The top five worst moments.
A few weeks ago, I began a three-part piece on the greatest moments in Royals history (part one is available here, part two is available here). There wasn’t much controversy about that. Some of the younger fans leaned more towards recent events while the older fans went more towards George Brett era games. This is the third installment of the worst moments and plays in Royal’s history, specifically, the top five. And it’s been a whole lot of ugly.
It’s amazing how many of these plays and events came in the dark ages between 2000 and 2009. Kind of makes me wonder what was going on with the Royals braintrust in those years. I may have even missed a few of the “worst ever”. I hope not. I hope to God there isn’t something worse lurking in the Royals cupboard that I overlooked. I understand that every team has some dark moments in their history. Many teams have more skeletons than the Royals. It’s just that most of Kansas City’s came after Y2K.
5. May 7, 2006 - Kerry climbs the wall
It wasn’t that this play was so bad. It was more funny than bad. And I came to admire the player, Kerry Robinson. He was a 34th round draft pick of his hometown St. Louis Cardinals, who scrapped and fought his way through the minors before breaking through and playing for the team he loved. His story is a great one, one of those stories that baseball so often brings.
No, this play lands on the #5 spot because it perfectly encapsulates how bad and inept the Royals were during the first ten years of the 2000s. Robinson himself was a terrific athlete: a standout baseball, football AND hockey player at St. Louis’ Hazelwood High School. He went to Southeast Missouri State where he fashioned a 35-game hitting streak, which was an Ohio Valley Conference record. In fact, Robinson makes this play work because of his athleticism. In case you’ve forgotten, here’s the recap.
Kerry Robinson appeared in 18 games for the 2006 Kansas City Royals. This was a month before Dayton Moore took over the reins in Kansas City and in those days the Royals were looking for anyone who could play baseball. General Manager Allard Baird had a thing for reclamation projects and overlooked gems. Every once in a while, one would work out. Most often, they didn’t.
This was Robinson’s eighth game for the Royals, and he came into it hitting a respectable .276. He had good speed and like I said, was a terrific athlete. He’d been starting in centerfield, a position that had been in purgatory since the Royals decided they couldn’t pay Carlos Beltran an additional million dollars in 2004. In the bottom of the fourth inning, with no score and two outs, the White Sox’s Joe Crede came to the plate and cranked a long fly ball towards Robinson. Kerry went back, back, back, climbed the wall to make the home run-saving catch and….the ball bounced on the turf about ten feet in front of him and over the wall for a ground rule double. Ouch.
In fact, the umpires were so fooled by Robinson’s wall climb that they mistakenly ruled Crede’s hit a home run. Buddy Bell charged out of the dugout and after some discussion, convinced the umpires as to what they’d actually seen, but couldn’t believe.
A Royals executive said, “Every time it seems like we hit bottom, we go lower”. The White Sox would go on to win this game by a score of 3-2, pushing across the winning run with two out in the eighth inning off Royal’s reliever Elmer Dessens. Royal daddy Jim Thome hit a two-out double (did they ever consider walking Thome?) and Crede followed with a single to bring home Big Jim. The loss was just another of the 100 they lost that season. Robinson hung around until June 17th when the Royals sent him to Omaha. He hit .311 in 100 games for Omaha. He never played another game in the majors.
4. The Ken Harvey trilogy
I really thought that Ken Harvey was going to develop into a star. He had the pedigree. In 1999, he hit .478 with 23 home runs at Nebraska, earning first-team All-American honors. He had the size to be a thumper, at 6’2 and 250 pounds. The Royals drafted him in the 5th round of the 1999 draft and by 2001, he was in Kansas City. He got off to a blistering start in 2004 – his batting average was as high as .370 on June 10th and made his only All-Star game that summer. He struggled after the break, and then battled some back problems and that was that. He never developed into the answer at first base. He did, however, provide a highlight reel of wacky plays that Royal fans still talk about.
There was the time that Harvey somehow got snagged in the tarp at Kauffman and had to be rescued by manager Tony Pena. Unfortunately, no video or pictures of the event exist, only eyewitness accounts.
Part two of Harvey’s greatest hits occurred in a game against the Red Sox on June 4, 2004. With the bases loaded and one out in the sixth, Cesar Crespo hit a high chopper to Harvey, who started to throw home, but was interrupted by Grimsley running into him. Both players went down like they were hit with a deer slug. Grimsley lay face down for over a minute before getting to his feet, then quickly going back to his knees. Had Grimsley not gotten in the way, Harvey’s throw would have nailed the runner at home. As it was, both players left the game for X-rays with Harvey getting a bruised right forearm and Grimsley receiving a bruised left forearm and jaw.
Harvey’s final saga occurred less than a month later, July 4th to be exact. This was an interleague game against the San Diego Padres. In the bottom of the eighth, Khalil Greene hit a fly ball to Royals right fielder Matt Stairs, who cranked up a throw to home to try to get the running tagging at third. Harvey positioned himself as the cutoff man, turned his back to stairs, and went to one knee. Stairs’ throw was on line, but low, and it struck Harvey squarely in the back, sending the big fella to the turf, writhing in pain. “I’ve never seen that happen before,” said Tony Pena. Yeah, I know Tony. There were a lot of things that happened in the 2000s that we’ve never seen before. Or since.
3. Sluggerrr, mascot and hot dog vendor
It wasn’t enough for the 2000s to be remembered for their putrid play on the field, the Royals mascot Sluggerrr, got in on the action as well. First, a short rant on sport team mascots. The San Diego Chicken was one of the first widely recognized sport team mascots. The Chicken was wildly popular, which convinced every other team in every sport, that they too, needed a mascot. Some mascots make no sense in their relation to the team. The Chiefs have a…wolf? The Cincinnati Reds have a critter of some origin called Gapper. Xavier University has a Blue Blob. Seriously. The Philadelphia 76er’s have a hip-hop themed rabbit. To show that the 76er’s didn’t corner the market on weird mascots, their next-door neighbors, the Phillies have the Philly Phanatic, which looks like a Sesame Street reject. The Chicago White Sox employ another Sesame Street reject called Southpaw. The Atlanta Braves have a strange creature called Blooper. I got my photo taken one year next to the New England Patriots mascot. He smelled like he hadn’t washed his uniform in a couple of years.
Sluggerrr, who is a lion, made his debut on April 5, 1999. The Royals have a Lion as a mascot. His bio lists him at 6’9 in height, that he is King of the Jungle and is not married, but still on the prowl. It also says he likes to throw T-shirts, Hot dogs and temper tantrums. Sluggerrr has not been without controversy. There have been stories about his relationship with Mrs. Met and his subsequent trolling of Mr. Met about said relationship.
There were also photos that surfaced (NSFW) of Sluggerrr at a Royal fan’s bachelor party, enjoying the, ahem, festivities while several amused partygoers looked on. The Royals have strenuously made it clear that the person who was that Sluggerrr is no longer affiliated with the organization.
If the 2000s weren’t bad enough for the Royals, Sluggerrr made sure to send the decade out on a low note. In a game on September 8, 2009, Sluggerrr as he often did, threw a foil-wrapped hot dog into the stands with a no-look, behind the back toss. The pork and bread delight hit a fan, John Coomer of Overland Park, in the eye. Coomer was watching the scoreboard when the weenie hit him and suffered a detached retina, which resulted in Coomer having two surgeries to correct the issue and resulted in vision loss.
Coomer subsequently sued the Royals for damages. Jackson County jurors originally sided with the Royals, but an Appeals court overturned that verdict. The case went all the way to the Missouri Supreme Court. Coomer, who claims to have paid more than $16,000 in medical expenses, made a logical case when he said, “I was injured at the game, by their hand, and I was hoping that I could at least get my medical expenses taken care of”. Finally, in 2015, Coomer’s claim was denied for a second time based on what is called the “Baseball rule” which presumes an inherent risk among those attending a baseball game and assigns fans the responsibility for paying attention and being prepared for the occasional ball or bat that may come their way. Evidently, the rule also includes between innings foodstuffs.
Come on Royals! At least give the guy season tickets! After all, he was at a game in 2009 during a season in which he had to watch reconstituted turds like Yuni, Mitch, Gas Can Farnsworth and Tony Pena Jr. flail away for a team that lost 97 games. That should be punishment enough.
2. September 13, 2005 - I got it! You got it?
The 2005 Kansas City Royals. Wow. What else can be said about this bunch? They set a club record with 106 losses, including another club record of 19 losses in a row. More on that later. They went through three managers: Tony Pena Sr., Bob Schaefer, and Buddy Bell. Their Pythagorean was 60-102. We wish. This was a strange team. They had a little talent. Mike Sweeney hit .300. David DeJesus hit .293. As a team, they ranked near the bottom of the American League in runs, hits, home runs, walks, on-base percentage and RBIs. Basically, all the things that matter. They cycled through 22 pitchers trying to find someone, anyone, who could get batters out. The team ERA was 5.49 and like the hitters, they ranked near the bottom of the league in nearly every major category. This was the season that a 21-year-old Zach Greinke went 5-17 and nearly gave up baseball. What a shame that would have been.
On September 13, the Royals returned to the K to meet the Chicago White Sox. The Royals were fresh off the road from a six-game road trip where they went 2 and 4. The White Sox were particularly rough on the Royals in 2005, winning 13 of 18 meetings. 2005 was a good year to be a White Sox fan. They won the American League Central with 99 wins, got hot in the playoffs, and won 11 of their 12 playoff and World Series games on their way to the championship.
Good teams are supposed to pummel bad teams and the Sox did just that. 9,535 fans showed up that evening to root for the Royals. Have you ever seen the K with 9,500 fans in it? It looks empty. The Royals took a 1-0 lead in the third, but the Sox answered in the fourth, putting up three to take the lead. The killer blow in the fourth was a two-out-double by Juan Uribe which drove in the third run. In the box score, it looks fairly mundane. Double to centerfield. The hit itself was anything but. And it perfectly encapsulated how bad the Royals were in 2005. With A.J. Pierzynski on first, Uribe lifted a first pitch fly ball to left center. Centerfielder Chip Ambres and left fielder Terrance Long both converged on the ball, looked at each other, thought the other was taking the ball and then…the unthinkable. They both started jogging for the dugout as the fly hit the turf behind them. Uribe ended up on second, Pierzynski, who had been running on the play, scored easily. Pitcher Mike Wood, deprived of what would have been the third out, temporarily lost his composure and walked Joe Crede, before getting Scott Podsednik on a grounder to Matt Stairs at first.
The Sox tacked on two more runs in the fifth and the sixth before the Royals rallied in the sixth to cut the lead to 5 to 4. The Royals tried to stage a rally in the ninth. Ambres came to the plate with one on and two out, representing the tying run. Fittingly, he hit a fly ball to deep centerfield for the third out.
1. July 28 - August 19, 2005 - The Royals play Buddy ball, badly
The longest losing streak in baseball history is 26 consecutive games by the Louisville Colonels, but that happened in 1889. In more modern times, the 1961 Philadelphia Phillies lost 23 games in a row. The 1988 Baltimore Orioles lost 21 in a row, on their way to 107 loss season. That was a strange team. They had Cal Ripken Jr., Eddie Murray, Fred Lynn and Mickey Tettleton. Their pitching was a little rough. They had Mike Boddiker and a young Curt Schilling and Gregg Olson. Their team ERA was 4.54. Hard to believe you can lose 107 with that team, but somehow, they managed to do it. The 1969 Montreal Expos lost 20 in a row. I can understand that. They were an expansion team. That makes you appreciate what a terrific job Cedric Tallis did in assembling the expansion Royals.
Then you get the 2005 Kansas City Royals. After beating the White Sox on July 27, their record stood at 38 and 64. They left for a seven-game east coast road trip and lost all seven. They returned to the K on August 5 for an eight-game homestand and lost all eight. By now the local and national press was picking up the story. They went back on the road on August 15 for a six-game west coast swing and lost the first four to run the streak to 19. They finally got off the schneid on August 20 in Oakland when Mike Wood and four relievers outdueled Barry Zito. The Royals only managed four hits but had the good fortune of squeezing three of them in succession in the fourth inning, which gave them a 2-to-1 cushion and ultimately, the win. Just to prove the win was no fluke, the boys in blue came back the next day and won another from Oakland, 5-4 in 12 innings. When the streak ended, their record stood at 39-82.
The game that sticks out in this streak, the game that screams of the futility of the 2005 Royals, occurred in Kansas City on August 9. At this point, the losing streak was ten games. Ten is still an embarrassing number, but I can’t count the number of times the Royals have lost ten or more consecutive games during the dark ages.
This game though was a killer. The Royals played well. They went into the top of the ninth with a comfortable 7-2 lead. They only needed three outs! Mike MacDougal, who was the de-facto closer opened the ninth by giving up a double to Casey Blake. Grady Sizemore doubled, scoring Blake. Coco Crisp singled, scoring Sizemore. It’s still 7-4 Kansas City, but maybe you’d think that Buddy Bell might make a change? Three batters, three hits, two runs. The trend line is not good on that. MacDougal got Jhonny Peralta looking for out number one. Travis Hafner then laced a double to right. Victor Martinez followed with a single, scoring Crisp. Uh, Buddy? You watching this game?
Ronnie Belliard followed with a fielder’s choice to short which plated Hafner but gave the Royals the second out. 7 to 6 Royals. Come on guys! One more out!
The next batter was Jeff Liefer, a career .230 hitter, who would only play in ten more big league games. Bell stuck with MacDougal who induced Liefer to hit a fly to left field. Chip Ambres (remember him from #2?) settled under the ball. From here, I’ll turn the call over to Denny Matthews:
“Fly ball to left and…he dropped it. Yes, he did”.
Belliard scored the tying run on the error. Bell, still glued to the bench, let MacDougal pitch to Aaron Boone, who lacerated him for another double, scoring Liefer and giving the Indians the lead. I mean, seriously, this is managerial malpractice. MacDougal faced nine batters, gave up six hits and six runs and Buddy couldn’t see early on that he just might not have his best stuff that night?
Bell finally trudged to the mound and brought in Jimmy Gobble. Gobble’s first act was giving Casey Blake an intentional walk. Why? What’s the point? There’s no double play to set up. You’ve lost the lead. There are two outs. Grow a pair and pitch to the guy. The next batter, Grady Sizemore, ripped a single to right, scoring Boone and Blake. Gobble then walks Crisp before giving up a three-run jack to Peralta. Gobble recovered to strike out Hafner and end the carnage. Fourteen batters, eight hits, and eleven runs. The Royals went down meekly in the ninth and that was that. 13 to 7, Cleveland in one of the most embarrassing losses in the middle of the most embarrassing losing streak in team history.
How do you do a postmortem on a game and a streak like this? MacDougal had some moments. He made the All-Star team in 2003 and there were times when he was right where he could get batters to miss. A funny thing about his career, he somehow stretched it over 12 injury-plagued seasons, appeared in 407 games but only threw 394 innings, giving up 397 hits. That’s an average of 65 innings of work each season. Good work if you can get it.
How does an established team, in their 37th year of existence, manage to lose 19 in a row? That in itself is hard to do. There weren’t any teams in the 1990s that lost 19 in a row. The Royals have been the only team to pull it off in the 2000s. I’ve often wondered if you took one of the top college programs, say a Vanderbilt, and had them play against professionals, would they lose 19 in a row? I’m guessing they’d have a losing record but would somehow manage to avoid 19 consecutive losses.
The Royals had chances to end the streak. On August 5, Zach Greinke finished the 7th with the Royals leading the A’s, 4-3. Jeremy Affeldt started the eighht by walking the first three of the first four batters he faced while recording one out. Bell brought in Ambiorix Burgos, a hard-throwing right-hander, who once he blew up his baseball career, had shall we say, some serious legal problems. Burgos gave up a single to the first batter he faced then uncorked a wild pitch, giving the A’s a 5-4 win.
On August 1, Jose Lima scattered five Detroit hits over nine complete innings, only allowing one run. Unfortunately, the Royals grounded into three double plays and only got five hits themselves and lost 1-0.
On August 16, with the streak setting at 16, the Royals went into the eighth tied at three with Seattle. Greinke gave them six good innings before Affeldt came on. He got through a clean seventh and recorded two quick outs in the eighth, working his way through the gauntlet of Ichiro, Raul Ibanez, Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre before the magic wore off. Then facing the bottom of the Mariners order, he gave up a single, a walk, a stolen base, and in a cruel twist of fate, a run-scoring single to Yuniesky Betancourt. The Royals had nothing in the 9th and lost 4 to 3.
This streak made me think of the Bob Seger song, The Famous Final Scene. It’s a beautiful song, kind of haunting. The words to the song are appropriate for this streak. Taken out of order:
Think of seasons that must end
See the rivers rise and fall
They will rise and fall again
Everything must have an end
It’s been coming on so long
You were just the last to know
It’s been a long time since you smiled
And the nights are growing cold
Soon the winter will be here
And there’s no one warm to hold
It’s the famous final scene