Thursday, September 08, 2005

Who's Responsible for this Mess?

Another dismal Royals season is grinding toward its end. Just like many years past, I’m finding it more and more difficult to care about the Royals. They currently stand at 44-93, 42.5 games behind the White Sox in the AL Central. With 25 games remaining, it’s a near certainty that the Royals will eclipse their worst ever record of 104 losses.

The Royals are finishing out the season as if it were an extended tryout. Several minor leaguers have been called up and manager Buddy Bell has mentioned several times that he would like to figure out which players have the “stuff” to eventually win.

Several moves will be made over the next few weeks and months in hopes of improving the club in 2006. However, some of those moves are questionable. The Royals have officially given up on Calvin Pickering, releasing him earlier this week. They also continue to insist that John Buck is the catcher of the future, even if he is the third worst offensive player in all of baseball. (It’s well documented that I’m no Paul Phillips fan, but in his limited playing time, he has shown much more promise than Buck).

On the positive side, I am encouraged by Buddy Bell. Unlike the previous manager, Bell is not afraid to speak his mind. I try to tune into the Royals broadcasts after each game to hear Bell’s comments. They are always straightforward and sometimes very entertaining. Here are some quotes I recall:

“It’s hard to watch”
“We need to find out who has the courage to play this game”
“Major league players should know those things, but we don’t”
“If this isn’t rock bottom, I hate to think what is”

Over the last few weeks, Bell has made it clear that he’s looking at not only playing ability but attitude and is ready to cut out those who he thinks are not ready to win.

After the last three “Camp Snoopy” training camps under Tony Pena, it will be interesting to see how Buddy Bell conducts spring training next February. Hopefully it will be more than a working vacation for these guys and they will have to work hard to prove they deserve to play Major League Baseball.

All of this brings me to my conclusion about the Royals organization. Sure they’ve been plagued by the lack of ownership, poor drafts, poor trades and bad luck. But the underlying issue here is the attitude of the club. For too long, the Royals have spouted the “small market” mantra. They’ve leaned on that crutch over the years as an excuse for their poor play. The players in turn have begun to take for granted their status as big leaguers. There has never been any real accountability for on-the-field success. No matter how poorly the team has played, no heads have ever rolled. Tony Muser was quite obviously a terrible manager, and yet GM Allard Baird retained him year after year, and finally fired him in May of 2002 when it was obvious to all that he should have been let go after the 2001 season to allow the new manager to start fresh.

The team stood by Tony Pena even when it became apparent that he had no business being a big league manager, and Allard Baird himself has never feared for his job in spite of his “Roscoe Crosby” drafts and “Neifi Perez” trades. The entire organization has become too comfortable with poor performances.

I’m hopeful that Buddy Bell will start to change that attitude next spring. I can only hope that his words ring true and players who are not willing to work hard to become winners will be let go or will be forced to squander in the minors until they are ready.

We can only hope…

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