The Embattled Hero

I can remember it like it was yesterday, August 4, 2009. The Mariners were in town and I was taking my then 8 year old son and his friend to a ballgame for his birthday. We got there early so we could get all of the Little K events out of the way, we walked the path just under the Jumbotron so we could see just how jumbo it was, we got a couple of pops, some nachos, and, after circling the stadium found our seats well down the third base side in the lower level. The Royals scored 5 in the first, including a bomb from Billy Butler and the boys could not have been much happier. Then came the 4th inning.

Although Bruce Chen had held the Mariners scoreless through 3, he wasn’t exactly lights out. He’d given up 3 singles, thrown a wild pitch and had a couple of warning track fly balls scare him. In the 4th it finally caught up with him when one Michael Sweeney hit a majestic shot over the wall in left field. Now, let me back up. I had not noticed it so much the first time Sweeney came up (maybe the drunks were still in the parking lot?) but Sweeney’s second plate appearance was tainted with a smattering of boos, most notably from directly behind us, as he walked to the plate. This infuriated me, but I said nothing. Sweeney was 36 years old and very possibly making his last trip to the K. He’d given everything he had in Kansas City and I could see no reason to boo him. So, when he hit the home run, I did something I’d never done during an opposing player’s home trot…I stood and I clapped.

There were a few more boos, and that only made me clap louder. For the 15-20 seconds he circles the bases I clapped as loud as I could and as he entered the dugout I yelled in vain “Thank you, Mike!” As I sat down, my son looked at my quizzically, but before I could explain the drunkards behind me hollered “Why would you clap for that bum? We paid him all that money and he was hurt the whole $@##ing time” I am not one for violence, especially in a family atmosphere like the K, but I was fighting mad at this point. Instead of directly addressing the drunkard, I turned to my son and in a none-too-hushed tone explained “Mike Sweeney is a great man and he was a great Royal. He’s the only great player from his generation that chose to stay with the Royals and he’s one of the best hitters to ever play for the Royals. Only a damn idiot would boo him.”

I don’t believe that most Royals fans would have booed Sweeney on that day, but I do believe far too many share the drunkard’s sentiment. If there is any justice in the process, Sweeney will be a Royals Hall of Famer some day soon and he will deserve it as much as almost anyone in there. Disagree?

–          Sweeney has the third highest career batting average (.299) in club history

–          Sweeney has the second highest career OPS (.861)

–          Sweeney is second all-time in home runs (197) and ranks in the top 6 in runs, hits, total bases, doubles, walks, and RBI

–          His 144 RBI in 2000 are still a club record

–          Per Baseball-Reference’s WAR he ranks as the 5th best hitter and 7th best position player in club history

The biggest arguments against Sweeney seem to be that he was A) overpaid and B) always injured. The fact is, he was paid just under $71 million dollars over 13 seasons. During those 13 seasons he made 5 All Star Games and did everything his body would allow. Yes, he was terribly overpaid over those last 5 seasons, just as he was terribly underpaid for the 4 before that. From 99-03 Sweeney played an average of 146 games per season, made 3 All Star teams, set a club record for RBIs, and had an OPS+ of 134. He made just under $16 million for those 4 years combined.

Barring an unfortunate comeback attempt, Sweeney will become eligible for the Royals HOF after the 2013 season, meaning his induction ceremony should be a little more than 2 ½ years away. I hope to be there, just to make sure the applause drowns out any undeserved boos. One of the greatest men to ever put on the uniform deserves nothing less.

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