Thursday, July 2, 2009

Back to Normal.

Well, it’s sure been an interesting day. I’ve fielded interview requests from national media and inspired a Twitterati revolution, all while seeing 20 patients and conducting a staff meeting at the office. Thank God it’s a holiday weekend.

Thanks to my friends at 810 WHB, it appears that cooler heads have prevailed. The Royals have admitted that their threats to force other radio shows to choose between having me on and having access to the team were made in the heat of the moment.

I freely admit that the Royals are well within their rights to snub my radio show if they don’t like what I’m saying. But there’s a big difference between passively resisting my show and actively trying to sabotage my career. Now that the latter possibility is off the table, we’re cool. I don’t think I’ll be dining with Dayton Moore anytime soon, but I’ll get over my disappointment eventually.

And while the Baseball Prospectus event at the ballpark is probably dead – although you never know – I’m still planning to come to Kansas City that weekend. So those of you who are interested, keep the evening of July 18th open, and hopefully I can meet all of you then – even if it’s something as casual as telling people to meet in front of one of the gates and then we all buy seats in the cheapest section of the ballpark.

So let us hope there will be no need to speak of this again. I’m going to take the long weekend to recover, and look forward to making my usual Monday morning appearance on the Border Patrol. And hopefully I’ll be back here next week with a new post that calls for someone other than Nick Swartz to lose their job. I’m thinking of going after the PA announcer next. Or maybe the guys who set off the fireworks on Friday nights. They suck.

Many thanks to everyone for their support. You never know how many friends you have until you need them, and it turns out I have more than I deserve. And to the Royals: it will take a lot more than this to break my fandom. I wish I knew how to quit you. But I don’t.



As those of you who follow me on twitter (@jazayerli) know, the Royals are PISSED OFF at me right now. Let’s just say you won’t hear anyone from the front office on my radio show anytime soon.

I confess to being surprised that after years of being critical of the Royals when criticism was warranted – which, as their win-loss record shows, is most of the time – my last post should have set them off like that. I must have overlooked the rules of decorum that go with evaluating the record of Supreme Court Justice Nick Swartz. Criticize a player, liken the manager’s intelligence with that of a farm animal, call for the GM’s head: these are all acceptable things. But suggest that the trainer might need to be upgraded after 19 years – well, that’s beyond the pale.

I empathize with the team’s frustration at the fact that I’m not present at the stadium to be held accountable for what I write. I’m as surprised as anyone that 13 years after I started writing professionally, and six years after I settled in Chicago with my family, I’ve suddenly become an established part of the Kansas City sports media scene. I’d be more than happy to show my face at the stadium regularly if it were at all practical – believe me, I have no intention of becoming the (Jay) Mariotti on the Missouri. (Fortunately, I’ve got a long way to go on that front. By now Mariotti – from the comfort of his home – would have accused Bob Dutton of being spineless for not asking the tough questions in the clubhouse.)

But just because I’m not at Kauffman Stadium is no reason to take your frustrations out on other people – in front of half the local media, no less. If you’ve got a problem with something I wrote, by all means, contact me – I’m not hard to get ahold of. I’m a big boy; I can handle it.

I was, in fact, planning to show my face at the ballpark in two weeks. We had been working behind the scenes for the past several weeks to put together a Baseball Prospectus night at Kauffman Stadium – an event that we have held with much success at a number of major league parks around the country. We even had the date tentatively set for July 17th, we were lining up guests from Kansas City and around the country, and I was just a few days away from announcing the details to all of you fine readers. Unfortunately, that event is now on indefinite hiatus. I guess the Royals have no interest in selling 100+ tickets to their Hall of Fame Suites at $80 a pop.

Having already cleared the weekend on my schedule, I’m still planning to come to town that weekend, so maybe I’ll get the chance to face the heat. Or maybe not: I was just informed last night that I’ve been blacklisted by the team. That’s right: I’ve been banned by the Royals! The way this team is playing, I’m not sure if the Royals are trying to punish me or reward me.

(EDITED FOR CLARIFICATION: Just to be clear here, since I think everyone's taking my words a little too literally: I don't think I've been "banned" in the sense that they're going to have security guards outside the stadium making sure that I don't buy a ticket. It does mean that the Royals have cut off any access I may have from the team for my radio show, and - this is critical - have intimated that any other radio show which has me on as a guest faces the same penalty.

I see this as the equivalent of having my media credentials taken away, except of course that I don't have media credentials, and the Royals have made it clear they don't give media credentials to bloggers.)

But enough about me. That’s one of the regrettable things about all this: that I’ve become part of the story, which is something I never wanted. The sad reality, though, is that there was no way to avoid becoming part of this story without reporting on the story in the first place. And I wouldn’t have been doing my job if I didn’t comment on an issue that was on the minds of Royals fans everywhere.

The post – and the Royals’ reaction to it – has earned me a ton of feedback from people who are much closer to the situation than I am. That feedback has been pretty unanimous: the training/medical staff, as a whole, is an embarrassment, and a significant detriment to the Royals when compared to that of other teams. There has been considerably less unanimity on the subject of Nick Swartz: some people feel he is the problem, some people feel he is merely the face of a much larger problem. No one, I should stress, feels he is part of the solution.

If there’s one thing I wish I had done differently with my last column, it’s that I wish I had taken out a shotgun instead of a laser-guided sniper rifle. It seemed to me – and still seems to me – that when 1) the medical care of your players has been substandard for close to two decades and 2) you’ve had the same trainer for those same two decades, that you ought to replace the trainer. But I was wrong when I said that “EVERY SINGLE person involved with baseball operations has been replaced in that span – why should Swartz be the exception?” It turns out that there is one other exception. I’m hesitant to even mention this, so here – I’ll just quote directly from the Royals’ website:

“Dr. Steve Joyce begins his 31st year as a Team Physician and 23rd as the Head Team Physician for the Royals. Dr. Joyce is an orthopedic surgeon at Dickson-Dively Midwest Orthopedic Clinic and Kansas City Orthopedic Institute, which was established in 1999. He was the President of the Major League Baseball Physicians Association in 1994 and 1995.”

Yeah, it’s probably best that I leave it at that.

Contrary to what the Royals might think, I don’t have a vendetta against Swartz. I don’t have an agenda here – unless you count “I want to see the Royals win” as an agenda. But sports is the ultimate results-based industry. In the short run, excuses are fine. In the long run, well, it doesn’t matter how good your reasons are for missing the playoffs year after year – all that matters is that you miss the playoffs year after year. If you’re not successful, you lose your job and someone else gets the opportunity to see if they can be successful. If they’re not, the wheel turns yet again. Such is life.

In the short run, maybe no one’s to blame for the fact that Coco Crisp tried to play through an injury that ultimately ended his season. In the long run, when there are stories like Coco Crisp’s year after year after 19 freaking years – someone needs to be held accountable. It is astonishing to me that not only do the Royals not see that, but that they would take offense at anyone who might dare to suggest that the same rules that apply to players and coaches and managers should also apply to trainers.

Look, if the Royals want me to concede that I’m not completely sure that Swartz is the problem: fine, I’ll happily concede that. Without access to medical records - which I will not and should not have access to - I can't be completely sure. Just as I wasn’t completely sure that Buddy Bell was a bad hire, or that Tony Pena couldn’t hit, or that spending $1.8 million on Horacio Ramirez was a waste of money.

But I am certain – as certain as I’ve been of anything related to the Royals since the day they traded Jermaine Dye for Neifi Perez – that THERE IS A PROBLEM. If the Royals don’t think that Swartz is the problem, then by all means, keep him – but figure out what the problem is.

If it means firing Swartz, then fire Swartz. If it means keeping Swartz but firing the rest of your training staff, or finding new team doctors, or conducting full-body MRIs of every player on a weekly basis – then do it. The only thing the Royals can’t do is deny reality. They can’t hide from the fact that, for a time period that stretches well into the last century, the team has lost way too many players to injuries that, if not preventable, were at least manageable.

There have been too many Crisps, too many Affeldts, too many Rosados, too many Jim Pittsleys. (Even more than Rosado, Pittsley – one of the best pitching prospects the team ever had before he hurt his elbow – was poorly-served by the team’s medical staff.) There’s just too much damn evidence. It’s time to fix the problem, but the Royals can’t fix the problem if they don’t identify the problem. And they can’t identify the problem if they won’t admit there’s a problem.

Or, hey, they can just circle the wagons and ban some blogger in Chicago for having the temerity to write on-the-record what everyone in the KC media has been saying off-the-record for years. (A blogger, mind you, who is notorious for being stupidly optimistic about the Royals. I mean, I wrote this less than two months ago.)

Better still, they can have the chutzpah to do that the day after Trey Hillman goes out of his way during his pre-game comments to complement “Nick and his crew” for the work they’ve been doing – and then THE VERY NEXT DAY announce that another everyday player who was allowed to play after being diagnosed with an injury is now out for the season. (By the way, gotta love this quote from Mike Aviles yesterday (emphasis mine): “It’s definitely disappointing,” Aviles said, “but I know something’s wrong there because it wasn’t getting any better. When I got a second opinion, that’s when we found the tear.)

It’s your choice, guys. Just know that the hallmark of good organizations is that they don’t shoot the messenger.

That’s what has upset me most about all this. Ever since Dayton Moore was hired, I have largely taken the position that the Royals – while not yet a good team – were a good organization. That is very much in question now. Good organizations don’t make excuses for injuries at the same time that they’re using those injuries as an excuse. Good organizations don’t whine about the media in one of the smallest and most accommodating media markets in the country. Good organizations realize that when they’ve won 15 of their last 48 games, they have more important things to worry about than what the media is saying. Good organizations don’t use Luis Hernandez as a pinch-hitter. And God Almighty, good organizations don’t treat one of their most valuable players the way the Royals treated Gil Meche yesterday.

You’re better than this, guys. Stop trying to match the arrogance and the secrecy of the Pioli family across the street. (Trust me: you can’t. No one can. It’s not possible.) Stop worrying about the criticism that you’re getting from people like me – what, are you guys going to ban Posnanski now too? – and start looking at your organization with a critical eye yourselves. The defining hallmark of good organizations is that they are more critical of themselves than any outsider would be. And God knows there’s an awful lot to be critical about.