I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but its been a bit slow this off-season for Royals fans. This is especially true as we approach the holidays, when most people either check out mentally or are actually out of the office to begin their vacations.
But its a nice time to sit and reflect and amuse ourselves with the ghosts of Royals past. This simple question on Twitter went viral with fans from all sorts of teams chiming in.
Was asked an interesting question. Who is your least favorite player to ever play for your favorite sports teams?— Mike Nash (@MikeNash15) December 21, 2016
It got me thinking - who is my least favorite Royals player of all-time? There have been many beloved Royals throughout history, but we have had some loathed Royals as well. But they failed to win over fans for many different reasons. Let’s take a look at the most hated candidates.
Hated because they were bad
These Royals players were hated simply for being terrible at baseball while in a Royals uniform. Many had held some promise or were good for other teams. But things just didn’t work out in Kansas City for whatever reason.
There was a brief moment in time in which the Royals handed out the biggest free agent contract in baseball. For about a month, the four-year, $13 million deal the Royals gave reigning National League Cy Young winner Mark Davis, was the highest annual salary anyone had ever guaranteed a baseball player (Will Clark would eclipse him a month later). What was peculiar was that the Royals had two pretty good late-inning relievers in Steve Farr and Jeff Montgomery. That put all the more pressure on Davis to bring the goods.
And he was terrible pretty much from the get-go. He blew three saves in May, gave up 12 runs in 13 innings that month and lost the closer’s job to Montgomery by Memorial Day. He stunk for two seasons until they finally shipped him to Atlanta. Compounding the matter was the failure of another high-priced free agent pitcher for the Royals with a similar name - Storm Davis. “The Davis brothers” would live in infamy as one of the biggest busts in franchise history.
The Royals were the Siberia of baseball by the early 2000s, with no free agent willing to sign in Kansas City. Albie Lopez had a shaky track record and few options, so he signed to a one-year, $1.5 million deal in 2003. Lopez was supposed to eat up middle relief innings to help the young pitchers, but what he did was lob batting practice for opposing hitters. He lasted just fifteen games, giving up an amazing 32 runs in just 22 2⁄3 innings. The story is that after Lopez was rocked in a game against the Twins in which he gave up seven runs and recorded two outs, he was released...before the game was even over. Royals fans were never so happy to see someone go.
The Royals thrilled fans with a surprising run in 2003, so in 2004 they tried to capitalize on that success with some high-upside signings, such as inking oft-injured, but former two-time MVP Juan Gonzalez to a one-year deal. The gamble seemed to pay off at first, with Gonzalez hiting pretty well in April. But his recurring back issues resurfaced and he was put on the disabled list by Memorial Day, never to play again in a Royals uniform.
Hated because they didn’t seem to give a shit
Maybe these guys cared, but they had a poor way of showing it. Fans like to see some spirit, and these guys didn’t have the enthusiasm or work ethic to endear themselves to fans.
The Royals acquired McReynolds from the Mets in the much-hated Bret Saberhagen trade, which already put him on the wrong side of the ledger. He was a perfectly adequate, near league-average ballplayer, with glimpses of greatness - he finished third in MVP voting in 1988. But it always seemed like the ballfield was about the last place he wanted to be in the world.
McReynolds was given the nickname “Sleepy” because he just seemed to coast through games. He wasn’t bad with the Royals - he hit .246/.338/.421 in two seasons, just above league average for OPS, when adjusted for his park. But you felt he was leaving a lot of talent on the table, just looking to get the season over with so he could go back to Arkansas for hunting season.
Another Arkansas boy, King was a phenom with the Razorbacks and was the #1 overall pick for the Pirates. He was part of some terrific Pirates clubs that won three straight division titles, but then had to cut costs and sell off their assets, which allowed the Royals to acquire him for a song.
King played two seasons for the Royals as a league-average first baseman, smacking 52 home runs. He showed up in 1999, but had some back issues, landing on the disabled list. He returned, but in May, he abruptly retired.
Best I could tell, Jeff King did not like playing baseball. I can never remember seeing a player who seemed so miserable on a baseball diamond.
Why did he wait til May? Well, reportedly that was when he became vested in the MLBPA pension plan. He did the bare minimum to set himself up for life, then got away from the game as quickly as he could. Ironically, his retirement opened the door for another player who didn’t seem to give a shit - Jeremy Giambi. But Giambi hurt himself horsing around on an ATV, so the Royals used Mike Sweeney at first base instead, and the rest was history.
The Royals developed quite a few good young hitters in the late 90s - Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran, Mike Sweeney, Jermaine Dye. One hitter who got lost in the shuffle that could have been as good as any of them was Mark Quinn. Quinn tore up the minor leagues, and by 1998 he was hitting .349 with 16 home runs in 100 games for AA Wichita.
He was brought up to the big leagues and became just the third hitter ever to hit two home runs in his Major League debut. He had shown good plate discipline in the minors, and was known for being a solid defender in left field. He put up a very solid rookie season, hitting .294/.342/.488 with 20 home runs. But he seemingly had little interest working on his craft, preferring instead to date Playboy models and doing kung-fu with his brother. He regressed badly at the plate, swinging at anything near the plate (so badly that fireworks went off after he snapped a streak of 241 plate appearances without a walk), and turned into an awful defender.
Quinn would fracture his rib horsing around with his brother, which pretty much ended his Major League career, leaving a whole lot of “what if”.
Hated because they were bad AND they didn’t seem to give a shit
Really the worst of both worlds. If you’re going to be bad, you’d better hustle.
Ugh, Neifi Perez. The Perez-for-Jermaine Dye trade remains one of the most baffling trades in history. The Royals traded a popular All-Star caliber outfielder in his prime, with a season and a half left before free agency, and got a light-hitting shortstop with a bad attitude in return. The trade didn’t make sense for baseball reasons - the Royals already had a decent shortstop in Rey Sanchez who was an impending free agent, but probably not a difficult one to re-sign. And it didn’t make sense for financial reasons - Perez made just $3 million less than Dye.
Already disliked by fans because of an unpopular trade, Perez played poorly, hitting just .238/.265/.303 with none of the defense that had won a Gold Glove in Colorado. To compound matters, he showed a poor attitude that culminated in a game late in 2002 in which Perez refused to enter a game. The Royals ate the money and cut him that winter, leaving his name a cursed one in these parts.
Dayton Moore had been on the job about three full seasons by the time he acquired Yuniesky Betancourt from the Mariners in June of 2009. Most Royals fans were willing to give Moore the benefit of the doubt up til then, but the Betancourt trade was baffling. Betancourt was known in Seattle for having no plate discipline, an indifferent attitude about defense, and a work ethic that was much to be desired. He did nothing to dispel that reputation in Kansas City, posting -2.3 Wins Above Replacement in a season and a half before they shipped him to Milwaukee.
But like a bad case of herpes, Betancourt returned. The Royals brought him back to be a utility infielder in 2012, and he was just as bad as ever, posting -1.1 WAR before they finally parted ways, hopefully for good.
The Royals found a gem in Melky Cabrera as a free agent in 2011, but when he was not open to signing a long-term deal, they decided to cash him in for pitching, sending him to San Francisco for pitcher Jonathan Sanchez. Sanchez had an electric arm, once tossing a no-hitter with the Giants, but he had some command issues.
Those issues were blaring red horns in the 2012 seasons, as Sanchez walked 44 in just 53 1⁄3 innings. He was awful in his first 12 starts, with a 7.71 ERA. Even worse, his body language gave fans the impression he was indifferent to all the gopherballs he was giving up. Perhaps it was a cultural misinterpretation, or perhaps he was a young man who didn’t know how to deal with god awful failure, but the fact Melky Cabrera was putting up an All-Star season in San Fran only fueled the fire of hate in Royals fans. Sanchez was mercifully dealt to Colorado for Jeremy Guthrie in a deal that ended up working out quite well for the Royals.
Hated because they were an asshole
When he played with the Royals, Knoblauch was hated simply for being awful. His career was spiraling down the toilet by the time he signed with the Royals in 2002. A mysterious mental block that caused him to have throwing issues pushed the former Gold Glove second baseman to the outfield while with the Yankees, and it wasn’t look before it began affecting his hitting as well. By age 32, he was benched in New York and his career was in jeopardy.
He hit just .210/.284/.310 in Kansas City, but didn’t exactly endear Royals fans with his attitude. But it wasn’t until after he retired we learned just what an asshole he really was. He was implicated in the Mitchell Report for using human growth hormone during his playing career, a charge he later admitted after initially trying to avoid a subpoena to testify before Congress. He has also had domestic abuse incidents with both his first wife and second wife. And he has shown himself to be quite an asshole on Twitter, including to yours truly!
Dayton Moore has been known to emphasize clubhouse cohesion when building a team, but he made an exception when trying to land a big bat on the free agent market back in 2008, signing Jose Guillen to a three-year, $36 million deal. Guillen was infamous around baseball for being a malcontent, showing up manager Mike Scioscia with a public outburst with the Angels, and later telling Scioscia to “go to hell” once he had left the team.
The controversy continued with Guillen in Kansas City, as he was immediately suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs. He ripped his teammates in his first spring training with the club, calling them “babies” who didn’t know how to win. That summer he was going after fans heckling him in the stands.
By 2010, everyone was tired of the act. Guillen wasn’t hitting very well, his fielding was atrocious, and he continued throwing the team under the bus. The Royals thankfully were able to trade him to the Giants that summer, and it wasn’t long before it was revealed he was under federal investigation for performance-enhancing drugs. What an asshole.