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Dr. Facebook Fever
06-22-2005, 04:07 PM
http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/columns/story?columnist=stark_jayson&id=2091746&action=login&appRedirect=http%3a%2f%2finsider.espn.go.com%2fmlb%2fcolumns%2fstory%3fcolumnist%3dstark_jayson%26id %3d2091746



Updated: June 22, 2005
Buddy system working for Royals By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com
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One minute, they were doing the world's most dead-on impression of the '62 Mets. The next, they looked more like the '86 Mets.
One minute, the 2005 Kansas City Royals looked like a team that couldn't win two out of three from the Joliet Jackhammers. Now, three weeks – and one managerial change – later, they've won more games since May 31 (12) than the Orioles, Yankees, Angels, Rangers and Cubs.

They've swept the Yankees. They've swept the Dodgers. They won a series in San Francisco. They tied a game in Arizona in which they trailed by nine runs in the sixth inning.

So it's time to put away those '62 Mets day-by-day charts and ask: What the heck are we supposed to make of the Kansas City Royals now?

Is Buddy Bell this sport's greatest managerial hiring since Joe Torre?

Or did the first 50 games of this season not quite etch a real accurate sketch of what these Royals ought to be, or where they're going?

"Obviously, this sounds self-serving – but we weren't as bad as our record," says GM Allard Baird, a man who doesn't recall many people describing his hiring of Bell as an act of genius. "But are we as good now as this record? Well, I won't say that, either."

What he will say, though – what lots of people in baseball will say, in fact – is that it's clear Bell has changed the atmosphere around the Royals dramatically, faster than you could say, "Marvelous Marv Throneberry."

Now, says one scout who watched them recently, "They're just playing baseball. They're not forcing things. They're not running into outs. They're just playing the game. They look a lot more relaxed."

And if these Royals do look a lot more relaxed, it isn't just because they don't have to listen to a thousand old Casey Stengel-isms anymore. It is, at least in part, because their new manager has walked into a brutal situation and quickly left his imprint.

In the first 50 games of this season, the Royals won exactly 13 games under two managers (Tony Peña and Bob Schaefer). It took Bell only 15 games to win his first 11, and just 18 games to win his first 12.

Think that happens all the time? Think again.

• According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only one previous manager ever took over a team that had a winning percentage under .300 in midseason and won 11 of his first 15 games. That was Ralph Houk, who was brought in to save the 1966 Yankees after they started out 4-16.

• And no team since 1900 had ever started a season by going 13-37 or worse in its first 50 games and then won 12 of its next 18 games – until these Royals did it.

So how much of that can be attributed to the mere arrival on the scene of Buddy Bell? A more sizable percentage than some folks would like to admit.

Bell has left two major indentations on the Royals' Richter Scale, Baird says.

One is the way he has helped transform the mind-set of a team so young (13 players on the roster are 25 or younger).

Not so long ago, Baird says, the thought process of many of those players was: "I'm in the big leagues – and I want to stay in the big leagues." Now, he says, "That's turned into: 'I'm in the big leagues – and I want to win in the big leagues.'"

But Bell also has quickly pulled the veteran players into his corner – simply, the GM says, by "empowering the veteran guys to take over the club. He said, 'Hey, you guys have got to make this work. So if you see something that's out of line, fix it.'"

So where, only a few weeks ago, this team's veterans (Mike Sweeney, Matt Stairs, Tony Graffanino, etc.) were questioning the professionalism of the young players around them, now they have the green light to do something about it.

"And if the young guys hear the veteran guys preaching the same message as the manager and the coaches," Baird says, "that message has a lot more impact."

Now clearly, some of this is just coincidence. It isn't all Bell's doing that D.J. Carrasco (1.61) and Runelvys Hernandez (1.80) have the second and third-best ERAs in the American League (behind only Mark Buehrle) since Bell took over.

And there was no button the manager pushed that caused Terrence Long to hit .418, or Graffanino to hit. 400, or five regulars to hit .300 or better since May 31.

And the mind-boggling emergence of Emil Brown (17 RBI in his first 17 games under Bell) had actually begun three weeks earlier, when Peña began writing his name in the lineup every day, just before the Royals' first managerial change of the year.

But what isn't a coincidence is how hard the Royals have played under Bell.

"Buddy Bell," says one NL scout, "has those guys playing their butts off."

They have five comeback wins since May 31. They made up a four-run deficit in a June 9 game in San Francisco (but eventually lost). They made that nine-run deficit disappear in Arizona the next day. And they won a wild game in Arizona two days later, even though they had to score in the 10th, 11th and 12th innings to do it.

That tells you something about how the manager has overhauled the once-negative aura around a team that was thoroughly juiceless for 50 games. He has been able to give this group the impression that it really could take a mulligan and start over.

"There was a sort of relief when he took over," Baird said, "and it was for all the players. Not just the young guys but the veterans, too. He just gave out this presence of, 'OK, here we go.' And everyone jumped on board. Then, when you go out and win three or four games in a row, everyone buys in."

But when Baird hired Bell, more people in Kansas City were walking out of the store than buying into it. And that was understandable, considering this was a man who was 127 games under .500 in Detroit and Colorado, a man who had the fifth-lowest managerial winning percentage (.428) in the division-play era.

Baird, though, peered beneath those numbers – with Bell and each of the other 11 names on his original candidate list. He looked at every team Bell had ever managed – its age, payroll, projected performance and actual performance.

He looked at whether players got better or worse. He looked at the direction of the franchise – and how its actual direction compared with its expected direction.

"I even went to old scouting reports," Baird said, "and looked at how those players projected out at the time – and did they eventually become that?"

And what he found was what Bell's supporters already knew – that this was a guy who has helped quite a few players get better, that he was a victim of changes in organizational philosophy in both of his previous stops, and that he still possessed ingredients which his friends felt could make him a successful manager.

"I know I got a lot of heat for this," the GM says. "And I'll continue to get heat on it until we win. But that comes with the job."

Part of that heat wave was directed at Baird's decision to hire his manager in May, instead of waiting until the end of the season, when he'd have more options. But "if I didn't find the right guy," he says, "I would have waited until the end of the year. I said that all along. We were in no hurry."

So was Buddy Bell the right guy? Heck, if the first three weeks of his tenure are any indication, he's John McGraw reincarnate.

Everyone knows, though, that there's very little in baseball that's more meaningless than a three-week segment of any season. This team still has talent and payroll issues that had a lot to do with that 13-37 start. And those issues will resurface over these next three months. But at least it's obvious now why Buddy Bell deserved another chance.

"Everyone said to me, 'Allard, this guy is a perfect fit for you,'" Baird said. "But I mean this when I say this: I didn't want a perfect fit for me. I wanted a perfect fit for this ballclub. Ironically, it worked out that Buddy is a perfect fit for me. But that wasn't by design, because it wasn't a priority."

The priority was to have the Titanic miss the iceberg. And now that's actually happened. But for Baird, Bell and the Kansas City Royals, there's still a huge ocean to cross. And it will be fascinating to watch them navigate all the tides ahead.

Ultra Peanut
06-22-2005, 04:09 PM
Lars : I have them on the "body" system.
Julie : The "body" system?
Lars : Yah, the body system [blows whistle and screams]
Lars : BODY!
Gerry : [holding hands] BUDDY!

|Zach|
06-22-2005, 04:15 PM
Awesome write up...exciting.

ChiTown
06-22-2005, 04:20 PM
and just like that, they've lost 5 of their last 6 games. Now, that's the Royals I know and love ;)

They're definately playing better ball, but they have a long ways to go. They still can't run the bases. They still don't have enough power in their lineup. Too much inconsistency with their starting pitching and middle relief, etc..

I do like where they are heading with their young talent, but they were bound to catch a hot streak sooner or later after such a dysmal start. Is Buddy the real deal? I got no idea. I really wanna see what he can do after the All Star break. To me, that's a better guide to what type of manager BB will be.

Last, (not that it was mentioned anywhere in the article, but....) it's pretty fuggin rediculous at this point to think we're going to get much more than a couple of minor league prospects for Sweeney. Dude can't stay healthy. In addition, I believe that, if they do trade him, the Royals will have to eat a decent portion of his salary for the remaining years of his contract. JMHO.

siberian khatru
06-22-2005, 04:23 PM
I wish we could beat the fuggin White Sox ... just to piss off Captain Penis.

Dr. Facebook Fever
06-22-2005, 04:25 PM
and just like that, they've lost 5 of their last 6 games. Now, that's the Royals I know and love ;)


They should have won the Houston series but I can forgive them for losing to the Sox.

Ultra Peanut
06-22-2005, 04:34 PM
Awesome write up...exciting.Why, thank you.

In the interest of full disclosure, however, I must admit that I just copied and pasted it.

beavis
06-22-2005, 04:36 PM
They should have won the Houston series but I can forgive them for losing to the Sox.
They won the only game of the Houston series they were supposed to win. We are no where near giving Clemens a run for his money, and Oswalt ain't bad either.

The White Sux are just a flat out great team this year. They own us. I just wish we would have been a little more competitive against them.

Dr. Facebook Fever
06-22-2005, 04:38 PM
They won the only game of the Houston series they were supposed to win. We are no where near giving Clemens a run for his money, and Oswalt ain't bad either.

The White Sux are just a flat out great team this year. They own us. I just wish we would have been a little more competitive against them.
Exactly.

Figures we get the Astros two best picthers.

ChiTown
06-22-2005, 04:55 PM
Exactly.

Figures we get the Astros two best picthers.

A sign of progress would be to rebound from the last 6 games and take 4 of the next 6 games on the road. At the very least, you'd like to see .500 ball.

Cochise
06-22-2005, 05:55 PM
We have been playing better baseball now, but I don't know how much less than 20 games proves. All it says to me is what I have suspected all year, that we were nowhere near as bad as the '62 mets comparisons people were making, but still not a .500 baseball team.

It takes a lot to play .500 ball in this league, at this level. In '03, a team that I would suggest was playing somewhat over its head only came out with 83 wins. Essentially the same team came out the next year and didn't even win 60.

Tells you, for one thing, how fickle the game of baseball is, and secondly, for all the things that went right in '03, how much talent/payroll is needed and how much has to go right for a team to win 90 or 100 or more.

We're playing better now fundamentally. Errors are down, pitching is better, timely hitting is more common. But we still have a long, long way to go.

nascher
06-22-2005, 06:37 PM
same with the Sox Garland and Buehrle are very good this Season Lima blew the 1 possible win in Game 1.

keg in kc
06-22-2005, 06:43 PM
Damn you, Jayson Stark. :cuss:

Dr. Facebook Fever
06-23-2005, 08:36 AM
A sign of progress would be to rebound from the last 6 games and take 4 of the next 6 games on the road. At the very least, you'd like to see .500 ball.
Exactly again.