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Royals Fans Bid Grimace Adieu

A Farewell to Ken Harvey.

It was a mild early winter weekend here in the Midwest, but for reasons totally unclimatological, it felt much much colder. The wind hit a little harder, the sun of the mind dimmed, and it was that much harder to greet the day as the sun rose.

Like a long forgotten summer breeze, our beloved Ken Harvey was gone.

The 43rd most prolific home-run hitter in Royals history: gone.
The 50th most prolific doubles man in Royals history: gone.
The heart and soul of the 2003-4 Royals: gone.

Last week, Ken Harvey signed a minor league deal with the Minnesota Twins, turning his back on a seven-year legacy with the Kansas City Royals. Gloating with the new bounty of his favorite team, beloved Twins-blogger Aaron Gleeman has the gall, the unmitigated gall to question Harvey's credentials as an All-Star.

Thanks to the stupid one-player-per-team rule and the fact that "All-Star" is for some reason often defined as "guy having a good first half," Harvey was selected to the American League team in a season that saw him bat .287/.338/.421 in 120 games splitting time between first base and designated hitter for the Royals. Meanwhile, Tim Salmon will retire having never made a single All-Star team.
How dare you Gleeman, how dare you!

Before we begin hating Harvey as a member of the dastardly Twins (fie on you Mall of America! fie on you Garrison Keillor) let us pause and reflect on what Harvey meant to us, the loyal fans of the only organization he's ever known.

Harvey was drafted by the Royals in 1999, after being named an All-American that season with the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Harvey hit .478 with the '99 Huskers, earning him a 5th round selection by the Royals. Ah, the sad twilight of the glorious Herk Robinson Era. From 1991 through 2000, it was the way we were. And that was, 727-824.

After spending the 2000 season in Single-A Wilmington (where he hit .335/.411/.470) Harvey enjoyed an eventful 2001. Harvey crushed the ball in A-ball, was promoted to Wichita, already emerging as the Royals preferred minor-league affiliate over Omaha for some reason, and Grimace hit .338/.372/.506 with the Wranglers. That line earned him a 2001 debut with the Big Club. Harvey went 0-4, with three strikeouts as the Tony Muser led Royals lost 11-2 to the Indians. That same game, in the bottom of the 7th inning a young shortstop named Angel Berroa entered the game for Neifi Perez. It was also Berroa's first appearance as a Royal.

Harvey made his debut the same game as Berroa, who took the torch of Royal Glory from Neifi Perez

With those 2001 Royals Harvey got into four games, grabbing 2 singles, a double and no walks in 12 plate appearances. In 2002 the Royals memorably lost 100 games for the first time, in no small part because the Royals stabbed Harvey in the back, giving major playing time to guys like A.J. Hinch, Brandon Berger and the still-bouncing-around the Mexican Leagues Kit Pellow. Harvey meanwhile hit .277/.342/.465 with 20 homers in a full season in Omaha.

Ken Harvey was 24 years old, and ready to take the world by storm.

Thanks to Harvey's leadership the Royals started the season 16-3 and won their first 11 games at home. On Friday, April 18th, before 38,937 at the K, Harvey blasted a solo homer off Matt Anderson to give the Royals a 4-3 victory. I'm not sure if everything was referred to reflexively as a "walk off" back then, but it was certainly a dramatic game-winner. Thanks to the win, the Royals moved to 12-3 and finished the night with a 2.5 game lead over the ChiSox. That same night, "greggagne4hof" met his current girlfriend.

They called him "Clutch Harvey" for awhile

Harvey hit .266/.313/.408 with the 2003 Royals, blasting 13 homers and finishing third on the team with 30 doubles. Unfortunately he also led the team with 15 double-plays.

While the 2004 Royals wasted away a lifetime's worth of the built-up 2003 goodwill, blame could not be laid at the illustrious feat of Harvey. For in 2004 Harvey was quite simply one of the best baseball players on the planet. A transcendent force, Harvey was named to the All-Star team. Proudly representing the Royals, Harvey's All-Star appearance was an electrifying, culture-defining moment across the heartland, much like Mark Redman's appearance this last season. Channel 6 news in Lawrence certainly covered Harvey's miracle ride with aplomb, as did every other station in the Midwest. Simply put, the viewers demanded it.

Harvey hit .287/.338/.421 that season, but that obscures the fact that he hit .397/.451/.571 in April and .333/.365/.515 in May. Without Harvey's efforts early on, the Royals may have fallen hopelessly out of the pennant race. Oh, wait...

But then Calvin Pickering entered the picture and the Royals started to waver in their fidelity to Grimace. Allard Baird, wanting to impress a Moneyball-lovin' world started raving about Pickering's power and patience, as if that was preferable to Harvey's singles-based attack. Rather than letting the two big guys fight it out, the Royals went into Spring Training '05 with a position battle for the ages on their hands. Pickering was older, amazingly slow and un-athletic (looking), while Harvey was Prince Charming, an organizational solider who'd been an All-Star the season before. The heart and soul of the franchise was at stake. Just who would win the DH/1B job?

Pickering won the job, while Harvey was sent to Omaha. Rightly, Harvey was stunned. Still, he stayed 100% a team player, and fully supported Pickering like his own brother:

"It's a business decision, and I'm on the wrong end of the stick. I'll just suck it up and do what I can do," Harvey said. "Really, I'm at a loss for words."

Well, after the Royals gave Pickering chance after chance after chance after chance after chance to prove himself (7 games) they realized it had all been an awful mistake and sent Pickering back to Omaha. To date, Pickering's last major league game was April 21, 2005. Yes, its very sad, but Pickering was given so many opportunities by the Royals to succeed. He has no one to blame but himself. What more could he have asked for? 10 games? Lets be serious.

And so... Harvey returned, a week after his old foe Pickering had been vanquished, on April 28th, 2005. Still, it wasn't the same, as the fire just wasn't there on either side of the baseball romance. Back in college I knew a young lady who was dating a truly fine gentleman my friends and I called Captain Ron. One year at Christmas Break Captain Ron went home and discovered that a girl from his high school that he'd always found quite fetching was now single. So Captain Ron did the honorable thing and told his girlfriend that he had to pursue this new opportunity. Well, it didn't work out between C-Ron and the new possibility, so, after some fairly typical drama, Captain Ron and the girl I knew eventually got back together.

But for Ken Harvey and the Royals, it couldn't work that way. The feud had been too public, and plus, Pickering was fat as hell, which made the whole matter humiliating. Harvey was back, but he hit a disinterested .222/.271/.356 in 12 games, before becoming injured himself. On May 18th, a 7-4 Royal loss to the Orioles, Harvey wore blue and white for the final time.

"All this time the river flowed, endlessly.
Like a silent tear..."

In the end, it had to end this way, there are too many scars, too many words said over the phone in anger, too many sideways glances to go on.

We didn't know it would be so hard to say goodbye, did we? All the singles, that time in San Diego when he got pegged with a relay throw from the outfield. And of course that memorable All-Star game. I feel very old today. Very old.


Ken Harvey's Royal Legacy

Home Runs: 27 (43rd)
Doubles: 54 (50th)
Hits: 273 (56th)
RsBI: 126 (54th) one behind John Buck and two ahead of Teahen)
Stolen Bases: 3 (126th)
GiDPs: 30 (37th)

Those are the numbers that echo through one's very soul.