If there’s one thing I’ve heard this week, it’s that people can’t imagine what it’s like being a Royals fan through their 29-year drought without playing in a postseason. I can tell you what it’s like. We’ve had some highlights, but mostly we’ve put up with endless parades of really bad players and really bad managers.
Those of you who enjoy looking at gruesome things, keep reading. These are the players we’ve spent 2.9 decades trying to forget. But keep this in mind: My hair started going prematurely gray in 1986, the same year Dick Howser died and the Royals started fading.
Angel Berroa. It’s a story that happened a lot. The Royals had a young talented outfielder who was about as likely to sign with the Cuban Nationals as to re-sign with the Royals. So the Royals traded him–Johnny Damon in this case–for a promising shortstop who turned out to be an inadequate utility player at best. Each bad shortstop had a specialty. Berroa’s specialty was swinging at pickoff throws to first.
Neifi Perez. This football bat was traded straight up for Jermaine Dye. His defining moment was refusing to go in for defense late in one game because he was mad he didn’t start, which forced the Royals to play their second baseman, Carlos Febles, out of position at short for an inning.
Tony Peña Jr. At least the Royals didn’t give up much for him, but he hit like a pitcher–he hit .098 in 2009–so eventually the Royals decided to try him out as a pitcher. The Royals had a couple of good-hitting pitchers during his era, but alas, it never occurred to any of the Royals’ managers to have them pinch hit for him.
Yuni Betancourt. Yuni was another shortstop who swung at pickoff throws to first, but he had a little power and could hit .240. Unfortunately he played shortstop with an oven mitt. At least the Royals got him for two minor leaguers in a salary dump.
David Howard. He could catch the ball and he could hit .219. And the Royals developed him themselves, so he only cost them a 32nd-round draft pick. As bad as he was in 1996, there were years we could have liked to have had him back.
Mark Teahen. He wasn’t a shortstop, but he was the main return for five-tool outfielder Carlos Beltran. Acquired as a third baseman, he only stuck there for two years, and his .269 average over five years isn’t what you look for when you trade a future Hall of Famer. And they traded Teahen for…
Chris Getz. On a good team, fans like guys like Getz, who have marginal talent but play hard. And since they don’t play a lot, they don’t get overexposed so they sometimes fare pretty well. On the 2011 Royals, who lost 91 games, fans get tired of him hitting a hollow .255 with league-average defense and hearing the manager say he plays 118 games because he plays the right way.
Ken Harvey was the Royals’ All Star representative in 2004–all .287 and 13 home runs of him. A year later he was out of baseball. His other specialty was getting hit in the back by cutoff throws.
Mark Redman was the Royals’ All Star representative in 2006. He had a 5.71 ERA that year. Normally they won’t sell a guy with a 5.71 ERA a ticket to the game. He only pitched 21 more games in the majors after that season.
There have been other inept players, but let’s turn to the managers.
Bob Boone had the bad fortune of following the popular Hal McRae, who was a great player and coach for the Royals but never met expectations as a manager. Boone’s specialty was playing players out of position and moving them around in the batting order so nobody could ever find a groove. He had a 181-206 record as a manager over parts of three seasons.
Tony Muser replaced Boone. Muser placed zero value on the ability to swing a bat, benching future star Mike Sweeney until injuries forced Muser to play him. Muser’s specialty was playing utility infielders like Steve Scarsone at first base. Keep in mind Scarsone was a utility infielder because he couldn’t hit better than Neifi Perez or Angel Berroa. His record was 317-431.
Tony Peña Sr. replaced Muser. He presided over the magical 2003 season, where the Royals contended before flaming out in August but still managed to finish above .500. In 2005, Peña abruptly quit his job as manager after being caught in an affair with a neighbor’s wife, but with his record being 8-25 at the time, he probably would have been fired fairly soon if he hadn’t quit. Final record: 182-285.
Buddy Bell finished up the 2005 season. He was the perennial All-Star backup third baseman to George Brett for a decade, but he couldn’t match his record as a player when managing. He resigned at the end of 2007, but with his 174-262 record, his job wasn’t exactly secure anyway. Like Muser, Bell had a penchant for overplaying scrappy players who were short on talent.
Trey Hillman took over after Bell. A successful manager in Japan, he wasn’t successful in the States. In parts of three seasons, his record was 152-207. Hillman liked to play guys out of position and played too much small ball, but the worst thing he did was ruin the Royals’ $55 million pitcher, Gil Meche, by having him throw 120-plus pitches in meaningless games on a tired arm.
Ned Yost replaced Hillman. He’s the longest tenured Royals’ manager in history. That means he managed more games than fellow Royals managers Bob Lemon, Jack McKeon, Whitey Herzog, Jim Frey, and Dick Howser. Yost is good at identifying and developing talent, but his tactical blunders are legendary, such as letting Raul Ibañez, who was hitting .188, pinch hit and make the final out in a crucial game against division leader Detroit while Billy Butler and his .271 average watched from the bench. Butler’s 2014 season was disappointing, but at that stage in their careers, Butler was still a far better hitter than Ibañez. In the 2014 wild card game against Oakland, he pulled his ace, James Shields, after only 88 pitches and brought in rookie Yordano Ventura, who wasn’t used to pitching in relief. The Oakland offense batted around and scored five runs in the inning, and Yost ended up having to use all of the relief pitchers he was trying to save anyway. His 373-402 record shows he’s the best manager of this sad bunch, but I don’t think it’s hard to argue that, at best, he’s the seventh-best manager the Royals ever had.
Somehow he fumbled through the 2013 Wild Card game to get the Royals into the 2014 playoffs. But I still want two things for Christmas: A manager with better tactical skills than Yost (ex-Twins manager Ron Gardenhire would do nicely), and a designated hitter who can hit 37 home runs.
I haven’t looked in a mirror yet, but after that game, I’m pretty sure my salt and pepper is gone.