Saturday, February 16, 2008

Reason #21: The Uniforms.

The powder blues are coming back. Enough said.

Well, not enough. (Like I could write eight words about any topic.) The fascination Royals fans have had with the powder blue uniforms is not easy to understand at first. You don’t hear Padre fans pining for a return of the Would-You-Like-Fries-With-That brown unis, or Astro fans haranguing management to bring back the rainbow brites. The powder blues were never the fashion faux pas that those uniforms were, but let’s face it: they looked like pajamas. The Blue Jays, who wore similar powder-blue uniforms for a few years, are bringing theirs back as well, and I don’t think their fan base is nearly as excited as ours is.

Here’s the thing: if Royals fans sit down and think about it rationally, we realize that we don’t love the powder blue uniforms. We love the teams that wore them. The Royals introduced the unis in 1973, and stopped wearing them after the 1991 season, a 19-year stretch which almost perfectly coincides with the team’s glory era: in those 19 years they finished over .500 fifteen times and went to the playoffs seven times. In the team’s other 20 years (1969-1972 and 1992-2007) they’ve had three winning seasons and never won more than 85 games. By comparison, the Blue Jays wore theirs from their debut in 1977 until 1990. They had some good years in there, but it was only after abandoning the powder blues that they shed the “Blow Jays” label and won two straight world championships.

If the Royals had started wearing those uniforms in 1997, fans would be burning them in effigy. But instead of watching Ken Harvey chase after popups like a beached whale in pajamas, our memories are of Hal McRae charging the second baseman like a mad bull to break up a double play, of George Brett lining yet another ball into the gap, of Willie Wilson flying around the bases for another inside-the-park-home run.

When Brett hit Gossage’s fastball into the upper deck in the 1980 ALCS, he was wearing powder blues. When Chip Ambres dropped a routine flyball with two outs in the ninth, allowing the Indians to go on and score 11 runs in the inning and win 13-7, prolonging a losing streak that would reach 19 games…he was not.

So I don’t want to overstate the appeal of the new uniforms: if the Royals continue to lose, the fans are going to tire of them quickly. Regardless, it’s not going to be quite the same as before. For one thing, the Royals are not bringing them back as road uniforms, but as alternate home uniforms. This makes sense – the fans want to see them, after all – but it also means we’re not going to see much of them.

And not to go all Paul Lukas on you, but whereas the road uniforms had “Kansas City” in white block letters from 1973 to 1983 – which is the way I like to remember them, not the white cursive “Royals” from 1984 to 1990 – the new uniforms have the cursive “Royals” on the front, but in dark blue with white trim. When you’re going for nostalgia, you’re not supposed to stop at 90%. I hope the team realizes that the appeal of the powder blues will directly correlate with how much they resemble the original product, and they reconsider the color scheme in the future.

But in the meantime, if the Royals win their first few Sunday home games, the uniforms could take on a life of their own, becoming less a piece of clothing than a talisman. The team has already announced they plan to debut them on Saturday during the season’s opening homestand. If the Royals are shrewd, they’ll end the Buddy Bell practice of sending out the “Sunday lineup” and resting all the regulars, and work the rotation to make sure one of their better starters (i.e. not Brett Tomko) is toeing the rubber on home Sundays. A little psychological warfare never hurt anybody.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Reason #22: The Scout.

For every great player, there’s a great scout who found him first. No great team was ever assembled without the assistance of the tobacco-chewing, Panama-hat wearing, Good Face-searching set. Scouts are the forgotten members of the baseball landscape, almost criminally ignored by the average fan. Can you name fifty Hall of Famers? If you’re reading this, you probably can. You can probably also name a hundred current or former managers, dozens of team owners, and the names of literally over a thousand men who have played in the major leagues. But can you name five scouts?

Do you know the name of the guy who signed Mickey Mantle for the Yankees and recommended Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers (Tom Greenwade)? The scout who helped build the Yankees’ dynasty by signing, among others, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, and Whitey Ford (Paul Krichell)? The Indians’ scout who signed Bob Feller, Herb Score, Bob Lemon, and Hal Trosky (Cy Slapnicka)? The guy who found Allie Reynolds, Steve Garvey, and Don Sutton (Hugh Alexander)?

I sure couldn’t, which is why I had to ask Rob Neyer to give me these names, which he did off the top of his head. He definitely will be one of my lifelines if I’m ever on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”

Major League Baseball doesn’t recognize scouts any better than most fans do – consider that while the Hall of Fame has methods to induct managers, owners, announcers, and writers, there is no way for a scout to enter the Hall of Fame. Perhaps the new Buck O’Neil award – Buck was, among other things, one of the greatest scouts of all time – will change that.

The Royals will actually be inducting a scout into the franchise’s Hall of Fame for the first time this summer. I’m sure that Art Stewart has earned the award; he’s been with the team since its second season, and was responsible for much of its early success. But this is a Lifetime Achievement Award, not a testament to his recent work, which is (to say the least) spotty. I’m still bitter for his role in pushing the Royals to draft Colt Griffin in the first round back in 2001.

(The first inkling I got that Griffin might not be all that, even if he was the hardest-throwing high schooler on record, came the day after he was drafted. Joe Posnanski wrote an otherwise-glowing column on The Boy Who Hit 100, allegedly the first high school pitcher ever to do so. (Jeremy Jeffress, the Brewers’ first-round pick in 2006, also hit triple digits in high school.) In the column, Posnanski wrote:

“I never got him at 100,” Royals senior adviser Art Stewart says, and he shakes his head in disappointment. A couple of weeks ago, Stewart went down to Marshall with a whole gang of Royals officials, including George Brett. Colt Griffin threw his first pitch 98 mph just under the batter's chin. Needless to say, the batter and his whole team was never the same after that.

“I got him at 98 a couple of times after that,” Stewart says. "But never at 100. I've never gotten a high school pitcher at 100. I really wanted that."

ewart shakes his head. He's been scouting baseball games for nearly 50 years.

“I know he can throw
100,” Stewart says. “I just didn't get it.”

I remember thinking, well gee, it’s too bad the radar gun didn’t cooperate with you, but shouldn’t you be more worried about whether the guy has anything other than a fastball than in whether you’re going to have a story to tell the other scouts?)

Anyway, this entry isn’t about Art Stewart. It’s about Cliff Pastornicky, who according to the Royals’ media guide covers only central Florida, yet from his small jurisdiction has made a major impact on the team’s roster.

In 2002, Pastornicky convinced the Royals to spend the 6th overall pick from a kid out of suburban Orlando. It’s not just that the kid turned out to be Zack Greinke, who has already had more major league success than the Royals’ top picks in the nine previous drafts…combined.

Greinke has been good and has a chance to be great, but rumor has it that if the Royals hadn’t taken Greinke, they had serious designs on another Florida kid, Prince Fielder. I love Zack, but it’s hard to take him over the youngest hitter ever to mash 50 homers in a season.

But it’s not just that Pastornicky sold the team on Greinke, it’s that he nailed the kid perfectly. Legend has it that prior to the 2002 draft, Allard Baird made it clear to his staff that he didn’t want to draft any more raw high school arms in the first round – he only wanted polished college pitchers who knew what they were doing. (Translation: they already knew Griffin was a bust.) And Pastornicky raised his hand and said, in essence, “Well, I’ve got this kid who throws like a polished college pitcher, only he’s still in high school.”

And that’s Zack Greinke, who two years later was carving up hitters in the majors like a ten-year veteran, changing speeds, working the corners, dropping ultra-slow curveballs out of the sky, fielding his position flawlessly. There have been better pitchers in the under-21 set in my lifetime, but Greinke might be the most polished 20-year-old pitcher many of us have ever seen.

Two years later, Pastornicky struck again, convincing the Royals to take Billy Butler in the first round. The 2004 draft was one of the weakest this decade; that was the year Matt Bush went first, for God’s sake, and the only pick in the top 10 that looks like a sure thing today is Justin Verlander. The Royals were rumored to be looking at Boston College right-hander Chris Lambert, who was drafted 19th by the Cardinals, and has been such a disappointment that St. Louis sent him to Detroit last summer as the PTBNL for the immortal (and now-Royal) Mike Maroth.

There were no sure things in the 2004 draft, but as the Royals would later say, the one thing they were sure of was that Butler could hit. To their credit, they didn’t let their concerns about what Butler couldn’t do (everything else) override their enthusiasm about his bat. Four years later, that bat looks like a once-in-a-generation talent.

But Pastornicky’s greatest success – at least when you consider the round he was drafted in – was unfortunately wasted by the Royals. Pastornicky got the Royals to take an overachieving shortstop at the University of Florida, Mark Ellis, in the 9th round in 1999. Ellis is now one of the most underrated players in baseball, a guy who hit .276 with 19 homers last season and is probably the best defensive second baseman in the AL. He’s played his entire major league career for the A’s because Baird made the mistake of picking up the phone when Billy Beane called. Ellis was a throw-in to cinch the trade for Angel Berroa (well, and Roberto Hernandez), a fact I’m sure to have a laugh about one day. Probably while sitting in a rocking chair, watching my great-grandchildren play.

I don’t know much about the Royals’ other full-time scouts. I’m sure they’re great guys, but none of them have Pastornicky’s track record. (Though Louie Medina gets a gold star for having the cojones to lobby the front office to grab a Mexican pitcher who had pitched a total of 17 innings north of the Rio Grande in the Rule 5 draft. Joakim Soria has a good chance to be the best Rule 5 pick in team history. Hell, he might already be the best.)

The Royals aren’t going to turn things around without a top-notch scouting department. Pastornicky’s got Florida covered – now we’ve just got 49 states, Latin America, and the Pacific Rim to go.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Reason #23: The Owner.

Yes, the owner.

Yes, that owner. David Glass. The Wal-Mart guy. The cheapskate, meddling, know-nothing owner with the equally meddlesome son.

Or should I say, the owner who used to be a cheapskate, who used to be meddling, who used to know nothing, and who used to let his son interfere with baseball operations.

Two months ago, the Detroit Tigers made the boldest move of the offseason, trading their top two prospects (Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin) and four other players to the Florida Marlins for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. The Tigers were drenched with universal praise, and those plaudits landed first on their owner, Mike Ilitch, for entrusting general manager Dave Dombrowski to make such a bold deal, and for signing off on the increased payroll that the deal required. The sentiment was expressed by many writers that Ilitch was one of the best owners in baseball.

If you look at the events of just the last two years, you’d be hard-pressed to argue. Only six weeks before the Tigers had traded two other prospects to land Edgar Renteria. The Tigers were able to draft Maybin and Miller in the first place because they were willing to spend significantly over slot (and risk the ire of the Commissioner’s office) to sign them. The Tigers also left a tack on Bud Selig’s chair by using the 26th pick in the 2007 draft on the consensus #2 player available, Rick Porcello, and acceding to his demand for $7 million.

The Tigers went to the World Series in 2006, they finished just out of the playoffs in 2007, they have a fearsome lineup, a pair of lightning arms in the rotation in Jeremy Bonderman and Justin Verlander, a productive farm system (albeit one that’s been mined clear of prospects this winter), one of the most-respected GMs in the game, and an owner whose main contributions to his team are to let his people do their jobs and open his checkbook when they ask him to.

Two years ago, if you had suggested that Mike Ilitch was one of the game’s best owners, you would have been either laughed out of the room, beaten to a pulp, or incarcerated.

Mike Ilitch purchased the Detroit Tigers from fellow pizza baron Tom Monaghan at the end of the 1992 season. Let’s take a look at how the Tigers fared over the next 13 years, shall we?

In 1993, the Tigers had their last gasp with an offense filled with old guys that stood at the plate waiting for either a pitch they could drive, or ball four. Tony Phillips. Mickey Tettleton. Cecil Fielder. Rob Deer. Kirk Gibson. Throw in the 2030 Veterans Committee Hall of Famers, Trammell and Whitaker, and the young Travis Fryman (who, at the end of that season, looked like a good Hall of Fame bet himself), and you had an offense that was slow, boring, and scored runs by the bushel. A weak pitching staff held them down to 85 wins, but they drew 765 walks and scored 899 runs, both totals the most by any team in 40 years. (This really doesn’t have anything to do with my point; I just loved that team, and felt compelled to mention them.)

In 1994, they finished under .500 at 53-62. In 1995, they finished 60-84, and Mike Moore went 5-15 with a 7.53 ERA. The worst was yet to come. Sparky Anderson retired after that season, and was replaced by – wait for it – Buddy Bell.

In 1996, the Tigers lost 109 games, the most in baseball in 17 years, and the most by a non-expansion team since 1952. The team gave up 1103 runs, the most in American League history. Todd Van Poppel joined the team in August and allowed 51 runs in 36 innings for the Tigers, which I only bring up because two of those starts came against the Royals. In the first one, he allowed three runs in six innings. In the next, he threw a complete-game shutout. Yeah, the Royals were pretty bad then as well.

The team improved the next year all the way to 79-83, and the Tigers were convinced the worst was over, they were a team on their way up, next stop was first place. Then they lost 97 games in 1998, and at the end of the year traded Luis Gonzalez to Arizona just in time to watch Gonzalez impersonate a first-ballot Hall of Famer for the next five years. (But they did get Karim Garcia back. So that’s something.)

Then things got really bad. Justin Thompson got hurt. The farm system dried up. They traded six guys to the Texas Rangers for Juan Gonzalez (and our good buddy Gregg Zaun, who was traded to KC without ever playing for the Tigers). They then offered Gonzalez a 7-year, $140 million contract that Gonzalez, showing the wisdom for which he would later earn great acclaim, turned down. Bell made way for Larry Parrish, who made way for Phil Garner, who made way for Luis Pujols, who in less than a full season was easily the worst manager I have ever witnessed – he made Bell look like Joe McCarthy. Then the Tigers decided to start ruining the legacy of their own great players and hired Alan Trammell.

The Tigers bounced back to 79-83 again in 2000, then amazingly saw their record drop by at least 10 games for each of the next three years. They lost 96 games in 2001, 106 games in 2002, and 119 games in 2003, the most losses in American League history. Royals fans remember 2003 fondly as the year the Royals were in first place for four months and finished over .500 for the only time in the last 12 years. We couldn’t have done it without the Tigers: KC went 14-5 against Detroit, 69-74 against the rest of baseball.

And you thought David Glass had a bad resume?

At the end of the 2003 season, Mike Ilitch had a case for being on the short list of the worst baseball owners of all time, not the best. But a funny thing happened: he changed. He had already changed, in fact. He stopped being cheap – he had seen how the money he spent on his beloved Red Wings came back to him with interest. He stopped meddling in baseball decisions, and he had hired one of the best baseball men in the business, Dave Dombrowski, to run his team.

What happened next I’ve documented here. Suffice it to say, the Tigers have since made one of the most impressive franchise turnarounds in the game’s history.

David Glass, in the spring of 2005 – about the time he had announced that Allard Baird’s time as GM was over but before he remembered to actually fire him – was regarded much the way Mike Ilitch was a few years before. And like Ilitch, Glass finally figured out (or had it drilled into his head by the near-riot in his team's fan base) that the way to run a successful baseball team is the same way you run a successful business in other pursuits: hire the right people, let them do their jobs, stay out of their way.

Ilitch hired Dave Dombrowski. Glass hired Dayton Moore.

Dombrowski rebuilt the franchise from its foundation, made some incredibly shrewd trades, was aggressive in free agency, and built the team into a perennial contender. Ilitch allowed him to do so by staying out of the sports columns, and authorizing a substantial increase in both payroll and the scouting budget.

It’s too early to say if Moore will be as successful as Dombrowski was, but he’s certainly trying the same things. And Glass, like Ilitch, has essentially disappeared from the sports pages. This is a good thing. No, that’s not strong enough: it’s a Good Thing. He’s also shed the penurious ways of his past; Wal-Mart David has disappeared. The Royals didn’t draft Porcello, but they spent $4 million on the next guy on their list, Mike Moustakas. They built a new academy in the Dominican and gave five different Latin players six-figure signing bonuses last summer. They spent $55 million on Gil Meche, and $36 million on Jose Guillen. This stuff doesn’t happen with a cheap owner – you didn’t see Carl Pohlad spending his money like a drunken sailor this winter.

Owners, like players, have good years and bad years. Glass’s friend Drayton McLane was a terrible owner when he first purchased the Houston Astros – he spent big money on Doug Drabek and Greg Swindell almost immediately, then after a year wanted to release them before his baseball people reportedly told him that, sir, uh, actually those long-term contracts are guaranteed.

Then McLane backed off, stayed out of his people’s way, let them spend his money, and the Biggio/Bagwell/Berkman/Oswalt Astros went to six playoffs and a World Series in nine years. Now McLane is back to being Mr. Cheapo, the Commissioner’s pet, who refuses to spend money in the draft or internationally, while he simultaneously refuses to believe that his team needs to rebuild, scapegoating a fine GM (Tim Purpura) and hamstringing new GM Ed Wade. Predictably the Astros appear to be at the start of a very dark period – they may well have the worst record in baseball by 2009 or 2010.

Glass could go bad as quickly as he went good. But for now, I hope all Royals fans support me in wishing the new Glass all the best. Let’s hope that he has a splendid view of the game from the owner’s box. Just so long as he stays out of the general manager’s box.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Hi. I’m Rany Jazayerli. I’ve been a fan of the Kansas City Royals for the past 27 years, from the time I was five years old, and I’ve been writing about them in a professional capacity since 1995 (and in an amateur capacity – both in terms of compensation and quality – for a few years before that.)

I was one of the original founders of the Baseball Prospectus, back when we had this crazy idea that, since there were no good annual baseball preview books on the market at the time, we’d write our own. The 13th edition of Baseball Prospectus should be published later this month. With the exception of one book – we decided to change things up one year – I’ve written the Royals chapter for all of them. I wrote a number of articles for in the early part of this decade, many of them devoted to the Royals. Between 2002 and 2005 I also wrote a weekly column during the season for the Topeka Capital-Journal.

A little over nine years ago (the exact moment has been lost to the mists of history) my friend Rob Neyer, of, decided to publish on his website the email conversations that he and I regularly had about the Royals. And so “Rob and Rany on the Royals” was born. We were blogging before anyone had heard of the term, and over the years have written a truly insane number of words on a franchise that never deserved that level of devotion. I only started archiving our posts in 2001, and since then we’ve written nearly 400,000 words.

That number would be even higher if Rob hadn’t become so fed up with the Royals at one point that he gave up the column for a year. In his absence I passed the time by writing regular “Rany on the Royals” columns for Baseball Prospectus. (You can find the first one here.)

(To answer the question before it’s asked: I have no idea how this blog will affect our conversations at I imagine they will continue from time to time, but I also suspect they will appear much less frequently. I hope to make that up to you over here.)

In some way, shape, or form, I’ve covered the Royals for the last 13 seasons, commented on every trade, railed at every stupid decision. I insulted Bob Boone, criticized Tony Muser, mocked Tony Pena, and lost my patience with Buddy Bell. And through it all I’ve somehow maintained my fandom, even as the post-strike Royals have endured the darkest stretch in their franchise’s history, and indeed one of the darkest stretches in any franchise’s history.

To put it in perspective, let’s compare the Royals to their predecessors, the Kansas City A’s, who with losing records in all 13 years of their existence remain the gold standard for franchise futility. From 1955 to 1967, the A’s had a winning percentage of .404. From 1995 to 2007, the Royals had a winning percentage of .422. The Royals have been about three wins a season better than baseball's version of the Washington Generals.

From 2004 to 2006, the Royals lost 100 games three straight seasons, something the A’s never did (nor any other non-expansion team since the 1952-54 Pirates.) Over the last four years, the Royals have a record of 245-403, for a winning percentage of .378. In the Kansas City A’s worst four-year stretch (from 1964-1967), they had a record of 252-393, for a .391 winning percentage.

Somehow, despite rooting for the second coming of the Kansas City Abominations, I’ve kept my hope and faith. And now, I’m prepared to double down. Because just as the A’s looked poised for an upswing as the 1968 season approached (and after the team bolted for the west coast), so too do the Royals look poised to right the ship and return to playing competitive baseball in 2008. While I have no illusions that the Royals will come anywhere close to the A’s success – though I certainly would have no complaints with five division titles and three world championships in the next eight years – I think the tide has turned. And I want to be there to document it.

So I present to you my new Royals blog, cleverly titled (Sadly, my first choice – – was already taken. Stupid insurance agents.) This blog may one day lead me to deliriously covering the Royals’ first playoff appearance in a generation, and more likely it will lead to having my hopes and dreams destroyed once again by talentless players, clueless managers, and brainless front office types.

But I’m betting on the former. Either way, I hope you enjoy it. If you do, please spread the word to your friends and family. If you don’t, please have the courtesy to keep your feelings to yourself. You moron.

I can’t promise daily coverage – I do have a wife, two kids, and a full-time job to attend to – but I hope to update this blog at least a few times a week, more during high-traffic times, and of course when breaking news warrants. I can’t promise you a consistent measure of quality, but I can all but guarantee you prodigious amounts of quantity.

There is a quote attributed to many authors (particularly Mark Twain), but likely first uttered by Blaise Pascal, that goes, “I did not have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” If you’re looking for tight, refined, 700-word columns, you’ll have to look elsewhere, like your local newspaper.

If, on the other hand, you’re looking for long, meandering posts that frequently go off on wild tangents and occasionally never return to their original point, you’ve come to the right place. If you’re looking for someone willing to write a five-page essay on the most trivial transactions, with neither a copy editor nor someone to remind them to count to ten before writing something when they’re angry, you’ve come to the right place. But then you probably already knew that. After all, this is a blog.

I may branch off onto other topics on occasion, such as discussing the Chiefs during football season. (Yes, I root for them as well. I know, I'm such a loser.) I may even write about religion or politics from time to time, particularly if I feel my readership base has grown too large and I want to alienate half of you in one fell swoop.

Pitchers and catchers officially report to Surprise tomorrow morning. So as baseball’s first day of spring approaches, and hope springs eternal in my household, I start this blog with a series of posts about the Top 23 (23? But...but...that’s Zack Greinke’s number!) reasons why I’m excited to be a Royals fan at this point in time, and why you should be too.

I welcome your comments with each posting. I may not be able to respond to all of them, but rest assured I try to read every one. All I ask is that you keep it clean. There may be children reading this, and if they're Royals fans, they've been exposed to enough objectionable material already.

Thank you for your support and trust. I hope to justify both of them in time.

Coming up: Reason #23.