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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Kansas City Royals Continue to be a Losing Franchise

According to reliable sources (Wikipedia), “The Kansas City Royals are a Major League Baseball team based in Kansas City, Missouri.” Only part of that is true. Here is a toast to one of the only teams in professional sports to defy the laws of physics and be able to reacquire the “expansion team” label. If KC is the so-called “Heart of America,” then the Royals are its atherosclerosis. Kansas City is a place that prides itself on its contribution to jazz and blues, apparently its autocracy (Kings? Chiefs? Royals?) and its barbecue legacy. The latter being the most appropriate in this case, since the town has been trying to unsuccessfully clean up the mess left by the team over the last quarter-century, a mess that has nothing to do with sauce or pine tar for that matter. Anyone have a WetNap?

Legend has it that the Royals began play in 1969 shortly before Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface but right after many Kansas Citians (City-ites?) stepped in a pile of something. Two years later, they had their first winning season under a manager ironically named Lemon. Baseball’s version of Methuselah, Jack McKeon, took over as manager in 1973 (yup, the same one — McKeon that is). Along the way, the Royals became Major League Baseball’s laugh track. The Yankees periodically used the team as their unofficial farm club, with players like Lou Piniella making their way through the confines of Kaufmann Stadium before getting their reprieve in the Bronx.

Then, something happened in KC that became more indelible than the pine tar of George Brett’s bat: the Royals actually won something. If a blind squirrel can somehow find its way to sustenance now and again, then, surely, the Royals could certainly find a scoreboard that reads their run total as being higher than that of the opposition, even if it takes an error or an inebriated scorekeeper. Of course, the blind squirrel didn’t have the luxury of being handed a nut by Don Denkinger. The result was a Jorge Orta-sized triumph that bestowed upon Kansas City their first major acquisition since the Louisiana Purchase. Bo Jackson came and went, and, apparently, Bo knows, or at least he knew that the team was no good after five seasons without a playoff appearance. Some time after Brett collected his 3000th hit, excitement for the city’s baseball team began to be outstripped by livestock shows.

The team has all but ensured that it will have a losing season for the 16th time in the last 17. That is, unless the Boys in Blue can figure out a way to essentially reverse the Earth’s rotation. Over the past two decades, Kansas City has lost 90 games 11 times; they have lost 100 games four times. This season started out so promising. Then someone shouted “Play ball!” back in April, and things went south for the season. To say that the Kansas City Royals have hit rock bottom would be an understatement. A more apropos description would be to ascribe to this hapless band of ballplayers the title of “The Baseball Equivalent of the China Syndrome.”

It was easy for Jimmy Dugan to intone that “There is no crying in baseball.” Of course, he never set foot inside a Major League stadium where the attendance would rival that of a puppet theater. Though, I’m curious to see if the team followed the lead of A League of Their Own and used Jon Lovitz as a scout. It would explain a lot, for sure.

Things haven’t been all that wretched for the only baseball team purportedly on Richard Nixon’s Worst Enemies List. Well, actually they have been, but there has been a highlight or two. No, wait, one. Zack Greinke won a Cy Young Award with the team despite the best efforts of the other 24 guys on the roster. Then, like Bret Saberhagen and David Cone, he found the most efficient route out of town, even if it meant playing in Milwaukee.

A summer’s night at the ballpark is a treat and an experience in most Major League cities across the country. In Kansas City, it’s known as place to imbibe while waiting for the Chiefs’ training camp to begin, the irony being that probably half the roster is not of the drinking age, a serious impediment to enjoying mediocre baseball.

A recent campaign was launched to rebrand the team. Renovations were made to the Royals home confines, and a slogan was introduced: “New. Blue. Tradition.” As long as you can look past the sentence fragments and the fact that only one of those words provides an apt description — guess which — it sounds pretty good. There has been no word, however, on a new nickname for the Royals. Kansas City Last Place has a nice ring to it (The Bottom-dwellers?). Regardless, a monarchy hasn’t looked this bad since the French Revolution.

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