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Kansas City Royals
"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 tough."
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 teamsor 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.
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."
by Mark Bechtel
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