4 Kansas City Royals Fate has not smiled upon these Royals, who nonetheless smile at their sad fate

March 29, 1999

If there's a bright side to a 6-15 record, it can be found only
in Kansas City. "Yes, I was 6-15 last season," pitcher Glendon
Rusch says almost cheerfully. "But I'm a young pitcher, just
like most of the other guys around here. I've learned a lot
about success and failure--how important it is to stay focused,
to come back strong after a poor start, to stay positive."

A small-market team with the typical small-market woes, Kansas
City is similar to cash-poor teams like Minnesota and Montreal
in every way but one: smiles. The Royals players, it appears,
have accepted the cruel realities confronting this once
formidable franchise. "We know we're not gonna compete for the
division title," says veteran outfielder Jeff Conine. "But why
should that stop us from playing hard and having fun?"

Last year the Royals relied on Dean Palmer's 34 home runs and
119 RBIs, Jose Offerman's .315 average and 45 stolen bases, Tim
Belcher's 14 wins and a whole lot of string, tape, and bubble
gum to patch together a 72-win finish. That the Royals did not
lose 100 games was a miracle. There will be no such miracle this
year, not in the wake of off-season events. Palmer signed a
five-year, $36 million deal with Detroit. Offerman took $26
million over four years and went to Boston. Even Belcher, who
has but one season with an ERA under 4.00 since 1992, was
lavished with a two-year, $10.2 million contract by Anaheim. The
bloodletting isn't over, either. Royals general manager Herk
Robinson, a nice man with a horrible job, has been told by the
team's board of directors to cut the payroll by another $5
million to $7 million, to approximately $20 million. That means
sooner or later pitching ace Kevin Appier and hard-hitting first
baseman Jeff King (a combined $8.8 million in salary) will
probably be traded for prospects.

Aside from those two players, this is what's left of a franchise
that from 1976 to '85 won five divisional titles, two pennants
and one World Series: a bunch of past-their-prime vets and
somewhat promising, not-quite-ready-for-prime-time pimple faces.
At shortstop there's 31-year-old Rey Sanchez (picture, if you
can, Buddy Biancalana with less clout), who joins his fourth
team in three seasons. At third base there's 29-year-old Joe
Randa, a former Royals farmhand who hit .254 with nine homers
for the Tigers last season, thereby solidifying his status as
one of the game's most mediocre players. The new catcher is
34-year-old Chad Kreuter, a lifetime .238 hitter who's wearing
his sixth major league uniform.

Kansas City manager Tony Muser, however, believes the newcomers
will be valuable additions to the club. "We brought in veterans
we could afford, but also who could help our younger players
develop," he says. "I expect Randa to start 162 games at third
base. I think Chad is a very good catcher. These guys can help
us right now, and their success will give our younger guys hope."

In Kansas City the official poster children for hope are Rusch
and lefty Jose Rosado, two of a half-dozen youngsters the Royals
believe will carry the team into the new century. Muser says
that despite a 12-24 record over the last two years, Rusch has
matured considerably. His fastball, curveball and changeup are
all above average, but he must avoid lapses in his
concentration. "If he can do that on a regular basis," says
Muser, "there's no reason he won't be a regular winner in this
league."

The same goes for hard-throwing Rosado, who made the American
League All-Star team in 1997 but is 10-19 with a 5.33 ERA since.
He and Rusch will be joined in the rotation by Arizona castoff
Jeff Suppan, 24, and Brian Barber, 26. "They all have pretty
live arms," says Muser, ignoring the fact that the quartet had a
combined 17-37 record in '98. "If you have live arms, you have
something to work with."

In 25-year-old Johnny Damon, the Royals have something else to
work with. Last year the speedy leftfielder surprised the club
with his 18 home runs and 26 steals. He'll be joined in the
outfield by Conine and rookie centerfielder Carlos Beltran, who
jumped straight from Double A to the majors at the end of last
season. Another rookie, Jeremy Giambi (.372 in the Triple A
Pacific Coast League last year), will also be in the outfield
mix once he fully recovers from a hamstring injury that has
nagged him since the end of last season. Though his power is
average, the younger brother of Oakland first baseman Jason
Giambi has a knack for finding gaps and driving in runs (66 in
96 games).

Second baseman Carlos Febles, 22, is yet another top prospect
who will get an opportunity to be a major contributor in 1999.
After hitting .326 with 14 home runs at Wichita, Febles batted
.400 in 11 games during his September call-up with the big
league club. "No matter what people think, I feel I'm ready,"
says Febles, a native of the Dominican Republic. "I've played
this game since I was a boy. It is, to me, always the same game.
Simple, easy, fun. Just go out and play."

Sadly, the upbeat Febles will learn that a positive attitude
doesn't translate into victories. Even with a clubhouse full of
eager kids, the Royals are, as Rusch says, still learning to
play. Come September, they'll find the smiles much less easy to
summon.

--J.P.

COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE Damon and a posse of promising prospects will take a run at snapping Kansas City's string of five losing seasons--but they'll come up short. COLOR PHOTO: RONALD C. MODRA

By the Numbers

1998 Team Statistics (AL rank)
1998 record: 72-89 (third in AL Central)

BATTING AVERAGE .263 (12)
RUNS SCORED 714 (13)
HOME RUNS 134 (12)
OPP. BATTING AVG. .291 (12)
ERA 5.16 (13)
FIELDING PCT. .980 (10)

From Bad to Worse?

The Royals, who were 17 games below .500 last season, have lost
Tim Belcher (their leader in starts and wins), Dean Palmer
(their home run and RBI leader) and Jose Offerman (their batting
leader). Since 1920 only five other teams have lost their
leaders in wins, homers, RBIs and batting average from one
season to the next. The only two teams to improve their won-lost
records under those circumstances were the '28 Browns and '28
Giants.

Season Team W-L Departing Next Year's Gain/Decline
Team Leaders W-L

1998 Kansas City 72-89 Tim Belcher, ? ?
Royals Dean Palmer,
JoseOfferman

1991 Kansas City 82-80 Bret Saberhagen, 72-90 -10 games
Royals Danny Tartabull

1942 Philadelphia 55-99 Phil Marchildon, 49-105 -6 games
Athletics Bob Johnson

1935 Philadelphia 58-91 Johnny Marcum, 53-100 -7 games
Athletics JimmieFoxx

1927 New York 92-62 Burleigh Grimes, 93-61 +1 game
Giants Rogers Hornsby

1927 St. Louis 59-94 Milt Gaston, 82-72 +22 1/2
Browns George Sisler, games
Ken Williams

Next Up...

If he were a Yankee or a Brave, rookie centerfielder Carlos
Beltran would have one or two more seasons to refine his game in
the minors. The Royals, however, need the 21-year-old
switch-hitter, who hit .352 with 14 homers in only 182 at bats
at Double A Wichita last year, to be an impact player now. Not
only does Beltran have plenty of power, but he's also an
excellent defensive player with the speed to chase down balls in
the gaps. In 1997 he was named the best defensive outfielder in
the Class A Carolina League. "You don't have to worry much with
[Beltran] out there," says K.C. outfielder Jeff Conine. "From
what I've seen, he gets to the balls that a centerfielder should."

Projected Roster With 1998 Statistics

Manager: Tony Muser (third season with Kansas City)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

CF Carlos Beltran (R)* S-R 94 .352 14 44 7
3B Joe Randa[1] R 226 .254 9 50 8
LF Johnny Damon L 77 .277 18 66 26
1B Jeff King R 67 .263 24 93 10
DH Jeremy Giambi (R)[#] L 127 .372 20 66 8
RF Jeff Conine R 204 .256 8 43 3
C Chad Kreuter[1] S-R 244 .250 2 33 1
2B Carlos Febles (R)* R 168 .326 14 52 51
SS Rey Sanchez[1] R 315 .285 2 30 0

BENCH

OF Larry Sutton L 266 .245 5 42 3
OF Jermaine Dye R 287 .234 5 23 2
C Sal Fasano R 298 .227 8 31 1
IF Steve Scarsone[1][#] R 367 .270 20 55 4

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Kevin Appier[2] 112 9 13 6.9 1.23 3.40
LH Jose Rosado 84 8 11 6.1 1.36 4.69
RH Jeff Suppan[3] 128 1 7 5.1 1.44 5.72
RH Brian Barber 161 2 4 5.3 1.38 6.00
LH Glendon Rusch 238 6 15 5.9 1.56 5.88

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Jeff Montgomery 83 2 5 36 1.43 4.98
RH Scott Service 177 6 4 4 1.26 3.48
RH Matt Whisenant 285 2 1 2 1.55 4.90
RH Terry Mathews[1] 301 0 1 0 1.67 6.20
LH Alvin Morman[1][3] 325 0 2 0 1.62 5.28
RH Hipolito Pichardo 195 7 8 1 1.50 5.13

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start WHIP: Walks pl us hits per inning
pitched

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 154) *Double
A stats [#]Triple A stats [2]1997 stats [3]Combined AL
and NL stats

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)