Being Royals Review resident historian, I’ve also accepted the unofficial position of group curmudgeon. With the Royals floundering, it seems like I have some competition for that title. Funny thing is, in real life, I’m more Ted Lasso than Roy Kent. It’s not so much the losing that wears you down, it’s the feeling of hopelessness. And I think many Royals fans are feeling that this summer. How did we get to this point? Where are we going from here? Is this season just a bad fluke or are we witnessing the culmination of a complete organizational meltdown in scouting and development?
Last week I was researching the life of and writing about Marvelous Marv Throneberry, who along with playing for the Yankees and the Kansas City Athletics, also played for the 1962 New York Mets. Those Mets made their own history by being one of the worst teams in the long history of major league baseball. I understand why. They were an expansion team playing in the Polo Grounds, an aging facility, and in those ancient days the expansion draft wasn’t set up to favor new teams. In fact, when the Royals, Pilots, Expos and Padres joined the league for the 1969 season, it wasn’t much better.
That alone makes Kansas City’s early achievements so much more spectacular. I mean, they had a winning record in their third season! That team, assembled by Cedric Tallis and managed by Bob Lemon, went 85-76. The Royals haven’t won as many as 85 games since, well, 2015. In fact, the Boys in Blue won more than 85 games for three consecutive years from 2013 to 2015. Prior to 2013, it had been 24 years (1989) since they won 85 in a season. Now they are on another streak of winning less than 85. 2023 will mark the eighth consecutive season with less than 85 wins. That’s a lot of losing baseball.
All of this brought up two thoughts into my head: The Royals and the Oakland A’s are currently running neck and neck for the worst record in baseball. This off-season, would major league baseball consider the idea of dispersing all the players on the Royals and A’s forty-man rosters and then letting those two teams engage in another expansion draft? In my make-believe world, here’s how it would work. Those 80 players would first be available to all other major league teams in a dispersal draft. Then Oakland and Kansas City could try to remake their downtrodden rosters with an expansion draft. The remaining 28 teams could protect ten players. If they have a player selected by the Royals or A’s, they can pull one player back to the protected list. Any former Royal and A’s players that weren’t protected by their new teams would be available for Kansas City and Oakland to reacquire. Any former Royals and A’s player not selected in the dispersal and expansion drafts would become free agents, available to sign with any team. I know, there’s some logistics to work out, but wouldn’t it be fascinating to see if the Royals and A’s could actually improve their rosters and secondly, would any of their current players get selected and protected by the other 28 teams? Or would a lot of them be unemployed?
Of course, this is never going to happen, as the other 28 teams would scream malpractice. And it would be. I’m talking about the malpractice of the management and ownership of the Royals and A’s. Just the idea alone is a testament to the unbelievable level of incompetence both organizations have endured for several years in scouting and player development.
The second idea that popped into my noggin was this: Could these 2023 Royals end up being worse than the 1962 Mets? No way that’s possible, right? I mean, the Royals have a 55-year history. They have an established farm system and a relatively stable group of scouts and coaches, videographers, doctors and nutritionists and one of the nicest stadiums in baseball. How is it possible that with all those advantages, they could still challenge an early ‘60’s expansion team for the worst record in the modern era? A series split with the Rays brought the Royals to 22-56, a bona fide dumpster fire of a team. They have 84 games remaining and are currently playing at a .282 clip. I’ve enjoyed colonoscopies more than this season. Let’s assume they continue to play at that clip, which might be generous since we all expect an exodus of talent around the trade deadline. That puts them at an alarming 46-116. The 1962 Mets, an expansion team with nothing but castoffs and slightly warmed over bodies, no previous infrastructure and no history, finished at 40-120-1.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we might be witnessing a horse race to baseball immortality.
The 2023 Royals are not only bad, but they’re also kind of boring. I love watching Zach Greinke pitch, but we all know that he’s getting by on 80% guile and brains and 20% arm. What else is there? The young guys not only haven’t developed, but many of them have also regressed. The veterans brought in as filler, save Aroldis Chapman, have been uninspiring. They make a lot of mistakes on routine plays that most little league teams have perfected. If I see one more rundown where the Royals chase a runner back to a base with no one covering, I might kill my television.
At least the 1962 Mets had some personality. Their manager was Casey Stengel, that alone guarantees they were at least going to be interesting. Besides Throneberry, who had a sizeable following, they had other notables like Richie Ashburn, Hot Rod Kanehl, Choo Choo Coleman, Gil Hodges, Don Zimmer, Clem Labine, Vinegar Bend Mizell and a 17-year-old New York native named Ed Kranepool. The Royals don’t have any personalities in the same zip code as those Mets. We’re trying to get by watching a bunch of .210 hitters wearing gaudy necklaces that you normally find on women during Mardi Gras. At least Mardi Gras is fun, and the scenery is a helluva lot better. But I digress.
Vinegar Bend Mizell? How can you not be romantic about old time baseball with nicknames like that? Mizell, a left-handed starting pitcher, was a fascinating character. His given name was Wilmer David Mizell and took his name from the town in which he played amateur ball, Vinegar Bend, Alabama. It had to be in Alabama, right? Or maybe southeast Missouri. Mizell fashioned a 9-year career with the Cardinals, Pirates and Mets, despite missing two seasons to a military commitment. He finished with a career record of 90 and 88 with 61 complete games. He made the National League All Star teams in 1959 and his best seasons came between 1958 and 1960, when he went 37-32 over 602 innings of work with a 3.71 ERA. In fact, his 1960 trade to Pittsburgh was a catalyst in propelling the Pirates to the World Series, which they won on Bill Mazeroski’s walk off. It was Mizell’s only championship as a pro. In retirement, he served three terms in Congress for the state of North Carolina. Mizell had a ebullient personality and was very popular with teammates and constituents alike.
Those Mets also had some power, though most of it was flickering due to age. Hodges, Frank Thomas and Gus Bell all had more than 200 career home runs. Ashburn collected almost 2,600 hits in his career. Both Ashburn and Hodges are in the Hall of Fame. One of the pitchers on their staff, Roger Craig, lost 24 games that season. Two others, Al Jackson and Jay Hook lost 20 and 19 respectively. Woo, Doggie! Will the Royals give Jordan Lyles enough starts to challenge those three?
The Mets also had some Kansas City connections. Besides Throneberry, Catcher Harry Chiti spend some time with the Athletics while Galen Cisco played for the 1969 Royals before embarking on a career as a Royals coach. By and large, that Mets team was old. Of the few young guys they had, Jim Hickman was probably the best and he had his best years later in his career playing for the Cubs.
And that is the most perplexing thing about these Royals. On paper they seem to have some talent but it’s not translating to wins. To be honest, it’s the damndest thing I think I’ve ever seen in my long history of watching Kansas City baseball. Those 1962 Mets longest win streak of the year was three games. The Royals have yet to match that, though with 91 games remaining, it’s statistically probable that they will. The Mets had losing streaks of 11, 13 and 17 games. The Royals already have a ten-game rip under their belts, and I’d say it’s even money that they might pull off a 15-game streak before the season ends.
I’ll admit, I’m not optimistic. Before the season started, I predicted that this team would win 79 games. That hasn’t aged well. By 1969, the Mets were World Series champions, powered by a young pitching staff anchored by Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Tug McGraw and Nolan Ryan. They were helped by the late season collapse of the Chicago Cubs and the fact that several of their position players had career years. Everyone talks about that team being the Miracle Mets, but they went 100-62. You must be a good baseball team to win 100 games. Can the Royals do the same?