Mike Sweeney Retires A Royal

As I was sitting here, working away today, all of a sudden the Royals wire got very hot. Mike Sweeney was going to make an announcement with the Royals. Quickly the word came that Sweeney was going to retire from baseball and he wanted to do it as a Royal. This not so secret announcement became official about 4pm when Around the Horn KC made the announcement:

The #Royals have signed Mike Sweeney to a one-day contract. Sweeney has announced his retirement from baseball.
Official Royals Blog

This hits home for many Kansas City Royals fans. Sweeney has had a mixed reaction in Kansas City when he appeared on the Royals Hall of Fame Ballot this year. I would be surprised if him and Appier are not voted into the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame this year but many people remember him negatively and don’t think anyone other than Appier should get in on the ballot. I tend to always see the positive in the Royals so I asked some of my twitter and facebook followers to describe what Mike Sweeney meant to them.

Some remember Sweeney in a positive fashion. Andrew Johnson lamented he was the most personable Royal when he was a kid. Lana Royer remembered him as beloved, never lazy and someone the fans miss. One of my twitter followers spoke common words among many fans; “Good guy, good player, hated by most royals fans cause he got a (large) contract, got hurt…”. Shizzyrocks on twitter said, “He has always been wrongfully hated.” Many people echoed the part about being unfairly hated because he earned a huge contract for being the “best player on a terrible team,” as griney55 on twitter said.

It is easy for me to say how great the Royals legends are but I think it’s important to really realize how great of an all around human being Sweeny was on top of being a great player. Start with how great of a player he was. Sweeney played 12 years in Kansas City. He was an All-Star 5 of those years (2000-2003, 2005) and received MVP votes 3 of those seasons, never finishing above 11th (2002) in the voting. 2002 was his best season where he hit .340. This is the 2nd highest batting average in Royals history behind George Brett’s near .400 season. Had it not been for a 2-16 final four games, Sweeney would have won the AL batting crown.

Sweeney made no more than 265,000 his first 5 years before getting a bump to $2.25 Million his first MVP caliber season. His contract rose over the next couple years before getting a $55 Million contract. (On a side note what is it with $55 million contracts and the Royals but I digress.) This contract garnered much anger from the public. It could easily be argued he had earned it after having 3 MVP-like seasons and he would have probably still been loved but the later years of the contract were absolutely injury ridden. In fact when I asked how some remembered him at least 20-30% of the responses included injured or injury prone.

Sweeney was sent to the disabled list with nerve irritation in 2003 an injury that would create multiple stints between 2003 and 2006. In 2006 he played only 60 games while making $11 million. This started to turn the home town fans against him. He actually did have good offense during his late years in KC but was restricted to the DH and limited on at bats due to the injuries.

Sweeney was not resigned by Kansas City in 2008 and he signed a minor league deal with the Oakland Athletics. After a strong spring, Oakland did purchase Sweeney’s contract but the injury bug would strike again and Sweeney was laid up with arthroscopic surgery for four weeks on June 11th. He returned but was cut September 9th. 2009 saw Sweeney get a Spring invite to the Mariners and he would make the Opening Day Roster. He was removed from the game due to back spasms in his very first at bat. His first home run as a Mariner was the 200th of his career and ironically came against former club, The Oakland Athletics. Sweeney would return to the K and hit his 100th home run in that venue, this one coming as a member of the visiting team.

Sweeney received another minor league deal with the Mariners and actually beat out Ryan Garko for the starting 1b job. The Mariners sent him to the Phillies for cash later that season. He would make his one and only playoff appearance going 1-1 in the NLDS.

Sweeney signed a 1 day contract March 25, 2011 and retired a Kansas City Royal.

While Sweeney had a decent career, he should also be applauded for what he was as a person. Sweeney was beloved by many from all around the country. When I asked on twitter for people to give what they thought of Sweeney, I had many local responses, some I mentioned above but I also received from Sarah in Texas (@luckiexstar), “pretty much nicest guy ever :)” and from Sam Endicott (@cottman3) “And that when I worked for the SF Giants Spring Training he shook my hand and smiled when I gave him directions to the clubhouse.” These people are not in the Royal Blue Sea every day and they echoed many of the local thoughts of the man. Other local thoughts included Clinton Corley (@clintoninc) “class act player who played the game the right way. Great w/ fans and with players around the league”. And Clinton DeMontel (@Clintonde) “Mike Sweeney is the best man in professional sports. Hard work, dedication, a rich, rightful life. All of these come to mind”. These 2 summed up how many in KC felt. I personally remember the 2010 Royals Fan Fest where he came as a fan and signed autographs as people asked until he got swarmed and his little boy got scared by the mass of people. He then had security around him mostly to protect his child and allow him to enjoy his time. He didn’t have to come to fan fest but he wanted to be around a team he loved. A couple weeks later he was signed by the Mariners, but that day I felt he was a Kansas City Royal again.

Sweeney has several awards for Community Involvement. Some of these awards include (but not limited to) The Royals Mr. Baseball award which is the top honor at the Royals award dinner and is named after Ewing Kauffman. The Royals present an award bearing Sweeney’s name annually to the player in the organization who has been the best representative on and off the field. He was also a nominee for the Roberto Clemente award and is still involved in Kansas City’s Mercy Children’s hospital and Boys and Girls Clubs.
Most will remember him as a positive man who loved the city and the city loved back. Some remember him as a zealot while others remember him standing for something he believed in. While many Kansas City fans may have once remembered him as an over paid player, injury prone player , most will remember him as a class act who played the game right. So few players play the game the way he did. Injuries or not, Mike Sweeney was a great player and this is one fan who is happy to know that Mike Sweeney is now and forever a Kansas City Royal.

In closing Sam Endicott asked me: “Do you think the #Royals retire Sweeney’s number??” Sam, I don’t know. I seriously doubt it because when you think about the three retired, they are the best of the best. Let’s see if Sweeney gets into the Royals Hall Of Fame and go from there. If they don’t I will not be surprised but if they do I would be all for it.

Mike Sweeney’s Career Stats
Hits Doubles Home Runs RBI AVG OBP SLG OPS
1540 325 215 909 .297 .366 .486 .851

Thank you Mike Sweeney for being a great player on some truly awful teams. I hope you call Kansas City your post baseball home because the city would be proud to have you as part of this organization for many years to come.

Troy “KCRoyalman” Olsen can be found on twitter (@kcroyalman) and here on I-70 Baseball every Monday with Bill Ivie at 10pm central time.

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