Remembering Desi Relaford

Desi Relaford is our Dane Iorg.

Thinking about Desi Relaford makes Royals fans of a certain age smile. For Royal rooters in their low thirties and younger, Relaford is sort of a pathetic souvenir of winning. While fans of normal teams like to remember the obscure players from championship teams, fans of the KC nine born in the eighties or nineties have only faint memories of actual winning. Instead, we have 2003, when the Royals went 83-79, and spent much of the season in 1st place. Never doubt man's ability to make myth out of limited materials.

Thanks to a hot start, his cute name, and a reputation as a vital super-sub, Desi Relaford got an undue share of credit for that team's success. Sports fans like to show how smart they are by latching onto illogical ideas, and a popular one is to glorify a utility player. Only a simple fan would focus on Carlos Beltran's brilliant season, while it takes a really sophisticated gent to notice a guy who does the little things well.

Allard Baird signed Desi Relaford to a two-year contract in January of 2003. Relaford's road to the Royals was a strange one. Prior to the 2002 season, Relaford, along with Tyuoshi Shinjo was traded to the Giants for Shawn Estes. Then, a few weeks later, the Giants traded Relaford to the Mariners for David Bell and cash. Relaford's 2002 in Seattle established a decade's long trend of the Royals seeking former Mariners.

The world didn't know it, but a 29 year old Desi Relaford was ready to unleash hell upon the American League. On May 13, through 31 games and 116 PAs, Relaford was hitting .323/.416/.490 and the Royals were 23-14. Prior to 2003, Relaford's career line in the Majors was .248/.329/.354. Unfortunately, Relaford did one worse than that, hitting .238/.289/.349 the rest of the season.

But we'll always have that April & May, when the Royals were winning, and Desi Relaford looked like a savvy move by Allard Baird.

In 2004, like his team, Relaford couldn't live up to higher expectations. Relaford hit .221/.296/.301 in 430 plate appearances. His time as a Royal was over. Like another, more recent Royal, he rewarded those who enjoyed his beginning with 1.5 seasons of failure. In two combined seasons as a Royal, Relaford hit .240/.315/.376. Should we consider him the "First Coming of Willie Bloomquist" or as "The Black Willie Bloomquist"?

Relaford was originally a middle infielder during his time with the Phillies and Padres, and it was only until he got to the Mets that he began playing a variety of positions. The Royals really embraced the concept of Relaford as a true utility player. Roughly speaking, my impression from memory and the defensive stats is that he was good-to-ok in the infield and ok-to-blah in the outfield.

Here's a look at his defensive innings played in 03-04:

 

  • 2B: 983 innings
  • 3B: 539 innings
  • LF: 160 innings
  • RF: 146 innings
  • SS: 128 innings
  • CF: 51 innings
That's true versatility. The 03-04 Royals had holes all over the roster and a fair amount of injury problems, which meant that there's was always a place for Desi to play.

In fact, Desi's the bizarro touchstone of early 00's Royals' history. He played so much second base because, by 2003, Carlos Febles was fading out of the picture, completing a precipitous fall from grace. Relaford gave Joe Randa occasional days off at third, as Randa's playing time declined after a four year run as a 150+ games player. Beloved former Royal Raul Ibanez left for Seattle after 2003, giving Relaford 152 innings in left field in 2004.

And finally, there was the random time in right field. Oh, there was right field where Relaford was part of the melange of Aaron Guiel, Michael Tucker, Dee Brown, Brandon Berger, Mendy Lopez, Julius Matos, Abraham Nunez, Matt Stairs, Juan Gonzalez, Ruben Mateo, Byron Gettis, Alexis Gomez, Damian Jackson, Rich Thompson, Adrian Brown, Jose Bautista and David DeJesus.

Relaford bounced around baseball for a few more years (it's always longer than you'd think, with these guys) lasting until 2007.

He'll always be ours.
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