While going through the worst moments in franchise history, a couple of readers asked me to look at the 2004 doubleheader between the Royals and the Expos. I didn’t recall that specific game, but having more than a bit of morbid curiosity, I agreed to take a look under the hood.
Even though the Royals have always been, and will always be, my team, I was a bit disconnected from Kansas City baseball in 2004. Most of my time was spent being a husband and father, working and coaching my son’s baseball and soccer teams. That’s probably a good thing, since those were the dark ages in franchise history.
The worst team in franchise history was the 2005 squad, which lost 106 games. The 2004 team gave them a run for their money, finishing at 58 and 104, 34 games back of division-winning Minnesota.
Despite having two likely future Hall of Famers on that team, Zach Greinke and Carlos Beltran, the 2004 squad finished last in the league or next to last in almost every meaningful pitching and hitting category. This was the team that signed the decaying remains of Benito Santiago and Juan Gonzalez in the off-season, a couple of desperation moves that netted a total of 83 hits in 302 at-bats with 11 home runs and 40 RBI. Santiago played in 49 games. Juan cashed checks for 33 games before he was gone.
In 2004, we saw the Eduardo Villacis game. On June 24th, the Royals ran up the white flag when they traded Carlos Beltran to the Astros for John Buck, Mike Wood, and Mark Teahen. Beltran was already a star, but the organization was in such disarray that they couldn’t or wouldn’t find another million dollars to keep him. That trade seemed to suck the wind out of the franchise, and it took a long time to recover their mojo.
If that wasn’t bad enough, on June 28th, they purchased Jose Bautista from the Tampa Bay Rays. On July 30th, they sent Bautista to the Mets for Justin Huber. Granted, he hadn’t become Joey Bats yet and he wouldn’t blow up into a masher until 2010, but those Royals were so bad they couldn’t find a spot for a 23-year-old prospect? The 2004 Royals went through 33 position players and 25 pitchers trying to find someone, anyone who could play ball.
Jimmy Gobble, at 9 and 8, was the only pitcher on the roster with a winning record. Mike Sweeney led the team in home runs and RBI’s with 22 and 79 respectively, both somewhat pedestrian numbers, especially for a player of Sweeney’s caliber.
It was under this backdrop that the Montreal Expos came to Kansas City on June 8th for a three-game set. Unbelievably, the Expos were worse than the Royals. They came to Kansas City with a record of 18-37, while the Royals came into the series with a 20-34 mark. If there was a team, and city, that was more deflated than Kansas City, it was Montreal. The Expos were floundering and at the conclusion of the season would move to Washington D.C. Nothing against Washington, but I’ve always believed that baseball was better for having a franchise in Montreal. Plus, the Expos had awesome uniforms.
The Royals, behind Greinke, took game one of the series on the eighth by a score of 4-to-2. Game two, scheduled for June 9th was rained out. The teams agreed to a twi-night doubleheader on the 10th. The weather was still crappy on the 10th, cool with intermittent showers but with this being the only trip to Kansas City for the Expos, there was pressure to get the games in.
That Expos team was some kind of bad. They did have Tony Batista, who hit 32 home runs and drove in 110, but was so bad on defense (19 errors) that he posted a negative 0.1 WAR. Think about that for a moment. 32 and 110 and still post a negative WAR. How often does that happen?
On this day, only one team showed up and that was Montreal. The Expos took game one by the score of 8-0 behind a complete game from Zach Day, he of 21 career wins. There was nothing remarkable about the game, just two bad teams slogging away at each other. Kansas City managed only six hits, one of which went for extra bases, a fifth inning triple off the bat of Bryon Gettis. Yeah, I know, I had to look him up too.
To prove Game One wasn’t a fluke, the Royals came out and laid another egg in Game Two. Tomo Ohka took the hill for Montreal, while Jimmy Gobble had the honors for the Royals. The aforementioned Mr. Batista staked the Expos to an early lead with two home runs off Gobble. The Royals finally got on the board in the eighth when Angel Berroa stroked a solo home run. Properly miffed, the Expos tacked on two more in their half of the 9th. Closer Chad Cordero allowed one Royal run in the 9th before mercifully closing the books on an embarrassing day at the park. The official record says 16,891 came out to the park but I have a hard time believing that many stuck around for the end.
The Royals had been outscored 15-2 on their home field by the worst team in baseball. Shockingly, this wasn’t even the low point in the season. Starting with a June 19th loss to Philadelphia, the Royals lost 16 of their next 20 games, a streak which included an 8-game losing streak. There was a bright side. Like an addict hitting bottom, the Royals ownership knew they had to make some serious changes. Manager Tony Pena would soon be gone, as would General Manager Allard Baird. The losing did provide the team with a plethora of high draft choices which over the next four drafts netted them Alex Gordon, Luke Hochevar, Jarrod Dyson, Mike Moustakas, Danny Duffy, Greg Holland, and Eric Hosmer. That core would lead the Royals back to prominence in 2014 and 2015.
All of this seems relevant in 2021. The Royals are once again scuffling, trying to find an identity. Their general manager is asking the fan base to be patient and “trust the process, Part II” though it’s sometimes hard to stay optimistic when the young arms get shelled and there are no position players of note on the horizon, aside from Bobby Witt, Jr. Granted, the 2021 crew will most likely not lose 104 games, though the season is still young. They’ve already had a couple of soul-sucking losing streaks. The 2021 club doesn’t have anyone in talent resembling Greinke, Sweeney, or Beltran.
All of which begs the question, do the Royals suffer from a scouting and player development problem? Or is it something else? I’ll be the first to make the case that scouting baseball talent is the hardest of all of the major sports. I know I couldn’t do it. Football? I think I could. Basketball. Yes. Baseball? No freaking way. And this comes from someone who’s watched a ton of baseball over the past 50 years. In the meantime, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll keep rooting for my Royals, through good and bad times and just hope that DM can pull together another World Series winner before I buy the pine condo.