Roaming the Seattle Kingdoms last Friday, a visitor arrived at the area around the visiting team's dugout and stumbled onto the set of Romper Room. Or so it seemed, as Kansas City Royals third baseman Gregg Jefferies frolicked on the turf some two hours before a Mariners-Royals game. See Gregg select a bat and "putt" baseballs into the on-deck circle. Sec Gregg "dunk" a teammate's glove onto the dugout roof. See Gregg boot a glove at centerfielder Brian McRae, who obligingly reaches for the sky, becoming a human goalpost. "Just wide!" shouts Jefferies as the glove sails left.
The Royals, like that muffed field goal, strayed off course in the season's opening week, lurching to an 0-6 start and playing like a bunch of guys who have only just met one another, which, in fact, they are. Indeed, no team in baseball has shuffled its starting lineup more thoroughly since last season. Says K.C. trainer Nick Swartz, "This spring you needed a press guide to know who the hell was who around here."
Now the 1992 Royals are trying to figure out what the hell is going on. "We can't seem to do anything right," said manager Hal McRae after Friday night's loss. "We're on a bad stretch right now, and the mistakes are magnified when you're coming out of the blocks, because you've been telling the fans all winter how good you're going to be."
The array of goofs included runners picked off base, runners caught in rundowns, batters missing hit-and-run signals, pitchers making costly balks and coaches committing sartorial transgressions. On April 8, during a game against the Athletics on a pleasant evening in Oakland, Kansas City pitching coach Guy Hansen trotted out to the mound in a knee-length parka. "Forgot I had the damn thing on," he said. "Took about 10 steps and felt like crawling into a hole." Hansen was later fined an undisclosed amount by a team tribunal.
Doing their best to appear unconcerned were the Royals' resident wise men. "We haven't given them the games." said designated hitter George Brett after last Wednesday's 13-inning, 4-3 loss to the A's. "I mean, it's not like we're Seattle, giving up 12 runs a night." Brett was right. Two nights and another loss later, the Royals held the Mariners to well under a dozen runs, losing 9-3.
Yet while Kansas City's play last week varied from poor to fair, Jefferies's mood ranged, for the most part, from ebullient to downright giddy. Last December the Royals sent ace pitcher Bret Saberhagen and late-blooming infielder Bill Pecota to the New York Mets for Jefferies, outfielder Kevin McReynolds and utilityman Keith Miller. For Jefferies, deemed by many New York observers the most unpopular player in the history of the Mets' clubhouse, the deal wasn't so much a trade as a deliverance.
In their polite, Midwestern way, Royals fans decried the deal. Their beloved Sabes had twice won the Cy Young Award, and as the MVP of the 1985 World Series, he was one of the few remaining links to the Royals' glory days.
Casting a colder eye on the situation was Kansas City general manager Herk Robinson. The franchise that had been to the playoffs in 1976, 77, '78, '80, '81, '84 and '85 was in a royal funk, coming off two consecutive sixth-place finishes. After free agent Danny Tartabull, who had 31 homers and 100 RBIs last year, signed with the New York Yankees in the offseason, Robinson prescribed major surgery. "Having lost Tartabull." Robinson says, "it was difficult to envision much of an improvement on sixth place." Even if Saberhagen won a third Cy Young.
Two days before pulling the trigger on the Saberhagen deal. Robinson signed first baseman Wally Joyner, who, after six seasons in Anaheim, opted to close down Wally World and leave the California Angels, whose front office. Joyner felt, did not appreciate him. Two obvious questions arise:
1) Will Joyner reopen Wally World in Royals Stadium? "Don't know," he says.