Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: Baseball or football town, Royals repeating, last 22 playoff victories ranked

A Chiefs fan turned her sign around to show support for the Royals on Oct. 11 at Arrowhead Stadium.
A Chiefs fan turned her sign around to show support for the Royals on Oct. 11 at Arrowhead Stadium. along@kcstar.com

Over the last year or so, and especially over the last month or two, I have put off writing what I think would be an easy, popular, and well-read column. It’s been suggested to me by friends, acquaintances, and strangers. I’ve thought about it. But I just don’t believe it.

The idea is to write that Kansas City is now a baseball town. That the Royals’ success has stirred up all those old feelings and passions, and given a city that loved baseball long before it loved football (or soccer or NASCAR or even college basketball*) reason to love again.

* I’m going way back to the Negro Leagues here.

I actually came somewhat close to writing the column this week after receiving a text message from a longtime Chiefs employee who mentioned he believes Kansas City now loves baseball more than football.

But, again, I just don’t believe it.

There is a lot of unique context around an overwhelming support for the Royals right now. The decades of losing, the dramatic way everything came together, a genuine connection between players and fans. But, most of all, the Royals won.

As late as last summer, there were many fans and media wanting people fired. Last September, the Royals were in first place and consecutive home games drew fewer than 20,000 each.

I don’t say any of this to downplay what’s happened over the last 15 months or so. It’s been incredible and, as I’ve written many times, has changed the city.

I just think it’s shortsighted or reactionary to say that Kansas City is now a baseball town and not a football town. Kansas City is a passionate place that loves its teams, loves local, and anyone older than 30 or so can remember when the Chiefs were winning* and everything in Kansas City revolved around them.

* In the regular season at least!

The attention is divided now in a way it wasn’t then, but if the implication of being a baseball town is that there’s only room for one, that’s just flatly not true. I don’t believe this is a baseball town or football town (or soccer town or anything else) if that means the exclusion of other sports. It’s a sports town, and like a lot of places, a town that loves a winner.

For the first time in a long time, the Royals are that winner. If the Chiefs become that winner again, I think we’ll all see another enormous response.

This week’s eating recommendation is the hatfield paella at Republica, and the reading recommendation is Ashlee Vance on the most prolific inventor in American history (who has an interesting idea about helmets, by the way).

As always, thanks for your help, and thanks for reading the, um, Mellinger Minutes...

So about the name. I changed it for a few reasons:

▪ I’d like to be more inclusive here, to include questions from Facebook or email or other places, and have heard from some who aren’t on Twitter and weren’t inclined to click on the old title.

▪ Speaking of that, please like my Facebook page! And ask a question over there!

▪ Tuesdays don’t always work. Sometimes there’s a parade, and ain’t nobody got time for that. More often, there’s just something going on that makes Tuesday unnecessarily difficult, or some weeks it makes more sense to do this on Monday or Friday to better line up with games or events.

▪ I’d like to keep doing some videos, and thought it might work to give them the same name. Is this what people call synergy? Or maybe I’m just a fraud. Or maybe both. Whatever. The important thing is, the same irrelevant, stupid, weekly time suck you have come to expect from Twitter Tuesday is now proudly available in the Mellinger Minutes. New name, same dumb content.

Let’s move on.

Guys, I said let’s move on.

YOU GUYS I SAID LET’S MOVE ON.

Filed one column at the final out, went downstairs to the most crowded clubhouse in the world, took some crossfire of champagne and domestic beer, went onto the field, talked with those I could find, took a few pictures, went back upstairs to file file the final column, went on the overnight Border Patrol for one of my favorite radio segments of all-time, at the end of which I realized it was 4 a.m. New York time and I had a 6 a.m. flight. So I took a cab to the hotel, showered, then a cab to the airport and a flight home that I do not remember.

Fun night!

OK, let’s do this:

22. 2014 Championship Series game 3. Royals 2, Orioles 1. They scratch together two runs, Jeremy Guthrie throws five solid innings, and the bullpen makes it stand.

21. 2014 World Series game 3. Royals 3, Giants 2. Nothing personal against Guthrie, I promise, but it’s weird that his two good playoff games are the first two on this list.

20. 2015 Championship Series game 1. Royals 5, Blue Jays 0. Edinson Volquez was terrific, Salvador Perez homered, and the Royals go up in the ALCS.

19. 2015 Championship Series game 4. Royals 14, Blue Jays 2. Cueto shrunk in the moment and in the face of the crowd the night before, and the Royals came back the next night with a show of brute force.

18. 2014 World Series game 2. Royals 7, Giants 2. The World Series is tied, and Billy Butler took a curtain call.

17. 2015 Division Series game 1. Royals 5, Astros 4. Alcides Escobar triples and scores in the seventh, and the bullpen makes the rally stand, tying the series as it goes to Houston.

16. 2014 Championship Series, game 4. Royals 2, Orioles 1. Gordon crashed into the left field fence. I’ve never been so certain of a playoff game’s outcome as I was driving to the stadium that day. Royals clinched their first World Series in 29 years.

15. 2014 Championship Series game 2. Royals 6, Orioles 4. They win it in the ninth on a double by Alcides Escobar, and a single by Lorenzo Cain. Afterward, Jarrod Dyson goes WWE and tells Andy the series is not coming back to Baltimore, and that the Orioles know it.

14. 2015 World Series, game 4. Royals 5, Mets 3. After the Mets won the previous night, this was a particularly important game for the Royals, who won behind a good start by Chris Young, a rally against Tyler Clippard, and a six-out save by Wade Davis.

13. 2014 Championship Series game 1. Royals 8, Orioles 6, 10 innings. They win it in the 10th on home runs by Alex Gordon and then Mike Moustakas.

12. 2015 Division Series game 5. Royals 7, Astros 2. Johnny Cueto was terrific in the first moment the Royals really needed him to be terrific.

11. 2015 Championship Series game 2. Royals 6, Blue Jays 3. Zobrist’s popup drops, and the Royals beat David Price.

10. 2015 World Series game 2. Royals 7, Mets 1. Cueto #shoves, the trade is validated, the Royals knock Jacob deGrom around and control the World Series.

9. 2014 Division Series game 2. Royals 4, Angels 1, 11 innings. Hosmer homered in the 11th, and especially after the previous night(s), it was becoming obvious something bigger was happening.

8. 2015 ALDS game 2: Royals 5, Astros 4: Eric Hosmer's ass-out hit changes a game, and a series.

7. 2014 World Series game 6. Royals 10, Giants 0. We’d remember this as the Yordano Ventura game if Madison Bumgarner didn’t happen the next night.

6. 2014 Division Series game 1. Royals 3, Angels 2, 11 innings. Mike Moustakas won it with a homer in the 11th, which carried all sorts of extra meaning. He was playing a short drive from home, more than anything else this helped him breakthrough, and, as an added bonus, Fernando Salas plunked him the next season.

5. 2015 World Series game 1. Royals 5, Mets 4, 14 innings. There is no way to know these things, of course, but there are many who believe Alex Gordon’s homer off Familia in the bottom of the ninth — one of the great postseason moments in Royals history — altered the way the rest of the Series was played.

4. 2015 Championship Series game 6. Royals 4, Blue Jays 3. Another bullpen blunder by Yost is covered up by Lorenzo Cain scoring from first on a single and Wade Davis pitching both sides of a rain delay.

3. 2015 Division Series game 4. Royals 9, Astros 6. This game was over, over enough that Ned Yost was thinking about how he would congratulate the Astros on winning the series. Then five straight singles in the eighth inning changed everything.

2. 2015 World Series game 5. Royals 7, Mets 2, 12 innings. Hosmer’s dash, Colon’s single, Herrera’s three innings, and a small-market championship that I believe is unprecedented in modern baseball history.

1. 2014 Wild Card game. Royals 9, A’s 8, 12 innings. Honestly, the best and most unforgettable game I’m likely to see in my lifetime.

The biggest needs are corner outfielders to replace Alex Rios and (most likely) Alex Gordon, at least a starting pitcher or two, and bullpen depth.

Gordon would be a very significant loss, obviously, and there are a lot of other moving parts, but all things considered, the Royals are in pretty good shape for next year, actually. They have about $15 million in net payroll reduction, and their payroll should increase after another revenue-generating playoff run.

The Royals are most likely to fill the gaps with mid- or low-level free agents, continuing the organizational philosophy of relying most heavily on homegrown players, or the pieces acquired in trades for homegrown players.

That means that no matter who the Royals sign this offseason, 2016 will depend on the familiar names — Cain, Hosmer, Moustakas, Perez, Escobar, etc. This is all subjective, of course, and keeping in mind that replacing Gordon would be difficult, the Royals have a lot to be optimistic about. For instance ...

▪ I count Kendrys Morales, Lorenzo Cain, Edinson Volquez, and Mike Moustakas as the only returning players who it’s unrealistic to think can improve upon their 2015 seasons. Wade Davis should probably be included in this group, but I don’t put anything past the scientists who control his programming.

▪ Sal Perez, Omar Infante, Alcides Escobar, Yordano Ventura, and Danny Duffy should be expected to be better.

▪ This is all subjective, obviously, and I thought Hosmer would be great instead of “merely” very good in 2015, but I believe he might have a monster 2016. Ventura will be 25 years old, too, a prime age for a big season.

▪ The Royals are no longer a young team, but they’re not quite old, either. Volquez and Hochevar will be 32 next year, Infante 34, and Kendrys Morales 33, but these players will all be between 26 and 30, in theory a player’s prime: Hosmer, Escobar, Moustakas, Cain, Duffy, Kris Medlen, Herrera and Davis.

There’s a lot that can go wrong, and the division should be better. But, depending on what they’re able to do this winter, the Royals are in pretty good shape going forward, at least for the next season or two.

I don’t know what the number is, or even if there is a number, but yeah. I believe Moore and Yost were in line to be fired if 2014 didn’t turn around so drastically.

Guys, the Royals were under .500 after the All-Star break in Moore’s eighth full season in charge. In that time, he got more financial support from David Glass than any of his predecessors (three franchise record payrolls), and seen teams like the Pirates and Indians and Rays win more games in less time while spending less money.

Moore and his assistants are well aware of all of this, too. They are consistently gracious in acknowledging the patience Glass showed them, recognizing that in a lot of places, they’d have been fired even before last summer and watched someone else come in for the good times. The context is a little different, but there are drips of that pattern in Chuck LaMar and Tampa.

I’ve always thought that Moore would be remembered as the best or worst general manager in franchise history, because he would’ve either built a winner out of rubble, or failed with resources that just weren’t available to Allard Baird or Herk Robinson.

I do believe he’s now the best*, and, yeah, in pro sports the line between that and the worst can be arbitrary and blurry.

* John Schuerholz got a head start in taking over a healthy franchise, and was able to spend on level with the Yankees and everyone else. Also, I feel like I should mention here that Cedric Tallis was terrific, and the fact that he’s not in the team Hall of Fame is really stupid.

But you still have the Chiefs?

I dig this. Starting with Ventura in the Wild Card game, and continuing through Madson in Game 6 of the ALCS this year, it sure has seemed like Yost is bowling with bumpers in the gutter. No matter what, he knocks down pins.

That comes across more disrespectful than I mean it, so I should point out here that there was a time readers were angry at me because I wasn’t more critical of Yost. I’ve always seen him as a mostly average manager — with significant strengths and significant weaknesses — and always seen big league managers as more less consequential than most fans and media.

But I digress. I’m into this. Got drunk, slept through my alarm, showed up to the airport an hour late and got upgraded to first class on the next flight. #Yosted.

I like to think I go on hunger strikes two, three, sometimes as many as five times a day.

I have a lot of admiration for Jonathan Butler’s convictions. It’s certainly not something I would be able or willing to do. I won’t pretend to know the details, or speak intelligently on the cause, but I think the world would be a better place if more of us lived with the spirit of conviction and sacrifice Butler showed. I can’t imagine feeling so strongly about anything in my life other than my wife and son.

That level of passion is a beautiful and powerful thing.

Harrison is a monster, the conference player of the year and an AP honorable mention All-American — UMKC’s first since moving to D-1. UMKC could use some good publicity, too, after Andre McGee had to resign after allegations he paid for women to have sex with recruits at Louisville.

This all went down as the Royals were in the playoffs, so I never really had time to look into it or write about it, but this was an insane story. By now, we’ve all moved on, but I think it says a lot about how big sports are in our lives that so much of the media coverage was about Rick Pitino and basketball and largely overshadowed the fact that A WOMAN WAS ESSENTIALLY PIMPING OUT HER OWN DAUGHTERS — PLURAL! — TO HAVE SEX FOR MONEY.

Nothing will approach that. The worst person in this story is not the coach.

I believe my first year with a Hall of Fame vote will be next year, so I haven’t given this much thought, but I don’t think I want to play those games where you vote for a guy you know won’t make it as some sort of courtesy.

I don’t see the value in that, and do see it as a departure from what the process should be. I know that kind of thing happens, and that’s fine, each voter should do what he or she thinks is best. But I think that’s sort of a cheap trick, often done by writers who want to make sure the former ballplayer will return their calls.

Sweeney is one of the nicest people I’ve ever known, in or out of sports. I will remember him for unfairly becoming the target of so much fan frustration, and of being one of the most undeserving recipients of boos from a home crowd ever. I will also remember my first week covering baseball, and I must’ve looked completely out of place, because Sweeney approached and stuck out his hand and said, “Hi, I’m Mike, if I can ever help you out please let me know.”

I will remember him as one of the best right-handed hitters in baseball for a time, and as the guy who took less money to stay in Kansas City when most players would’ve taken less money to get out of Kansas City.

The Diallo drama is getting all lawyered up now, and I am planning on writing about this at some point, probably this week.

It’s a complicated situation, and I want to know more about it before I write, but for now it sure looks like a strange look from the NCAA. I don’t believe Kansas is a victim here, simply because Bill Self had to know there could be complications, but any time a bureaucracy is seen as getting in the way of an amateur athlete, the bureaucracy is going to take criticism.

Diallo’s case is one of many, but is getting a lot of attention because of his significant talent and presumed importance to KU’s championship chances. I don’t think it’s as simple as, Oh, shut up, NCAA, let the kid play, which is why I want to find out more.

Oh, right ... the Chiefs. Terez makes a good point that the Chiefs are well-positioned for a strong finish, particularly if they can find a way to win in Denver this weekend.

It’s an interesting spot, really. The Chiefs are 3-5, so a game and a half behind the Steelers, who just lost Ben Roethlisberger again, and against whom they’d have the tiebreaker. The Raiders and Bills are each 4-4, and the Chiefs get the Bills at home, and play the Raiders twice. As disappointing as they’ve been, if the Chiefs are even close to as good as they think they are*, they should make the playoffs. Four of their losses are to teams that are a combined 27-5, and their game in Denver will be the last against a team currently in the playoff picture.

* I do not believe they are as good as they think they are.

The problem, as it relates to your question, is that it’s increasingly difficult to see this core group being good enough for a Super Bowl. Alex Smith hasn’t thrown an interception since September, but he’s also not progressing, despite better support and more stability in the system. The Chiefs are scratching to be a playoff team at a time when they should be scratching to be a championship contender.

We’ll learn a lot about what they are over these last eight games, and I’d bet that it will be enough that the key figures will all be back next year. But there’s a difference between that and a team worthy of Super Bowl expectations.

The Chiefs remain a long way from that.

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