Monday, December 20, 2010

Greinke's gone and the cycle continues

One thing is for sure now that the Kansas City Royals have traded away their ace starting pitcher, Zack Greinke — the team is building quite the stack of chips to play with for the future.

The only problem is, the team isn't quite ready to go all-in just yet.

In fact, you could argue the Royals have already folded for 2011, and the calendar-year won't even officially begin for another two weeks.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Beauty of Fantasy Football

Every so often, as human beings, we come to points in our lives where an overly-obscure and peculiar turn of events unfolds in front of our eyes, leaving us no choice but to appreciate the beauty in its rareness.

This happened to me Monday night, while watching the Ravens/Texans game.

Monday, December 13, 2010

City would embrace Cassel as the hero

We've come a long way, haven't we?

It seems it's been a lifetime since the days of questioning whether quarterback Matt Cassel was somehow holding back the Kansas City Chiefs during their surprisingly hot start early in the season. Now, after a blowout-loss in San Diego Sunday, the team, just a loss away from losing their once-tight grip on a division-lead and a playoff berth, are left to wonder if Cassel can return quickly enough to save the season.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Your wish has been granted, Cassel-haters

Something had to give, right?

It's mid-December. The Chiefs are 8-4 and hold a two-game lead in the AFC West. A win this Sunday in San Diego, and the team would have all but wrapped up the division.

Oh, and yesterday, the team (because of timing, not arrogance) began sending out e-mails discussing playoff-ticket options for its season-ticket holders.

Then, the appendectomy.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Second Guess: Todd vs. Josh II

In honor of Josh McDaniels' last game as the Denver Broncos' head coach (he was fired early Monday evening, if you haven't heard)... it's the return of The Second Guess!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cassel and Bowe have answered the call

It's time we give credit where credit is due. Matt Cassel and Dwayne Bowe have answered the call.

This may be a surprise for some of you, but guess what? The Chiefs are 7-4 after blowing out their last two opponents and find themselves all alone atop the AFC West. The team has a young, rejuvenated defense that is making plays and the league's best rushing attack. Yet, somehow, after a 42-24 spanking handed to the Seahawks in Seattle, the talk in Kansas City this week will be Cassel and Bowe.

And get this — the "talk" won't be of the usual, negative sort.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I'm thankful for...

On what has been yet another wonderful Thanksgiving weekend in Kansas City, I'd like to take a page from the Joe Posnanski files if I may and list some of the things I'm thankful for.

The food. The food is quite possibly the best part of Thanksgiving and is really the core of the holiday altogether. This year was no different (green bean casserole, anyone?).

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cheap shot on Moeaki may have caused Haley's handshake snub

Could this, possibly, be what Chiefs' head coach Todd Haley was so upset about after the absolute whipping his team accepted in Denver last Sunday?

I can't argue the hit, applied by Denver linebacker Joe Mays on Chiefs' rookie-tight end Tony Moeaki, violated the NFL's new and improved helmet-to-helmet policy. The updated rule now includes unnecessary hits on any defenseless players — not just exposed wide-receivers — and could result in immediate fines and suspension. It was obvious Moeaki was not defenseless, though the necessity of the hit could surely be questioned. I was shocked, though, that the play received virtually no media coverage outside of Kansas City.

One would hope the Chiefs were smart enough to send a heads-up to the league for review. Moeaki looked pretty bad trying to get back on his feet after the hit, and is likely to miss this Sunday's Chiefs-Cardinals game at Arrowhead because of it.

* * *

After the game, Haley refused to shake Broncos' head coach Josh McDaniel's hand, instead opting to share a few choice words with him while pointing his finger in disgust before walking away.

Haley has since apologized through the media to the fans, the Broncos organization, and McDaniels, though he said he would not reach out to the coach personally. There was speculation Haley's outrage had nothing to do with the Moeaki hit, and had more to do with Denver's unrelenting offensive and defensive attack late in the second-half after the game had long been decided.

Sports Illustrated's Jim Trotter even tweeted about it.

Regardless, it is worth noting that in the Chiefs' 44-24 blowout of the Broncos in last season's finale at Invesco, Haley pulled running back Jamaal Charles in the second-half when he was just 38 yards shy of breaking Adrian Peterson's single-game rushing record.

No matter what side of the fence you're on, this all makes for one hell of a storyline leading into these two teams' rematch at Arrowhead in three weeks.

Chiefs' passing-attack should be judged by victories, not hollow statistics

For the Kansas City Chiefs as a whole, Sunday was an absolute ridiculous and embarrassing shellacking at the hands of the Denver Broncos where even the 49-29 final score was much closer than the game actually was.

For quarterback Matt Cassel and leading-receiver Dwayne Bowe, though, the game was somewhat of a coming-out party, statistically-speaking, at least. Cassel threw for a career-high 469 yards, and Bowe set career-highs for receptions (13) and receiving yards (186). Cassel finished the game with four touchdown passes — two to Bowe — and no interceptions.

Judging by statistics alone, it was by far the tandem's best performance together as members of the Chiefs. Judging by the stat that matters most — wins and losses — it meant nothing.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Second Guess: Chiefs vs. Raiders


As exciting and intense as the revival of the Chiefs/Raiders rivalry would become Sunday, I almost forgot how completely boring and uneventful the first quarter was. Aside from a flurry of flags, a couple of failed fake punts, and just two carries by the Chiefs' best offensive weapon, Jamaal Charles, there wasn't much to speak of.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Second Guess: Chiefs vs. Bills


The first quarter could easily be defined by missed opportunities for the Chiefs. On the opening drive, Kansas City looked to be moving the ball with ease until it stalled at the Buffalo 31-yard line after a first-down pass to the endzone was dropped by Dwayne Bowe, who only had one hand free by the time the ball arrived. Still, if Bowe wants to eventually become the receiver head coach Todd Haley and others feel he can become, catches like those need to be made more often than not.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Moss makes perfect sense for Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs must seriously consider claiming wide-receiver Randy Moss, who was placed on waivers Monday by the Minnesota Vikings after being acquired by the team just a month prior.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Chiefs' Shaun Smith isn't the only one grabbing the goods

Could the NFL and the media have jumped the gun on Chiefs' defensive lineman Shaun Smithor the "Genital Giant" as he was so appropriately tagged – and his proneness to grab the junk of an opponent when engaged during a play?

It's quite possible, at least according to the website, Deadspin (the same blog that broke the story on the Brett Favre debacle).

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Loss to Texans reminds Chiefs fans of familiar feeling

Let's not forget, now. This is what we signed on for.

We bitched and moaned for the better part of the past decade, while our beloved Kansas City Chiefs more often than not fielded a team not quite worth cheering for. We then cheered and applauded, seemingly from the draft in April all the way through September, as our Chiefs looked as if they'd finally turned the corner and were ready to be a force again.

Somewhere in the middle of all that, likely during the last three seasons in which the team mustered just ten total victories, we may have forgotten exactly how stressful it can be to be fans of a competitive pro-football team.

We were reminded with an absolute kick to the gut Sunday, after the Chiefs blew a 10-point lead in Houston in the game's final four minutes en route to a 35-31 heartbreaking defeat to the Texans.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Chiefs' current receiving group just won't cut it

The problem is the quarterback.

Fair or not, most of the talk after the Chiefs' tough 19-9 loss to the Colts in Indianapolis Sunday was and will be dominated by the above theme.

It isn't fair, at least not entirely.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Royals can't (or won't) stop the bleeding in 2011 and beyond

It's likely you've had more important things to do with your time than keeping up with a losing baseball team in October, so you probably didn't hear. Baseball's regular season came to a close Sunday, with our Royals falling to the postseason-bound Tampa Bay Rays 3-2 in extra innings.

The team, a shell of its former, fresh out-of-spring training, just-as-talentless self, finished the season with a 67-95 record. Our boys in blue haven't fielded an above-.500 team since 2003, and that fluky season was the lone time in the last 16 years that anything close to winning baseball has been played out at Kauffman Stadium.

It's terrible.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Former President Clinton believes adapting to climate change key to economic recovery

Former President Bill Clinton has a proposition for America's current leaders as to how to put the country back to work again: Start taking our changing climate more seriously.

Clinton, appearing on the Late Show with David Letterman on Monday, September 20th to promote the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), described the correlation between America's unemployment and our need to 'go green' as simple.

It, of course, just takes a little forward thinking.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

With second chance, Vick may be ready to redeem

Michael Vick has a real opportunity here, and it's bigger than salvaging his once very promising football career.

In an odd move Tuesday, Philadelphia Eagles' coach Andy Reid named Vick the team's starting quarterback going forward. The decision came just one day after Reid told reporters Kevin Kolb was "his guy" and would be the team's starter.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Chief disaster is imminent unless Haley, Weis get creative

The Kansas City Chiefs are 2-0 and have somewhat repositioned themselves back on the NFL map, yet it's possible we should feel less optimistic about their playoff hopes now than we did at any point last week or during the preseason.

The team stumbled through an ugly and forgettable sixty minutes of football in Cleveland en route to a 16-14 victory over the lowly Browns Sunday.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

NFL Picks: Week 2

The first week in the NFL gave us a glimpse at Houston Texans' overnight-star Arian Foster running all over a disinterested Colts squad. We saw New York Jets' running back Shonn Green go all-Steve Slaton on us and my fantasy team. And, if there were any such awards, I'd like to give the nod to the Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins for the AFC and NFC home field advantage/fan-inspired victory award, respectively.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Chiefs and Arrowhead return to relevance on Monday Night Football

More important than a last-second victory, a 1-0 start, or being alone in first place in the division was the resonating feeling every Chiefs fan at Arrowhead Stadium or watching at home surely felt in the moments after the team's triumphant 21-14 victory over the San Diego Chargers Monday night.

It was in the hugs and the high-fives. It was in the fist pumps and the cheers. It was in the war chant being belted out by fans on the walk in and out of the stadium.

Everyone felt it and everyone knew. On Monday, professional football in Kansas City became relevant again.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

NFL Picks: Week 1

Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints (-5)

Brett Favre is a year older, missed most of training camp for the second straight year, and has health concerns. The Vikings are without their leading receiver from 2009, Sidney Rice, for at least half the year. Add to that the loss of backup running back Chester Taylor, who was a major factor in picking up blitzes in third down situations, and it becomes apparent the team has regressed since last season. The Saints come into this game mainly at full strength, and should dominate the game from start to finish to begin their title defense.

Against the spread: Saints

Straight up: Saints

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

NFL Predictions 2010: Favre returns to Green Bay for NFC Championship showdown

Football is back!

I've probably made that announcement a couple-hundred times since, well, sometime in April when the NFL Draft was getting underway. The statement will become 100% accurate Thursday, though, when Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings return to New Orleans for a rematch of last season's NFC Championship game with the Saints.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Amidst Distractions, Mizzou's Gabbert Primed For Big Year

After a tumultuous offseason, quarterback Blaine Gabbert and the Missouri Tigers will try to rise above the distractions in their season opener this Saturday against the Illinois Fighting Illini.

First, though, the negative.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Chiefs Show Signs of Life In Loss to Bucs

For what it's worth, the Kansas City Chiefs gave us some reason for optimism Saturday in their 20-15 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The offensive attack looked much more determined. Quarterback Matt Cassel bounced back from a dismal effort in Atlanta with a solid performance in Tampa. He completed 14 of 19 pass attempts for 125 yards and a touchdown against the first-team Buccaneers defense. Cassel, preparing for his sixth season in the NFL, avoided throwing an interception for the second straight week and finished the game with a 108.4 QB rating. He exited after the first half.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Whitlock's Departure Signals End of an Era

After almost four months of what the Kansas City Star was calling a "vacation", the newspaper announced today that their lead sports columnist, Jason Whitlock, was leaving the paper to "pursue other interests".

The aren't many words to describe the loss this is for the Kansas City sports scene, and that's ironic considering Whitlock, the writer. He was never a man of few words.

Memoirs of a Misguided Sports Fan

This past weekend was a fairly interesting and eventful few days on the Kansas City sports front. The Chiefs, with their seemingly popular new rookie class, opened up their preseason schedule against the Falcons in Atlanta on Friday. Meanwhile, the struggling Royals hosted the hated New York Yankees for four games in yet another David vs. Goliath style matchup.

This is how it all looked from my vantage point..

* * *

Let's start with Friday, which, at least when the weekend began, was the day most fans in this city (including myself) were looking forward to the most. It was amazing to see how quickly the hype and excitement surrounding the Chiefs coming into this season seemed to vanish. In my previous post, I mentioned a few things to look for during the game that might help clue us in on how much this team has really improved.

Well, if we were to use that as a basis, the results are mostly mixed. Branden Albert looked okay, but the ultimate goal of him improving is to see the offensive line perform better as a whole. That did not happen, at least while the Falcons first-team defense was still in the game.  In limited play, new addition Thomas Jones had little room to the run the ball between the tackles, and it wasn't until the second quarter when Jamaal Charles checked in that the running game really even got going. By then, the Atlanta starters were already out of the game, making the results less signifcant. Also, right tackle Ryan O'Callaghan whiffed on a block on the second offensive series, leading to a sack and fumble by quarterback Matt Cassel.

Cassel didn't look great at all Friday, either. His final stats (other than the fumble) may have looked up to par - six of eight for 25 yards - but you have to look deeper. During one series on third down, Cassel took a sack when he had an opportunity to throw the ball away and secure a very makeable field goal attempt. The sack led to the attempt by kicker Ryan Succop being much longer, and of course, he missed it. Playoff quarterbacks do not make those kinds of mistakes.

It was surprising to see that, at least to my knowledge, Cassel (or any of the quarterbacks) never even targeted receiver Dwayne Bowe on a pass attempt. Now, it's possible that was more of a product of conservative play-calling than anything else. Still, even in the first preseason game, it's a bad sign.

And we haven't even elaborated on the fumble play, which could have easily been avoided. The block was missed by the right tackle, which isn't a right-handed quarterback's blind side. So your guess is as good as mine as to why Cassel didn't simply step up in the pocket and roll to the outside, which he clearly had plenty of room to do, to try and make a play. Instead, he tried to rush his throw, but his arm was hit by Atlanta defensive end Kroy Biermann, and the ball was knocked loose before the tuck rule could come into play.

There were some encouraging signs to speak of Friday. Although first-round draft pick Eric Berry didn't make any big plays, he did seem to be around the ball on almost every play while he was in the game. The two second-round picks from the 2010 draft were the real stars, though. It was somewhat of a shock to see Dexter McCluster lined up as a running back more often than a receiver after the team made it clear he'd contribute primarily as a slot receiver in the offense. That didn't seem to matter one bit, though, after the ball was in his hands. It's pretty obvious to me that, if he can stay healthy, McCluster will quickly become a star in Kansas City. His quickness was absolutely unmatched by the Falcon defense as he repeatedly beat the linebackers to the outside on sweeps and pitch plays for big chunks of yardage. On the end of one run, McCluster took a big-time late hit by a Falcon defender but immediately popped back up with a smile on his face. Let's hope he can continue to do that into the regular season, when the wear and tear begins to take its toll on the players' bodies.

The other second-round pick, cornerback Javier Arenas (who is also known for his speed), shined as well. It looks like the Chiefs may have finally found a comparable replacement to Dante Hall in the return game. Arenas returned three kickoffs for 85 yards, including a 42-yarder. He also had a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown taken off the board because of a holding penalty called on rookie free agent Justin Cole. Not bad at all for a debut.

Overall, though, the team and its fans got a healthy dose of reality Friday. Maybe all those playoff predictions were a bit premature. Or maybe not. On the one hand, you got the feeling Friday that if the starters stayed in the game, the Falcons would have won by five touchdowns. On the other, it is preseason. Just as we may have put too much stock into a solid offseason and smooth (so far) training camp, we should apply that to our analysis of Friday's disappointment and avoid jumping to conclusions just yet.

* * *

Saturday was a change of pace, as I, for the first time since April visited Kauffman Stadium to see a Royals game.*

*On April 10th, after yet another Royals' loss, I left Kauffman with the worst feeling in the pit of my stomach and vowed not to give owner/soul reaver David Glass one more dime of my money until the team put a respectable product on the field. At the time, I figured my boycott would last until opening day 2011, when there should be more reason for optimism than there is currently. What I wasn't considering was the annual trip to Kauffman some of my extended family (who come in from out of town) and I have been attending for some years now. So I went.

There was definitely some electricity in the air, as would be expected with the Yankees in town. Now, these may not be your daddy's Yankees, but the new-look Bronx Bombers did not disappoint. After splitting the first two games of the series, the Yankees brought the bats on Saturday in a big way. Alex Rodriguez, the newest member of the 600-homerun club, led the way with three absolute monster homers against three different Royals pitchers. By the time A-Roid had rounded the bases on his second long-ball, at least half of the crowd at Kauffman had joined in for a loud "Let's Go Yankees!" chant. After the third homer - which landed in the left field fountains - I was completely in awe, as I'm sure the rest of the spectators on hand were as well.

It wasn't until after the game that it really dawned on me that I had just witnessed history, or something close to it. It's not every day you get to see a member of the 600-homerun club play ball, let alone blast three in one game. Obviously, in A-Roid's quest to join the elite group (there are now only seven members) there was a lot of talk about how big of a deal the 600th homerun would be, considering his use of steroids while in high school, which he admitted to a few years back.

It's sad, really. Baseball statistics are what allowed the game to stand out. Numbers in baseball seemed to matter more, or at at least most fans believed that to be true. Now, because of steroids, the numbers just don't seem to be relevant at all. They're not real. It's impossible for the casual fan to respect the sport anymore, and the game's popularity has taken a hit because of it.

As for the Royals, they were able to split the series (which seems like a miracle in itself) after a 1-0 victory Sunday afternoon. Former first overall draft pick Brian Bullington picked up his first major league win after tossing eight innings of two-hit ball against the Yanks. I could only think of two possible explanations for this happening:  Has Bullington finally, after eight years as a pro, figured out how to pitch, or was Sunday's anomaly simply a product of Jeter and co. having one too many drinks late-Saturday night on the Kansas City bar scene? I'll let you decide on that one.*

*The players are human, too, and I'm in no way knocking having a few beers at the bar on a Saturday night. But if that indeed did take place, the Yankees ought to be embarrassed after being shutout on two hits Sunday. I feel it's worth noting that during the game Saturday, I had a conversation with my uncle where we discussed the possible clubs and bars some of the pin-stripers may hit after the game. I commented to him that if the Yankees looked sluggish the next day, then we could safely conclude they hit the town hard the night before. Combine that with the fact that they probably didn't get the chance to do much after Friday's game because of multiple rain delays, and it's pretty obvious to me how they spent their Saturday night.

* * *

Sunday, as it turned out, was the highlight of my weekend. I actually wasn't able to watch the Royals game live, because a few friends and I made the somewhat spontaneous decision to head to St. Joseph to check out a Chiefs training camp practice.

We got to Missouri Western State University with over an hour to spare until practice was scheduled to start, so we decided to walk around campus and take it all in. It didn't take long (maybe two minutes) for us to find a way to disrupt the goings-on, as we were able to stumble upon what appeared to be a player parking lot (The 250-pound beasts getting in and out of the Escalades and Camaros were a dead giveaway.). After we walked past a sign that said "Chiefs VIP Parking - not open to the public", we decided to hang out by the front door of the building, which looked to be the cafeteria, presumably where the players were eating before practice.

Just as we were considering moving on, Cassel, Brodie Croyle, and (I assume) Tyler Palko came rushing outside to head to practice. None of them had the time to stop for an autograph or picture, but as Croyle explained (he was the only one we actually asked, and I don't think Cassel liked that all too much), they would have plenty of time after practice to chat and sign an autograph or two. It wasn't long after they hopped in Croyle's (it had Alabama plates) Avalanche that a security guard came outside and pointed us toward the practice fields. Off we went.

The practice was fairly uneventful. I was impressed with the fan turnout - my guess is the total number of spectators was easily more than half than the number of people who attended Sunday's Royals game. There weren't necessarily many plays of note. The highlight was probably watching offensive coordinator Charlie Weis move around on the rascal. I mean no disrespect to people who deal with disabilities, but an NFL coach telling 300-pound grown men what to do from the seat of his rascal is comedic gold.

I've never attended an NFL training camp, so to be fair, Sunday's practice may have very well been the most interesting Chiefs practice they've ever had. I mean, it's safe to say the Chiefs are the only team with a coach calling shots from his rascal, so we have that. But with no real point of reference (I may attend Wednesday's night practice), I can't be certain.

* * *

So, what did I learn over, what some might consider, a pretty fun and entertaining weekend from a sports fan's perspective? I found out the Chiefs, even with all the perceived improvements over the offseason, still look a whole lot like they did last year. I found out the Royals have the ability to be very good and very bad in a very short period of time, but overall, they still stink. We know now, and we may have known before, just how insignificant baseball numbers and records have become.

And in St. Joseph? Well, I'm still torn as far as what to take from that experience. I know now just how entertaining it can be to watch a grown man drive a rascal all over a football field. Right now, as sports fans in Kansas City, we have to take our happiness in small, sometimes minute doses, so I'll take it.

If I get any further than that, I'll let you know.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Chiefs Must Show Progress In Atlanta

Well folks, it's here. Football is back. On Friday, the Kansas City Chiefs will visit the Georgia Dome to take on the Atlanta Falcons in their first preseason game of 2010.

With what had to be one of the more impressive offseasons in recent memory, the Chiefs, after two full weeks of a mostly smooth training camp, are finally starting to make believers out of the usual skeptics. Friday, though, will be the team's first test, and it will be GM Scott Pioli and Head Coach Todd Haley's first real opportunity to show the city and fans the progress they've made.

Progress is the operative word here. It's really all I'll be looking for Friday overall. Still, there are a few specific things I'll be looking for that will help us get a better understanding as to where this team is and what we can realistically expect when the games begin to count.

My eyes will be, for the majority of the evening, on the left tackle position. More specifically, I'll be watching Branden Albert. The Chiefs had many weaknesses in 2009, possibly none bigger than the offensive line's inability to protect the quarterback. While Pioli improved the interior line via free agency and the draft, the left tackle position, or the blind side, was left unaddressed.

There hasn't been much talk about Albert during training camp, which may be a good sign. Here's to hoping it is. Many experts are predicting the Chiefs offense to be much improved this season, but it'd be hard to imagine things getting any better without the third-year tackle taking a major step forward.

If the line can protect, the Chiefs have an opportunity to be much better in the passing game this season. It will be interesting to see, in limited play Friday, if quarterback Matt Cassel has developed better timing and chemistry with his receievers compared to 2009. Chris Chambers, whom the team picked up off waivers from the Chargers mid-last season, quickly developed into Cassel's favorite target because of the continued inconsistent play of Dwayne Bowe. Everyone knows it's now or never for Bowe. Pioli and Haley have shown rare patience with the controversial wideout. Now, to be fair, early reports from camp have shed Bowe in a positive light. It's been said, but not confirmed, that Bowe worked out with All-Pro Arizona Cardinals receiever Larry Fitzgerald this past offseason. For our and his sake, let's hope it pays off. If all we see is more of the same (bad routes, drops), don't be surprised if this ends up being his last go-round in Kansas City.

As we know, Pioli did nab speedy running back/slot receiver Dexter McCluster in the second-round of the 2010 draft. If the upcoming season goes south in a hurry, McCluster may be the only reason for Chiefs fans to continue watching late in the year. He's already become the standout fan-favorite amongst the training camp spectators in St. Joseph, and if things go according to plan, he should eventually provide Kansas City with some national star power for the first time since Jared Allen wore the red and gold. New Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weis probably won't give the Chargers (the Chiefs' first regular season opponent) too much game film on McCluster, especially since it is just the first preseason game, but this will still be fun to monitor.

Another fan-favorite in camp so far has been the team's first-round pick, safety Eric Berry. Berry has impressed just about everyone so far - from the coaching staff to the fans - with the way he conducts himself on and off the field. It'd sure be nice to see him make a play Friday. It won't mean much of anything if he doesn't, but it's been a long time since we've seen an immediate return on such a high draft pick in Kansas City. Many are expecting the former Tennessee star to make an impact early for the Chiefs, but it doesn't mean much until we see it happen. The sooner Berry makes his presence known (Like during the first defensive series Friday possibly?), the better.

It's safe to assume we won't know much more about this team after Friday than we do right now. We will find out, though, just how superstitious Haley and the rest of the coaching staff is. I'm, of course, talking about whether or not the Chiefs will be wearing their white pants against the Falcons. See, throughout the 90s (otherwise known as "the glory years" in my inner-circle), the Chiefs wore all white on the road. And, as we know, the Chiefs won a lot during that time period. Then, when Dick Vermeil took over in the early 2000s, the team switched to the red pants on the road. It seemed like a fashionable enough move at the time.

Now, I believe it's time to bring back the white road pants permanently. In the past couple seasons, the team has used them for a game or two here and there, and it would immediately remind me of the glory days of the 90s when our entire city stopped everything for three hours to watch Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith and Dale Carter dominate opposing offenses. The white pants on the road could be symbolism for the tide turning in Kansas City.

Overall, the coaches, players, and fans just need something positive to take from the first preseason game. Last year, with a young roster, the team played poorly during the preseason and it carried over well into the regular season. The team is still very young this year. The fans still haven't completely bought into a complete turnaround (Word is, the Chiefs still have plenty of tickets they need to sell - to the extent that it's likely one or both of the home preseason games will be blacked out.). So a solid performance Friday - and maybe a victory - sure couldn't hurt.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Revis Situation

It seems there is a pretty intense situation going on in New York these days. It involves New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis and his desire for a new, long-term contract.

There was plenty of talk leading up to training camp that Revis would holdout after putting together a monster 2009 campaign. The third-year cornerback established himself as the face of the NFL's number one defense while helping the Jets make it to the AFC Championship game (with a rookie quarterback, no less). The nickname "Revis Island", a term used for Revis and/or the side of the field he's playing on, refers to the fact that he's often allowed to matchup with the league's top receivers without any help from a safety.

Revis, of course, did not report to training camp. He's now 10 days into his holdout, and there doesn't seem to be an end in sight. Jets owner Woody Johnson has said he doesn't think Revis will play for the team this season.

Here's the deal. ESPN is reporting that Revis, who is due to make $1 million this season with three years left on his current contract, is looking for something in the range of 10 years and $160 million (wow). The Jets brass, according to the New York Daily News, have offered him a 10-year deal worth $120 million.

These dollar amounts all seem ridiculous to the casual fan, but as we know, it's all relative. Before the 2009 season, the Oakland Raiders gave premiere cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha a major pay raise, making him the highest-paid corner in the league at about $16.5 million per year. Revis, believing (correctly) that he is as good as or better than Asomugha, or any other cornerback for that matter, wants to get paid like Asomugha. In this light, Revis' request seems understandable, given the precedent that has been set.

Surprisingly, many Jets fans have turned on Revis during this ordeal. It's odd. In most player vs. ownership financial battles, it's the team's brass who find themselves worse off in the public eye. Also, Revis was already one of the more popular players in New York. I couldn't imagine if, during his time with the Chiefs, the late Derrick Thomas asked for a new contract and the Kansas City community then collectively sided with King Carl Peterson and the Chiefs brass. There would have been a boycott of Arrowhead Stadium until a new deal was done.

And let's be clear. Maybe Revis is not yet ready to be compared to the likes of Thomas in terms of his stake in the community, but his importance to the Jets defense going forward is certainly on the same level.

Revis' popularity has also taken a hit due to ESPN's biased coverage of the story. They're biased for two reasons:  The coverage is being dictated by the worldwide leader's employees who, some of which, are New York residents and/or Jets fans, and also because, and this is directly related to reason number one, the bias stems from the networks ridiculous love affair with Jets coach Rex Ryan.

Instead of boring you with the disgusting details of the ESPN/Ryan relationship, we'll go at it this way. On Wednesday, Ryan suggested he would call off practice and bring the whole organization in - including the players - to have a meeting with the Revis camp until a deal is worked out. Ryan claimed to be "absolutely serious" about the idea.

It's a joke. This is why coaches coach and general managers and owners, well, they do what they do. Ryan ought to apologize, take his comments back, and claim he wasn't thinking clearly because of heat exhaustion. As frustrating as the Chiefs tight-lipped shot-callers can be, most fans would still probably choose professionalism over the circus Ryan has created.

Anyway, back to Revis. The key in the negotiations, as it usually is in the NFL, is the guaranteed money. It's been reported that the last offer the Jets made included only $5 million in guarantees. To put that in perspective, Chiefs' first-round draft pick Eric Berry signed a deal two weeks ago worth $34 million in guaranteed money. Needless to say, the Chiefs have high hopes for Berry. Still, he hasn't played a down in the NFL. How in the world could Berry be worth more - that much more - than Revis, coming off the season he had in 2009?

So the total years and money on the contract are almost meaningless. NFL contracts aren't structured like some of the other major sports, and most contracts end up having loopholes in them to where the team can get out of the deal without any major penalties long before the contract is due to expire. Revis would be a fool to accept only $5 million in guarantees, because it's the only part of the contract that really has any substance.

Injuries are something players have in mind, as well. Revis is the best player in the NFL at his position, but is currently being paid (and will be, unless a deal is worked out, for the next three years) like a reserve. Anything can happen in the NFL, and players' careers can end at any moment. Take Revis' former teammate, Leon Washington, for example. The Jets offered Washington a long-term deal with guarantees included during the 2009 offseason. Washington declined, instead opting to play out the rest of his contract in hopes that he could raise his stock even higher during the season. Washington then broke his leg early in the year, ending his season and changing the league's perception as to how high of a level he can play. He missed out on millions of dollars because of the risk he took.

Revis can't afford to make the same mistake, and shouldn't feel pressure to take any risks here. He's the best cornerback in the league and deserves to be paid like it.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Whitlock's Absence Would Be Felt

This morning I got an e-mail from a friend of mine. In the message was a link to a story by Bottom Line Communications about Holly Lawton's recent announcement that she will resign as Sports Editor for The Kansas City Star.

BLC goes on to speculate that Lawton's decision stems from her differences with the Star's lead sports columnist, Jason Whitlock. According to an inside source, Whitlock had a problem with editors over-editing his columns and also wasn't a fan of working for a woman.

Later in the day, 810 WHB's Kevin Kietzman proposed the idea that Whitlock may have already written his last column for the Star on his radio show. After all, the newspaper had assured readers that the controversial writer was on a seven-week vacation and would be back soon. Problem is, Whitlock's last column was printed May 26th, so seven weeks has come and gone.

A couple things need to be made clear here. The BLC story seemed amateur and extremely biased. Before this morning, I had never heard of BLC, and if you can get past the sloppiness of their website, maybe you can fill me in on what exactly it is that they do.

So, past a possible Lawton/Whitlock quarrel, we'd be smart to take the rest of the story with a grain of salt.

Also, it's obvious Kietzman had ulterior motives. During his piece on Whitlock, Kietzman mentioned that it's possible the overweight writer is on a leave of absence because he has an addiction or is on a weight-loss program. Kietzman's goal, other than to insult Whitlock, was more about pointing out that he believes that most Kansas City sports fans haven't noticed the writer's absence than it was about analyzing what his absence might mean (like he tried to sell to his listeners).

If you don't already know, he and Whitlock have a bit of a history. Years ago, somewhat of a competition began between them when they worked together at 810 WHB (Kietzman was more or less Whitlock's boss). Eventually, Whitlock claims, Kietzman crossed the line and the two have been dissing eachother on and off by way of their respective outlets ever since.

So we know to keep our minds open when reading or listening to egomaniacal media-types. Still, Kietzman's theory absolutely holds water. The Chiefs have started their training camp, and Whitlock is nowhere near St. Joseph. During his absence from the Star, he has continued to write his column for Add to that the ongoing fear that newspapers have almost become obsolete in the era of the 24-hour news cycle, and it's not hard to imagine Whitlock's time with the Star coming to an end.

Kietzman preached to his listeners earlier that it was "interesting" that people didn't care if Whitlock wrote his column or not. It's natural Kietzman would feel this way. Not long after his arrival at the Star in 1994, Whitlock had become the King of Kansas City sports-media, a title Kietzman has long-starved for and never quite reached.

I really believe people do care. I believe they care now and I believe they'll care more if Whitlock's column is missing during football season. Since I was about ten years old, I've been reading his opinion on many sports topics, but mainly his unique criticism of the Chiefs. I didn't always agree with Whitlock, but I realized early on that that wasn't what it was all about.

It's more than just gaining readers and pleasing the eye or the ear. It's about writing with conviction and respect at the same time. It's about inspiring others, including myself, to write and to not be afraid of what it may sound like or who it might upset or whatever else.

If this really is it, I can't say I like the abruptness of it. Say what you want about Whitlock the man, his departure from the Star would surely impact the city and our newspaper negatively. If you're one of the many who disagree with his column often, it really doesn't matter. We need an opinion to hate.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Chiefs 2010 Training Camp Wish List

Between the NFL Draft and the regular season getting under way, the most anticipated date on the professional football calendar is the day training camps begin. Late Thursday evening, the Kansas City Chiefs reported to their first training camp at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Missouri.

Most sports fans in Kansas City would agree that, regardless of the Royals performance (maybe), the football season could not come any sooner. So as we welcome the Chiefs' training camp with open - wide open - arms, let's take a look at some of things that need to happen in order for the team to have an opportunity for success this season.

Get Berry in camp

As of Thursday night, all of the Chiefs' draft picks have been signed except for their first-rounder, safety Eric Berry. Of the many flaws the 2009 Chiefs possessed, it's possible none was bigger than the overall play of the defense. If new defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel is to reverse the defense's fortunes, it will be with Berry leading the way. The Tennessee standout has been tagged as a natural-born leader and compared to the likes of Ed Reed. GM Scott Pioli needs to get a deal done. The sooner he gets on the field, the better.

D-Line must improve

Crennel was hired, more or less, to help maximize the capabilities of defensive linemen Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson. It's certainly his main objective.

Dorsey and Jackson are both former first-round picks out of LSU who have so far failed to meet the expectations that come along with being top draft choices. While Dorsey showed some signs of improvement in his second season in 2009, Jackson was virtually non-existent throughout his whole rookie campaign. It's time to put up or shut up. The defensive line's level of success this season could mean the difference between last place or playoffs for the Chiefs in 2010.

Find the right fit for the O-Line and commit to it

This one is key. The Chiefs had success in the running game late last year mostly due to the fact that the offensive line was able to stay healthy and in turn develop some chemistry with eachother. Still, Pioli addressed the issue in free agency by signing guard Ryan Lilja and center Casey Weigmann, two former Chiefs.

It's essential the running game picks up where it left off last year. The Chiefs saw a star emerge in 2009 in Jamaal Charles and have newly acquired rusher Thomas Jones to help keep him fresh. With so many questions on defense, this team will surely have to score some points if it wants to win consistently this season. A consistent rushing attack will help keep some of the pressure off quarterback Matt Cassel. A comfortable Cassel should equate to an overall improved offensive attack.

All of this traces back to the offensive line. Whoever it may be, the Chiefs must commit to a starting five early in camp and allow them to grow together. If this happens and they can somehow stay healthy, the offense should look drastically different this year.

Solve the Page issue

A once promising young player, it seems obvious safety Jarrad Page's days as a Chief are numbered. It's clear that Page, who is one of the few current Chiefs who was acquired during the Herm Edwards regime, just doesn't fit Pioli's "right 53". He has yet to sign his free-agent tender offer and the Chiefs don't seem to mind. They drafted two players who play Page's position, Berry and fifth-rounder Kendrick Lewis from Ole Miss.

Either way, both sides would benefit if a solution could be found quickly. Page is doing nothing positive for his football career by sitting at home in August, and the last thing the Chiefs need is an off-the-field distraction during camp. (They have Dwayne Bowe under contract for that sort of thing.)

Re-establish the return game

One of the many aspects of the game that has been neglected since the Dick Vermeil days is the return game. It seems so long ago that the Chiefs were the most feared team in the league on kickoff and punt returns because of speedster Dante Hall. Since then, the team has consistently finished in the bottom third of the league in average starting field position for the offense. Naturally, this didn't help an already struggling offense score points last season.

Pioli definitely addressed this in the draft in April. In the second round, the Chiefs selected two college players known for their speed, running back (the plan is for him to be a slot receiver) from Ole Miss, Dexter McCluster, and Alabama cornerback Javier Arenas. While the main goals of these two players will surely be to help improve the offense and defense, respectively, there's no doubt what else the team had in mind when selecting these two. Both project as good returners; my thought is that one will return kicks and the other will return punts.

The team did use Charles on kickoffs from time to time last year, but in turn saw his effectiveness on offense drop dramatically because of overuse. It's obvious McCluster and Arenas were selected, along with the Jones signing, to help keep Charles fresh to where he can be a game-changer. If both rookies can live up their potential, the Chiefs could be a threat to score at any time during the course of a game.

. . .

This has easily been the most anticipated football season in Kansas City in recent memory. Along with that comes even more pressure for the Chiefs to have a successful training camp.

Plenty of other things certainly need to happen for the team to come out of camp and into the season feeling good about themselves. You'd like to see the team stay fairly healthy throughout the pre-season. You'd like to hope Head Coach Todd Haley can keep his cool and not let his ego get in the way when dealing with players (and coaches) during camp. One could only hope that most-to-all of the team will pass Haley's dreaded conditioning test Friday, which is a prerequisite to being able to participate in practice during camp.

And hey, we'd all like to think it's possible that at some point during camp Bowe will come to realize that the family who owns the team is the Hunts, not the Clarks.

But that's probably asking too much.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Moore Must Act Now

Another August in Kansas City is approaching. In about a week, the Chiefs first training camp in St. Joseph, MO will be underway, and baseball in this town will more or less be forgotten.

It's already become a complete afterthought. With the unexplainable 2003 season being the exception, this is actually a little late in the year for the Royals to fade from relevancy. So we know this feeling pretty well.

Just before the All-Star break, the Royals had begun to toy with us a bit by winning 10 of 13 games. Many were questioning whether the organization, who because of all the losing is a usual seller in the trade market, would forego trading some of their biggest commodities for future prospects in hopes of contending this year.

Then, manager Ned Yost proclaimed the team was very much in the race and could be in first place in as little as a week. Apparently, being a mere eight games under .500 is right where you want your ball club to be for the stretch run.

Of course, if you were paying any attention - and you probably weren't - you know by now that the Royals were swept in consecutive series on each side of the break and most of the talk about a pennant race has turned to trade rumors. Hopefully Yost has got some sleep and some of his sense back since then as well.

Look, the trade talk has been the talk all along. Anyone thinking this team is or was a contender at any point during this season is just downright insane. Don't get me wrong, picking up a few victories here and there and avoiding last place will have its value (helping to build confidence in the young guys and possibly helping persuade next year's free agent targets that the team is turning the corner). But the value is minimal.

It was more or less a blessing in disguise for GM Dayton Moore when the Royals hit their six-game skid. At that point, there was no doubt he should focus on the future and could do so without getting heat from the fans and media for giving up on the current season.

So what should Moore do? The trade deadline is July 31st, just ten days away, and the Royals have done nothing thus far, though it seems something huge is about happen. What are some options?

The biggest commodity the Royals have is OF David DeJesus. Let it be known that this blogger believes that DeJesus is the only deserving All-Star on the team currently. Take nothing away from Joakim Soria (the Royals' lone representative) or Billy Butler or whoever, but DeJesus has been a complete player this season. He leads the team in hitting, his defense has been spectacular (he plays all three outfield positions), and his overall numbers compare quite well to that of Ichiro Suzuki, who was the starting RF and lead-off hitter for the American League this year.

It has been reported that the Royals are asking for, at the very least, a major league-ready prospect as part of the package in return for DeJesus. Experts say the asking price may be too high, but Moore has that luxury. The club has an option to retain DeJesus next season for $6 million (not bad if you consider they're paying Guillen $12 a year). If they choose to go that route, then at this point next year, if the team is in a similar position (if they're still losing), Moore can shop DeJesus just like he is now.

Also, if DeJesus does become a free agent and signs elsewhere, the Royals will receive compensatory draft picks - one 1st round and the other between the 1st and 2nd rounds - in return for him, somewhat like a trade.

So Moore shouldn't feel any pressure to trade DeJesus. Really, he should feel pressured to retain him, the guy has to be the most popular player on the team.* And it's not out of the question that DeJesus could be a part of a winning future for this club. It's all up to Moore and a few of his developing prospects.

*You know what I'm talking about guys. If you're ever at the ballpark, check out the difference in tone when the crowd cheers for DeJesus coming up to bat. Women just go crazy for the guy, I don't get it.

Moore has plenty more to think about than just DeJesus, though. Kyle Farnsworth is pitching better than he ever has and is a free agent after this season. Every contending team is looking for bullpen help, so it would seem a mere certainty that his days in a Royals uniform are numbered.

Third baseman Alberto Callaspo has been mentioned in trade rumors, and this goes all the way back to spring training. It makes perfect sense given that the organization's top overall prospect, Mike Moustakas, plays the same position, and should be playing there by opening day next season.

The man that seems destined to go, though, is Guillen. Really, the closer we get to the trade deadline, the more worrisome I become that Moore is not going to trade Guillen. There really would be no excuse for this. The Royals ride with Guillen has been bumpy at best, and there's virtually no chance they'll try and bring him back past this season.

The club has Kila Ka'aihue and Alex Gordon terrorizing overmatched competition at Triple-A Omaha. Kila is ready for his first real chance to be a major leaguer - and it's been long overdue - while Gordon has transitioned to left field well is ready for a second chance to prove his worthiness of a roster spot on the big league squad.

Most importantly, though, both are vital parts to a future in which Moore has been working to build for about five years now. All Guillen is doing is blocking a roster spot for one of those players. The Royals should be willling to take on all of his remaining salary if that's what it takes to trade him. He means more off this team than on it because he can contribute nothing towards the future. If Moore fails to trade Guillen, it would be a bigger misstep than his original decision to sign him three years ago.

The only bad news we could get these next couple of weeks would be if there is no news. Moore must act now. The Royals are in the position they're in now, because past GMs, when given real opportunities to improve for the future like the one Moore has now, either weren't aggressive enough or didn't do their homework. If Moore plays his cards right, the Royals could make real progress toward contending in the near future.

If he doesn't, we'll be right back here next year, talking Chiefs football in the middle of summer.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Baseball, the Royals, and Me

It was the last inning of the championship game. The Yankees had a sizable lead, but were struggling to get the final out. Their hated rivals were trying to put together one last miracle rally. Anything to tie the game.

With runners at first and second, the lead was looking to be in doubt. There were two strikes on the hitter, though, and the Yankees had their best pitcher out there. The catcher called for a meeting on the mound.

"Splitter," said the young catcher, and just like that, he had returned to home plate.

After a deep breath, the pitch came in. A splitter it surely was, only the hitter wasn't biting. The catcher wasn't much concerned with that, though, because the runners were going on the pitch. Out of the crouch, he fired a strike to third base. The third baseman applied the tag and waited for the call.

"He's out!" The umpire cried. The runner was out by a mile.

The celebration was on. There were hugs and cheers everywhere. Overwhelmed by the turn of events, the catcher launched his mask into the air wildly, almost knocking out a teammate. It didn't matter. They had won. After a long, grueling season in the hot sun, the Yankees had proven they were the best in baseball. Nothing in the world had ever been this sweet. They were champions.

. . .

The Royals lost another game tonight. More importantly, the Royals lost another winnable game tonight. This one hurt more than usual, though.* Maybe it was the fact that they made another handful of mistakes along the way, mistakes I'd expect most decent high school teams to avoid. Maybe it was that they had very good chances in the eighth and ninth to at least tie the game, and anytime you come that close to winning and don't, it's hard not to be upset.

*It seems every other loss hurts more than usual. Or maybe this team has been losing long enough now to the point where every loss hurts more than the one before. Or, it's possible this team has been losing long enough now to the point where I've become completely delusional.

More likely, though, it's because, like in most close games in any sport, the good teams find a way to win, and well, you know the rest. The Royals, of course, found a way to lose tonight, as they usually do. They always seem to be just good enough to lose. It's the one thing they never fail to do.

It's more frustrating because after winning three of their last four, including two of three from the Cardinals over the weekend, the Royals had a real chance put a dent in the Twins' lead in the division in the next few days. And yes, they still have that opportunity, but we all know what's more likely to happen. Just as they string together a few victories, the Royals, as they are accustomed to doing, will fall into a tailspin long enough to negate any progress they've made over the last week or so. The cycle will continue, as it has - give or take - for the last two decades, until the end of the season. The Royals will never get closer than arms length to first place, and will finish somewhere near the bottom of the division.

It's killing me. That may sound silly. It is silly, because it's not really killing me. With every loss, though, a part of me, at least the side of me that loves baseball, is dying. I know I can take it for awhile. I've proven that over the last twenty years. I do not know how much more I can take, though.

I sense that most people, after reading that last sentence, will laugh and assume I'm being overdramatic. While it is likely that I'd still watch another twenty years of losing Royals baseball without blinking, the thought is sincere. Really, at what point do we, as fans, finally say enough is enough, and save ourselves the hurt? Does that point ever come? I guess I really don't know.

Anyway, for whatever reason, tonight's game stuck with me for awhile. It wasn't this game in particular, obviously, but more of a cumulative frustration. It inspired some deep thought. After I got over the natural 'what could we have done to win' thoughts, I started thinking about my relationship with the Royals. Obviously, my affiliation with the Royals makes sense because I was born and raised in Kansas City. I love Kansas City. I wondered, though, do I love the Royals?

I think I've come to realize that my true love is with baseball, not the Royals. This is not to say that I don't love the Royals. That possibility is there. But without the Royals, we still have baseball. Without baseball, there are no Kansas City Royals.

And with every mental mistake a player makes, blown lead, star player traded and so on, it becomes even harder and harder and harder to love this team. What is Yuniesky Betancourt thinking when he botches a suicide squeeze with the game on the line? What's going through Billy Butler's mind when he fails to cover a base on a blooper? What exactly does David Glass think about the seventh consecutive team he's allowed represent his organization that has absolutely no chance of winning?

Does the thought in those men's minds have anything to do with their love for baseball? How about their respect for the sport? I seriously doubt it.

See, I played this sport once, too. I was the catcher on that Yankees team that won the championship. The hated rivals were the Vipers. It was South Suburban little league baseball in south Kansas City. It was one of the greatest moments of my life.

Some of my best memories were created on those Clark Ketterman ball fields. I discovered baseball there, and it's no wonder why I'll never forget the times I had. It was my first true love. I will always love this game.

It's no mystery why my mind drifted to our championship game victory while I reflected on the Royals tonight. It's possible it would take some similar soul searching - I mean truly searching for the reasons why - in order to revive this organization.

I hope it happens sooner rather than later. My love for the Royals may be running out. My love for baseball, on the other hand, will never fade.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Royals, Twins Walk Separate Paths

As a longtime Kansas City baseball fan, I can safely say I've seen just about anything and everything you could ever dream of seeing happen on a baseball diamond.

That is except, of course, winning baseball.

In this stupor that is the last two decades of losing baseball the Royals have subjected us to, as fans, we've kind of lost touch on what's really going on. That, and we're not really sure why we're still watching.*

*Every time I DVR a Royals game, two thoughts come to mind:
  1. I hope we win tonight.
  2. We're not going to win tonight.
Still, this team has become something like a phenomenon. Coming into every season, we seem to already know the Royals have no chance to compete for a pennant. Prospects and free agents always find a way to flop. Managers come and go, few of them with answers.

And the losses pile on - it's like this team has been losing forever - without any explanation.

It's time we explored one possible explanation: The walks.

I think it's only fair that we use the Minnesota Twins as a comparison. The Twins have been winning for a full decade now, and their rise from almost being contracted to model small-market franchise is something the Royals would love to replicate.

Also, it's important to note why the Twins are a relevant comparison. It's been said there is no other one thing that has more emphasis put on it in Minnesota than the importance of their pitchers throwing strikes. From day one in development all the way to the major league level, it's something their coaches preach. Walks are like sin in the organization, and their pitchers either catch on or hit the road.

So let's start with 2010. As you might expect, as of Tuesday, the Twins are first in the majors having only given up 146 bases on balls. What's more telling is the second place team has walked 31 more hitters. The Royals, of course, are in the bottom third of the league at 23rd, with 256 BBs. That's a mere 110 more, or 1.5 more per game, than Minnesota.*

*While looking at that stat I noticed the Royals and Twins have virtually the same innings pitched and batting avg. against this season, yet KC has given up a whopping 77 more earned runs so far. Ouch.

Since 2001, when the Twins began their dominance of the A.L. Central, the team has never finished worst than fourth in least walks allowed. In that same time frame, the Royals' average ranking is 20th, and they never finished higher than ninth.

What's most staggering is since 2003, the Twins have been best in the league in walks allowed three times, and either finished first or second every season in that time period.

Now, none of all this matters unless it equates to victories, and it surely does. From '01 on, the Twins have had only one losing season, and have won the division five times. And that includes some absolute dominance of our boys in blue that most of us would like to forget.

On the other hand, our walk-happy Royals club has had one winning season and four-100 loss seasons in the last decade to show for their ignorance to this obvious deficiency. It's embarrasing.

We know this isn't the only reason the Royals have been losing. It's certainly not the only reason the Twins are winning. They have a couple of young hitters named Mauer and Morneau that have played a pretty big role in the team's recent success.

Still, it's one thing the Royals have been bad at for awhile now. It's something they'll have to drastically improve upon as they try to progress and eventually become a winning team. And certainly it's something we can all think about come October, when the Twins are still playing baseball and the Royals are not.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Royals' Pick Shows Us How Bad (Or Good) It Could Be

There are two very contrasting conclusions one could draw from the Royals' first-round selection Monday in the 2010 MLB First-Year Player Draft.

The first is the negative, and it was (naturally) my original feeling in the moments following the organization's decision to make Cal State Fullerton shortstop Christian Colon the fourth overall selection in the draft.

In the days leading up to the first-round Monday, there was much speculation the Royals were already working out a deal to make University of Miami catcher Yasmani Grandal their selection. The only question was whether the temptation to take Chris Sale, a hard throwing left-handed pitcher from Florida Gulf Coast, would ultimately prove too great to pass on.

Then, of course, the news came. The Royals had selected Colon. Reports surfaced that the organization steered away from Grandal only after - you guessed it - negotiations on his potential signing bonus broke down.

My immediate thought there was obvious: It's impossible to believe this team has improved since the Herk Robinson and Allard Baird days if they're still drafting players based on signability. If the Royals believe Grandal will become a more productive big leaguer than Colon, and still selected Colon because of money issues, then, folks, we're dealing with the same set of issues that initially plagued the franchise in the mid-90s after founder Ewing Kauffman passed away.

It's also interesting, and hopefully just a coincidence, that Colon happens to play a position of need for the big league club. The Royals are starving for a major-league ready shortstop in their system, and they project Colon to be at that status quickly.

The problem there is that it's usually a mistake to draft for need. The consensus is, in almost any sport, it's a better strategy to draft the best overall players instead of reaching for a quick solution to fill holes on the roster. If a team tends to generally select the best overall players, by the time those players are ready to compete at a high level, trades and injuries help smooth things out and balance the roster.

Obviously it's easier said than done, but you get the idea. Drafting for need usually leads to having less overall talent on your roster in the future.

It's also very odd that GM Dayton Moore has completely flip-flopped on his initial draft strategy when he took over the Royals. He made it clear the emphasis would be on drafting high school players who are bigger projects but have much higher potential. He followed through on that in 2007 and 2008, making Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, both power-hitting high school hitters at the time of their selections, the Royals' first-round picks in each of those drafts, respectively.

Then, last year, the philosophy seemed to change a bit, when the team chose Mizzou pitcher Aaron Crow with their first-round selection. Monday, of course, they chose Colon, making it two consecutive years their first pick was a college player.

What's more telling is that as of Tuesday evening, 24 of the Royals' 29 picks so far in this year's draft were college players.

The intention is clear. Moore's goal in this year's draft is to compliment the impressive wave of talent in the minor-league system, headed by Moustakas and Hosmer, in hopes that a mostly home-grown roster is on the field and winning games by 2013 or 2014.

I can't say it's healthy for Moore to be putting all his eggs in this talent-wave's basket, so to speak. He has preached that the goal is to have wave after wave of talent, each ready to replace the existing one in each level of the organization. He says it's the only proven way for a professional baseball team to compete and win for an extended period of time in a small market.

You have to wonder if Moore is sacrificing the team's long-term future to save his job in the very-near future.

Yet, still, it could work, and this is the positive conclusion one must ultimately form from the Royals' draft selection Monday. This team is slowly forming what might be one of the most impressive minor-league systems in all of baseball. With the drafting of Colon - and the team says they wanted Colon all along - there will potentially be one less glaring hole on a team three years down the line that should be winning.

The sudden emphasis on drafting college talent also shows how close the organization believes they are to winning. It is, finally, no longer a five-year (endless) plan of drafting and developing and eventually failing. The Royals want players who are close to being major-league ready because better days are coming, and they're closer than ever.

Both arguments certainly hold water. It's definitely easier to focus on the negative, given the painful mistakes the Royals' organization has made over the years. Of course, on the contrary, it didn't hurt that just a couple hours after the team drafted Colon, I flipped on the television just in time to see him go three for four with two doubles in support of a victory for his Titans in the College World Series.

If there ever comes a time Colon finds himself in a more impactful game with his new team, we'll know it was a good pick.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Perfect Call

In the aftermath of the biggest blown call by an umpire in Major League Baseball in over two decades, I can't help but wonder if Jim Joyce did Armando Galarraga and the rest of baseball a huge favor last night.

If you haven't already heard, Galarraga, pitching for the Detroit Tigers, had a perfect game going with two outs in the ninth inning when Cleveland Indians' shortstop Jason Donald hit a chopper to the right side. First baseman Miguel Cabrera moved to his right, fielded the ball, tossed it to first where Galarraga was covering for what should have been the 27th and final out of perfection.

Donald was out by almost a full step. Joyce, umpiring at first base, called him safe.

Cabrera put his hands on his head in disbelief. Tigers' manager Jim Leyland came out to argue the call. The Tigers' television announcers were so sure Donald was out, they didn't even bother to wait for Joyce's call before exclaiming, "He's out!"

Even Donald himself threw his hands on his head as if he couldn't believe it, either. It was almost as if he wanted to be out. He would later explain that he didn't know if he was out or not, but he was sure he would be called out given what was at stake.

And Galarraga? Well, he just smiled.

That's what got me. The guy was one out away from throwing a perfect game, loses it on a bad call, and all he does is smiles? I was thinking, as most of you probably were:

"If that were me, I would have gone ballistic. I mean, safe? Really? You just cost me a perfect game! Seriously?! I'm going George Brett pine-tar on this guy. You've got to be kidding!"

No, not Galarraga. He took a deep breath and retired the next hitter for a one-hit shutout. The damage had been done. After the game, Joyce apologized and admitted he was wrong.

"I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay," he said. "I just cost that kid a perfect game."

Joyce would later apologize directly to Galarraga. They hugged, with Joyce in tears.

Obviously the call and the game led to plenty of talk about expanding instant replay in baseball. Royals' catcher Jason Kendall said today that Joyce is the best umpire in baseball, and there's no room for replay, at least more replay, in the sport.

We live with bad calls and move on. It's baseball.

It also led to questions as to whether Commissioner Bud Selig would overturn the call so Galarraga could have his perfect game. Selig ruled against that idea today, and I think it was a good decision. Human error is a part of sports officiating, maybe moreso in baseball than any other sport. If we corrected every bad call in the previous 20 perfect games in MLB history, who knows if any or all of those would no longer be thought of as 'perfect'?

Most importantly, though, the call led to us finding something out about what it really means to be perfect. After the game, Galarraga talked about how sad it was for Joyce, that he really felt for him. You'd expect the feeling would be the other way around. Then today, Galarraga, smiles and all, presented the lineup card to a tearful Joyce, a job usually left for the manager or bench coach of the ball club.

Galarraga had been perfect, as a pitcher, for one night. Yet, he would not be remembered as perfect, at least baseball-wise. He did not let it phase him, though. He accepted it and moved on, as quick as that. There's something to be learned from his professional and forgiving attitude* immediately after the call all the way through today.

*NBA Finals participants, are you listening? One of the many reasons I think college basketball is much more entertaining than the pros is the way the pro players react when a foul is called. After every whistle, like clockwork, you have ten grown men whining and crying about an obvious foul call or travel or whatever. Give me a break, guys. This isn't street-ball. It's disgusting.

And in his response, Galarraga has made us not be able to forget him. Sure, we all would have remembered the call. But Galarraga has become more than his imperfect-perfect game. Joyce has played a role, too. Not every umpire would be willing to admit a mistake that large, and come back to the ballpark the next day ready to work.

It's really been something special. There have been two other perfect games in the last month. Had Joyce made the correct call at first last night, Armando Galarraga would have been a name remembered only for the next few days. Maybe even a month.

Now, though, this story has become so much more. It's bigger than baseball. We'll never forget Armando Galarraga, or the smile on his face after the call. We'll never forget Jim Joyce becoming so human after the worst call of his career.

It's funny, I'm not sure Galarraga knew the irony in his statement after the game to reporters, in which he summed up the call by Joyce.

"Nobody's perfect," he said.

In a weird way, it couldn't have been more perfect.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Super Bowl In KC: Don't Count On It

In November of 2005, then-NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced that Kansas City would be awarded a Super Bowl between 2012 and 2021, contigent upon Arrowhead Stadium being a climate-controlled facility by that time. It was later stated that 2015 was the likely year KC would get the big game.

As most of us remember, the rolling roof proposal on the April 2006 ballot was rejected by Jackson County, Missouri voters, who may have been negatively swayed by the mostly confusing details in the measure, the mere thought of raising taxes for one game, and the fear of the roof being overused during the regular season. The Chiefs later withdrew their request for the game after the proposal failed to even make it on the ballot the following November.

As most of you have heard by now, Tuesday, current NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the league has awarded the 2014 Super Bowl to the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. It will be the first Super Bowl played outdoors in a cold weather region.*

*While risky, I think the cold-weather Super Bowl idea is a good move by the league. I don't think it should be held in a cold weather region every year, though. Goodell should implement a Super Bowl rotation including, but not limited to all cities with NFL teams that are capable of hosting and based upon stadium upkeep and attendance during the season. From the preseason on through the playoffs, every game played outdoors has the possibilty of the elements coming into play, and the Super Bowl should be no different.

Because of the obvious precedent being set here, there has been a buzz among Kansas City fans and talk-show hosts that the city should be reconsidered for the 2015 game, or sometime soon after.

I completely agree. I'm also sure it won't happen.

First of all, after the original announcement, Goodell made it clear that a precedent was not being set, instead citing the uniqueness of the New York/New Jersey area combined with the chance at making history. While the translation of that is not completely known, we are fairly certain it has something to do with the health of his bank account.

Since then, though, Goodell seemed more open to the idea of other cold weather cities hosting the game, saying it would depend on the success of the game in New York. While that makes plenty of sense, it would surely delay any chance for the game to be held in KC until, at the very earliest, 2018, because of the voting process taking place several years in advance.

If Goodell does get serious about allowing more cold weather cities to host, KC faces another series of obstacles. The promise was made to the late Lamar Hunt, and the Chiefs are now run by his son, Clark. There has been no definite indication of whether Clark would even be on board for a Super Bowl in KC, other than his natural support of his father's push for the rolling roof measure to pass in 2006.

Also, when the league promised KC the game, Tagliabue was running things. Goodell has no obligation to follow through on any promises made by the former commissioner, especially considering varying circumstances are involved.

So, naturally there will be plenty of campaiging by some of the other teams and owners for the game to come to their respective cities. Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, has already made it clear he would love for the game to come to the D.C. area.

ESPN Radio host and Sportscenter anchor Mike Greenberg has already suggested, "...the one place they have to play the Super Bowl (is) Lambeau Field."

While you may agree with Greenberg's thoughts on Lambeau, his opinion means little alone. However, as a whole, ESPN has much more influence than anyone east of here would like to admit. The network, with its studios located in Bristol, Connecticut, might as well have been campaigning for the Super Bowl to come to New York, and still hasn't ended its week-long celebration for their wish coming true.*

*There is speculation that the letters E-S-P-N actually stand for Eastcoast Sports Programming Network.

Anyway, with that thought in mind, what makes Kansas Citians believe their city would be considered before Washington, Philadelphia, or even Baltimore? How about Gillette Stadium in New England? Patriots' owner Robert Kraft is a longtime friend of Goodell, and Gillette Stadium is less than ten years old.

The point is, there will be plenty of discussion and persuasion as to where the Super Bowl should go next, and why it makes perfect sense for certain cities. I'm not sure KC would get much support in these such talks, at least among national media outlets.

Really, the timing of the renovations for Arrowhead, which passed on the same ballot the rolling roof question appeared on, could not have been worse for supporters of a KC Super Bowl. The NFL tends to reward teams who renovate or build new stadiums with the game. The original promise by Tagliabue was with the thought of a renovated Arrowhead in mind.

If this trend continues and is combined with the league's openness to cold weather sites, my prediction is KC will be passed up by other cities. The Arrowhead renovations will be more or less forgotten by the league, and bigger cities - located on the east coast or not - with new stadiums will make a better case to the league and its owners.

Invesco Field at Mile High in Denver is less than ten years old. The Broncos have had much more success than the Chiefs in recent years, resulting in a greater league-wide popularity and following for the Donkeys. Also, Denver is more populous than KC. I can't think of one reason why the owners would find KC a better fit for the big game than Denver.

The Vikings are ready to build a new stadium in Minneapolis. All the same reasons apply here as for the Denver comparison. KC is outmatched.

It's also likely that many owners with outdated stadiums will use the New York example to lure their cities' residents into helping pay for new stadiums. The competition for KC would grow even greater, and the likelihood of the Super Bowl happening at Arrowhead would go from somewhat of a longshot to an absolute miracle.

It's ironic, really, that the Super Bowl in New York news is what led to the KC Super Bowl discussions being rehashed, but after looking deeper, it's likely the breakthrough vote has all but killed KC's chances of getting the game.

The odds just don't seem to be in KC's favor, and it's really a shame. The city and its extremely loyal fans have been long-starved of any great news on the professional sports front, and the opportunity to host the Super Bowl could have been the perfect remedy.