take the over. He is not, so I’ll take the under.

Perez is sort of a name brand All-Star, a guy who can win the vote on name recognition. Without him, the Royals really don’t have that. Whit Merrifield would be the closest, and assuming Jose Altuve wins the fan vote Merrifield could be a good bet with the players’ vote.

But after that it gets really hard. Manny Machado is in the National League now, but Adalberto Mondesi (even with a strong first half) would be going uphill against Francisco Lindor, Andrelton Simmons, Xander Bogaerts, Didi Gregorius and others.

There would presumably be more room in the outfield for Jorge Soler, but the American League is stacked: Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Aaron Judge, George Springer, JD Martinez, Aaron Hicks, Giancarlo Stanton and others.

Kansas City Royals starter Brad Keller talks about his quick rise, catcher Martin Maldonado and opening day nerves on March 27, 2019.

Brad Keller could make a strong case, but again, at some point it’s a numbers game. Outside of those four, it’s hard to know who the strong contenders might be. Zimmer? That’s dreaming.

So, really, what you’re banking on is that two of those four — five, if you’re a Zimmer optimist — would be convincing enough to win a spot on merit over the rest of the league.

This one is closer than some of the other either-ors we’ve done so far, maybe 60-40, but I’d go under.

One All-Star.

Look, we can criticize the Chiefs for a lot. And we should. And we have. They should’ve moved on from Bob Sutton a year earlier, misread Eric Berry’s injury, and haven’t had enough production from recent drafts focused on defense.

But they haven’t been quiet this offseason. They’ve been aggressive and comprehensive in remaking the defense. Trading for Emmanuel Ogbah creates an almost completely different front, and that’s jut the most recent example.

Many of Steve Spagnuolo’s strengths are Bob Sutton’s weaknesses, and I’ll continue to shout from the Minutes Mountaintop that remaking the rest of the defensive coaching staff was also imperative.

They released Berry and Justin Houston. Traded Dee Ford. Signed Alex Okafor. Signed Tyrann Mathieu. Signed Bashaud Breeland. Will switch schemes, and might Kendall Fuller back in the slot more often. The only position that won’t take on significant change is middle linebacker, but that will be remade with the switch to a 4-3.

All of that, and the Chiefs are also likely to take a pass rusher and defensive back early in this month’s draft.

I’m not here to tell you the Chiefs defense will be good. I think it will be better, but nobody can be sure.

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid talked about a number of things from the status of safety Eric Berry to new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo while meeting the media at the NFL Scouting Combine on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019 in Indianapolis.

But we all know it’ll be different.

One thing I’ve learned is that we can all focus on the results but the smarter critiques are on process. And in that lens, I dig the process of the Chiefs and Brett Veach here.

They’re taking an early hit with the confidence that they’ll be able to make up for it later, particularly with players who better fit Spagnuolo’s vision of power and strength and (as my friend Craig Stout points out) comfort with stunts.

They’re prioritizing youth and doing everything they can to end the cycle of long-term contracts and dead money and bad decisions.

I don’t know that it’ll work. That will depend on Veach and Andy Reid and the personnel staff they’ve created.

But I do believe I understand how they’re trying to do it, and why.

Many.

Chris Jones is the first to come to mind, and he might be the best answer. He has the size, athleticism, and willingness to say ridiculous things. He’s actually a plug-and-play WWE character, if you think about it. Travis Kelce would be strong. You could build a solid persona around Laurent Duvernay-Tardif — Dr. Death, or something.

Eric Fisher could be good. He’s pretty funny when he wants to be, and grew up chopping wood and basically being a manchild in the Michigan sticks. You could work with that. Reggie Ragland has a swagger about him that could play well.

Kyle Farnsworth is the first Royals player to come to mind because of this:

But he’s actually sort of a nerd at heart. The staff would really have to work on his mic presence. Jarrod Dyson would have that part down, but he’s so small it’d be hard to sell some moves.

You know what? Sal Perez would be great. The personality is there, the size, the agility. A finishing move could be made around those oak tree stumps he has for legs.

Alcides Escobar could have a funny character where he gets in the ring and just takes punch after slam after punch but never tires, never shows fear or pain, and then after his opponent has exhausted himself with fruitless attacks Esky finishes him with a whipsaw punch and pin.

Alex Gordon could have a sort of Mr. America appeal, where he promotes healthy living while kicking ass. His finishing move could be called the Vitamin G.

Johnny Russell is the first to mind from Sporting. Feel like his finishing move might include chugging a fan’s beer, then leg-whipping his opponent into submission.

Going around to the colleges, well, this is probably too obvious but the Morris Twins would be a hell of a tag team. Frank Martin could be the modern day Jimmy Hart. Ben Askren would be a little too real for WWE, so for Mizzou’s entry, and I know this is a little outside the box, but there’s a really effective character inside of Drew Lock.

I see him as a sort of cocky heel, wearing all black and followed to the ring by some women, a potential centerpiece of NWO.

Why in the world did you ask me this. And why in the world did I put so much time into the answer. I’m not even a wrestling guy.

You people know how to push my buttons.

I’m not here to give you a breakdown of the matchups and styles. I’ll leave that to my guy Sam McDowell. I haven’t watched Monterrey, but will take Peter Vermes’ word that it is the best team he’s ever coached against.

It seems that the path is to play for a tie or even a close loss with a Sporting KC goal. Then you try to take advantage of homefield. It does appear that Sporting is running uphill on this one.

Sporting KC forward Gerso Fernades was one of many bright spots in a 7-1 defeat of the Montreal Impact on Satruday, March 30, 2019.

But, again. This is not the place for a breakdown.

The point I want to make is that this is arguably the greatest opportunity Sporting has ever had, perhaps the biggest stage it has ever played on. Certainly, it’s the franchise’s most important moment in international competition.

Casual and especially non-soccer fans tend to let their eyes glaze over when soccer’s quirks pop up, and a team going out of league in the middle of a season to go compete is one of those times.

But the rest of us know the importance here. Sporting will be playing against a traditional power from a better and more popular league in a stadium that will host World Cup matches in 2026.

I mean, look at this place:

If you’re looking for positives, the annihilation of Montreal last week is a good sign. Monterrey is unlikely to simply forget/refuse to cover Gerso, but the ability to counterattack will be important.

Monterrey is a significant betting favorite for good reason, but if Sporting can stay poised and smart it has a puncher’s chance.

I’ll be watching with low expectations, but also with an appreciation for the moment, what it means for the club, and a stubborn curiosity for what the match looks like.

That’s a weird deal with some fans, huh?

I believe Bill Self is one of the best five coaches in college basketball. For me, it’s him, Roy Williams, Coach K, John Calipari and Tom Izzo. That’s an arbitrary cutoff, and sometime soon maybe Tony Bennett or Chris Beard or someone else elbows their way in but for me, that’s the list.

Self is well-rounded. Strong recruiter, game coach, public presentation, good with donors, all of it.

It’s human nature to focus on flaws. The NCAA investigation following up on the Adidas trial has brought some messiness, and he does have some stubborn tendencies with his coaching style — he builds around bigs when others are spreading the floor, and doesn’t put enough premium on the three-point line offensively or defensively.

But, he also took over for a guy many thought was one of the best coaches in program history* and has been better. He’s landed lottery picks, coached teams up to Final Fours, and achieved a consistency unprecedented in the history of a volatile sport.

* Remember when Jason Whitlock said he cried on the news that Williams was leaving? That was ... weird.

I do believe Self when he says the investigation has made him more committed to Kansas, not less, but at some point there will be another coach. Kansas provides a lot of advantages to whoever the basketball coach is, but the new guy is unlikely to match Self’s success.

I don’t mean any of this to criticize fans who’ve become detached or even mildly critical of Self. There’s plenty to pick apart, and when you coach college basketball with a $50 million contract the standards should be high. It’s also true that the next few years are likely to be the toughest of Self’s time at KU.

Kansas Jayhawks basketball coach Bill Self looked ahead to next season and explained KU's breakdowns in an 89-75 loss to Auburn in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on March 23, 2019 in Salt Lake City.

But even if the next coach has more NCAA Tournament success than Self has had so far, there will almost certainly be more second- and third-place and worse finishes in the league.

Fans are fickle, and all of us tend to overreact to the last thing we saw. So in those years where Iowa State or Texas Tech or Oklahoma or Texas win the Big 12 and KU finishes fourth (Williams’ team finished fifth in 2000) then the Self nostalgia will be strong.

But, if the next guy takes a No. 5 seed to the Final Four there’s going to be some Bill Self Couldn’t Have Done That takes.

Money. They need money.

I don’t know what UMKC wants. More specifically, I don’t know what UMKC is willing to do to achieve what it wants.

It seems to me that the school is on a rinse-and-repeat cycle right now where they hire a coach, roll out the supporting quotes, hope for some early momentum, then get buried in disadvantages, fire the coach, and start over.

* Oh, and switch leagues. Gotta switch leagues. Bonus points if you can switch to a league you can’t afford to travel in, or compete in.

In the last 13 seasons, they’ve had exactly two winning records in conference play. And they just fired the coach who achieved both.

So UMKC needs to decide what it’s willing to put in, and how diligent it’s willing to be in chasing success. You can’t be playing home games at a rec center, for instance. You have to support your programs with money to recruit, to travel, to promote.

You have to be willing to waste some money, because that’s what everyone you’re competing against is doing. Nobody spends at 100 percent efficiency.

If you decide you don’t have the money or stomach for that, fine, no offense taken. In a lot of ways Division I sports are terrible business and counterproductive to a university’s purpose.

I’m actually curious what it would look like if UMKC “dropped” to Division II and added football. They’d have some brutal competition in the area, and adding football would present all sorts of challenges, but it’s an interesting thought.

In the meantime, if they’re really trying to compete, UMKC needs to treat men’s basketball like a potential revenue source and the “front door” of the university.

Because right now they seem to be stuck in a middle ground that does no good. Not invested enough to truly compete, but also attached to the “Division I” label and getting nowhere.

Well, sure. They should. If they’re trying to compete then adding Dallas Keuchel or Craig Kimbrel would make them better.

The “takes opportunities away from younger players” argument lost some juice when they signed Lucas Duda. I get that the money is much different, and Keuchel may just be uninterested in signing with a non-contender, but if there is value in Duda being an example for younger hitters then there is certainly value in Keuchel as an example for younger pitchers.

Now, this is a little complicated, because I believe there is value in losing, and even if Keuchel was willing to sign with the Royals for the right deal I’m not sure how invested he would be in helping younger pitchers who he wouldn’t expect to ever play with again.

The truth is the Royals aren’t going to sign Keuchel or Kimbrel. They’ve prioritized reducing payroll to gain flexibility in the coming years. I get it. They lost some money in some recent seasons with payrolls that outpaced attendance. Duda cost $1.25 million. Keuchel made $13.2 million last year and is presumably looking for a raise and long-term deal.

So I’m not here to criticize them for not throwing an extra $20 million or so at a team that probably isn’t winning anyway.

But I am here to tell you that if the Royals were hellbent on being the best they possibly could that they’d be talking to Keuchel.

That’s doubly true, of course, for the teams that actually are claiming to be hellbent on being the best they possibly can.

Which is part of why we’ll have a work stoppage in a few years.

Just as a minor clarification Dyson was 2006 and Holland was 2007, so we’re not counting them. Also, it’s too early to judge at least the last three drafts, good or bad, though the Royals are optimistic about 2017 first-round pick Nick Pratto and the college party of last year’s draft.

We can graze the top of these drafts and see that Kyle Zimmer (No. 5 overall in 2012) was hung up by injuries until last week, Sean Manaea (No. 34 in 2013) helped them win a World Series by bringing back Ben Zobrist in a trade, Hunter Dozier (No. 8 in 2013) is the opening day third baseman, Brandon Finnegan (No. 17 in 2014) helped them win the Wild Card game and then the 2015 World Series as part of the Johnny Cueto deal, and 2015 first round picks Ashe Russell (No. 21) and Nolan Watson (No. 33) have not pitched above Class A.

Going back further, Aaron Crow (No. 12 in 2009) was a miss*, Christian Colon (No. 4 in 2010) was a miss with an asterisk** and Bubba Starling (No. 5 in 2011) was a miss with some remaining hope***.

* The Royals’ 2011 All-Star pitched in Mexico last year but is now a free agent. He had some health problems but I think Royals fans would be surprised to know he has a career 3.43 ERA and averaged eight strikeouts per nine innings.

** Never lived up to those Placido Polanco comparisons but damned if he didn’t have two of the biggest hits in Royals franchise history.

*** I know some scouts who’ve seen him way more than I have who say he’s a better defender than Lorenzo Cain right now. He has to hit and stay healthy.

The best players of the rest of those drafts are Wil Myers, Whit Merrifield, Scott Alexander, Jakob Junis, Louis Coleman, Matt Strahm, Kevin McCarthy, and Ryan O’Hearn.

So it’s a weird thing to look at. Missing on those high picks from 2009 to 2012 (barring a Kyle Zimmer ass kicking tour) is crippling.

But they also got some pieces that helped them win two pennants and a world championship. Myers is a star, Merrifield has played like one the last two years, and Manaea is one of the better starters in the American League.

Baseball drafts are the greatest crapshoot in major American sports. You can literally pick any team’s draft in any year or group of years and blow it to bits with hindsight. That’s important to remember.

I’d give the Royals a D+ overall. They had some nice moments in there, especially with Myers and Merrifield, but those misses at the top set the franchise back.

Honestly, I’d be a little disappointed if he got into coaching.

I mean, I hope he does what he wants after football. Hope he’s happy. All that.

But a football coach?

I’m not sure I see it. For starters, I’m not sure how many guys make $100 million or more and want to start as an intern grabbing the quality control guys donuts in the morning.

Michael Vick comes to mind as a guy who made a lot of money and has dabbled but his financial situation is obviously a lot different than Berry’s. I assume there are others who’ve made a lot of money and then become coaches but how many of them also had cancer?

How many of them seem to see the world in a much bigger way?

Look, I’m just guessing with all of this. Berry is a hard guy to get to know, and I don’t think many people inside the Chiefs organization know what’s really in his heart.

So, again: if he’s done playing football in a year or five or 12 and wants to coach the rest of his working days, cool. I’m sure he’d be great at it if it’s what he wanted.

I just see him doing something else. Something bigger, or broader. I could see him expanding his foundation, and widening his reach with kids or anyone else who needs a push. I could see him becoming a full-time fundraiser and philanthropist. I could see him getting into for-profit business. I could see him focusing on helping struggling families, or single moms, or cancer patients, or wounded veterans, or any number of other worthy people.

I don’t know. Maybe his dream is to be a defensive coordinator and spend 16 hours a day in a dark office breaking down film. Maybe that would be the best way to satisfy his need for competition.

But I think there’s a lot more out there for him.

This one doesn’t actually bother me. Yeah, I said it.

Their pizza is a felony, and not actually pizza. Toasted ravioli is delicious but also a strange thing to hang your civic culinary hat on. Slicing bagels like sandwich bread is weird, and takes away some of what actually makes a bagel a bagel but you can see how it serves a utilitarian purpose — there’s always someone who wants half a donut, for instance.

But, look, I mean this sincerely and without any of the overblown and often performative St. Louis slander we send across the state: I support their right.

I may think it’s what I’d do to get my 5 year old to eat a bagel, but if it makes them happy and better able to share bagels with an office full of cubicle workers in pleated khakis then who am I to get in the way?

We all have our quirks, after all.

Most of our quirks don’t include building a weird, unuseful and now long outdated symbolic arch and letting it be our best known civic landmark, but, still.

I have to be honest with you guys. That story really triggered me. I mean, really, really triggered me.

It was unearned institutional arrogance, attempted bullying, disrespect, counterproductive and ignorant “brand” management, and an apparent example of a frustrated and powerless middle manager puffing his chest in a rare moment of glory and spilling it all over himself.

I am well aware that I’ve been fortunate in the people I’ve come across with this job to never run into anything like this. I’m also well aware that whoever has my current job is going to be relatively insulated from oversteps like this.

But my goodness, still, this is infuriating.

What we sports journalists do is weird, and will be impossible to explain when the aliens come, but on some level it’s also pretty simple.

I can’t tell a team what to say to me, and they can’t tell me what to say to you.

If I ever act entitled to any bit of access not mandated by league rules then I am a whiny punk and incapable of doing my job well. I hope and don’t think that’s ever happened.

If a team ever acts entitled to have its message pushed through a column I’m writing then it is improbably stupid in the ways of the world. I know that’s never happened.

My job is to call it the way I see it, and hopefully provide some insight into why certain things are happening, as well as tell interesting stories you wouldn’t otherwise know.

Their job is to be worth your time and money.

It’s a weird setup. But a pretty simple one. Even all these weeks later, I’m not sure how the adults at Bradley screwed that up so completely.

Now, they did backtrack, and apologize. So that’s good.

Jay really gets to the heart of it, you know guys?

My first instinct is wings from the Peanut because I’m pretty sure that would be my last meal before the electric chair, but our good TV is in the living room with the expensive furniture and I’m afraid that my desire to be with my wife long-term is incompatible with my desire to be with those wings on the good couches short-term.

Burgers are great, but when you’re watching a game you want something a little more communal.

Pizza is great, but I’ve made a life decision that because my kids eat pizza somewhere between five and 15 times a week I’m only going to eat it when left no other choice because pizza is too important to me long-term to overdose now and lose it forever.

So my answer here is nachos, specifically the burnt end nachos at Granfalloon because I believe that’s the best plate of nachos in town.

I realize you may consider this hypocritical, because nachos can be messy, but there’s an important difference here. You can keep nachos from being messy with diligence. Everyone gets a little plate, or holds a hand underneath the chip to prevent spillage.

If I trust you enough to be in my house and on my couch to watch a game then I trust you enough to eat nachos responsibly.

With wings — and ESPECIALLY wings from the Peanut — it is not a matter of trust or eating responsibly. Those life affirming creations simply cannot be eaten without a mess. Even in the cleanest of situations you’re using a billion napkins. Stains are inevitable.

To wash it down, first a Tank 7, then a Lil Helper, then after that any pale ale or pilsner weak enough to be sold under Kansas’ new “strong” beer allowances.

This week, I’m particularly grateful for a fresh shipment of hand-me-downs for the kids from my wife’s best friend. Perfectly timed, including some new soccer shoes.

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Sam Mellinger is a sports columnist for the Kansas City Star, where he’s worked since 2000. He has won numerous national and regional awards for coverage of the Chiefs, Royals, colleges, and other sports both national and local.


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