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A Sudden Slide Into Uncertainty
Jim Kaplan
March 12, 1984
After a year of disappointments and cocaine busts, Kansas City puts on its new face
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March 12, 1984

A Sudden Slide Into Uncertainty

After a year of disappointments and cocaine busts, Kansas City puts on its new face

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For his part, Balboni has never had any problem riding baseballs out of minor league ball parks—he averaged 30 home runs and 96 RBIs a season at Fort Lauderdale, Nashville and Columbus, all of which, Howser says, have "legitimate parks"—but has just seven home runs and a .210 average for his 200 major league at bats with the Yankees. For three seasons, Balboni shuttled between New York and Columbus until the Yankees ran out of options and had to keep him or trade him. "You never knew where you stood in New York," says Balboni, 28, a hulking 6'3" 225-pounder. "I know my role here: Play first base and hit for power."

To obtain Balboni, the Royals gave up Mike Armstrong, their top middle reliever. Armstrong, who set up many of Quisenberry's record 45 saves in 1983, will be replaced this season by rookie righthander Mike Huismann. "I hear Huismann's got a good sinker," says Quisenberry, "but after that it's dot, dot, dot. Armstrong pitched 100-plus innings the last two years and won 10 games in 1983. There are no dot, dot, dots after a player like that."

Complicating the Royals' pitching problems, Leonard, who ripped the patellar tendon of his left knee while delivering a pitch to Cal Ripken, won't be available until at least the All-Star Game—and may not pitch at all in '84. "I don't know which got rigor mortis first—my glove or my body," Leonard said one day last week as he prepared to throw a baseball for the first time in eight months. Besides gentle throwing, Leonard's daily workouts will consist of three hours of therapy and leg-strengthening exercises. "The physical part isn't so bad," he said. "The mental part is awful."

Pitcher Paul Splittorff, a holdover from K.C.'s glory days and the winner of 13 games last season, surveyed the new order at the Royals camp and said, "It's always a gamble when you're using guys who haven't played regularly." Others, however, see a bright side to all the change. "It's more fun coming to spring training when you have something to prove," said McRae. He may have lots of fun in '84.

While the K.C. management stubbornly refused to provide the team with a quick fix via the free-agent route, it didn't twiddle its thumbs all winter. At the front office's urging, four Royal veterans—Wathan, pitchers Larry Gura and Leonard and shortstop U.L. Washington—underwent winter sessions in "Positive Imagery," conducted by psychologist Sid Salzberg. Also, in January the team launched RAP (Royals Accelerated Program), a $3 million venture in Sarasota, Fla., in which 40 top Royal prospects, 13 instructors and numerous specialists will work for two months each year on baseball fundamentals, public speaking, motivation, drug abuse prevention and finances. The first RAP session concluded recently, and Morris, the rookie rightfielder, who was a participant, says, "The best part was that they brought in some major-leaguers to speak to us. I was especially impressed with McRae, who said that minor-leaguers spend too much time thinking and too little time reacting and being aggressive. That really hit home."

Perhaps the most positive news for the Royals is that the people of Kansas City haven't abandoned them. Through last weekend the Royals had sold more season tickets than their 1983 total of 12,468. What the fans seem to be saying is this: "We don't care if you give us a winning team, just give us an interesting one."

That it will be, particularly in the outfield. Leftfielder Davis, 25, who wasn't even invited to spring camp last year, had 624 at bats for Jacksonville and Omaha, but saved his best for last. Called up to Kansas City on Aug. 23, he hit .344 and had six triples in 33 games with the Royals. "I guess the adrenaline took over," says Davis.

Morris, 23, a political science major at Seton Hall, hit .287 and had 23 home runs for Jacksonville in '83. "I think I'm good at internalizing things," he says. "If I make an offensive or defensive adjustment, I can put it in my memory bank."

As for Sheridan, 26, he played 109 games for K.C. last season and hit .270. A rightfielder in '83, he starts the '84 season in Wilson's centerfield position. "Now I have to get used to taking charge instead of letting Otis or Wilson make the catches," he said. "It's a big change, but I can handle it."

If Sheridan can't handle it, and if Brett, McRae, Balboni and all the others can't handle it either, well, there's always next season. Make that The Season After The Season After The Season After.

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