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Recap Coda: The Jesus Freak Game

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July 10th, 2005: This is a Mike Sweeney story

Cleveland Indians v Kansas City Royals
A Mike Sweeney story
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

For those unfamiliar with the Recap Coda series, here’s a link to Matt’s introduction. A couple of us have taken the original concept and twisted it to our own whims, using historical games that are memorable to us. Here’s a link to the entire Recap Coda series.


Game Capsule: July 10, 2005 - Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals


It could be argued that 2005 was the nadir of the Royals mid 00s futility. Former Manag... MMMMaaaaannna.. Major league... Master strategi... Man about town.. Master strategi... Hold on, my fingers are having troubles typing all of a sudden. Let me try again: Former Manager of the Year Tony Pena resigned as manager under some mysterious circumstances that were mostly unrelated to his team’s 8-25 record on the field. Bob Schaefer, bench coach, took the reigns for 17 games*

*That can’t be right either: it makes no sense. Why would you have an interim manager for only 17 games and then hire someone midseason? Oh well. 2000s Royals, ladies and gentlemen!

Baltimore Orioles vs Kansas City Royals -  May 19, 2005
When you fired up your internet browser today, I’m sure you expected to see a picture of utility infielder Joe McEwing high fiving interim manager Bob Schaefer.
Photo by G. N. Lowrance/Getty Images

Bob Schaefer has some interesting Royals footnotes. The longtime baseball man held a number of minor league managerial jobs in the 80s. He’s been a bench coach multiple times and held various front office special assistant jobs. He has the distinction of being an interim manager of the Royals twice: once in 1991 and once in 2005. I know we’re only a couple of paragraphs in and this is the third time I’ve had to say something to this effect, but here we are again: “this is not a typo”. He has the worst winning percentage of any Royals manager in history at .333 (6-12). The most notable move in his 2005 tenure was moving Alcides Escobar Angel Berroa (career OBP .303) into the leadoff spot. Later in his career, from 2008-2010, he would be the Dodgers bench coach. Succeeding him there? Trey Hillman.

One of the great perks of writing an article like this is finding nuggets like that link to Warning Track Power, a 2005 blog by old friend Craig Brown, still crystallized in internet amber.

Schaefer was replaced by Buddy Bell and things didn’t get much better. Today’s Recap Coda features the last game before the 2005 All Star Break.

New York Yankees vs Kansas City Royals - May 31, 2005
“And then I told them ‘I never said It can’t get worse’”
Photo by G. N. Lowrance/Getty Images

The Twins were in town for a four game series. Barely 12K fans showed up for Thursday night's 8-5 win. Jose Lima notched his second win of the season and lowered his ERA to 7.33 (again, not a mis-- oh, never mind). In Friday's 5-4 loss, Brad Radke got his 100th career win against the Royals (ok, that was hyperbole; he was actually only 12-10 against KC in his career; I know, it shocked me, too) while Zack Greinke dropped to 1-11. For those who don't remember the 2005 version of Zack, that was the year he would finish 5-17 with a 5.80 ERA. The next spring, he would walk away from baseball for a couple of months.

Saturday, the Royals fell down 4-0 and 6-4 before rallying the win, 12-8. J.P. Howell only lasted 1.2 IP before giving way to Ryan Jensen. I don't have a completely encyclopedic knowledge of obscure Royals from the 00s, but I have a pretty good one and I don't remember him at all. His time here was so anonymous that his baseball-reference page has the following line: "October 1, 2005: Sent from the Kansas City Royals to ??? in an unknown transaction. (Date given is approximate. Exact date is uncertain.)". Seriously!! I am not making this up!

Minnesota Twins vs Kansas City Royals - July 7, 2005
Thursday’s “crowd”
Photo by G. N. Lowrance/Getty Images

I was one of the announced 17,094 in attendance. The Royals were 30-56, the season lost long ago. But It was Negro Leagues Day and everyone got a free hat. They typically had a pregame party with cheap brats and a chance to meet former Negro League players. Unfortunately, I don’t remember it specifically this day because, as often seemed to be the case for this event, it was bleeping hot. I have pictures of Sluggerrr spraying the groundskeeper hose into the right field crowd in between innings. The Royals and Twins were wearing the uniforms of the 1948 Kansas City Monarchs and 1909 St. Paul Gophers, respectively. For more on the uniforms, check out this entry about the game on Royal Heritage.

I think most fans have a group of people they connect to their baseball-going experience. For many, it’s their father or son. For others, it’s a spouse or best friend. Some have a large group they always go with. For me, it’s a trio of me, my wife (then fiance), and someone I jokingly refer to as my “baseball life partner”.* The three of us have been to over 100 games together, mostly at Kauffman Stadium. We affectionately refers to this Sunday afternoon as "The Jesus Freak Game".

*For the record, I’m trying to not use the Bill Simmons-esque writing device where I name drop random acquaintances of mine like you’re supposed to know who they are.

Kansas City Royals v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Royals Hall of Famer Mike Sweeney sporting the black and blues
Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Of course, everyone who was a Royals fan in the 00s remembers Mike Sweeney. For those who missed out on the Royals Hall of Famer, he arrived in Kansas City in 1995 as a catching prospect but moved to 1B in the late 90s and his bat took off. From 1999-2005, his triple slash was .313/.383/.521 and he averaged 23 HR per season. That added up to a cool .905 OPS and 130 OPS+. He made the All-Star game 5 times and still holds the franchise single-season RBI record with 144 in 2000.

He had a couple of different walkup tunes, but, to us, the most notable one was a song called “Jesus Freak” by Christian rap rock group DC Talk. Christian rap rock? Mike Sweeney? That actually fit together pretty well.

As things go with superstitions, we noticed something in one game and then in another and so it stuck. Confirmation bias is fun! The rules of the superstition were thus: if this song was used as his walkup for his first at bat, skipped his second at bat, and then was used for a later at bat, he would do something good that game. Of course, it wouldn’t work if they skipped the first AB or if they played it for his second AB. The baseball gods are oddly specific with their laws.

In the first inning, he walked up to “Jesus Freak”. He struck out in that at bat, but we knew going forward that the potential for something neat was there. The game was afoot.

Royals starter D.J. Carrasco gave up 2 runs in the 2nd, but scattered 10 hits across 7 innings and no other Twin scored against him. In the 4th, Mike Sweeney hit his 10th home run of the season and it cut the lead in half. Unfortunately, the Royals got nothing else on the day against Carlos Silva.

Jeremy Affeldt and Mike MacDougal threw scoreless 8th and 9th innings, but the Royals were still trailing by 1. Twins closer Joe Nathan came in to slam the door. He was in his 2nd of 6 straight seasons with 35 or more saves. Shane Costa struck out for the first out. But then, with Sweeney coming to the plate, the dulcet tones of “Jesus Freak” started over the loudspeakers.

Nathan and Sweeney dueled : Strike. Foul. Ball. Foul. Ball. The count was even at 2-2.

Pitch 6: Foul. Pitch 7: Foul. Pitch 8: Foul. Pitch 9: Foul. They were still at a stalemate.

The 10th pitch of the at bat was blasted to right and tied the game.

2001 All-Star Game X
Mike Sweeney at the All-Star Game (probably): “I’d better go find Joe Nathan and make sure there are no hard feelings from Sunday. Once they played ‘Jesus Freak’ a second time, the die was cast. I couldn’t do anything about it.”

But the Royals managed nothing else: strikeouts by Matt "Scruffy" Stairs and Emil "Snack" Brown (yes, we had our own nicknames) followed. Nobody scored in the 10th or 11th. Mike Wood got 2 quick outs in the 12th. But he ran out of gas and good fortune in his 3rd inning of work. Nick Punto and Joe Mauer and singled to put runners on the corners. A Torii Hunter swing sent the ball and part of a splintered bat towards Mark Teahan. He misplayed the grounder, allowing the go ahead run to score.

Sweeney led off the 12th, but this time there was no “Jesus Freak”. Maybe a third time was pushing one’s luck and could cause the universe to unravel. Maybe a good hitter is going to get out a couple of times, even on a good day. He was out of magic and hit one weakly to the pitcher. Stairs blasted a ball to center but it was just a loud out and then Brown grounded out to end the game.

Minnesota Twins v Kansas City Royals
“Gosh darn it. Another loss.”
Photo by G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images

To give you an idea of the indifference in the rest of the world towards this game, it appears the AP writer tossed the story together in 5 minutes from a barely-glanced-at box score. Never mind the typos and grammatical errors, the article had factual fallacies as it said the first homer was off of Juan Rincon. Rincon pitched the 8th and didn’t even face Sweeney.

However, even in this lost season, the Royals segment of the universe was still watching intently. Apparently, in the 6th inning, Mike Sweeney hit one deep but he got thrown out trying to get to second. He committed that cardinal (or should I use a capital “c” here, out of deference to the guardians of playing baseball “the right way”) sin of watching his hit and not going full speed out of the batter’s box.

Apparently, it was a big enough deal that Rob and Rany mentioned it in their next column. And both comments (it was the early days) in the game thread mentioned it. Showing us that #hottakes were alive and well in 2005, one of RR’s most prolific early commenters, Mr Weatherstone (aka VoxMediaUser56844) gave us this nugget:

Sweeney.

What a lazy SOB. His first homer barely cleared the fence yet he jummped into his homerun trot immediately. His second long hit off the top of the fence, yet he gets thrown out at second for not hustling. As far as he hit his second homer, I am starting to think that he does not like or want to run at all. I think he was making sure it was going to clear the fence.

All in all, he is lazy. I dont care if it is hot outside, I don't care if those uniforms are a little heavy. You always run out every play. George Brett is probably crying right now.

Cleveland Indians v Kansas City Royals
Fan in stands: “Run harder on that home run trot, you bum! Oh, and you’re a wuss for always getting hurt!”
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

I’m sure the sentiment was echoed on the postgame show a dozen times over. Despite his heroics, the man responsible for the only 2 Royals runs in the game became embroiled in controversy.

And so it was with Mike Sweeney’s later time in a Royals uniform. After he signed the contract in 2002, he quickly became persona non grata in Kansas City. He was hurt every season, averaging only 94 games over the 5 years of the contract (2003-2007). He “only” hit .284/.353/.476 (OPS+ 114), compared to .309/.379/.501 (OPS+ 123) before. After years of watching players leave, the one player who agreed to stay became a “millstone on the franchise's hopes”.

2005 was Sweeney's last good year. Two days later, he would play in his final All-Star game. He had missed a bunch of time that season, presumably for the back injury that was always dogging him. We often joked that he injured his back carrying the offense.

His Royals career ended after the 2007 season. Somewhat unfairly, he was always associated with the losing during the darkest days of Kansas City baseball. In his waning years, he played for Oakland, Seattle, and Philadelphia. His final MLB hit was a single in game 2 of the 2010 ALDS, the only postseason AB of his 16 year MLB career.

The Royals fell to 27(!) games under .500. They were 18.5 games behind the Twins. But the Twins were only in 2nd. The Royals ended(!) the first half (!!) 27.5 games behind the eventual World Champion White Sox. The Royals would go on to lose 106 games in 2005, their worst mark in franchise history.