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Royal mess

From top to bottom, K.C. oozes ineptitude

Posted: Wednesday August 31, 2005 1:37PM; Updated: Thursday September 1, 2005 1:33PM
Shawn Camp
All Shawn Camp could do Sunday was scratch his head after the Yankees came back from a five-run deficit.

I don't know if I've ever been madder at a sporting event than I was at the Yankees-Royals game last Saturday. I was at Yankee Stadium as a fan -- roasting in the sun and turning bright red (but, because of where our seats were, only on the right half of my face) -- hoping that K.C. could knock off the Yanks and help the Indians in the wild-card race. I realize banking on the Royals is an iffy proposition, but they put together a couple of nice rallies and took a 7-3 lead to the bottom of the ninth. I felt pretty good, even knowing that this was the same team that gave up an 11-spot in the ninth a few weeks ago. K.C. has a couple of live arms in the bullpen, and what were the odds it'd gag twice?

Pretty good, as it turns out. They gave up five runs and lost 8-7, and I spent the next hour punching my pal Boz in the arm. The most frustrating thing is that the AL postseason races are being impacted by an organization that from the top down looks completely disinterested in winning. Saturday's game had some head-scratching moments. Young fireballer Ambiorix Burgos got the Royals out of a jam in the eighth, but manager Buddy Bell took him out to start the ninth. He had only thrown 19 pitches, but he had worked long a couple nights earlier, so it made a certain amount of sense. Bell brought in Jeremy Affeldt, who threw away a game-ending double play ball and got into all sorts of trouble. Bell knew he had to get him out before he blew the entire lead; so what did he do? Instead of calling on his closer, Mike MacDougal, who didn't pitch the night before and had only thrown 23 pitches in the previous five days, Bell brought in Shawn Camp, a long reliever with an ERA over 7.00. He might as well have brought in Shawn Kemp. After the game, Bell said, "MacDougal has had a tired arm for a couple of days. So I told him before the game that he wasn't pitching." Fine. Now, Buddy, if you'll explain what MacDougal was doing throwing in the bullpen in the ninth inning it'll all make perfect sense. Way to save that arm.

That's just nitpicking, though. The real problem with the Royals is much bigger: they just aren't run well. They can use the small-market excuse all they want, but teams in smaller cities (Minneapolis, Atlanta, Miami) and urban areas (San Diego, Philly) have shown they can compete. When the Royals have to decide what to do with a good young player whom they're going to have to pay to keep, one of two things happens (paying him is out of the question): they let him walk, or they trade him for junk. Kansas City has made three big trades in the name of fiscal responsibility. The hot commodities it offloaded were Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye and Carlos Beltran. Here's what the Royals got:

• Damon was part of a three-team deal between the Royals, Devil Rays and A's. Damon went to Oakland with then minor leaguer Mark Ellis. In return, K.C. got shortstop Angel Berroa, catcher A.J. Hinch and closer Roberto Hernandez. Hinch never hit. Hernandez was OK (his ERA was over 4.00 both years he spent with the team), but he made $6 million a year. And after a big rookie season in 2003, Berroa is worse than the Royals' throw-in, Ellis. (Berroa is hitting .260 with 8 homers, 34 RBIs and a .656 OPS. Ellis is .305, 8, 40, .817)

• Dye was traded to Colorado for Neifi Perez at the 2001 deadline. Perez played a year-and-a-half in K.C., hit .240 and was released.

• Beltran went to Houston in a three-teamer that also included Oakland. The Royals got Mike Wood (5.94 ERA last year, 4.12 this year), light-hitting catcher John Buck and Mark Teahen, who doesn't look anything like a major league hitter. He's supposed to be one of these on-base machines, which is why his lack of power is overlooked. Well, his OBP is .299. I know he's a rookie, but I'm not sold.

That's not much to show for the deals. And it's not like there's help on the way in the form of homegrown talent. Of the 13 pitchers who have made at least 15 starts in Class AAA, Class AA and high A ball, exactly one has an ERA under 4.50. Ten are over 5.00, including a 6.86 and a 7.41.

For years the Royals were as close to a model franchise as the AL had. From 1975 to '89 they finished worse than second just twice, and both of those times they came in third. They did it with minimal turnover and they usually were in the top three or four in the AL in attendance. It's a shame how far they've fallen, how they've become a team that doesn't have good players, can't trade for good players, can't draft good players and refuses to pay for good players.

Funniest thing I read this week

From the always funny McSweeney's Web site, a clever piece with a fantastic title: "Thirty-Nine Questions for Charlie Daniels Upon Hearing The Devil Went Down to Georgia for the First Time in 25 Years"

My favorites:

35. Was it really necessary or wise to invite the Devil to come on back if he ever wants to try again?

36. 'Cause what does Johnny need, a second golden fiddle?

Idiot of the Week

Another reminder that gas and cigarette lighters are usually a bad mix.