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Irrational favorite Royals

The Royals were bad for a very long time. If you still watched regularly you probably had to make some...interesting calls about who your favorite players were.

Aaron Guiel runs to first
Who could forget Aaron Guiel?
Photo by G. N. Lowrance/Getty Images

In this week’s Hok Talk we discuss some of the odd Royal ducks. Guys who weren’t necessarily good but were still favorites anyway.

I know I promised that I’d be writing about Prison Playbook for the foreseeable future, but it’s been a rough week and I don’t really have the energy to parse an entire episode of that show, right now. Instead, based on some of the feedback Max got, I decided to go back and write about some of my favorite Royals that some of you might not even remember. I started watching the team in 1998 and, well, let’s just say that I have a type when it comes to favorite players and the Royals provided plenty of those guys. So we’re going to break it down by years.

1997 - Craig Paquette

Craig Paquette is a great example of the kind of guy the MLB players are talking about when they say that sabermetrics have ruined baseball careers. He was never more than a replacement-level player, but he managed to parlay that into an 11-year career which saw him play in more than 100 games no fewer than five times. Sabermetrics show how foolish a choice that was as he never eclipsed 1.0 bWAR but somehow managed to parlay all of that into contract after contract, culminating in one worth more than $2.5 million for the Tigers at age 34 in 2003 which saw him play in only 11 games. This after putting up a WAR of worse than -1.5 for the Tigers the year before in only 72 games.

How did Paquette get on this list, and the year before I started watching the team no less? Because the thing that got me into baseball in the first place was the video game Hardball 5 and in that game he was a terrific power hitter for my Kansas City Royals because video games are always a year behind and he had miraculously knocked out 22 bombs in 1996 for KC.

1998 - Tim Belcher

Kevin Appier departed the team after ‘97 and Belcher was left to try and lead the staff. He made an admirable attempt, going 14-14 with a 4.27 ERA in 238 innings. The thing that drew me to him, however, was that he did not seem overly athletic, but he still gave it everything he had every time out.

1999 - Jeremy Giambi

Jeremy was the younger brother of phenom slugger Jason Giambi and I felt bad for him having to live in his brother’s shadow. He also had the same first name as me, which is always an excellent way to get on my good side.

2000 - Johnny Damon

I finally got to see my first game in person in 2000 and Johnny Damon led it off with a home run against the Tigers. My siblings inexplicably thought the fireworks that went off were cars exploding in the parking lot for no reason. He had also lost his role in center field to Carlos Beltran the year before but took it back because he got so dang hot playing there while Beltran was hurt. It felt like a victory for the little guy to me. Of course, then Damon went to Oakland that off-season after the Royals had bought him a house. I was extremely betrayed.

2001 - Raúl Ibañez, Jeff Suppan, Dan Reichert, Chad Durbin

Ibañez caught my eye because he broke out after not having been much of anything. If there’s one thing I look for in a favorite player, it’s someone that isn’t expected to do much who manages to do a lot when they aren’t expected to. Reichert and Durbin were supposed to be the new wave of young pitchers and I was very excited for them, they’d both come up in ‘99 but I was busy spending all of my attention elsewhere until now. Jeff Suppan followed in Belcher’s mold of not being great, but he sure looked like he was trying out there!

2002 - 2006 - Aaron Guiel

Aaron Guiel will forever be my favorite of the players who just weren’t ever very good. He hit 15 home runs in 2003 and I was convinced he was only going to get better since that was his second season. I didn’t bother to account for the fact that he was already 30 by then. He actually put up 1.8 bWAR that season, too. In only 99 games! Still, the Royals never let him play in more than 42 games in a season again.

They cut him while he had a .799 OPS in 2006 and he was picked up by the Yankees. This convinced me that...

  1. The Royals were stupid for not having given him more of a chance because the Yankees wouldn’t have taken him if he wasn’t good.
  2. The Royals really were giving up all of their best players to the Yankees all the time, just like everyone said.

He reached free agency following 2006 and spent the next few years in Japan with the Yakult Swallows where had had a lot of success. He did return to the Major Leagues (sort of) in 2012 when he signed with...the Kansas City Royals at age 40. According to Baseball Reference, he didn’t play a single game for the Royals that year but he also didn’t get cut. He was granted free agency the following off-season. Here’s the write-up from Royals Review, if you’re curious. Kings of Kauffman wrote that they expected the signing was to groom him for a coaching role similar to what they had done with Vance Wilson. I can find no evidence that Guiel ever actually coached, however.

Honorable mention - Jeremy Affeldt

I remember listening to a Spring Training game in 2002 and the Royals asked Jeremy Affeldt to pitch in relief. The way I remember it, he struck out five of the six batters he faced. He also had my name. I was entranced. I thought he and Runelvys Hernandez would lead the rotation for years to come. Alas, it was not to be.

Still, I got to wait on him at the Overland Park Red Robin once. His actual server had screwed up his order of a Barbecue Chicken Sandwich and brought him a Barbecue Burger instead. I was able to remedy it for him. I also took his payment when his server disappeared. I contemplated keeping the receipt with his signature on it, but decided I needed the tip more.

2006 - 2009 - Mark Teahen

Having lost beloved Aaron Guiel I needed someone to fill that gap for me. Mark Teahen fit the bill. He was the best prospect returned in the deal that sent Carlos Beltran to Houston while KC was determined to get a catcher and a third baseman back. Teahen struggled in his first season but really started to come in 2006 and my underdog-makes-good sense kicked in again. Once that sense kicks in it does not retreat until after the player leaves the team.

Honorable mention - John Buck

Buck was, of course, the other prospect returned in the same trade. I distinctly remember being upset when Miguel Olivo got playing time over him because I thought Buck could be a monster of a power hitter. I remember being ecstatic when Buck had the terrific start for the Mets in 2013.

2007 - 2010 - Brian Bannister

As Teahen fell back down to earth following the 2006 season I had room in my heart for another young upstart to try to make good. Banny had that fantastic first season, pitching a 3.97 ERA and I was enchanted. To this day I remain angry that the Royals failed to bring him in as a coach.

Honorable mentions - Mike Aviles (2008), Alberto Callaspo (2009)

Aviles and Callaspo were middle infielders that I thought would make it big and bring much success to Kansas City. Alas.

2011 - 2018 - Mike Moustakas

Moose is perhaps the only favorite player I’ve ever had who actually became something of a star. I always loved him but I really latched on in 2014. I was ecstatic to see him set a Royals’ record with five post-season home runs. I was even happier to see him break out in 2015. The highlight of my fandom might have been seeing him in the home run derby and watching him set a new Royals’ single-season home run record. I will root for this man wherever he goes so please don’t tell me if you know of any awful stuff he’s done.

Honorable mention - Jarrod Dyson (2012 - 2016)

Dyson only ever did absolutely everything he could to help the Royals win. He hit just enough to let his legs and glove play. His stolen base in the 2014 ALWC is obviously iconic but I’ll never forget him gunning down that runner in the 2014 ALDS against the Angels, either. He had legs, a glove, and an arm!

2019 - Ryan O’Hearn

He seemed like an afterthought to the Royals for so long, then he got promoted in 2018 and hit the cover off the ball. I was sure he’d get it figured out any day for the entire season. And the entirety of 2020, too.

2020 - ? - Kris Bubic

Everyone seems perpetually ready to give up on this young lefty. I get it, he doesn’t have the “stuff” of other pitchers. But, just like I believed in Banny and always thought the flashes were the truth and the slumps were fake news, I still think Bubic can turn into a real stud for the Royals. Just keep giving him chances!

So, yeah, I have a type. Guys who appear unathletic or are described as not having the raw ability in comparison to their peers. Also, there are a lot of lefties on this list. And I don’t know whether I can blame MLB, the Royals, or myself but they’re almost all white, too.

So those are my bizarre favorite Royals throughout the years of my fandom. Tell me about some of your favorite guys that maybe nobody remembers. Maybe we’ll find that these players were more popular than we thought!