Is David Glass Smoking Grass?
God bless St. Petersburg, Florida. By building a domed stadium in 1990, the good people there gave the Tampa Bay Devil Rays an opportunity to exist. And without the Devil Rays, the Kansas City Royals would be the biggest joke in baseball.
The Devil Rays haven’t run away with the title of Sorriest Baseball Franchise. Royals owner David Glass has tried to make a contest of it.
Glass, who made his fortune as a Wal-Mart executive, bought the franchise in 2000 for $96 million (less than half of what the Royals are asking taxpayers to spend to fix up Kauffman Stadium). Since then, the club has had just one winning season, and it was a terribly lucky one at that: The Royals finished two games above .500 in 2003, in spite of their opponents scoring 31 more runs.
Glass and his son, Dan, the team president, will tell anyone who will listen that the Royals work under an unfair system. Baseball owners don’t share their revenue the way that football owners do, the Glasses argue. It’s true that Yankees boss George Steinbrenner has his own TV network, whereas the Royals have to squeeze nickels out of corporate sponsors such as Watson’s Pools & Spas. At one point last summer, with another losing season guaranteed and a string of home dates remaining on the schedule, the Royals were reduced to selling discounted tickets door-to-door.
Yet Glass told The Kansas City Star that he still managed to chisel a profit last year. Truth is, market size does not predetermine success. With a similar-sized budget for player salaries, the Cleveland Indians won 93 games last year. The Minnesota Twins play in an old stadium in a second-tier market but have finished better than .500 in each of the past five years; the Oakland A’s have done it for seven.
No, the Royals’ once-proud franchise suffers because of chronic mismanagement. The Glasses have had six years to settle the uncertainty that crippled the organization after founder Ewing Marion Kauffman died in 1993. And how far have they come? Since 2000, the Royals have managed a win-loss record of 401-571. If you think things will get better this year, consider that the starting pitcher on opening day on Monday will be Scott Elarton, who has a pitiful career earned run average of 5.10. Well done, sirs!
Again this year, the hometown club will compete against the Devil Rays for blown leads and empty seats. Kansas City has a real chance to overtake Tampa Bay in the race to oblivion. Last October, an online sports book posted the odds of teams winning the 2006 World Series. The Devil Rays were listed at 250-to-1.
The Royals came in at 500-to-1.
So in honor of the pursuit of another 100-loss season, the Pitch has compiled a list of the 11 worst Royals moments of the Glass era.
Play ball and grit your teeth, Kansas City!
Zack Greinke Feels Sad
The Royals have a lousy record ofdeveloping pitchers. Dan Reichert, Jeff Austin, Chris George, Kyle Snyder and Jimmy Gobble count among the first-round draft picks who now are either out of baseball or fighting for their major-league lives. But with Zack Greinke, taken in the sixth pick in the 2002 draft, the Royals seemed finally to have found their ace. Greinke laid waste to minor-league hitters before being promoted to the big club in 2004. Even cautious observers drew comparisons to the great Bret Saberhagen as Greinke finished fourth in the voting for the Rookie of the Year award. Then he sucked. Greinke inexplicably led the American League in losses last year. Worse, he didn’t seem to care. When he arrived for spring training this year, Greinke told The Kansas City Star that 2005 was “the first year that I enjoyed baseball.” (And in his spare time, Zack enjoys rubbing a cheese grater against the back of his thigh.) Not long after making that comment, the 22-year-old Greinke bolted camp and went home to Florida. According to the Star, Greinke is seeing a sports psychologist to deal with “emotional issues.” Judging by the lack of sympathy his teammates and coaches have shown, Greinke’s “issues” seem to include insistence on being a contrary little priss.
Juan Gonzalez pulls up lame
Two-time American League MVP Juan Gonzalez will be remembered less for his 434 career home runs than for his divorces, his entourage and his low tolerance for pain. Kansas City signed the delicate right fielder to a one-year deal in 2004. Gonzalez was coming off two insignificant years with the Texas Rangers, where he collected $24 million while playing in less than half his team’s games. The Royals were hoping to get Good Juan, the guy who drove in 140 runs for Cleveland in 2001. Alas, Bad Juan showed up in Kansas City. Gonzalez hit just five home runs in 138 plate appearances before injury kept him from the lineup. Royals GM Baird would take a lot of crap for signing the whirlpool-bound former All Star for $4 million. Gonzalez stunk, but at least Baird didn’t make a long-term commitment to the fragile player. Just the same, Gonzalez came to symbolize all that was wrong with the “Together We Can” Royals of 2004, a team that broke spring training with promise but crashed the 100-loss barrier.
Neifi Perez, Ultracrappy Shortstop, Acquired
General manager Allard Baird has established a history of getting dimes on the dollar for the elite players he has traded away. Carlos Beltran and Johnny Damon are gone, and the Royals have little to show but the memories of once holding the rights to the dashing outfielders. The worst stars-for-scrubs exchange of all was the 2001 trade of Jermaine Dye, then the team’s best player, for Neifi Perez. A shortstop, Perez arrived from Colorado, where the high altitude masked his inability to hit at sea level. Once in Kansas City, Neifi staged a one-man re-enactment of the Dead Ball Era. In 194 execrable games as a Royal, Perez managed a batting average of just .238, with four home runs. One stats cruncher, adjusting for park size and other factors, determined that Neifi’s 2002 season was the sixth worst by any hitter since 1900. Dye, meanwhile, overcame a serious leg injury to become the Most Valuable Player of last year’s World Series. Let’s see … Dye has a ring … Damon has a ring … Anyone want to bet Beltran’s current team, the New York Mets, will win it all in 2006?
Royals go 0-for-a draft
Revenue-deprived teams such as the Royals must develop their own talent because they can’t throw gobs of money at free agents. This makes the amateur draft pretty important, right? In 2001, the Royals selected a slew of players expected to help turn things around. With their first pick, the Royals took Colt Griffin, a flame-throwing high school senior. The kid with the porn-star name apparently needs a fluffer. Pitching relief in double-A Wichita last year, Griffin walked more batters than he struck out. Oh, sure, right-hander Danny Tamayo, another 2001 draftee, might appear at Kauffman Stadium in the near future. But Rany Jazayerli, a Royals fan who writes about baseball, says Tamayo has only a slim chance of having a meaningful career. A draft expert, Jazayerli says that if current form holds and no members of the class of 2001 make it to the bigs, the Royals will be just the fifth team in draft history to whiff on every pick. In other cultures, people who fail so miserably kill themselves.
Tony Muser orders a round for the clubhouse
In the throes of yet another losing season, former Royals manager Tony Muser decided that his struggling ball club might benefit from less Jesus and more binge drinking. “Chewing on cookies and drinking milk and praying is not going to get it done,” Muser told reporters after a game in 2001. “I’d like them to go out and pound tequila rather than have cookies and milk because nobody is going to get us out of this but us.” In addition to showing the limits of Muser’s motivational techniques, the remarks insulted one of the team’s most productive and popular players, churchgoing slugger Mike Sweeney. A manager draped in World Series rings could get away with suggesting that a slumping team skip chapel and swallow the worm. But Muser, who couldn’t manage a taco stand, had no such credibility — in his best full season, the Royals finished four games under .500. Loyal to a fault, Baird stayed with Muser until the 2002 Royals got off to an 8-15 start. He remains the longest serving manager in team history.
‘Mumbles’ Glass rejects downtown park
A plan to renovate Kauffman and Arrowhead stadiums with a bi-state tax failed in 2004. The defeat prompted a group of movers and shakers to push for a Royals stadium downtown. Mayor Kay Barnes signaled her approval of the idea by convening a task force. Lawyer Herb Kohn, a Barnes confidant, chaired the group, an indication that the mayor actually gave a shit what the task force thought. But a month later, the Glasses stopped the discussion cold and announced that they wanted to stay put. (New ideas, report back to your hole!) Dan Glass said the decision was based on the reaction of season-ticket holders, who apparently squawked about the hassles of coming downtown, as if paying $9 to park at the Truman Sports Complex were a real treat. It didn’t seem to occur to Glass that by relocating downtown — where, you know, there are a lot of people — the Royals might have found a new ticket base. But then, plenty of things seem lost on Glass, who mumbled unintelligent answers throughout the we-fear-change press conference. At the end of the event, it was hard to know which was worse — the abrupt rejection of the downtown-stadium idea or the realization that Glass was a dull boy by even son-of-the-boss standards.
Here’s a Stat: Red Sox 1, Royals 0
A lifelong Kansan, writer Bill James changed the way baseball operates. James, a former night watchman with a restless mind, made discoveries in statistical data that defied the game’s assumptions. James began writing in 1975 and made a name for himself by challenging such conventions as the use of batting average as the pre-eminent measure of a hitter’s worth. “The difference between a .275 hitter and a .300 hitter is one hit every two weeks,” James once wrote. Not everybody believed in his ideas at first. Sparky Anderson once referred to James as “a fat little guy with a beard who knows nothing about nothing.” But today, statistical analysis is as much a part of baseball as the head-first slide. James lives in Lawrence, and his allegiance to Kansas City teams dates back to the once-hometown Athletics. For a brief period in the late 1990s, he even consulted with the Royals. But it was the Boston Red Sox in 2002 who risked criticism and officially hired the father of “sabermetrics” as a senior adviser. Two years later, of course, Red Sox players were showered in confetti and sentimental books after they won the World Series. The Royals’ failure to make James a part of the front office is not a sign of total ignorance; the team, in fact, employs a numbers guy, Jin Wong. Still, to think of James exercising his mind for the Sox is like watching Fort Osage High School’s Albert Pujols hit home runs for the Cardinals — a missed opportunity to tap backyard brilliance.
Tony Peña’s Squeeze
Manager Tony Peña resigned after the Royals staggered to an 8-25 start in 2005. Peña cited “lost energy” on his way out of town; a subpoena in a divorce case provided another explanation. The Pitch broke the news that a Northland man believed that his wife and Peña had engaged in a little extramarital shagging. Peña quit less than 12 hours before he was scheduled to appear in a Clay County courtroom to divulge information about his relationship with the woman, a former neighbor. (The neighbor couple’s au pair would later testify in the still-ongoing case that the wife admitted to the affair.) Peña said the subpoena had nothing to do with his departure, a story accepted by no one but the working members of the Kansas City sports media. Even after the Pitch jumped into the sordid waters with both feet, a number of writers and broadcasters continued to pretend that Peña left because he just couldn’t stand the losing.
Buddy Botches Lineup
After Peña’s flight, the Royals couldn’t wait until the end of the season to find a permanent replacement. The rush to fill the vacancy was a little strange. The team was buried in last place, and interim manager Bob Schaefer seemed to be in control of things. But rather than, say, concentrate on the upcoming amateur draft, club officials decided that they needed to find the right guy right now. Baird and David Glass traveled the country, interviewing candidates for the job. The search produced Buddy Bell, who in two previous stops had never managed a team to better than a third-place finish. Managers don’t pitch or hit, but they do have some responsibilities in the course of a game. One duty is making out a lineup. And on July 1, 2005, Bell screwed it up. In a game the Royals eventually lost 5-0, David DeJesus led off with a single, a hit erased when the opposing manager noticed that the official lineup card had Angel Berroa batting in the top spot. The botched lineup was the second of Bell’s career. When Bell managed in Detroit, the Tigers had a run scratched after the wrong man came to the plate and drove in a teammate. The Tigers still won the game, perhaps explaining how Bell could have repeated the mistake. He should receive a Pete Rose-style ban if it happens a third time.
At Least They’re Consistent
Beyond a general state of crumminess, a few things stood out in the 106-loss season of 2005. One notable (non)accomplishment was the Royals’ terrible record in one-run games — they lost 30 of 48. The other significant event was the team’s 19-game losing streak. The nightmare, which began July 28 and ended August 20, featured a little bit of everything. On August 9, the Royals led Cleveland 7-2 after eight innings. But Chip Ambres muffed a two-out fly ball that helped the Indians take the lead. In losses 9 and 10, the A’s outscored the Royals 27-1. In a double-header against the Tigers, Kansas City fell by scores of 8-7 and 1-0. In a loss to the Boston Red Sox, starting pitcher D.J. Carrasco gave up only one hit — but walked seven batters. A ceremony recognizing the World Series-winning team of 1985 happened to fall within the streak. Rain began to fall during the autograph session, and the game was canceled. Regulars Mark Teahen and Emil Brown went 24-for-128 with one home run during the slide, which set a team record for consecutive losses and threatened the historic futility of the 1988 Baltimore Orioles, who lost their first 21 games that year. Even at losing, it seems, the Royals are second-rate.
ERA and STD
Mistaking extroversion for pitching ability, the Royals signed pitcher José Lima to a one-year contract before the 2005 season. Club officials thought they were hiring a guy who would soak up innings and distract the media’s attention with outrageous quotes. What the Royals got instead was a giant turd. In amassing a 6.99 earned run average, the salsa-music-loving noisemaker turned in one of the worst performances by a starting pitcher in major-league history. The masochistic Baird watched as Lima kept taking his turn every fifth game. If Baird had released Lima at midseason, he would have avoided paying the right-hander $1.25 million in bonuses. But Baird thought it prudent to keep Lima on the roster for some reason. The pitcher rewarded the GM’s judgment by winning only one of his last nine starts. For Lima, the bonus money came in handy. Before the season began, a jury had ordered the former 21-game winner to pay damages to a woman who said he had given her genital herpes.