Sunday, December 6, 2009

Kevin Appier: A Retrospective.

This article transcends my issues with the Royals. Kevin Appier deserves better than to have his Hall of Fame candidacy ignored because the organization he spent a decade with remains as moribund as the day he left them.

Robert Kevin Appier (like another Royals pitcher of note, Appier goes by his middle name) was the Royals’ first-round pick in 1987. Thanks to their 76-86 record in 1986, the Royals drafted 9th the following year, the highest selection the team had since they selected Clint Hurdle from the same slot in 1975. The Royals drafted Appier out of Antelope Valley Junior College in California. With the pick immediately before Appier, the Dodgers selected a high school pitcher named Dan Opperman. Legend has it that the Royals had scouted Opperman, who was the subject of a lot of pre-draft hype, and then they saw Appier, and even though Appier was just a year older, the Royals’ scouts thought it was the difference between watching a man and a boy throw.

(Opperman was the first in a series of huge first-round flops by the Dodgers. The next year, they took Bill Bene with the 5th overall pick; Bene is one of the most famously wild pro pitchers of my lifetime, up there with Jacob Shumate and Jason Neighborgall – Bene walked 543 batters in 516 pro innings. Two years later, they took high school pitcher Kiki Jones with the 15th pick; the year after that they took Ron Walden, another prep pitcher, with the 9th pick overall. None of the four pitchers made the major leagues.)

Appier was not a phenom in the minors, but he found immediate success. Assigned to Eugene in the Northwest League after signing, he had a 3.04 ERA in 15 starts and struck out 72 batters in 77 innings. The following year, he was promoted to Baseball City in the high-A Florida State League, and in 147 innings he had a 2.75 ERA, walked 39 batters against 112 strikeouts, and notably surrendered just one home run. He was promoted to Double-A Memphis in time to make three starts and had a 1.83 ERA.

That earned Appier a promotion to Omaha in 1989. He pitched well but not that well, going 8-8 with a 3.95 ERA. He allowed 141 hits in 139 innings, but surrendered just 6 homers with a solid K/BB ratio of 109/42. He was called up to make his major league debut on June 4th, and stayed in the rotation for a month before getting demoted with cause. He was awful; he had a 9.14 ERA in 22 innings, allowing 34 hits and 12 walks. In his fourth start he was knocked out in the first inning having allowed 6 runs, and in his next and final start he allowed 6 runs in three innings.

That winter, Baseball America released their first-ever Top 100 Prospects list. Appier was ranked #86, sandwiched between a couple of southpaws named Eric Gunderson and Mike Milchin. It’s safe to say that no one thought that Appier was about to start an eight-year run as one of the best pitchers in the game.

Appier returned to Omaha to start the 1990 season, but was quickly promoted after he had a 1.50 ERA in his first three starts. He was mostly used in middle relief at first, and not all that effectively, as he allowed 28 hits in his first 19 innings. On May 27th he entered the rotation, and pitched quite well, with a 3.12 ERA in his next eight games, though this being the Royals he went just 3-3 in that span.

On July 7th, 1990, I went out to a movie with some friends. The Royals were on TV that night, and just before leaving the house, I saw Appier give up a single to Lou Whitaker leading off the bottom of the first. I came home to learn that Whitaker’s single was the last hit for the Tigers that night, as Appier had thrown a one-hit shutout in the first complete game of his career. (The night before, the Royals were the victims of a one-hit shutout at the hands of Jack Morris*. It was the first time in decades that teams had swapped one-hitters in consecutive games.)

*: I don’t know about you guys, but personally, I don’t hear enough about Morris’ Hall of Fame chances.

From that moment, Appier was one of the best starting pitchers in baseball. He would throw a three-hit shutout against the Red Sox two starts later, a four-hit shutout against the A’s at the end of August, and another four-hit shutout against the Twins in September – except, heralding the chronic lack of run support he would receive with the Royals, the Royals didn’t score against the Twins either, and the Royals lost 1-0 when Jeff Montgomery gave up a walk-off single in the 11th.

From July 7th through the end of the season, Appier was 9-5 with a 2.45 ERA. For the season he was 12-8 with a 2.76 ERA in 186 innings. If that ERA doesn’t impress you, it should: it remains the lowest ERA by an AL rookie who qualified for the ERA title since 1976, when The Bird was The Word: Mark Fidrych led the league with a 2.34 ERA.

For his efforts, Appier finished a distant third in Rookie of the Year voting, behind Sandy Alomar and Kevin Maas. Alomar hit a modest .290/.326/.418, but so bewitched reporters with his intangibles that he won the Rookie of the Year award unanimously. Not to say the award was a joke, but Alomar’s season was worth 2.1 Wins Above Replacement, according to BP’s WARP1 value. Appier was worth 5.5 WARP. It wouldn’t be the last time that Appier finished third for an award he deserved to win easily.

Appier’s sophomore season was a consolidation year; his ERA rose to 3.42 even though his peripherals improved. His walk (2.6 per nine innings) and homer (0.6 per nine) rates were identical, and his strikeout rate actually rose from 6.2 to 6.8 Ks per nine. His statistical profile looked for all the world like that of a pitcher who was about to break out, and somewhere in Baltimore, a 16-year-old Royals fan who was starting a keeper Strat-o-matic league with his college buddies made sure to snag Appier in the inaugural draft.

Liftoff came in 1992, when Appier had a 2.46 ERA, missing the league ERA title by just five points (Roger Clemens led with a 2.41 mark). Appier also finished third in the league in hits per nine innings, fourth in WHIP, fifth in homers per nine, seventh in strikeouts per nine…and thanks to a typically anemic Royals offense, 16th in wins with just 15. Appier ended the season with a bit of a scare, as the Royals shut him down after September 9th with a tired arm as a precaution. This led a 17-year-old Royals fan to yell at pitching coach Guy Hansen before a late-September game at Camden Yards, inquiring about Appier’s health while using some choice words to describe Hal McRae’s handling of his pitch counts. (To his credit, Hansen responded, “his arm is fine.” Even more to his credit, Hansen was right.)

Appier wasn’t the best pitcher in the league, but he was close – he ranked third in the AL in VORP behind Clemens and league-leader Mike Mussina. He didn’t receive a single Cy Young vote. Dennis Eckersley won the Cy Young (and the MVP!) in a sort of delayed reaction to Eck’s 0.61 ERA the year before. Finishing second in the vote, despite a 3.18 ERA, was Jack McDowell. It was a bad omen.

In 1993, there was no debate: Kevin Appier was the best pitcher in the American League. He led the circuit with a 2.56 ERA, a figure made more impressive by the fact that 1993 proved to be the first year of the juiced ball/bat/body era – the league ERA jumped from 3.95 in 1992 to 4.34 in 1993, and has stayed above 4.34 ever since. Appier got stronger as the season went on – from June 19th until the end of the season, he had a 1.94 ERA and allowed just 90 hits in 139 innings. On August 28th, he began a stretch of consecutive scoreless innings that wouldn’t come to an end until September 23rd, 33 innings later, a franchise record that was only broken by Zack Greinke this season (and Greinke’s streak of 38 innings spans two seasons, so Appier’s single-season mark is still the official record.)

Appier led the league in ERA by 38 points over Wilson Alvarez, which to put in perspective, is larger than the margin by which Greinke won this year’s ERA title over Felix Hernandez (33 points). Since 1993, six times has an AL pitcher won the ERA title by more than 38 points, and five times they won the Cy Young (four times unanimously). The only outlier was in 2003, when Pedro Martinez lost the award to Roy Halladay in large part because Martinez threw just 187 innings that year, compared to Halladay’s 266.

But in 1993, Appier received exactly one first-place vote. He finished third in the voting, behind Jack McDowell and Randy Johnson.

Johnson, at least, had the eye-popping strikeout total of 308 on his side, although his 3.24 ERA was a distant fleck in Appier’s rear-view window. McDowell, though, had a 3.37 ERA, and fewer strikeouts (158) than Appier (186). He had only one thing in his favor: he won 22 games, while Appier won only 18.

Mind you, when McDowell started, his team went 23-11, and when Appier started, the Royals also went 23-11. But because of the way baseball’s arcane, century-old scoring rules work, McDowell was credited with four more wins. A trick of accounting seemingly concocted by the wizards at Arthur Andersen gave 28 sportswriters the perception that Jack McDowell was the better pitcher, and gave Appier the shaft. Appier was already used to getting the shaft from his teammates, so it was only fair that their inability to support him offensively would screw him one more time.

The quintessential Appier start came on July 27th that year, when he threw a complete-game one-hitter against the Rangers, the second one-hitter of his career. Unfortunately, that one hit was a home run by Royal-killer Rafael Palmeiro, and meanwhile the Royals were finding a way to scatter nine hits against Kenny Rogers without scoring a run. This remains the only game in the last 25 years in which a starting pitcher threw a nine-inning complete game, allowed just one hit, and took the loss.

(For you game score junkies, Appier took the loss in a game when he had a game score of 91. That is the highest game score by a losing pitcher in a regulation game since Ken Johnson took the loss in his no-hitter in 1964.)

In 1994, Appier’s ERA rose to 3.83, but then the league ERA rose to 4.81, and his ERA+ was still an outstanding 130. Teammate David Cone got the run support that Appier had been asking for, went 16-5 and won the Cy Young Award.

1995 looked like the year Appier would finally get the recognition he deserved. With Cone having been traded to the Blue Jays in a post-strike salary dump, manager Bob Boone elected to use a four-man rotation consisting of Appier, Tom Gordon, Mark Gubicza, and a traveling circus of fourth starters. Taking advantage of off-days, Boone didn’t even use a fourth starter until the eighth game of the season. Gordon and Gubicza were occasionally skipped as the season went on, but Appier pitched every fourth game. He started 12 of the team’s first 43 games, and 17 of the team’s first 63 games, a pace that would have led to 44 starts over a full season.

Appier didn’t respond to this workload by pitching well. He responded by pitching brilliantly. His brilliance was evident on Opening Day, when he threw 6.2 no-hit innings before he was pulled from the game, as the strike which had come to a sudden end at the hands of future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor had necessitated a shortened spring training, and pitchers’ arms were not fully stretched out by the start of the season.

In his first 14 starts – which only took him until June 23rd, despite the late start to the season – Appier was 11-2 with a 2.04 ERA, and for the first time in his career was getting publicity as the best pitcher in the league, if not all of baseball. He was named to the All-Star team for the first time in his career. Boone’s four-man rotation was getting a lot of positive publicity. And then the dark side of Boone’s handling of pitchers became manifest.

From May 13th through June 23rd, here are Appier’s pitch count totals: 132, 127, 112, 123, 124, 109, 122, 141, 133, 98. Even for a veteran pitcher, those numbers were absurdly dangerous, even on four days’ rest – for a pitcher working on three days’ rest for the first time in his career, they were suicidal. On June 28th, Appier surrendered five runs in eight innings – and threw 119 pitches. On July 3rd, he allowed 10 runs in 3.2 innings. After losing his third straight start on July 7th, Boone decided that after the All-Star Break he would revert to a five-man rotation.

It was too late; after three more starts (and 14 runs allowed in 12 innings), Appier went on the DL for the first time in his career. He returned three weeks later, but wasn’t the same, with a 4.24 ERA the rest of the season, and finished 15-10 with a 3.89 ERA. Appier would recover the following season, but the four-man rotation never would. Boone's experiment was actually a qualified success – Mark Gubicza, who hadn’t thrown 140 innings since he tore his rotator cuff in 1990, stayed in the rotation all year in 1995, led the league with 33 starts, and had a 3.75 ERA. But the point that baseball people took away from the Royals’ experiment is that Appier broke down, and the fact that he was throwing a ridiculous number of pitches was lost in the shuffle. No team has made a serious attempt at the four-man rotation since.

Appier remained one of the league’s best starters the next two years; he ranked 5th in the league with a 3.62 ERA in 1996, and struck out a career-high 207 batters, and in 1997 he had a 3.40 ERA, good enough for 7th place. That season his run support went from bad to worse; the Royals scored two runs or fewer in 15 of his 34 starts, and Appier went 9-13 despite an ERA+ of 137. In the last 20 years, the only other pitcher to throw 200 innings with an ERA+ of more than 130, and finish with a record at least four games under .500, was Jim Abbott in 1992, when he famously went 7-15 despite a 2.77 ERA.

From 1990 to 1997, Kevin Appier threw 1644 innings – an average of 205 per season, despite missing time due to the strike – and posted a terrific 3.22 ERA. His ERA+ was 140, a figure which generally puts you in the discussion for the Cy Young Award - that was his average ERA+ for eight years. (Justin Verlander, C.C. Sabathia, and Roy Halladay, who finished 3-4-5 in Cy Young voting this year, had ERA+ values of 133, 127, and 155.)

But Appier had the misfortune to pitch for an organization that was unworthy of his talents, so his record in that span was just 103-74 – an average of 13-9 per season.

Here’s a list of the five best pitchers in baseball from 1990 to 1997, as ranked by ERA+, with a minimum of 1200 innings pitched:

Greg Maddux: 165 ERA+, 139-70

Roger Clemens: 157 ERA+, 118-73

Kevin Appier: 140 ERA+, 103-74

David Cone, 136 ERA+, 109-69

Randy Johnson, 135 ERA+, 114-55

Of the five pitchers, Appier has by far the worst win-loss record – and it’s telling that the pitcher who comes closest, Cone, spent two years with the Royals. The other four pitchers all won a Cy Young Award in that span, while Appier was denied his.

Ask the average hard-core baseball fan who the best starting pitchers of the 1990s were, and you will probably get a list much like the one above. Their list will probably include Pedro Martinez, who had a 140 ERA+ from 1990 to 1997 but not enough innings to qualify. It will likely include Mike Mussina (130 ERA+) and Tom Glavine (128 ERA+).

But it won’t include Kevin Appier. He is the forgotten starter of the 1990s.

Appier’s success, for those of you who are too young to have watched him pitch, was based on four things: 1) a good, hard fastball, generally in the 92-94 mph range; 2) a dive-bombing split-finger fastball that was never a strike, but it was tough to lay off and impossible to hit; 3) a terrific slider with good tilt, which was particularly effective against right-handed batters, leading to a fairly pronounced platoon split (Appier’s career numbers against RHB were .234/.290/.349; against LHB they were .260/.339/.405).

The fourth and most underrated key to Appier’s success was his delivery, which had a herky-jerky motion and ended with Appier falling way off to his left side. It put him in terrible position to field the ball, but it was also invariably distracting for the hitter, and his stuff played up a notch as a result. His delivery was so unconventional that for most of his career, the conventional wisdom was that he was an arm injury waiting to happen. However, when biomechanics experts evaluated his delivery, they came to the conclusion that however unconventional it was, Appier’s delivery was actually quite efficient and did not put him at undue risk for injury.

Appier’s shoulder did come apart after the 1997 season, ending the opening act of his career, but the injury occurred in an off-field incident, reportedly when he slipped and fell of the porch while carrying some of his sister’s wedding presents. (Yeah, I know.) His return in 1998 was further delayed by a bizarre bout with colitis that briefly put him in the hospital. He returned to Kansas City for three starts in September, and it was clear he wasn’t the same pitcher – he had a 7.80 ERA and struck out just nine batters in 15 innings. In 1999, he was fully healthy, but a shell of his former self. At the end of July, he had a 4.87 ERA and had struck out just 78 batters in 140 innings. (Thanks to an offense that was suddenly clicking with guys like Mike Sweeney, Jermaine Dye, Johnny Damon, and Carlos Beltran, Appier was 9-9 despite the high ERA.)

With 1.5 years left on his contract – the ironic upside to Appier being massively underrated was that it allowed the Royals to sign him to a four-year contract extension in 1996 – it was time for Appier to go the way of most every other star player the Royals had developed. The A’s came calling with a package of Blake Stein, Jeff D’Amico, and Brad Rigby, and on July 31st, Appier’s tenure with the Royals came to an end.

None of the three pitchers the Royals got for Appier amounted to much – Blake Stein had his moments – but Appier was a disappointment in Oakland as well. He went 7-5 despite a 5.77 ERA the rest of the 1999 season, and the A’s missed the playoffs by seven games.

The following year, Appier had a 4.52 ERA and led the league with 102 walks, but with a real offense behind him he went 15-11 as the A’s won the AL West. He made his postseason debut as the Game 2 in the ALDS against the Yankees, giving up three runs in 6.1 innings and taking the loss. In the decisive Game 5, he relieved in the second inning after Gil Heredia gave up six runs in the first, and pitched well, allowing just one run in four innings as the A’s pulled to within two runs. But their rally fell short, and they were eliminated.

Whatever bad luck Appier had endured through the 90s was largely mitigated by his good fortune to be a free agent during the craziest baseball market ever, the 2000-01 offseason. In the same winter that Alex Rodriguez got his $252 million contract, where Darren Dreifort signed for 5 years, $55 million, where the Rockies gave Mike Hampton $121 million for 8 years and Denny Neagle $51 million for 5 years, it was only fair that Appier cash in as well. He did, signing a 4-year, $42 million contract with the Mets.

Unlike most free agents signed that winter, Appier earned his money, at least at first. In his first and only season in the NL, Appier’s fastball came back, or at least his strikeout rate did: he whiffed 172 batters in 207 innings and finished with a 3.57 ERA. (His low run support came back as well; he went just 11-10.) The Mets then decided to trade their slightly overpriced player straight-up for a massively overpriced player, sending Appier the following winter to the Angels for Mo Vaughn. Both players had three years left on their contracts, but Vaughn had just missed the entire 2001 season, and was due $46.5 million over the next three years. Vaughn would hit a modest .259/.349/.456 in his first year in New York. The second year, he hit .190/.323/.329 in 27 games, got hurt, and never played in the majors again.

Back in the American League, Appier continued to pitch well, going 14-12 with a 3.92 ERA for an Angels team that won 99 games and the Wild Card. The Angels then stormed their way to a world championship, though no thanks to Appier, who in five playoff starts allowed 15 runs in 22 innings. The Angels won four of his five starts, scoring six runs or more in each of the four. Appier was on pace to be the goat of the World Series when he gave up three runs in the fifth inning of Game 6, but Scott Spiezio’s three-run homer in the seventh sparked a 6-run comeback from 5-0 down, and the Angels would win behind rookie John Lackey the next day.

With a World Champion ring in hand, it seemed like the only thing Appier had left to do was to return home – and amazingly, he did. When 2003 rolled around, Appier looked like the 35-year-old with too many miles and stitches on his arm he was. Halfway through the season, he had a 5.63 ERA and lousy peripherals, his velocity was way down, and after a July in which he had a 10.91 ERA in five starts, the Angels cut him loose even with another year to go on his contract. The stage was set for him to return to Kansas City – to a team that, for the first time since his major league debut 14 years earlier, was actually in a pennant race.

Appier’s return to the Royals came on August 8th in Tampa, and though he pitched well, the Royals welcomed his return the traditional way: they got shut out. But then Appier returned to Kansas City, pitching against the mighty Yankees on a Wednesday night. The Royals entered play that day with a ½ game lead over the White Sox in the division. A crowd of 35,000-plus was in attendance that night, and they were treated to one final night of magic.

The Royals jumped on Jeff Weaver for three runs in the first, a run in the fourth, and two more in the fifth. Appier, meanwhile, had broken out the smoke and mirrors. His fastball barely hit 87 on the gun, his once-biting slider was missing more teeth than an NHL veteran, but the Yankees couldn’t do anything with him. Appier worked around a leadoff walk in the first, and a pair of singles in the second. He retired 11 in a row between the second and the sixth inning, before Derek Jeter punched a one-out single to center.

Jason Giambi batted next. Appier worked the count to 1-2, then Giambi fouled off two pitches. Sitting in front of the TV, I thought to myself at that moment, “the one thing Appier can’t do here – he can’t blow a high fastball by a guy like Giambi anymore.”

The next pitch came in. It was a fastball up in the zone, measured at 87 on the gun. Giambi took a mighty rip at the meatball.

And whiffed.

I’m not going to say that it got a little misty in the Jazayerli household. I will say that I don’t even remember Bernie Williams grounding out on the next pitch, probably because it’s hard to see through tears.

Appier’s night was done, although the Royals would tack on five more runs to render a historically pleasing final score of 11-0. The White Sox lost that night, extending the Royals’ lead in the division to 1.5 games with six weeks to go.

We could not have known at the time that this game would represent the absolute last high point in the Royals history to date. The Royals opened a three-game series against Minnesota that weekend, and with Rob Neyer and I in attendance, they got hammered in the first two games before squeaking out a 5-4 win on Sunday – after which we learned that Runelvys Hernandez had been demoted to Double-A (which finally convinced Hernandez to come clean about his arm pain, which in turn led to a diagnosis of a torn elbow ligament and Tommy John surgery).

Thanks to a White Sox sweep that weekend, the Royals had actually increased their division lead to three games with the Sunday win – but four days later, after a sweep in Yankee Stadium and a loss to the Twins in the Metrodome, the Royals had gone from 3 games up to 1 game back. They would not hold first place to themselves again all season.

But while we could not have known that Appier’s defeat of the Yankees would be one of the last meaningful victories of the decade, it would not have been surprising in the least to know that it was the last victory of his career. Which it was. In his next start, the Yankees got their revenge with six runs in six innings, and Appier didn’t strike out a single batter. On August 24th, Appier allowed one run in two messy innings, and complaining of a sore elbow, he didn’t come out for the third. He was diagnosed with a torn flexor tendon, which was essentially career-ending.

Appier rehabbed hard all winter, and was impressive enough in spring training that he was ready to be activated when the Royals first needed a fifth starter in mid-April. In his first start, he allowed 7 runs in three innings. In his second start, he pulled himself from the game after one inning with renewed elbow pain. Frustrated with the slow pace of his rehab, Appier went home in July, officially retiring so that the Royals would not have to pay him the league minimum the rest of the season (as the Angels were still on the hook for $12 million.) He unretired over the winter, came back for spring training in 2005, had nothing, refused a minor league assignment, and was released. A year later he signed with the Mariners and even made 10 appearances with Tacoma before he was released on June 2nd, and his career was finally over.

For his career, Appier went 169-137 with a 3.74 ERA and a 121 ERA+. He was an All-Star (albeit just once) and has a World Series ring. He is arguably the greatest pitcher in the history of the Kansas City Royals, who just had the misfortune to pitch for the Royals at the beginning of their long, slow, inexorable, and ongoing descent towards oblivion. He deserves to be remembered, and not just by Royals fans, as one of the game’s very best pitchers for most of the 1990s.

I can not, in good faith, make a case that he deserves enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. But I hope that at least one of the several readers of this blog who have a Hall of Fame vote will check the box next to his name anyway. The nature of Hall of Fame voting is inherently broken, as Bill James brilliantly laid out in his opus “The Politics of Glory” (later published under the name “Whatever Happened To The Hall of Fame?”)

The binary, up-or-down nature of Hall of Fame voting allows no room for nuance, and provides no mechanism for voters to distinguish between shades of Hall of Famers. This leads to a situation whereby a player who everyone agrees is just shy of being Hall-worthy gets no votes, whereas a player that has the support of a vocal minority of voters stays on the ballot year after year. This is how Lou Whitaker gets tossed off the ballot after one year, while Jack Morris sticks around year after year, gaining enough momentum each season to make his election a worrisome possibility.

So unfortunately there’s no way for a voter to show support for Appier other than by actually giving him a vote. So those of you who have a ballot – you know who you are – here’s all the justification you need to throw a vote Appier’s way: he is better than several pitchers already in the Hall. Appier’s career WARP1 total, which is a fancy way of calculating his total career value, was 48.4 wins. This is higher than the total of Hall of Famers Jesse Haines (47.5) and Rube Marquard (42.9). If you don’t want to count Haines and Marquard because they were Veterans Committee selections (and widely considered to be mistake picks), consider that Appier was also more valuable than Catfish Hunter (42.6), who was elected by the BBWAA in 1987.

Eight years ago, Jim Deshaies began a tongue-in-cheek campaign to get one Hall of Fame vote, and succeeded, getting a vote from Houston Chronicle writer John Lopez. The world didn’t end, and Lopez wasn’t censured for his vote, even though Deshaies had a lifetime 84-95 record and an ERA+ of 91 (meaning he was a below-average pitcher over the course of his career). If Jim Deshaies can get a vote, Kevin Appier sure as hell better get one too.

This isn’t like giving an undeserving player a vote on an MVP ballot, where a vote for an undeserving player is a vote not given to a deserving one. With a Hall of Fame ballot, in which 10 players can be listed but most voters rank no more than six or seven, a courtesy vote for Appier would have no impact on the voting totals for anyone else. So if you’ve got space at the end of your ballot, I’d sure appreciate it if you give a nod to Kevin Appier.

(And while we’re here, let me also urge the Royals to stop dithering and induct Appier into the team’s Hall of Fame next summer. It’s been four years since a Royals player was inducted – scout Art Stewart was enshrined in 2008. Appier should absolutely, positively be the team’s 2010 inductee.)

Appier might not get a single vote when the results are released next month, or he might receive enough votes to stay on the ballot another year. Neither result will have any impact on his place in my experience as a baseball fan. Kevin Appier was the shining beacon of light in my journey from hard-core baseball fan to insanely obsessive baseball fan to burgeoning baseball writer in the 1990s. He was a reason for me to turn on the TV or the radio or follow the play-by-play on the proto-web every fifth day. He was the inner wall of defense against the rising tide of despair that lapped at the shores of the Royals throughout the 1990s, and it’s no coincidence that the bottom fell out on the organization soon after he got hurt.

I can’t imagine my history as a Royals fan without the eight years I spent watching and rooting for Kevin Appier. No matter whether the Hall of Fame chooses to give him some small measure of remembrance next month, he’ll be remembered by the fans that had the pleasure to watch him pitch for a long time to come.


Quick administrative note: Major League Baseball is holding its winter meetings this week, and instead of holding them in Phoenix or Las Vegas or Orlando or some other warm-weather clime, this time they’re holding them in…Indianapolis. I can’t fathom why, but I also can’t complain, as it’s a four-hour drive from my house. I’ve never been to the winter meetings before, but I’m planning to drive down Tuesday evening and stay through Wednesday night, and thanks to WHB I have my press credentials. So I’m lifting my blog silence while I’m down there; be sure to check in here if the Royals make any big moves at the meeting.

(And they may be starting early, if the rumored five-year, $7 million deal with Noel Arguelles is true. If it is: me like. Me like very much.)


Hemlock Guy said...

In the event that Appier doesn't get any Hall of Fame votes, then...

...everyone involved with putting together the Royals' rosters in Appier's prime should drink hemlock!

Anonymous said...

Circle me, Terry Shumpert.

Phil said...

Great post!

Although I now need a nap after reading War and Peace of undervalued 1990's baseball stars from small market teams.

Anonymous said...

I was at that Yankees game in 2003 where Appier bamboozled his way through that lineup. I remember him coming off the mound to a standing ovation - it was great, and everyone in attendance knew what we were watching.

Looking back, it almost seems like I knew that we weren't going to end up winning the Central. We were all just a bunch of crazy dreamers back then. But, hey, we had our moment when Appier was the Great Ape once again, and we stomped the Yankees.

Great post.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post, Rany. Signing Arguelles would be quite a coup.

sw said...

Great post. I'll always remember Appier as the face of the Kansas City Royals for the 1990s decade. Growing up in Cleveland, I didn't know much about the Royals except that they were usually bad, and they had Kevin Appier, who was one of the best pitchers in baseball. It still blows my mind that he only made one All-Star team when the Royals were not exactly flush with talent in his best years. Now that he's five years post retirement, there's really no excuse for the Royals not to honor him in their team HOF.

Anonymous said...

I would like to know more or have a reference to the comment about Jesse Haines being a mistake pick.

Anonymous said...

Anon: Read Bill James' book "Whatever Happened To The Hall of Fame." He explains why Jesse Haines, and several other players, were poor Hall of Fame selections.

Basically, in a nutshell, there are many non-Hall of Fame pitchers in baseball history whose credentials are at least as good as Haines', and many of them are distinctly superior to him. The same is also true of Rube Marquard, and to a lesser extent, people like Waite Hoyt, Herb Pennock and even Don Drysdale.

Anonymous said...

Kevin Appier is probably the single player (if I had to name one) that ignited my Royals fire (the embers are still glowing beneath the ashes).

On Arguelles: this signing adds to my belief that Dayton Moore is a solid player development GM despite his well-documented struggles moving and acquiring major league players...which makes sense. He has a lot of experience in player development. Perhaps there's a learning curve as to major league player acquisition as well.

Anonymous said...

Rany, good to see you posting again. I don't know what "dithering" the Royals have done re: getting Appier into the team HoF, he isn't eligible until this year, but he should definitely be in.

Re: this new Cuban guy. Nice to see him sign with the Royals, but I temper my excitement by remembering that we thought Yasuhiko Yabuta would be good too. And, we had a manager who should have known him from Japan.

Given the banner text on your blog since Zack won the Cy Young, I'd love to see some commentary comparing Greinke 2009 to Saberhagen 1989, which I've always thought was the best year ever for a Royals starting pitcher.

RoyalGreek said...

Great article, as usual. I love the pointed mark at Jack Morris, whose constant and increasing support for the Hall makes you think of Jim Rice, who I think was a joke to gain enshrinement.
Where do you stand on Rice's selection?

RoyalGreek said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Good read.

There was an older pitcher who famously fell off the mound to one side sorta like Appier - Bob Gibson. That guy was successful as well, and didn't suffer an inordinate amount of injuries either.

Darin said...

Great post, Rany! Like Anon in comment #4, I was at that Yankee game in I'll have to dig out my scorecard from that night sometime. I guess I'm too optimistic--if you had told me that night what the next 6 years (and counting) would be like, I wouldn't have believed it could ever get so bad.

To this day, I have an irrational but strong dislike for Jack McDowell. Although I had very little knowledge of the sabermetric stats in 1993, I knew in my heart Ape had been robbed. For Zack's sake, I'm glad there has been so much progress on that front!

Anonymous said...

another great article, Rany! Like Ndamukong Suh will be, Ape dominated his side of the ball but was denied his sport's highest recognition by an anemic offense.

RoyalPrick said...

I probably only went to 3 or 4 games a year in my younger days. But the one game that I remember the most vividly even to this day is the one-hit loss to the Rangers. Although I would of gambled that it was Juan Gone that hit the home run, I still remember that Joyner didn't start (but came in to pinch-hit in the ninth) and Brett going 0-fer. Weird stuff you remember as a 9 year old.

Chris said...

Excellent post about Appier, Rany. Just shows how our almost TWO decades long lack of offense has screwed a possible HOF career.

Can't wait to see your blog about the winter meetings. Hope there's an analysis about the Rule 5 draft and if the Royals made a good selection or a mistake. Sounds like they got a good start with the signing of Arguellas.

Thanks for all you do!

Anonymous said...


The Royals should be hot after Granderson.

What about DeJesus and Callaspo for Granderson.

Then the Royals could take the money they are spending on Guillen, Farnsworth and Betancourt and sign Matt Holiday.

I know, I know, worthless to even think this way, but I have to have some reason to hope.

Anyway, what do you think about Granderson in center for KC?

ItsThisOrTherapy said...

Like Anon4 and Darin, I was there that night in 2003. I went to a lot of games this decade, but that one has to be the highlight. Thanks for the nice write-up.

Maybe the sting of the Yuni trade is wearing off, but looking at strengthening of the farm system, the new trainer, and now the Arguelles signing make me more optimistic again. I would agree with another anonymous commenter that maybe there is a learning curve in being a GM.

Anonymous said...

rany, i come back to your site a couple times a week hoping to see new content. thanks for another wonderful piece.

Anonymous said...

December 6....Appier's birthday....good timing on the post

Shelby said...

Am I wrong in thinking that






Dos Carlos said...

Thanks for the great post Rany, it's good to have you back. Appier is probably one of my 4 or 5 favorite Royals of all time, with the guys above him all coming from the great squads that preceded him in the 80s. Here's hoping he gets his Royals HOF due.
Also, thanks for the nod to Politics of Glory. I picked it up more or less at random in the sports section of a book store over a decade ago, and it ignited my interest in the sabremetrics movement.

Anonymous said...

I was at the game in 1993 where he threw the one hit loss. It is the best pitching performance I have ever seen in person. (and I was at Saberhagen's no hitter)

The pitch Palmiero hit the Home Run on was sick! I turned to my friend and said "Nobody could have pulled that ball out of here! He must be juicing"

As it turned out he was. And he just got 335 feet out of it.

Tiger said...

Well, he did get a vote.

Kevin Appier said...

I agree with the first post that was made on this thread.