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The Exact Meaning

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James, you ought to discover some day that words have an exact meaning.
                                                               -Francisco d'Anconia

As I was scanning the sports page of the USA Today yesterday, I came across two articles written by Mel Antonen.  If I'd read him before, I couldn't say.  If he had an established record of intelligent, enlightening pieces, I couldn't say.  What I can say is that one article in the Monday edition was written with little editorial from Antonen, while the second article was littered with them.  Strangely enough it was the quotes from players that gave an air of intrigue to the article, in conjunction with what I'll call subtle jabs from Antonen, that made me read it twice.

The art of open mockery or condescension by an alleged intellectual on any given subject is commonplace.  It's easy to do.  Whether or not you do it well doesn't matter; it's cake for an elitest to not only say you're an idiot, but they'll find a way to throw a stinger in without it having anything to do with their point.  Antonen had none of this tripe.  I don't know him, and I don't know if this was his intent, but what he did to the Royals in Monday's USA Today was brutal.

Antonen's article is entitled Sanders' signing brings re-energized attitude to Royals.  It's basic premise is to show that the offseason additions have legitimized the club in Kansas City--although the term legitimate does not mean competetive.

Reggie Sanders

[Sanders] had sympathy for the plight of the Royals, who promised to sign other players and were willing to overpay for him... Reggie's selfless nature made him sign with the Royals, not the fact that they were overpaying him.  Naturally he wanted to see what the Royals would do to live up to that promise of bringing in other free agents to help the team regain it's competetive edge.  So, once the Royals secured Mark Grudzielanek and Doug Mientkiewicz (good luck filling out score cards, Royal fans), Sanders knew they were serious about turning things around.

When I heard that [the Royals signed Grudzielanek and Mientkiewicz], I said 'OK, let's get serious,' said Reggie Sanders.  Now, I understand that the signing of a 35-year old (soon to be 36) second baseman and a defensive first baseman is an upgrade for Kansas City, but if this is the sign of commitment to putting a competetive team on the field in 2006 that he was looking for, it's pretty weak.

I've got my World Series ring, so it's all about playing and showing the young kids what I've learned, Sanders continues to say.  I don't know about this one, either.  What player gets one ring and then decides "that's enough, now I need to go play teacher"?  It's a fantastic sentiment if it's true, but I have a hard time believing that any player with a competetive edge isn't looking over his options with the thought of "just one more ring".  If you're not after that ring you're after something else, and it's not playing tutor.  There's another motive that becomes obvious reading what Sanders has to say...but he never says what that motive is.

To put a lid on the Sanders situation is the wording Antonen uses to describe Cardinal GM Walt Jocketty's comments in regards to the retention of the aging star.  ...[Jocketty] didn't want to match the Royals' offer.  Instead, the Cardinals gave Sanders' replacement, Juan Encarnacion, $15 million for three years.  WOW.  Those are two loaded sentences.  Not only was Jocketty admitting that the Royals were overpaying Sanders, but he was admitting that what he could get from Sanders wasn't worth overpaying for.  As another dagger, they overpaid severely for his replacement in Encarnacion!  Remember when the Tigers couldn't wait to get him off their payroll?  Here's a guy with a .316 career OBP (below .300 twice since 2001), a guy who's going to strike out between 85-115 times this year if he's healthy, and they couldn't pay him enough to take over for Reggie Sanders.

If it isn't painfully obvious yet, let me spell it out for you.  Reggie Sanders couldn't get a job with a contending team.  He was lured to Kansas City because (1) he'll be able to play every day and (2) they overpaid for him.  The thing is, there's nothing wrong with going to a team because you'll get to play, and there's nothing wrong with going because you're being overpaid, but don't insult my intelligence by telling me you're there to be a teacher or that you're there because you had "sympathy for the plight of the Royals".

Doug Mientkiewicz & Joe Mays

[Dough Mientkiewicz] says the key to the Royals could be Mays, a 17-game winner in 2001.  I'm not sure what confuses me more here.  Is it that Dougie Baseball thinks that Mays could be a key, or Antonen's addition that Joe Mays won 17 games six seasons ago.  This is one of Antonen's subtle jabs; a quote that attempts to legitimize a sentence yet is so ridiculous in and of itself that it has to be mockery.

Doug is quoted next as saying If [Mays is] like he was in 2001, the Royals got the best bargain of the season.  Even if Mays is the guy he was in 2001, he's probably still only an 11 or 12-game winner with that offense.  At best.  Because here's the thing--apart from his career-best ERA and OPS against, there wasn't much going for him.  This tells me he was lucky a lot in 2001.  Anyone please feel free to prove me wrong.

Year   Age     IP   ERA   K/9   WHIP   OPS
1999    23  171.0  4.37  6.05  1.439  .775
2000    24  160.1  5.56  5.73  1.622  .824
2001    25  233.2  3.16  4.74  1.151  .651
2002    26   95.1  5.38  3.59  1.448  .785
2003    27  130.0  6.30  3.46  1.523  .848
2005    29  156.0  5.65  3.40  1.564  .866

He still gave up 25 home runs.  He threw 11 wild pitches.  His walks per 9 was slightly better than his career average, but nothing substatial (2.47:2.88).  If someone can find some numbers for averages on balls-in-play that'd be great.  I can't find anything.  Someone prove me wrong--show me a number that says 2001 wasn't just a lot of luck, it was a great year.

Mark Grudzielanek

Looking back at the quote that begins this post, it's not just a reference to Antonen's style of the article, it's also a note to what Mr. Gurdzielanek said about the Cardinals.  [Grudzielanek] says the Cardinals made him feel as if it was a privilege to play for a contending team in a new ballpark.  Here's the thing with this line from Antonen's article--there aren't any quotes around this, i.e. I don't know if it's exactly what Grudzielanek said or if Antonen is putting his own spin on what the new Royal summized.  Regardless, someone needs a lethal dose of reality.  Playing for a contending team in a new ballpark IS A PRIVILEGE.

Where do the Devil Rays play, again?  Oh yes, in a renovated hockey arena.  Where would you rather play?

Final Quotes

Mike Sweeney says the Royals look like a quality major-league team now, instead of a glorified AAA team.  I shouldn't be picking nits, but last season there was nothing AAA about Kansas City.  There were a number of AA players in and out of the organization, but even the AAA players were representatives of an extremely weak farm system.

Finally, Royals manager Buddy Bell says they can beat teams late because of their bullpen.  Okay, let's take a look.  First, let's assume that Mike MacDougal doesn't have a melt-down and picks up strong, where he left off in 2005.  Second, let's hope that Andy Sisco can continue to strike men out at a pace of a man per inning.  Third...well, I'm not sure what we could do third.

Pitcher   Age   Exp   Career ERA
Burgos     22    1       3.98
Dessens    35    9       4.40
Wood       26    3       5.47
Gobble     25    3       5.27
Nunez      22    1       7.55
Bautista   25    2       7.03
Howell     23    1       6.19
Affeld     27    4       4.53

All ages are as of July 1.  These are the names listed on the depth chart at MLB.com for the Royals and their bullpen; this would leave Zach Grienke, Joe Mays, Mark Redman, Runelvys Hernandez and Scott Elarton as the starting rotation.  I'm not optimistic about what I see.  If Burgos has another solid year and Nunez turns into a reliable presence, then sure, as long as MacDougle and Sisco are solid.  But I certainly don't have the confidence in the Royal bullpen as does their manager.

Conclusions

Antonen's article leaves me amused, but it's more because I empathize than a malicious hatred of the Royals.  I don't hate the Royals at all; I just want the Twins to beat them.  Reading sentence after sentence of optimism without a realistic center of gravity makes me remember how bad the Twins were in the mid and late 90's.  The Royals have brought in Redman, Mientkiewicz, Grudzielanek, Sanders and Mays, and this will stop the Royals from becoming worse.  But it won't help them take the next step.  Oddly enough it reminds me of Paul Molitor, Dave Hollins, Bob Tewksbury, Butch Husky, Terry Steinbach and Roberto Kelly.  These moves didn't necessarily makes the Twins competetive; they just stopped us from getting worse...for the moment.

It's hard to be critical as a commercial writer for a national newspaper, I'd imagine.  Don't be too negative, you'll turn people off.  Don't be too critical, you could be wrong.  Don't say too much of what you really think, because we look like the fool if you say something amiss.  For some reason I see Antonen's editor throwing the draft of this article back on his desk and saying "...do it again, Mel.  Try not to make the Royals sound like bottom-feeders..."  And instead of an honest article he was forced into hiding his thoughts between the lines and in the telling quotes of Royals players.

Even if this wasn't his intention, there's enough there to make me read between the lines.  Oddly enough it's not what's between the lines, but the literal interpretation of the words on the page that give the article it's personality and exact meaning. That is the slap in the face.