Sam Mellinger

Twitter Tuesday: When local stories go national, Royals as bullies (?) and Chief concerns (get it!?)

Royals bench coach Don Wakamatsu (22) held back Alcides Escobar as Escobar gestured at Blue Jays pitcher Aaron Sanchez, who was ejected for hitting Escobar on Sunday in Toronto. The Blue Jays won the game 5-2.
Royals bench coach Don Wakamatsu (22) held back Alcides Escobar as Escobar gestured at Blue Jays pitcher Aaron Sanchez, who was ejected for hitting Escobar on Sunday in Toronto. The Blue Jays won the game 5-2. AP

One thing we keep coming back to on this silly weekly exercise is that sports fans, and I believe sports fans in Kansas City in particular, care far too much about national perception.

In professional sports, the way your team is viewed on the outside could not be less relevant. It matters in college sports, of course, or at least it does as long as polls have a significant place in how championships are decided.

In the pros, it just does not matter. Not beyond a high school, does-he-like-me-like-me, or just like-me sort of way.

But, we’re all human, and it’s a bit irresistible as a topic to think about for fans and media, and so it was that Outside the Lines spent Monday on the image of the Royals. I was on the panel, and you can watch the show here.

For what it’s worth, I thought the discussion was fair. I hope it helps people outside of Kansas City — who may only know the Royals as the losers-turned-winners who now seem to be in fights all the time — understand a little more of what’s going on.

When local topics go national like this, the discussions and stories are much more for the national audience than the local one. This is something that’s old news by now in Kansas City — we’ve been talking about it, literally, since the first day of the season when Jeff Samardzija plunked Lorenzo Cain for no legitimate reason.

But nationally, there is a lot of context that gets lost when people who don’t care about the Royals get to know the Royals through highlights of benches clearing. The idea that the Royals are bullies is so bizarre, and on so many levels, not the least of which is that their batters have been hit 57 times (most in the American League) and their pitchers have hit batters 29 times (13th in the league).

I was glad that Andy Katz brought that up, and happy to make the point that most of the issues the Royals have had with teams can be tied back to the Wild Card game last year — Samardzija and Josh Donaldson both played for the A’s, and even the stuff with the Angels may have been sparked by the division series.

I can’t know if the show helped, or will change anyone’s mind. But I do hope that it provides some context about who the Royals are, and where some of this stuff is coming from. Again, I don’t think anything we talked about yesterday is new to Royals fans. But that’s never the point with things like this.

This was for people who only vaguely know who the Royals are. I hope they know a little more now.

This week’s reading recommendation is Sports Illustrated on the birth of MLS, and the eating recommendation is the queso fundido at Patron.

As always, thanks for your help and thanks for reading. Particularly good questions this week. Let’s get to it.

I laughed. Really, I laughed.

I mean, the bad boys of baseball? If you fine folks will accept dated movie references, they are much more like the guys from Wedding Crashers than School Ties. The 57-to-29 ratio mentioned above is only part of it. Yordano Ventura has had some moments of immaturity, and Kelvin Herrera pointing at his head was an ugly look. But for the most part, this is the team of 12-step handshakes and Eric Hosmer always making sure to applaud the military recognition promo and Sal Perez’s Instagram account and the disco ball that turns the clubhouse into a mini nightclub after wins.

One thing we didn’t get to on the show that I wish had time for is that baseball needs more of what the Royals do, not less. I’ve written about this before, but emotions are fun. People don’t want to watch robots. A season of 162 games is too long already, and baseball’s buttoned-down, 1950s culture of put your head down and act like you’ve been there is as outdated as typewriters.

Baseball’s fan base is aging at a rate that should be alarming to the commissioner’s office. Reports of the sport’s doom are generally overdone — attendance and revenues are at all-time highs — but making baseball attractive to young fans should be the top priority.

The absolute easiest way to do this is to let guys celebrate. This is fighting a deeply embedded culture, which is always difficult, but there are signs of progress. And toward this end, it would help if Edinson Volquez had a little more self-awareness than to call out Josh Donaldson for pimping home runs. If you play for the Royals, you forfeit your right to call others out for pimping anything.

But, whatever. As Andy would say: onward.

Might be quoting your own words — not a quote from a subject in the story — in a tweet linking to the column.

Which, guys, I’ve totally done.

Sorry, Edinson.

Eh. I don’t think it’s that pivotal, actually. And that’s a testament and compliment to what the Royals have done.

As I type these words, the Royals have an 8.5 game lead over the Twins in the division, and a three-game lead over the Yankees for the best record in the league (and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs). The fine folks at Baseball Prospectus give the Royals a 98.5 percent chance of making the playoffs, and a 97.8 percent chance of winning the division. The algorithms are predicting the Royals will finish two games ahead of the Yankees and Astros for the best record in the league.

They’re not canceling the rest of the season, but this is a tremendously good spot for them.

So, as long as they play well enough to protect the lead, I actually think the important thing the rest of the way is getting the roster as strong as possible for the start of the playoffs.

And in that way, I think they’re in good position. Ned Yost has done a good job of resting Sal Perez and Lorenzo Cain in particular, and I think keeping his guys as fresh as possible is one of his top priorities the rest of the way. Not just Perez and Cain, but Alcides Escobar, too. Alex Gordon’s return from the groin injury will and should be done prioritizing where he’ll be in October rather than what he’ll be his first week or two back.

The bullpen is at least a small concern, too. That is such a central strength for this team, obviously, and they’ve been used a bunch. No bullpen in the league is averaging more innings per game. Even having played fewer games than many other teams in the league — another factor the Royals must account for as that difference is made up between now and the end of the season — Herrera, Wade Davis, Franklin Morales and Ryan Madson are all in the top 27 in the league in relief innings pitched. I might be missing someone, because I’m doing this by eye, but I don’t think any other team has that many in the top 27.

Davis is battling back stiffness, Greg Holland’s peripherals are concerning, and Herrera has not struck out a batter in any of his last four appearances. That’s his longest streak since May of last year. He also went three straight appearances without a strikeout earlier in July.

I don’t bring any of this up as reason to panic. Not at all. Just examples of the kind of small leaks that are easier plugged when a team has a nice cushion to make the playoffs. Their ability to do those types of subtle things, I think, is more important than strictly looking at their win-loss record the rest of the way.

You know, assuming they can stay in strong position.

At some point here, I’m going to go game by game and see how it all shakes out, which obviously will be completely spot-on and ruin the suspense of the season, so sorry about that.

But, generally, I agree that there are concerns. Some of that is the schedule, but I’m a strong believer that judging an NFL schedule before the season starts is usually a worthless exercise because a schedule that looks tough in August is often easy in October, and vice versa.

It is a little different in this specific case, for at least two reasons. First, the Chiefs play just three of their first ten games at home, a by-product of their outsourcing a home game to London and being too picky in requesting which weekends they could play at home early in the year.

The second reason is that their best cornerback — and if you missed Sean Smith’s tremendous hat, click here — will be suspended for the first three games, which include the Broncos at home and Packers on the road.

But the biggest concern the Chiefs have right now is Dontari Poe’s back. Terez wrote about this the other day, and if you didn’t read it, it’s well worth your time. Bad backs are the absolute worst. Anyone who has ever had back pain can relate. Depending on the situation, it can hurt to brush your teeth. Back pain is especially troublesome for big men who make their living pushing and being pushed by other big men.

Poe is a freak, even by NFL standards. There is a play he made against the Cowboys two years ago that will stick in my mind forever. He basically skipped around the center and demolished Tony Romo for a sack, blowing up the play before it ever had a chance. He was, basically, a 350-pound point guard with a crossover that would’ve made everyone in the gym run around and scream.

I can’t grab the gif right now, because the NFL’s site is down for some reason, but I just wonder if moments like that are gone or will be fewer. Poe is such a good player. Justin Houston is the star, and they’ve got other studs like Derrick Johnson and Eric Berry and Tamba Hali, but Poe is such a part of what makes that defense go. Having someone who can put pressure on the interior of the offensive line like that makes everyone else’s job easier.

I’ve been very optimistic about the Chiefs. I think they’re good for 10, maybe as many as 12 wins. A playoff win is a legitimate possibility. But so much of that is about a defense that allowed the second-fewest points in the league last year. With Smith out the first three games, and Poe out more than that, the defense takes a step back.

Way too early to panic. Not too early to be concerned.

I think he will. Actually, I’m damn near positive he will. He’s suspended the first four games for failing a marijuana test — the idea that an NFL player can be suspended for smoking marijuana is both ridiculous and worth a longer discussion sometime — and will justifiably be suspended more because of a reckless, thoughtless, selfish, dangerous, moronic and potentially tragic decision to apparently go street racing while high and with a kid in the car.

But Sheldon Richardson is very good at football. There is absolutely a sliding scale of justice here, not just in football and not just in sports, but in all walks of life, where if you’re good enough you can get away with things. Richardson isn’t necessarily getting away with this. He’ll be suspended, and it will cost him money.

But the early indications are that Richardson will avoid the harshest charges, so the legal penalties won’t be what they could’ve been. The Jets have come out and said they won’t impose their own suspension on top of whatever the NFL will do.

I thought Mike Freeman wrote a thoughtful piece here on some NFL players just not getting it. Maybe it’s unfair to single out NFL players like this. There are certainly baseball players and basketball players and insurance salesmen and HR workers and middle managers who don’t get it.

Richardson called this a wake-up call. I hope he’s right. I could give a damn about his football ability. If he was not good at football, or someday does something to actually get himself kicked out of the league forever, someone else will replace him. The league will move on. But what he did in that car is a much bigger issue. It’s bad enough to drive that fast and put yourself and anyone else on the road in danger.

But to do it with a child in your car is unconscionable.

Thank you sir!

I do know a lot of it has to do with being the weird kid who knows exactly what you want to do at, like, 12 years old. It went astronaut, major league baseball player, firefighter, sports writer for little Sam. My mom is still waiting for me to get a real job. It’s a lot of hard work, more luck, a little charm, and, well, actually, I have no freaking idea.

But keep your dirty hands off my job.

So, I need to be up front here. My wife is awesome for many, many, many reasons. One of them is that she does all the cleaning and all the laundry and most of the yardwork. If I was single, or otherwise in a position where the chores were all up to me, those would be my three least favorite. Probably in that order. Especially the cleaning. I suck at it, I don’t care, I do a terrible job, and on the rare occasions I do it I end up being mad at myself for sucking at it and wasting time.

One of the weird things about getting older is how you start to look at dumb chores like this differently. Like, 25-year-old Sam would be so confused, and probably disappointed, that 37-year-old Sam likes to do dishes, loves to cook, and actually enjoys taking the trash out. And, for whatever it’s worth, 37-year-old Sam is jealous that 25-year-old Sam lived in a way where things like that literally did not occur to him until it was unavoidable, and even then, he’d usually just go to Chipotle instead of cook.

Those were good days. I’ve been lucky in a lot of ways, but one of them is that I’ve really enjoyed every stage of my life so far. Childhood, high school, college, adulthood, and now being a husband and father. So I don’t say this with any real personal regret, but if you are 25 or thereabouts, I do mean this intensely, and, well, Adam Sandler can say it better than I:

A question like this, I’m going to rely on first reaction, both for time and because I think that’s a good indication of what sticks with you.

College game: K-State beats Xavier in double overtime to go to the Elite Eight in 2010. There were, like, five moments of that game that took your breath away. I remember looking down press row and seeing Gus Johnson — I love Gus, and will judge you if you don’t — announcing the last half-hour or so standing up with both hands on top of his head.

Pro game (and playoff game): this one’s easy. The Wild Card game. My goodness.

Concert: Black Keys at Crossroads. I’m sure part of it was that I went with the love of my life, a woman I’d just reconnected with who is now my wife, but I also know that a lot of it was Dan and Patrick rocking their privates off on a gorgeous summer night in my favorite venue.

Doubtful. She just demolished Bethe Correia in 34 seconds over the weekend, and, I’m not too proud to say, Bethe Correia would certainly demolish me if I ever had the misfortune of fighting her. So I don’t like my chances.

There’s a good scene in the Entourage movie — judge me if you want, but I thought it was really good — where Turtle fights Rousey, and we can all laugh safely from the theater, but I’m pretty sure that’s how it would go with any of us.

She is an enormous badass. And she’s also doing a lot of good with anti-bullying messages, which is great.

I got into this a while back, but so much of it depends on your standards. If you are predisposed to not liking women’s sports, you will always have the fall back of saying the WNBA isn’t as fast, or athletic, or as whatever, as the NBA. You will always be able to say that, generally speaking, there is more mainstream interest in men’s sports than women’s sports.

But that argument is requiring more and more nuance. The women’s World Cup final was watched by more people than any regular season or playoff game in the last year in baseball, the NBA or NHL. The women’s College World Series outdrew the men’s, and that was on the same network, in the same time slots, just weeks apart.

So it depends on your standards. Is the NWSL as popular as MLS? Absolutely not. But does it need to be? Absolutely not. It is growing, which is the important thing, and it and other women’s sports are finding a bigger and bigger audience. A lot of that will be in families, which is sometimes dismissed, but which I find very important socially. Girls and young women should be able to see examples of strength and achievement.

Title IX is still in its relative childhood. Girls today are being raised in large part by the first generation of parents who grew up under Title IX, with more opportunities for women, so we are only now in the beginning parts of this.

I don’t believe that we should promote women’s sports as some sort of social cause. Women’s sports don’t get to exist just because it’d be nice to have them. These should be run as businesses, and particularly with the NWSL’s deliberate pace and ambition, I think that’s what’s happening.

College basketball isn’t as fast or athletic or as skilled as the NBA, and that doesn’t mean it’s not worth being a fan. Same thing with women’s sports. They are different products, and I really believe people are going to start seeing them that way.

People in their 30s are the first generation to grow up with Title IX, and I believe their children will be the first to grow up in a world where women’s professional sports have always existed and sustained.

They say you can tell a lot about what people think of you by the kinds of gifts you get for Christmas and your birthday, and I’ve always dug that my family tends to get me bourbon and cigars.

My dad got me two bottles for Christmas, and they’re both delicious and expensive: Bib and Tucker, and Stranahan. There are a lot of good ones. Eagle Rare is outstanding. 1792 is great. We could go on and on.

But Blanton’s is my master. Every time I sip it, I wonder why I ever stray.

PLEASE, EVAN SEEMS LIKE A NICE FELLOW, IF YOU KNOW HIM, PLEASE GIVE HIM THE HELP HE IS DESPERATELY ASKING FOR BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE.

You’re hired!

(the pay is zero, and the benefits are worse)

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365 or send email to smellinger@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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