So much for flashes in the pan

I’ve had some questions about the Royals’ wheeling and dealing for their pennant drive, and of course I have an opinion about that.

Mostly I’m glad I was wrong about last year’s heartbreak turning into a flash in the pan. But you may be surprised to hear I’m not too heartbroken that the Royals traded away five pitchers so they could rent Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist for two months, or three if everything goes as planned.

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My reaction to the Royals’ trade for James Shields

I don’t write about baseball all that often anymore, because to do a good job of it day to day you have to immerse yourself in it more than I’m willing or able to do, but I enjoy baseball. And I’m a long-suffering Kansas City Royals fan. One of my earliest memories is going to a Royals game with my dad and cheering for George Brett. I had a framed–framed!–George Brett poster hanging in my bedroom for 25 years, and though that poster is exiled to the basement now, it’s still hanging on a wall.

I gave up on the Royals in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series, then watched in disbelief as Dane Iorg delivered a clutch pinch-hit RBI single as part of an improbable comeback. I happened to be in Kansas City that weekend, and the city was positively electric the next day. I watched Bret Saberhagen toss an 11-0 masterpiece in Game 7. And then?

Well, Bo Jackson came and went. That was fun, but way too short. I watched George Brett win another batting title, get his 3,000th hit, retire in a Royals uniform, and go into the Hall of Fame. And I watched the Royals trade away a lot of talent and get little, if any, value in return.

Most Royals bloggers on the Internet today followed the same trajectory that I did, though some missed the 1970s. That explains some of the reaction to this trade. Read more

My baseball heroes

Joe Posnanski just did an entry on his childhood baseball idols, and lots of people chimed in about their unlikely heroes. So I got to thinking about mine. When it comes to likely heroes, of course George Brett and Ryne Sandberg were on my list, but that makes me no different from about 10 million other people. Bo Jackson is more of an underdog because his career was so short, but he’s a pretty obvious choice too. There’s an old joke in Kansas City that nobody can name a current Royals player except for George Brett. I mean Bo Jackson. I mean Bret Saberhagen.

If you followed the Royals through the 1990s, it’s funny. I’m sure the overwhelming majority of people who come across this page will have to take my word for it.

Anyway, here’s my list.3. Calvin Schiraldi.

I have no connection to Boston except for a little bit of personal baggage that isn’t Boston’s fault, but in October 1986 I was a Red Sox fan. Why? They were playing the New York Mets in the World Series, and if the Mets were playing the Cuban Nationals, I’d probably root for the Cubans. The only time I root for the Mets is when they play the Yankees.

In 1986, Boston’s closer was a young fireballer named Calvin Schiraldi. Schiraldi pitched well early in the series, but not so well later on. In the fateful Game 6, an exhausted Schiraldi was the pitcher who gave up a single to Ray Knight, setting up the infamous Mookie Wilson ground ball between Bill Buckner’s legs that forced Game 7 and cost Boston the World Series. Schiraldi didn’t throw that pitch; he watched helplessly from the dugout while Bob Stanley tried to pitch out of the jam.

I still remember the images of Schiraldi sitting in the dugout afterward, his face buried in a towel.

Schiraldi took the ball again in Game 7 and took the loss in that game too.

For me, Schiraldi came to symbolize the guy who takes the ball when his team needs him, whether he has his best stuff or not, and no matter how tired he is.

I had the chance to meet him a couple of years later, but I had no idea what to say to him. I wish we’d talked baseball a little, but I don’t know what I would say if I had the opportunity again tomorrow either.

2. Ron Hassey.

I think I told this story before. Ron Hassey was a left-handed hitting catcher who worked well with pitchers and had some pop in his bat. In 1984, the Indians packaged Hassey up along with relief pitcher George Frazier and starting pitcher Rick Sutcliffe for outfielders Mel Hall and Joe Carter. Yes, Joe Carter as in the hero of the 1993 World Series.

Rick and I are related, but it’s not like he looks me up when he’s in St. Louis or anything. I’ve met him twice. Once the day after his 200th major-league win, and once at his grandmother’s funeral. (His grandmother was my great aunt.) But I digress.

The Cubs didn’t really know what to do with Ron Hassey. Jody Davis was the Cubs’ catcher, and he made the All-Star team every year as Gary Carter’s backup and he was a fan favorite. One night that summer, Hassey got a rare start at first base, which wasn’t his usual position. I don’t exactly remember how it happened, but Hassey hurt himself on a play at first base. It was either his leg or his knee. Writhing in pain, he hit the ground, but he had the ball. He had the presence of mind to literally roll over to first base and tag the bag to get the out.

I’m not sure that the team doctor approved, but I always thought that was the way baseball was supposed to be played. Play hurt and play hard.

So, for all those times I played softball trying to disguise a sore hamstring so the opposing team wouldn’t get the wrong idea… I guess you could day I got the idea from Ron Hassey.

At the end of the year, the Cubs packaged him up in a deal with the Yankees for a couple of forgotten names, Brian Dayett and Ray Fontenot. Trades involving Hassey then became something of an annual offseason tradition for the Yankees for a few years, kind of like firing Billy Martin. Eventually the Oakland Athletics got their hands on him, and he became Dennis Eckersley’s personal catcher.

1. Lyman Bostock.

There’s a lot I can say about Lyman Bostock, but I’ll start with this: Lyman Bostock is the greatest baseball player of all time that you’ve never heard of. He only played two complete seasons, but he was a contender for the batting title both years. He was kind of like Tony Gwynn, only with better speed and range.

But his final season is the reason he’s on my list. He signed with a new team and stunk up the place his first month, so he went to the owner and tried to return his salary. He refused, so Bostock announced he’d give the money to charity instead. He received thousands of requests, and personally went through all of them to see who really needed the money the most.

These days, when a free agent signs a fat contract and promptly tanks, he laughs all the way to the bank.

There’s a good reason why Bostock isn’t in the Hall of Fame, and it’s the same reason you’ve never heard of him. Toward the end of the 1978 season, he was visiting his uncle in Gary, Indiana. Bostock’s uncle pulled up to a stoplight with his goddaughter in the front seat of his car and Bostock in the back. The goddaughter’s estranged husband walked up to the car and fired a shotgun blast into the car. The shot hit Bostock in the head and he died two hours later.

I never actually saw Bostock play, seeing as he died when I was 3, but he posthumously became one of my heroes. He wasn’t just the kind of guy a father can point to and tell his son, "Play baseball like him." He was the kind of guy a father should point to and tell his son, "Live your life like him."

Is there hope in Kansas City for baseball?

I spent some time in Kansas City this weekend. If I had any doubts this season, where the Royals went from favorites to win the division to worst team in the league in a matter of about a week, had eroded fan support, that doubt is gone now.

So now what?First, there’s the question of what went wrong. To me, the biggest thing that went wrong was Juan Gonzalez. Gonzalez proved a lethal replacement for Manny Ramirez in Cleveland not so long ago, so there was reason to believe he could be the big booming bat in the cleanup spot the Royals have never had.

The question was whether you got the healthy Gonzalez or the Gonzalez who’s more injury prone than George Brett and Fred Lynn combined.

They got the latter, and thus a waste of almost enough money to keep Carlos Beltran.

Ah, Beltran. The guy who someday would have broken the Royals’ record for number of home runs hit and bases stolen in the same season. The most underrated defensive center fielder in the game. The Scott Boras client.

Trading Beltran was the only thing the Royals could do. Scott Boras is going to ship Beltran to the team willing to pay the most money for him. Can the Royals afford to give $18 million to one player? Doesn’t matter. George Steinbrenner will top the Royals’ best offer, because he’s got Bernie Williams and Kenny Lofton in center field.

I find it very encouraging that none of the Royals’ high draft picks this year was a Scott Boras client.

The fear in KC right now is that the Royals will never keep any good players they develop, because they look back at Carlos Beltran, Johnny Damon, and Jermaine Dye. Beltran and Damon were Boras clients. They couldn’t keep them. I won’t try to explain the Jermaine Dye trade, other than to say they didn’t think they’d be able to re-sign Rey Sanchez and they felt like it was easier to find outfielders than shortstops, and they thought Neifi Perez could hit his weight outside of Colorado.

Judging from the production they’ve had out of left field this year, I think they were even wrong about that bit about outfielders being easier to find than shortstops. But at least they’ve learned.

I see upside out of this year. I really do. David DeJesus is turning out to be a fine center fielder. It would be nice if he could steal more bases, but he’s a good defensive center fielder and he can hit, and he has good speed, even if he doesn’t know how to use that speed to steal bases. Ideally he should be a #2 hitter, but even still, he’s the best leadoff hitter the Royals have had since Johnny Damon left.

Abraham Nuñez is turning out to be a steal. He may or may not be a superstar, but he’s a good defensive outfielder with respectable speed, good power, looks like he’ll be able to hit .270 or better, and can play center field when you have the need to rest DeJesus. He’s an affordable Jermaine Dye.

I haven’t seen John Buck play since his first series in the majors, but he has managed to pop some homers even if his batting average is still below .220. Still, he got off to a tremendously slow start, so hitting .220 indicates he’s making progress. But an even-up John Buck for Carlos Beltran would be a better trade than Jermaine Dye for Neifi Perez turned out to be. Buck is already a better hitter than Perez, and the Royals didn’t have much in the way of catching prospects before Buck.

Angel Berroa has been a disappointment this season, but he’s in his second year and he watched the team implode around him. Of course he’s going to be jittery.

Zack Greinke looks like the best young pitcher the Royals have developed since its amazing Class of ’84 (Bret Saberhagen, Danny Jackson and Mark Gubicza). If Runnelvys Hernandez comes back from Tommy John surgery and pitches like he did in 2003, and if Jose Bautista lives up to expectations (he’s Pedro Martinez’s cousin, so hopefully that counts for something), the Royals might have fearsome pitching again for the first time in a decade. Jeremy Affeldt could come back from the bullpen and start if Mike MacDougal is healthy, and suddenly the pitching rotation looks awfully good.

I don’t know what the Royals will do in left field or at second base. But with Gonzalez gone, that leaves them some money to go after a better-than-average player for one or both positions. Or maybe they can swing a trade in the offseason for a prospect.

As hard as it may be to believe, they do seem to be getting smarter. They seem to have learned a lot from this season. Which is really all you can ask.

Life has returned to Royals Stadium

The last time I went to a Royals game at Royals Kauffman Stadium (it’ll always be Royals Stadium to lifelong fans like me), it was 1996. Mike Sweeney was riding the bench. Johnny Damon was lifted for a pinch-hitter when the opposing team brought in a left-handed pitcher. And the place was as quiet as a library.
On Saturday night, I finally returned. The Royals were in first place, powered by a young and hungry starting pitching staff, the bats of a bunch of people who never got a chance elsewhere like Desi Relaford and Raul Ibañez (superstars Mike Sweeney and Carlos Beltran have been hurt much of the year). But the weather looked threatening and they’d just lost 4 straight, two to the traitor Johnny Damon’s Boston Red Sox and a doubleheader to the Baltimore Orioles. You can explain away the losses to the Red Sox. You’re happy to take one of three from them. Baltimore’s a different story. Maybe the Royals were fading.

Yet, 25,930 still turned up for the game. A year ago, the attendance would have been half that. There have always been much better things to do in Kansas City on a Saturday night than to go watch the Royals lose.

I knew things were different when earlier that day, I’d gone to the grocery store and I saw people wearing Royals hats and t-shirts. Those had become nearly as common in St. Louis as in Kansas City. Royals hats had become something worn by the fashion-conscious because their royal blue color looked good with the rest of their outfit. Most of them probably didn’t even know that hat had anything to do with a pro sports franchise. Then, on the way to the game, I saw ticket scalpers stationed along the exit ramp off I-70 near the stadium. I haven’t seen people scalp Royals tickets in, well, forever.

The stadium itself is electric. I remember the Royals’ division championship season of 1984. George Brett was still in his prime, and Bud Black was electrifying hitters and the rotation was rounded out with rookies like Bret Saberhagen, Danny Jackson, and Mark Gubicza, none of whom is a hall of famer, but all of whom showed signs of brilliant careers to come. It wasn’t a great team, but it was a fun team to watch.

There was more fire in that stadium on Saturday than I remember seeing in 1984. Well, at the start of the game, that is. The word “Believe” floated across the scoreboard, fading out to highlights of the still-young season like Ken Harvey muscling out home runs and Michael Tucker and Desi Relaford making diving catches in the outfield. A left-handed pitcher wearing number 32 took the mound. Twenty years ago, the Royals had a left-handed pitcher who wore number 32. His name was Larry Gura. He was good for 15-18 wins and made the All-Star team a couple of times.

This guy’s name was Chris George. If he can pitch like Larry Gura, I thought, this is gonna be a good year.

George retired the first batter on two pitches. The crowd was electric.

By the end of the inning, it was like a library again.

Chris George had a no-hitter through four innings. A walk here and there and a balk here and there had gotten him into trouble, but an umpire can call a balk if there’s a guy on first base and he doesn’t like the way you scratched yourself. Just ask my cousin. He was the perennial league leader in balks throughout the 1980s, pitching for Cleveland and Chicago. I think Chris George must have known that, because he pitched out of those situations. George impressed me. He’s definitely a finesse pitcher–he didn’t register higher than 88 MPH once that night–but he mixed up his stuff enough to keep Baltimore guessing and he racked up plenty of strikeouts.

But then Baltimore scraped together a couple of runs. The Royals came back in the bottom of the inning, with a couple of speed demons on first and second and the smooth-hitting Joe Randa at the plate. Randa stroked a double to center field. One run scored. Desi Relaford rounded third and was halfway home when he noticed his third base coach screaming for him to hold. He tripped, tried to make his way back, and was tagged out to end the inning.

That got the crowd’s attention.

The next inning, Baltimore’s slugging young right fielder, Jay Gibbons, hit a two-run bomb to right field. Well, the way the wind was blowing that night, I probably could have hit something that would clear the right field. fence. But it counts. Baltimore was up 4-1. But there’s some life in the Royals’ bleachers. Before Gibbons had rounded the bases, his homerun ball was back on the field.

By then, the temperature had dropped more than 30 degrees since the start of the game. The fans were shivering. Many had left. I stayed, only hoping there was as much life left in the Royals’ lineup as there was in that fan who’d thrown the ball back on the field.

The Royals rallied for three runs in the seventh off a Baltimore left-hander named Ryan and the immortal Kerry “Freak Boy” Ligtenberg, acquired from Atlanta in the offseason. Ligtenberg puts up good numbers, but every time I’ve seen him pitch in person, he’s given up a busload of runs. He didn’t disappoint. By the time Freak Boy managed to put out the fire, the game was tied, 4-4.

D.J. Carrasco, one of the best of the Royals’ young flamethrowing relievers, held Baltimore hitless in the top of the 8th.

With flamethrowing Mike MacDougal warming up in the bullpen, Raul Ibañez led off the bottom of the 8th with a double, which brought up Royals bruiser Ken Harvey. Harvey overswung at a couple of pitches, then cranked an up-and-in fastball 378 feet against the wind over the left field fence, giving the Royals a two-run lead. “It’s Mike MacDougal time,” I muttered. Fans jumped up and started chanting, “Har-vey! Har-vey!”

But this was to become the neverending inning. Between Baltimore meetings on the mound and Kansas City hits, the bottom of the 8th drug on for what seemed like 30 minutes. I swear that by the time the inning ended, MacDougal looked like Tom Hanks in Castaway. And the Royals had a 4-run lead. There’s no reason to bring in your closer to protect a four-run lead.

Except so much time had passed since the last time Mike MacDougal pitched, the rookie probably had two kids in college. And, well, when you’re Kansas City, you have to give the fans something exciting to watch. Royals fans used to pay to see George Brett, no matter how the rest of the team was playing. And Mike MacDougal is the kind of guy fans want to see.

So in the top of the 9th inning, the bullpen door opened, and MacDougal ran onto the field. The scoreboard went black. “Mike” appeared on the screen in white letters as “Rock You Like a Hurricane” blared on the stadium’s speakers. The word faded to show MacDougal striking out a couple of batters. “MacDougal” appeard in white letters on a black screen, followed by still more strikeouts. An animated baseball trailed by flames lit up the scoreboard. A few more highlights from MacDougal’s spectacular 10 prior saves showed up.

By now the crowd was pumped. And so was the team.

MacDougal’s a bit wild, but that’s a big part of his mystique. The guy can throw 103 miles per hour. He generally tones it down into the mid-90s because his pitches have more movement at lower speeds. When someone can throw 100 miles per hour, he tends to be effective. But he’s more effective when nobody–not the batter, not the catcher, not even the pitcher himself–knows where the ball’s going to end up. It’s harder to hit when you’re afraid for your life.

MacDougal gave up two hits, but his control was on. He threw 21 pitches, and 13 of them were actually strikes. Despite the two hits, he managed two outs without giving up any runs. The final Baltimore batter fouled off a pitch that registered 46 miles per hour on the gun.

“Bull,” I muttered. “When MacDougal throws a paper wad in the trash, it clocks higher than 46 miles per hour.”

He struck him out on the last pitch.

And the stadium sounded like anything but a library.

How to reinvigorate the Royals

Please indulge me one last time this season to write about my beloved, who have currently lost 99 games and are going to make one last valiant attempt to avoid losing 100 this year.
The Royals are a small market. Small-market teams have a rough go of it, yes. But the Minnesota Twins have been doing OK. The Twins have some vision and a plan and they stick with their plan, and that’s part of it. So here’s what we need to do to duplicate that success.

1. Build a superstar. Back in George Brett’s heyday, the Royals had no payroll problems. The fans came out to see Brett, the Royals spent that money to get more players, and since the Royals had winning records, the fans kept coming. In the late 1980s, a bad season meant the Royals didn’t win any championships. But they had winning records. The Royals nearly have that superstar. His name is Mike Sweeney. He’s got a sweet swing like Brett. He’s got plate discipline like Brett. And he’s even more likeable than Brett. When Brett was Sween’s age, he partied as hard as he played. Sween takes care of himself and he takes care of his fiancee and he takes care of his community. The only people who don’t like Mike Sweeney are opposing pitchers.

But Mike Sweeney’s protection in the order is The Mighty Raul Ibanez. Now, The Mighty Ibanez has turned into a good hitter, but he’s not an All-Star. He’s a better hitter than a 50-year-old George Brett. That’s saying something. But to build a superstar, what the Royals really need to do it

And Mike Sweeney needs to get together with Dave Dravecky to put together a project talking about the Christian symbolism in baseball. (Pitchers can’t hit but it’s part of their job. Designated hitters come in and do that part of their job for them. Sound kinda like Christianity? I think so. I think God’s in favor of the DH.)

2. Sign Jim Thome. Jim Thome doesn’t fit into Cleveland’s plans anymore. Blame it on mass insanity. Blame it on tightfistedness. Blame it on whatever. But the Indians don’t want Jim Thome. And guess what? Jim Thome likes Kansas City. I don’t blame him. In Kansas City, if you’re on the highway and you want to change lanes, you use your turn signal and someone lets you. In Kansas City, strangers smile at you for no reason. When the now-departed Miguel Batista arrived in Kansas City at the airport after a trade, some little old lady walked up to him and said, “You’re our new pitcher. Let me get one of your bags.” People are just nice.

Yes, Jim Thome’s going to cost buckets of money. But guess what? He won’t cost more than Roberto Hernandez and Neifi Perez cost combined. So here’s what you do. Rotate Jim Thome and Mike Sweeney between first base and designated hitter. Then try out this lineup:

Michael Tucker, 2b
Carlos Beltran, cf
Mike Sweeney, 1b
Jim Thome, dh
Raul Ibanez, rf
Joe Randa, 3b
Mark Quinn/Dee Brown lf
Angel Berroa, ss
Brent Mayne, c

We’ll talk about the Michael Tucker insanity in a second. Jim Thome’s .300 average and 52 home runs will make Mike Sweeney look a whole lot better to pitch to. It virtually guarantees he’ll hit .340 again, because pitchers will look forward to the half of the time he makes an out. Jim Thome will see good pitches because Mike Sweeney’s on base. Or someone else is. The Royals will score lots more runs. Meanwhile, Mark Quinn and Dee Brown have Jim Thome to learn from. The Royals’ lineup suddenly starts to look like the great Cardinals teams of the 1980s that had lots of jackrabbits who could hit doubles and one really big bat in the middle. Except Mike Sweeney and Raul Ibanez offer better protection than Jack Clark ever had in a Cardinal uniform.

3. Try Michael Tucker at second base. The Royals need a second baseman who can hit. Tucker’s not a great hitter for an outfielder, but he’s a really good hitter for a second baseman. He won’t be a great fielder. But the 1984 Padres solved two problems by moving Alan Wiggins from left field to second base. They got a good hitter at the position, and they freed left field for another bat. The Padres kept Jerry Royster around to play second in the late innings. The Royals can keep Carlos Febles for defense late in the game.

4. If the Tucker experiment fails, move Carlos Beltran to leadoff and Joe Randa to the #2 spot in the batting order. The Royals don’t score any runs because Mike Sweeney doesn’t have enough people on base in front of him. The Royals often give away their first out by having people like Chuck Knoblauch and Neifi Perez and Carlos Febles hitting leadoff. Joe Randa’s no speed demon anymore, but he gets on base. And he’s got enough power that a lot of times, when he gets on base, he gets on second base. Carlos Beltran gets on base. Mike Sweeney needs to hit with people on base. If the Royals were to sign Jim Thome, he’d be worthless without people on base. So disregard the traditional idea that your first two hitters should be your fastest runners, and just get some people on base. Carlos Beltran is your leadoff hitter anyway with him hitting second. Might as well accept reality and work with it.

5. Develop young pitchers. In 1985, the Royals brought in Jim Sundberg, a veteran catcher who couldn’t hit to handle their young pitchers. The formula of young pitchers with lots of good stuff and a catcher who knew how to guide them brought them to the World Series, and, ultimately, to a World Championship. Time will tell if any of today’s young pitchers will turn into Bret Saberhagen or even Mark Gubicza. Since the Royals can’t afford to go sign Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux (and since they wouldn’t score any runs for them anyway), they don’t have much choice but to take the chance. But since the Royals have been throwing their young pitchers’ arms out (witness Jose Rosado, Chad Durbin, and Dan Reichert) they need to re-think the way they develop their young pitchers. Throw fewer innings and watch more videotape.

And be patient. Greg Maddux spent two years as a so-so relief pitcher and sometime starter before he blossomed into the greatest pitcher of his generation.

Hmm. I’m already looking forward to April 2003.

The Kansas City Royals, where everything is wrong

I was pretty happy that the Royals were just a game under .500 a week ago. That’s good for them. After all, their closer, Roberto Hernandez, has been injured all year. Other players are nursing injuries as well. Even the team trainer, Nick Schwartz, is hobbling around on crutches.
That seems like a long time ago now. Cleveland rolled into town, and then Boston, and now the only thing keeping the Royals out of last place is the positively awful Detroit Tigers.

Part of the problem is economics. But the Royals have trimmed their payroll and, comparatively speaking, aren’t throwing a whole lot of money away. There are far fewer high-priced flops on the Royals roster than there are on other teams, and the typical salary of a Royals flop is much lower than that of the flops sitting on the bench in, say, Pittsburgh or Texas or Boston.

The Royals turned a small profit last year. They need to be willing to lose $10-$15 million the next couple of years, which would allow them to get a top-tier pitcher (Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine are free agents next year) or a couple of pitchers the caliber of their ace, Jeff Suppan. I’d rather see them go get one veteran pitcher to help their army of young pitchers learn how to pitch. Greg Maddux had Rick Sutcliffe and Scott Sanderson to learn from when he was 21. Royals’ pitchers have Jeff Suppan to learn from. He’s 27. Hardly a grizzled veteran.

You have to spend money to make money, which is something I would think owner David Glass would know from the time he spent running Wal-Mart.

And when you look at the billboards in Kansas City versus the billboards in St. Louis, you see a big difference. In Kansas City, Royals billboards have the Royals logo on them. In St. Louis, Cardinals billboards have Jim Edmonds on them. Or J.D. Drew. Or Matt Morris. Fans identify with teams, but they identify even better with players. A lot of Kansas Citians are hard-pressed to identify a current Royals player besides George Brett. Oops, I mean Bret Saberhagen. Oops, I mean Bo Jackson. It’s been nearly a decade since the Royals have had a marquee player.

And that’s their own fault. The Cardinals lost their marquee player to retirement, so they’re making new ones. The Royals have people to promote. Mike Sweeney’s the best hitter the organization has developed since George Brett. Put a couple of action shots of him on a billboard. Carlos Beltran is the most exciting outfielder the Royals have had since Bo Jackson. Put shots of Beltran crashing into the center field wall and stealing a base on a billboard.

They’ve got another really big problem too. The KC front office says it hasn’t discussed the status of manager Tony Loser Muser. I guess their last names should be Loser too.

Muser should be fired just for having Donnie Sadler lead off two games in a row. Just to give you an idea how bad Donnie Sadler is, the Royals ran out of roster spots in spring training, and even Muser had to admit Sadler was the 26th or 27th-best player on his team. But Sadler was out of options, so to send him to the minors, first any team in the majors could have him for virtually nothing if they claimed him within three business days. The rule may state they have to pay the Royals $1.

Not a single team thought Donnie Sadler was better than the worst player on their roster. Not even the five teams with worse records than the Royals. Not even Detroit!

Sadler cleared waivers and packed his bags for Omaha, the Royals’ AAA affiliate. Within weeks, the Royals had enough injuries that Muser could justify bringing back his favorite player.

The Royals’ regular leadoff hitter is Chuck Knoblauch, he formerly of the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees. The Royals rented his services (both of them swear he’ll be back next year; I doubt it) for the year. He’s batting about .200, but unlike anyone else on the team, he draws a lot of walks, so he has the highest on-base percentage on the team. And he has good enough speed to be a real pest once he gets on base. As a result, Carlos Beltran and Mike Sweeney finally have someone to drive home when they get to bat.

Knobby’s been nursing some minor injuries himself, leaving his left field spot vacated. The Royals have several competent outfielders. Michael Tucker generally only plays against right-handers, but he’s played every day in the past, and his defense is superb. Raul Ibanez is one of two Royals batting over .300 and he’s a passable left fielder. Rookie Brenden Berger is unproven but he’s hitting decently.

Who does Muser insert in left field?

His backup shortstop, Donnie Sadler, that’s who.

And what .133-hitting backup shortstop takes over leadoff duties?

Donnie Sadler.

Why?

Donnie Sadler has blinding speed.

What someone needs to tell Tony Loser is that you can’t steal first base, which is why Donnie Sadler is hitting .133. What else someone needs to tell Tony Loser is that a so-so-field, worse-hit shortstop in the National League isn’t going to get any better in the American League. Sadler probably hasn’t seen a fastball since he came over from Cincy last year.

Since the Royals insist on sending all of their good players to Oakland, they really need to take a cue from Oakland. The Royals sent their speedster, Johnny Damon, to Oakland for a few no-good pitchers a little over a year ago. Damon, showing his typical loyalty, left after one season to go play center field in Boston. Left without a leadoff hitter, the Athletics did something unconventional. They inserted another former Royal, Jeremy Giambi (the younger brother the former Oakland star Jason Giambi, who sold out everything to play first base for the New York Scum Yankees.)

Jeremy Giambi has stolen exactly the same number of bases in the major leagues as I have. Zero. But he gets on base, giving the really big sticks someone to drive home. You don’t have to be very fast to score from first or second on an extra-base hit. The people behind him get a lot of extra-base hits, so Giambi scores a lot of runs.

Conventional wisdom says you want someone with blazing speed to lead off, but speed demons who get on base a lot are relatively rare. So most teams settle for someone with good speed who sometimes gets on base. Or with blinding speed from home plate back to the dugout, in the case of the Royals and Donnie Sadler.

But the Royals’ mishandling of Donnie Sadler isn’t the Royals’ only problem. Friday night, rookie Chris George was faced with the thankless task of pitching against Pedro Martinez, the best pitcher in the American League. George held his own, giving up 2 runs in 5 1/3 innings. Martinez was impressed with him. Now, keep in mind that Pedro Martinez has every right to not be impressed by anyone who isn’t Curt Schilling or Randy Johnson or Greg Maddux.

“That kid has got some talent,” Martinez said. “I was worried when he got hit [by a line drive]. He stood there like a bull. I like that.”

Tony Muser liked what he saw too, but he’s not certain he’s going to let Chris George start again. Never mind what Pedro Martinez says. Martinez has only won 86 games since 1997. What’s he know about pitching?

My guess is Muser wants to hand the ball to Donnie Sadler. After all, Sadler hits like a pitcher.

Baseball season is here, and so’s Baseball Mogul 2003

The Kansas City Royals wised up on Friday and gave Mike Sweeney what he wanted. Well, at least enough of what he wanted that he signed. So Mike Sweeney is now $55 million richer, and the Royals have him locked in for five years, as long as they manage to reach .500 in either 2003 or 2004.
Personally, I wish they’d signed him to a longer deal, but it could be that the second-greatest Kansas City Royal of all time didn’t want more than five years.

To celebrate, I headed over to Sports Mogul to see if there was a new patch to fix some bugs in Baseball Mogul 2002. And I found that Baseball Mogul 2003 is out. I downloaded the demo and played around with it. The free-agency model seems to be more realistic now, and the players aren’t as rigid in their contract negotiations, which may or may not be realistic. The computer GMs offered trades, some stupid, others inspired.

The game crashed as the July 31 trading deadline approached. My Royals were in second place, thanks to a couple of shrewd acquisitions. Predictably, with one more really big stick in the lineup, Mike Sweeney and Mark Quinn hit a whole lot better. It crashed as I was wheeling and dealing, looking for a catcher with a little bit of pop in his bat and maybe a veteran starting pitcher. I’d signed Bret Saberhagen and David Cone as free agents for old times’ sake, but they had nothing left.

At any rate, for 20 bucks, why not get the full version, I figued, especially since I could plunk down the credit card, they’d ship me the retail box in mid-April, and in the meantime I could download and install a 75-meg package?

I like the new version better than the old one. And of course the old one was good enough that I once deemed it a necessity of life. The new one adds a few features, like letting you set prices for concessions (so I guess I can do a 10-cent beer night like Bill Veeck did one year in Chicago), and it adds play-by-play, which is tedious during the regular season, but great for watching games like the All-Star Game and the World Series.

What can I say? For a baseball strategy nut like me, Baseball Mogul is really hard to beat. It would be nice if it would do some more statistics, so you could do lefty/righty platoons. These days, there are managers who decide who’s playing based on whether there’s a right- or left-handed pitcher on the mound, whether it’s a day or night game, home or road game, and whether the game’s being played on turf or grass. You think I’m kidding.

The other feature I wish it had was hirable managers. The only game I’ve ever seen that had that feature was Earl Weaver Baseball, which was popular more than 10 years ago.

But even with those shortcomings, it’s still an incredibly addictive game. I haven’t found a better baseball sim yet. And despite its bad first impression, it’s less buggy than its predecessor.

Another entry from the Clueless Dept.

Someone else who needs to buy a clue. I normally don’t have a problem with John Dvorak, and frequently I actually like his stuff. He’s not as clueless as some people make him out to be. Dvorak’s not as smart as he thinks he is, but one thing I’ve noticed about his critics is that they usually aren’t as smart as they think they are either.
Dvorak’s most recent Modest Proposal is that we fire all the technology ignorami out there and then, essentially, throw away corporate standards, let end-users run anything they bloody well want, and basically make them administrators of their own machines.

I’ve got a real problem with that. Case point: One of my employer’s executives recently brought in his home PC and insisted we get it running with remote access. Only one problem with that: He has Windows XP Home. XP Home’s networking is deliberately crippled, so businesses don’t try to save money by buying it. A sleazy move, but a reality we have to live with. We got it to work somewhat, but not to his satisfaction. He’s mad, but mostly because he doesn’t have any idea what changes went on under the hood in XP and doesn’t know he’s asking the impossible. But he’s perfectly competent using Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. He’s also very comfortable ripping his CDs to MP3 format–he’s got one of the largest MP3 collections in the company. He’s competent technologically. But he has no business with admin rights on his computer.

The same goes for a lot of our users. The record I’ve found for the most spyware-related files installed on a work PC is 87. These aren’t the technical ignorami who are installing this garbage. It’s the people who know how to use their stuff, but they love shareware and freeware. Maybe some of it helps them get their work done. But these people are the first to complain when their system crashes inexplicably. And I’m expected to keep not only the corporate standard apps like M$ Office running, but I’m also expected to support RealPlayer, Webshots, Go!Zilla, Gator, WinAmp, RealJukebox, AOL, and other programs that run ripshod all over the system and frequently break one another (or the apps I’m supposed to support).

If the users were completely responsible for keeping their systems running, that would be one thing. But install all that stuff on one computer and try to keep it running. You won’t have enough time to do your job.

Dvorak argues that people like me should solely be concerned with keeping the network working. That’s fine, but what about when some Luddite decides to ditch all modern apps and bring in an IBM PS/2 running DOS 5.0 and compatible versions of Lotus 1-2-3 and WordPerfect and dBASE? Unless there’s already an Ethernet card in that machine, I won’t be able to network it. And the person who decides a Macintosh SE/30 running System 6.0.8 is where it’s at will have a very difficult time getting on the network and won’t be able to exchange data with anyone else either.

Those scenarios are a bit ridiculous, but I’ve had users who would have done that if they could have. And someone wanting to run XP Home absolutely is not ridiculous, nor uncommon. If my job is to network every known operating system and make those users able to work together in this anarchy, my job has just become impossible.

As much as I would love for people to use Linux in my workplace and something other than Word and Outlook, the anarchy Dvorak is proposing is completely unworkable. It’s many orders of magnitude worse than the current situation.

This is just wrong too. Yes, New Englanders, I know about heartbreak. I’m from Kansas City. At least your Red Sox have posted more than one winning record in the past 10 years.

Anyway, not only are the Royals’ glory years over, they’ve forgotten where their glory years came from. They’ve once again denied Mark Gubicza entry into their Hall of Fame. Who? In the late 1980s, Mark Gubicza was the Royals’ second-best pitcher, behind Bret Saberhagen. Injuries did him in the same as Saberhagen (only a little sooner) but he’s still among their career leaders in wins and strikeouts.

And after spending 13 seasons in a Royals’ uniform, the Royals had a chance to trade Gubicza for hard-hitting DH Chili Davis. But you don’t trade a guy who’s poured his heart and soul into the team for 13 years and stayed completely and totally loyal to it no matter how much it hurt, right? Gubicza said yes. Gubicza went to the GM and told him that if he could make the Royals a better team by trading him, to trade him.

Chili Davis hit 30 home runs for the Royals in 1997. Then he bolted for the Yankees.

Meanwhile, Gubicza blew out his arm for good and the Angels released him. He pitched two games for them.

It takes a great man to tell the team he loves that the best thing he can do for them is to get traded for someone who can help the team more. That was Mark Gubicza. They don’t make ’em like him anymore.

But even more importantly, the immortal Charley Lau was once again denied entry. Who’s he? He was a journeyman catcher who spent his entire career as a backup and whose career batting average was .255, but that was because he had about zero natural ability. He was a genius with the bat, which was how he managed to hit .255. More importantly, Lau was the Royals’ hitting coach in the early 1970s. He spotted some skinny guy who was playing third base because Paul Schaal couldn’t play third base on artificial turf and their first choice to replace him, Frank White, couldn’t play third base at all. This skinny blond fielded just fine, but he was hitting terribly. Lau asked him what he was doing over the All-Star break. The kid said he was going fishing with Buck Martinez. Lau put his foot down. He told him he was going to stay in Kansas City and learn how to hit.

“He changed my stance. I had been standing up there like Carl Yastrzemski, but the next thing I knew I looked like Joe Rudi,” the kid recalled. But he started hitting. By the end of the year, he’d pulled his average up to a very respectable .282.

Soon Lau had every player on the Royals standing at the plate like Joe Rudi, and taking the top hand off the bat after contact with the ball. And the Royals created a mini-dynasty in the American League Western Division.

What was the name of that kid, anyway?

George Brett.

If it hadn’t been for Charley Lau, George Brett would have been nothing. The Royals probably would have never won anything. And they probably wouldn’t be in Kansas City anymore either. Who puts up with 30 years of losing, besides Cubs fans?

Charley Lau belongs in their Hall of Fame. Even if nobody besides George Brett and me remembers who he was.

Optimizing Linux. Part 1 of who-knows-what

Optimizing Linux. I found this link yesterday. Its main thrust is troubleshooting nVidia 3D acceleration, but it also provides some generally useful tweakage. For example:
cat /proc/interrupts

Tells you what cards are using what interrupts.

lspci -v

Tells you what PCI cards you have and what latencies they’re using.

setpci -v -s [id from lspci] latency_timer=##

Changes the latency of a card. Higher latency means higher bandwidth, and vice-versa. In this case, latency means the device is a bus hog–once it gets the bus, it’s less likely to let go of it. I issued this command on my Web server to give my network card free reign (this is more important on local fileservers, obviously–my DSL connection is more than slow enough to keep my Ethernet card from being overwhelmed):

setpci -v -s 00:0f.0 latency_timer=ff

Add that command to /etc/rc.d/rc.local if you want it to stick.

Linux will let you tweak the living daylights out of it.

And yes, there’s a ton more. Check out this: Optimizing and Securing Red Hat Linux 6.1 and 6.2. I just turned off last-access attribute updating on my Web server to improve performance with the command chattr -R +A /var/www. That’s a trick I’ve been using on NT boxes for a long time.

Baseball. I’m frustrated. The Royals let the Twins trade promising lefty Mark Redmon to the Tigers for Todd Jones. Why didn’t the Royals dangle Roberto Hernandez in the Twins’ face? Hernandez would have fetched Redmon and a borderline prospect, saved some salary, and, let’s face it, we’re in last place with Hernandez, so what happens if we deal him? It’s not like we can sink any further.

Meanwhile, the hot rumor is that Rey Sanchez will be traded to the Dodgers for Alex Cora, a young, slick-fielding shortstop who can’t hit. Waitaminute. We just traded half the franchise away for Neifi Perez, an enthusiastic, youngish shortstop who can’t hit outside of Coors Field and is overrated defensively and makes 3 and a half mil a year. What’s up with that?

Moral dilemma: Since the Royals don’t seem to care about their present or their future at the moment, is rooting for Oakland (featuring ex-Royals Jermaine Dye and Johnny Damon and Jeremy Giambi) and Boston (featuring ex-Royals Jose Offerman and Chris Stynes and Hippolito Pichardo and the last link to that glorious 1985 season, Bret Saberhagen) to make the playoffs like cheating on your wife?

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