As we are one month from Opening Day, with so much optimism surrounding the 2012 version of the Kansas City Royals, and all of the young stars that project to be in this years Opening Day lineup, we must remember some of the players that graced the Opening Day lineup card in years past that made us ask, “WTF?!?!?”
Ahhhhhhhh….Opening Day…when hope springs eternal. The only day (presumably) when parents write fake doctor’s notes to pull kids out of school to go to the ballpark. When playoff dreams have yet to be shattered, and every team still has a chance to win the World Series.
Kansas City Royals fans have been no exception to this tradition over the years, even if the optimism is usually gone within the first week of the season. There is no denying that there is something very special about Opening Day. Every hitter who had a good season the year before is expected to pick up where he left off the previous year; every pitcher who couldn’t get anybody out the year before is expected to turn it around (he’s changed his arm angle!); and mediocre players are expected to take that next step to stardom. On Opening Day, the injuries have yet to occur (usually), and fans have no idea who is going to continue to suck, or go back to sucking. It is all roses until that first crooked number goes up on the scoreboard next to the opposing team’s name. It is for this reason, that there is no greater buzz-kill than when your favorite team decides to pencil names into an Opening Day lineup card that don’t just put all optimism to the test, but crush it to pieces before the first pitch is ever thrown, and force you to scream at the top of your lungs, “WTF?!?!?!?!?”
It is one thing for a manager to be forced to write out a lineup card full of obscure names in September. If the team is out of the race and playing guys recently brought up from the minor leagues (Royals fans are very used to this over the years), this is acceptable. If a team has been ravaged with injuries and it is a Sunday in June on get-away day, it is moderately acceptable to place a fair amount of obscurity on the lineup card (Cardinals fans are very used to this over the LaRussa years). More-so than probably any other organization in baseball, though, the Royals have sent either Trey Hillman, or Buddy Bell, or Tony Pena, or Tony Muser, or Bob Boone, or any of the other skippers of the Royals’ “Stink Era” out to home plate with a lineup card on Opening Day with at least one name on it that makes a fan wonder what in the hell the organization was thinking all off-season. In this column, we will take a look, position-by-position, at the Royals All-Time “WTF” Opening Day Lineup.
Catcher: Hector Ortiz (2001)
Ortiz was drafted as a 19-year-old prospect out of Puerto Rico by the Dodgers in 1988. However, he did not see his first big league action until, after bouncing around with several teams, he landed with the Royals in 1998. That tells you a lot about the Royals’ catching situation at that time. After getting the Opening Day nod in 2001, Ortiz became a part of the 4-headed catching monster that was he, A.J. Hinch, Gregg Zaun, and Brent Mayne for the rest of that season.
1st Base: Ross Gload (2008)
It’s been said before in this column, that it isn’t Ross Gload’s fault that he is Ross Gload. In this case, it is most definitely the Royals’ fault that they didn’t have a more suitable option for a starting 1st Baseman on opening day than a career utility-player. This is completely inexcusable.
2nd Base: Mark Teahen (2009)
How ridiculous does this experiment now seem in hindsight? This poor guy went from being a highly regarded 3rd Baseman, to Right-Field, to Left-Field, to 2nd Base, traded to the White Sox to play 3rd Base again, and is now completely irrelevant. Makes you wonder what he could have done had he never been moved off of 3rd.
3rd Base: Willie Bloomquist (2010)
With Alex Gordon unavailable, the Royals were forced to choose between Bloomquist and Alberto Callaspo to start at 3rd on Opening Day. They chose Bloomquist, and clearly regretted it. He went 0-4 with 3 strikeouts, and missed a routine pop-up early in the game that helped continue a Detroit Tigers rally. Callaspo started at 3rd from that point forward and Bloomquist went back to his rightful role as a utility infielder.
Shortstop: Felix Martinez (1998)
Sandwiched in between Jay Bell and Rey Sanchez, was something called Felix Martinez. He only received 98 plate appearances, while Shane Halter led all Royals’ Shortstops in plate appearances that year with 226. Clearly the shortstop position was a disaster for the Royals in 1998.
Left-Field: Ross Gload (2007)
-See Ross Gload explanation for 1st Base position
Center-Field: Rick Ankiel (2010)
This may have been the only time that Dayton Moore figuratively slapped Royals fans in the face. The guy never wanted to play with the Royals, the Royals still over-paid to get him, he acted like a jerk the whole time he was with the team, suspiciously injured his ankle walking to the field in Spring Training, and under-performed when he did play that year (which was rarely).
Right-Field: Brandon Berger (2003)
Somehow this guy played 4 seasons in the majors (2001-2004), all with the Royals, and I still have no idea who he was. I do know what I was probably saying when I saw his name in the Opening Day lineup in 2003 though…
Designated-Hitter: Terry Pendleton (1998)
Okay…we all know who Terry Pendleton is, so there is nothing obscure about this. Other than…HE PLAYED FOR THE ROYALS?!?!?!? It was Pendleton’s last season before retiring, as he muddled his way through 257 plate appearances and a .257 average floating between DH and 3rd Base for the 1998 Royals. Clearly this was not a very memorable showing.
Starting Pitcher: Scott Elarton (2006)
As a fan, I am still profoundly insulted by this. He was 10 shades past finished before he ever put the Royals jersey on for the first time. In 2006, he struck out a mind-boggling 49 batters in 114 innings. I remember watching him pitch and just feeling bad for the guy. He always looked like he was pitching in pain, and you always had the feeling his arm could go flying into the 14th row with the next pitch. It was almost as if he had to point to something in the stands to get the batter to look that way, then pitch the ball really quick when the batter wasn’t looking to get anyone out. Elarton put up a 5.34 ERA in those 114 innings in 2006, so naturally, the Royals brought him back in 2007. He threw 37 innings with a 10.46 ERA before the Royals finally showed a bit of mercy and just sent him packing.
Here’s hoping 2010 was the last installment of Royals baseball that will ever contribute to this group, and that we will never again be forced to scream out “WTF?!?!?!?” prior to the first pitch of the Royals season ever being thrown.