The truth--what somebody really thinks of you--usually comes out
when you're not around. Early in spring training a few baseball
writers were sitting in the office of a National League manager.
A challenge was issued: Name 10 Kansas City Royals correctly
before getting five wrong.
"I can't do it," a veteran scribe said.
The manager shook his head sympathetically, not for the writer's
plight, but for the Royals. He smiled thinly and said, "It's
Last year Kansas City paid substantial sums for the talents of
DH Chili Davis, first baseman Jeff King and shortstop Jay Bell.
They all had good years. It didn't help. The Royals finished
last in the American League Central for the second consecutive
year. Davis and Bell, free agents and smart men, left for richer
pastures. King opted to stay behind, re-signing for two years.
Among his teammates are Brian Bevil and Matt Whisenant. There
are no typos in the preceding sentence. Those are the names of
two pitchers in the Kansas City bullpen.
The Royals are an organization with a lot of pride. They keep
their ballpark beautiful. Their players are role models, solid
citizens. They field respectable teams--or they did, until last
year (67-94) and the year before that (75-86). The timing of
this funk is awful for the team's board of directors, who soon
will be looking to sell the club and now will have to test the
market with a bargain-basement team.
This spring the players were given a fancy sheet of paper with
the club's mission statement printed on its center: "Our purpose
is to develop a winning organization, provide exciting
entertainment, quality services and value to baseball fans,
customers and stakeholders." The namby-pamby nature of that
sentence may reveal the underlying problems at the top of the
Royals' organization. Memo to the brass: Before writing your
next mission statement, see Jerry Maguire.
The mission statement did not come from the typewriter of Larry
Doughty, Kansas City's vice president for player personnel and a
baseball lifer. He's old school. He supported the firing of Bob
Boone as manager midway through last season. "Bob was a manager
who gave the players too much credit," Doughty says. What is his
take on Boone's successor, Tony Muser? "Tony understands that
young players are not always finished products."
Muser's a tough guy, by modern-skipper standards. He doesn't
allow golf clubs on road trips. Jeff Conine, picked up from the
Marlins in a trade for minor-league righthander Blaine Mull,
says Muser works his players much harder than Florida manager
Jim Leyland does. (Conine wasn't complaining; he's a worker
bee.) For whatever it's worth, Muser won 31 games and lost 48
after taking over from Boone.
Muser, managing in the majors for the first time, says his
players suffered from "an inability to concentrate, a lack of a
clear vision of what's expected of them." He says the Royals
lost 20 swing games after he took over, by which he means games
decided by one or two runs. He believes that by teaching
fundamentals--how to hit the cutoff man, how to lay down a
sacrifice bunt--many potential swing losses will become swing
wins. In the meantime he may need a teacher of his own, to learn
how to relax. After a 6-5 loss to the Indians, he said, "We lost
a swing game today. We got a long bus ride tomorrow and another
big game." And that was during spring training.
One more thing. It's not that hard to name 10 Royals, if the
rules allow you to count George Brett. He's 44 now and hasn't
played for four years, but he's vice president for baseball
operations and still a presence. There are Conine and King.
There are Lee Smith, 40, and Terry Pendleton, 37, hanging on.
There's Jose Offerman, the second baseman, who cut his errors
from 35 in '95 to 16 in '96 and nine last year. There's Hal
Morris, the DH, who has hit well over .300 in three of the last
five years for the Reds. There's Dean Palmer, the third baseman,
who has 163 homers in less than seven seasons. There's Jeff
Montgomery, the Royals' alltime save leader, with 256.
Then there's Tim Belcher, the wily righthander, 36 years old and
the winner of his club's award for pitcher of the year last
season. "I don't think a 13-12 record with a 5.02 ERA warrants
an award," Belcher says, chagrined, of course. "But on our club,
I guess it did."
COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE CRASH SCENE With all the comings and goings in K.C., players like infielder Jed Hansen sometimes get caught in traffic.
COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON [Jeff Conine]
BY THE NUMBERS
1997 Team Statistics (AL rank)
1997 record: (fifth in AL Central)
BATTING AVERAGE .264(10) OPP. BATTING AVG. .274(9)
RUNS SCORED 747(12) ERA 4.70(8)
HOME RUNS 158(10) FIELDING PCT. .985(2)
WHAT THEY NEEDED: A shortstop to replace Jay Bell, a slugger to
replace Chili Davis, proven starting pitching and a closer so
they can put a fork in slumpadelic Jeff Montgomery.
WHAT THEY GOT: Former Marlin Jeff Conine for the outfield,
reliever Lee Smith, DH-first baseman Hal Morris.
WHAT IT ALL MEANS: K.C. didn't pick up any quality arms (Smith
had one--once upon a time), and Davis's power was not replaced.
Conine and Morris are the vanilla wafers of baseball, which
means they'll hit .280, drive in 70 runs and won't excite anyone
but their accountants. On a good team, they're perfect plug-ins;
on the doomed Royals, they're stars. This is a bad thing.
In Florida last year he was known as Mr. Marlin. That said, Jeff
Conine was a) Mr. Too Expensive and b) Mr. Mediocre in '97,
which is why he was traded back to Kansas City, where he began
his career eight years ago. Conine, 31, will start in left for
the Royals, who--with the defection of DH Chili Davis to the
Yankees--need more than the .242 average, with 17 homers and 61
RBIs, he put up while hitting in the middle of a stacked Marlins
lineup. In fact, on a team where only Jeff King and Dean Palmer
supply true power, 90 RBIs is a must for Conine if Kansas City
expects to clear .500 and he wants a shot at being "Mr. Royal."
Projected Roster With 1997 Statistics
Manager: Tony Muser (first full season with Kansas City)
BATTING ORDER B/T BA HRs RBIs SBs
CF Johnny Damon L .275 8 48 16
2B Jose Offerman S/R .297 2 39 9
DH Hal Morris[***] L .276 1 33 3
1B Jeff King R .238 28 112 16
LF Jeff Conine[***] R .242 17 61 2
3B Dean Palmer R .256 23 86 2
RF Jermaine Dye R .236 7 22 2
C Mike Sweeney R .242 7 31 3
SS Felix Martinez* (R) S/R .254 2 36 21
OF Roderick Myers L .257 2 9 4
IF Shane Halter R .276 2 10 4
IF Jed Hansen R .309 1 14 3
C Mike Macfarlane R .237 8 35 0
STARTERS W L IPS BR ERA
RH Kevin Appier 9 13 6.9 1.24 3.40
RH Tim Belcher 13 12 6.7 1.49 5.02
LH Jose Rosado 9 12 6.2 1.40 4.69
LH Chris Haney 1 2 5.1 1.46 4.38
LH Glendon Rusch 6 9 6.1 1.56 5.50
RELIEVERS W L S BR ERA
RH Jeff Montgomery 1 4 14 1.20 3.49
RH Hipolito Pichardo 3 5 11 1.55 4.22
RH Lee Smith[***] 0 1 5 1.71 5.82
RH Brian Bevil 1 2 1 1.59 6.61
LH Matt Whisenant+ 1 0 0 1.85 4.57
RH Pat Rapp[***] 5 8 0 1.67 4.83
[***]New acquisition (R) Rookie B/T: Bats/throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start BR: Base runners per inning pitched
*Triple A stats +Combined AL and NL stats