clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The 2015 Interviews - Sam Mellinger

New, 2 comments

We're interviewing individuals connected to the 2015 World Champion Royals and the greater Kansas City community. Today: Kansas City Star sports columnist Sam Mellinger.

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, the Kansas City Royals won the American League pennant, galvanizing the community and forging a generation of Royals fans. I talked to multiple members of the community about the exciting season, and asked them what it meant to them.

This season, the Royals won the World Series, completing a journey through the desert that lasted 30 years. Again, I will talk with important members of the community about this achievement, their place in it, and the joy of the World Champions Royals.

Sam Mellinger is a sports columnist for the Kansas City Star, covering the Kansas City Royals, Kansas City Chiefs, and other important sporting topics relevant to Kansas City. Last year, we talked in the 2014 Interviews, where discussion topics included the insanity of the 2014 run and its meaning. In July, we talked about the state of the Royals at the midway point, where discussion topics included trade ideas and Rusty Kuntz. Sam has again lent his pen/word/keyboard for this edition of the 2015 Interviews.

***

The Chiefs, Royals, and Sporting have all had tremendous success recently. How has this shift to relevance been for the city, and how does it change how the Star covers those teams?

As a general rule, we humans make sports WAY more important than they deserve to be, and I know that sounds weird from a person who pays bills and feeds a family with a silly job writing about sports, but the point is so obvious I can't help but mention it because I honestly believe the following sentence to be true:

The Royals' success boosted Kansas City's collective self-esteem like nothing I am old enough to remember.

For so long, being a sports fan here has required a certain level of humor, or masochism, or just an understanding that dog piles and champagne parties are the things that happen in other places. Actually, now that I think about it, I believe I covered three champagne parties by the visiting team at Kauffman Stadium before I covered the first one for the Royals. I've always thought that Kansas City, in general, has this annoying and misplaced civic inferiority complex. I believe the Royals;' success busted through that in a way that nothing else — not the Chiefs, not Sporting, not the Kauffman Center, not the downtown improvements, not even Tank 7 — has been able to do. That's why you see so much Royals stuff now, not just around town, but around the country. That's why the TV ratings looked like typos, and why anyone who was at the parade thinks that estimate of 800,000 people at the parade might actually be accurate.

As far as how it's changed how we cover things, I'm not sure it has in a fundamental way. We've always been the only outlet in town that covers the Royals and Chiefs every day, home and away. We've always covered those teams with more people and money and resources than other outlets, it's just that now the baseline has gone up. We had something like six photographers in New York for the World Series games. At least as many writers/editors. I don't know if I'm answering your question or just shamelessly shilling for the company. I guess if anything's changed, it's that it used to be the Chiefs were, like, the first, second, third and fourth most read thing we covered. Now, it's probably a tie. Maybe the Royals are even first. Especially if you use the words "Alex" and "Gordon" in a story.

We've seen quite a few instances of intra-complex friendship (Hosmer's usage of West on his fantasy team, Royals and Chiefs players attending each other's games, etc.). How influential was the Royals' World Series appearances on the other teams?

Not at all? I guess it depends on how you're meaning the question. Like, I don't for a second believe the Royals winning the World Series has ANYthing to do with the Chiefs going from 1-5 to the playoffs. I don't for a second believe that all of the Royals' late-inning comebacks inspired the Chiefs to believe they could turn their season around, or that Lorenzo Cain scoring from first (!) on that single inspired Alex Smith to have what is probably the best season of his career. That's nonsense. These are professionals, many of whom don't care about a team in a different sport any more than they care about a TV show they've never watched.

I do, however, believe there is a better relationship and mutual respect between the franchises than at any point in the last decade, and probably longer. The friendship between Eric Hosmer and Eric Berry is genuine, and awesome. There is a communication and respect between the front offices and other support staff that in many cases did not exist five or ten years ago. That's cool, I guess, but I'm not sure how much it matters to the product on either team.

The biggest thing is what it's done with fans.

The Royals were terrible for a long time, and through Moore's tenure until 2013. Moore always had a 'process,' but how much did the players and front office buy in to it?

There were, I'm guessing, more than a hundred players who appeared in games for the Royals from 2006 to 2013. Dozens of front office employees. Anyone who tries to say they all felt a certain way is lying to you, and is unfamiliar with how human beings operate.

But, generally speaking, I think morale and belief was always higher in the front office and clubhouse than in the fan base. That's probably how it has to be, of course, but I talked to way too many people who saw the renovation from the ground up and talked in glowing terms about what the Royals would become. That's one reason I never wrote that Moore or Yost should be fired, even when I was critical of them, and even when others thought I was being too soft.

They made a lot of mistakes along the way, many with public relations, and there were dozens of opportunities for it all to blow up, perhaps most notably after the Jonny Gomes Game and after the seventh inning of the Wild Card Game. Fans and media have a way of digesting scores and outcomes as absolutes, ignoring that everything is varying levels of probability, but one of the smartest things the Royals did was consistently take the long view. The build took longer than Moore or the people who worked for him thought it would, but they build themselves a nice cushion of talent with attention and resources devoted to the infrastructure of the farm system and scouting departments. That's what the people on the inside saw and lived every day that fans watching the big league product could not.

What was the playoff clubhouse like this year compared to the regular season? Compared to last year's postseason?

Well, keep in mind that the clubhouse is closed before games in the playoffs. We see it after games, and on offdays, and that's it, in the postseason. But I do think there was a difference.

The 2014 feel was very much new money, like a gambler on a hot streak. They believed in their talent, for sure, but the way that thing played out, it all came with a certain level of awe. In September, they're getting crushed for bullpen mismanagement and everything else, and then in October they can't lose, they're on the cover of Sports Illustrated, they win a ridiculous Wild Card Game, and they're national stars.

The 2015 feel was very much business, like a supremely talented group that knew it was supremely talented, and would no longer be excited just to be at the party. I know they said they were heartbroken after Game 7 against Bumgarner, and for the most part, I believe they meant it. But if they lost that Game 4 in Houston, I think they would've seen their season as a waste. They played with the same energy, and the same aggression, but the personality was different. They knew they were good enough to be world champions.

Which players' reaction to winning the World Series stood out to you, and why?


Well, actually, that's a lie. That didn't surprise me. Except that the bottle of Blue was full.

The clubhouse was such a madhouse it's hard to remember anybody specifically. Mostly, the reactions were the same and exactly what you would expect: complete euphoria. I guess, if I had to pick out just one, it might be Greg Holland. I know he wanted to pitch, and that injury kept him from experiencing everything the way he would've liked, but he handled it exactly the way each of us would hope we would handle it. I don't know that there was anyone in the clubhouse who had more fun that month, and I'm not just talking about the celebration in New York. He was just totally engaged, funny, into everything.

What's one (or a few) of your favorite anecdote(s) about the Royals' 2015 run that fans don't know about?

I know this is the part where I'm supposed to remember something funny that Rusty Kuntz did, or something Eric Hosmer said, or whatever, but as I'm typing this the one that sticks out the most was actually more subtle. After the greatest professional achievement of his life or many others, Dayton Moore slipped away from the celebration and just sort of sat in the dugout, quietly, talking about how happy he was for his players and how much he loved his family. It was a really cool moment, in the beginning just him and me, and I know I'm not doing the description justice here, but to me, it confirmed everything he had always said he was about. The Royals' execs are among the worst self-promoters in professional sports, and Moore is their leader. He had always referenced a servant leadership style, and said "everything is about the players" so many times I'm sure he got tired of me rolling my eyes. But in that moment, he lived it.