George Brett enjoyed a storybook career, and ended it about as well as a player can hope - still a productive player calling it quits on his own terms. The Royals celebrated his final home game with much pomp and circumstance, giving the fans one last chance to say goodbye.
It was Brett's night, after all, and at the conclusion of the game, fireworks lit up the sky while a blazing 5 illuminated the hillside beyond the outfield fence. George rode around the stadium in a golf cart and thanked the fans, and when he came full circle, he jumped off the cart, ran over to home, knelt down and kissed home plate.
If he only knew how good he made us feel.
=Steve Wulf, Sports Illustrated
The Royals didn’t have quite the same ceremony last month for their final home game, possibly the last one we will see with Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Lorenzo Cain, and in a Royals uniform. But the mood of the final home game was that of college seniors ready to move on. We don’t know if those players will be back next year, but the franchise and fans seemed to treat the finale as if they won’t.
It seems a near-certainty that pretty most of the major pieces of the 2014-2015 Royals will end up in the club Hall of Fame. Ned Yost. Eric Hosmer. Mike Moustakas. Lorenzo Cain. Alex Gordon. Salvador Perez. Probably even Alcides Escobar, Wade Davis, Greg Holland, and Yordano Ventura. Heck, you may even one day see a statue of some of them outside the stadium.
But will leaving hurt their legacy? Players have left before. Amos Otis finished his career with the Pirates. Willie Wilson ended his in Oakland. It was weird seeing Dan Quisenberry in a Cardinals uniform. But those were all at the tail end of their careers, after the Royals were ready to cut ties.
The players that left in their prime were usually traded away because the Royals could no longer afford them. Kevin Appier. Jermaine Dye. Carlos Beltran. Zack Greinke. And while fans may have good thoughts of those players, their Royals career is overshadowed by their departure.
Royals fans seem to have largely come to terms with what could be a mass exodus this winter. Because Hosmer, Moustakas, and Cain achieved so much, there doesn’t seem to be as much angst or ill-will at the possibility of them leaving.
But will that change next year if you see Eric Hosmer wearing a Red Sox cap? Or Mike Moustakas wearing an Angels cap? Or Lorenzo Cain wearing a gasp Cardinals cap? I just vomited a bit in my mouth.
Maybe we won’t know until it happens. Right now it is just a theoretical exercise. And hey, we still have hope maybe one or two could stay (although do we even want them to if the team rebuilds?)
I hope we can always preserve in our minds Eric Hosmer sprawled out at home plate in CitiField in the World Series. Or Mike Moustakas embracing his teammates as he set the franchise home run record. Or Lorenzo Cain’s wide grin as he hoisted the ALCS MVP trophy. But certainly new memories can’t help but affect our judgment of them. The first time Eric Hosmer gets a hit against the Royals, the first time Mike Moustakas blasts a home run off a Royals pitcher, the first time Lorenzo Cain robs a Royals hitter of a hit, will it tarnish what they did in Royals blue?
I think I will be able to separate their post-Royals career from what they accomplished here in Kansas City. I never bore any ill will towards Beltran or Dye, or even Damon or Greinke. Player movement is a part of baseball and nothing is the same forever. To be honest, the fact the Royals are likely to go through a rebuild movement the next few years makes it far easier to give these guys a pass for leaving. It is unlikely Royals pitchers will have to face off against Hosmer in the playoffs anytime soon. The stakes have been lowered.
But still, it will hurt the first time I see Lorenzo Cain walk over from the opposing dugout to embrace Salvy before a game. My guess is these players will still get a standing ovation from Royals fans each time they visit the K. The Royals marketing department gave us the phrase “Forever Royal”, and perhaps they did so with this in mind. Players will leave, but in a way, they will forever be a part of this franchise and its lore, and what uniform they are wearing will never change that.