Royals pitchers and catchers reported to spring training in Surprise, Arizona, on February 12. Rita and I headed to Arizona on February 15. Royals position players reported to Surprise on February 17. Rita and I returned to Kansas City on February 19. We had been in Tucson. Surprise! We were not at spring training. More on our trip in Lonnie’s Jukebox at the end of this post.
Sure Sign of Spring (1): Tweets by fans “standing on the corner” of Buck O’Neil Way and Paradise Lane in Surprise.
Sure Sign of Spring (2): Tweet by Boulevard Brewery showing its canning line in anticipation of the baseball season.
Sure Sign of Spring (3): Tweets from spring training by Royals photographer Jason Hanna. That’s Salvy and Hosmer at Surprise yesterday.
Team Projections for 2020: As of today (and for another month), every MLB team is undefeated for the regular season. But what about the coming year? Here is the USA Today take:
In the American League, five teams are projected to win more than 90 games. These are the same five that made the playoffs last year, with the same three as division winners and Oakland/Tampa Bay in the wild card game.
The National League is projected to have the same division winners as 2019, and Washington would repeat in a wild card slot (which led to its World Series victory last year). The Reds would replace the Brewers as the other wild card team. But only LA and Atlanta are expected to win more than 90 games. The other three playoff spots will be contested by nine teams separated by only six wins (82 to 88). Could be quite a pennant race.
As for the Royals, all predictions I have seen are that they will improve over last year. Not a high bar – they won 59 in 2019. The USA Today chart has the Royals at 65 wins. Click here and here for articles on the PECOTA rankings from Baseball Prospectus (Royals – 68 wins). Click here for the ZiPS rankings from FanGraphs (Royals – 70 wins). In a monthly baseball breakfast of non-expert analysts, the Royals numbers went this way: Jeb – 75, Steve – 73, Lonnie – 70, Bob – 69 and David – 66. I’m rooting for Jeb to be right (or low).
Below, some early betting lines on the over/under for team victories (which may have changed by now). Note the lack of a line for the Astros who are going through their post-scandal purgatory.
My Bet: With the guidance of my gambling counselor, David Matson, I am the holder of a $5,000 bet on the Royals to win the World Series. The good news is that only $5 is involved. The odds are 1000 to 1, and a sucker’s bet at that. But it’s fun to ponder.
Royals Roster: There are a lot of players in spring training, but the Royals roster to start the regular season is mostly set. The bullpen may have some open issues. For those wanting to dig deeper, here are some stories related to the roster: Sports Illustrated (click here); Royals Review (Click here); and MLB.com/Jeffrey Flanagan (click here).
For a graphic presentation, I like FanGraphs as shown below. This website projects the starters for each team and provides a narrative on the players (click here). The number rankings are similar to WAR and show overall relative value. To put the numbers in perspective, the best player in MLB (Mike Trout) under this system is 8.5; Aaron Judge of the Yankees is 5.8; and Lorenzo Cain of Milwaukee is 2.8.
To give you an idea of where the Royals stand on rebuilding, below is the chart for the Los Angeles Dodgers. This was posted before the big Dodgers trade with the Red Sox. They now also have right fielder Mookie Betts (5.7) and pitcher David Price (3.1). So there is some distance to go before the Royals again contend for the World Series.
FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches: This park, named after a “healthy lifestyle” brand, is the spring training facility for the two pennant winners from 2019 – the Astros and the Nationals. Each team has signage to indicate that they are the World Champions, the Astros in 2017 and the Nationals in 2019. The difference is not just the two years. The Nationals are proudly adding their new signage while the Astros are defending their right to keep their title after the sign-stealing scandal.
As spring training opened, the press coverage at FITTEAM Ballpark was quite heavy – about seven reporters/camera operators for the world champion Nationals and about fifty for the Astros. The sign-stealing scandal remains the biggest news of the spring and shows no sign of going away. Much of the damage to the Astros has been self-inflicted, leading me to some Larry David moments to share.
Houston Astros Apology (Not): I am a fan of Larry David for at least three reasons. For co-creating Seinfeld; for creating and starring in HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm: and for playing Bernie Sanders on Saturday Night Live. In character on Curb, Larry is not the kind of guy to apologize when he does something offensive. Sort of like the Houston Astros.
For example, during the clubhouse celebration after winning the AL pennant last year, an Astros official mocked a female reporter. The Astros first response was that the reporter fabricated the story. But there were too many witnesses for that to hold up. Then came the begrudging apology that was taken right out of a Curb episode (see it here, 1:50 – warning, a couple of F-bombs).
That PR nightmare apparently did not teach the Astros any lessons. As spring training opened, the Astros held a press conference to “apologize” for the sign-stealing scandal. Many of the responses by the owner and players looked like they were written as satire by Larry David. Owner Jim Crane led the way:
The press has not been good for the Astros, so I don’t need to pile on any further.
Next question: How long does this last? When can the Astros stop attempting to apologize and just play baseball? Larry David offers some help on that question, what he calls the closing of the “sorry window” – see how it works in this clip (1:00).
1978 – 2019 (But Maybe Not 2020) – Phillie Phanatic: When Rita and I took in a game in Philadelphia last September, we got an in-person look at the Phillie Phanatic, maybe the best known official team mascot in professional sports. He was very entertaining. The Phanatic is described as a furry, green, bipedal flightless bird, and his official biography claims he is from the Galapagos Islands.
But now there is troublesome litigation in the City of Brotherly Love. The company that designed the Phanatic back in 1978 is saying that a quirk in the law allows them to reclaim the copyright ownership. Big money is involved – the Phillies sell a ton of Phanatic merchandise. Will the pending litigation make the Phanatic a free agent? Or maybe extinct, like some of the tortoises of the Galapagos?
One of the team’s defenses is that the design has changed over the years and is no longer covered by the copyright. To emphasize that point, the Phanatic that arrived in spring training this year (on the right below) has several changes from last year’s version (left). For those with an interest, the subject has gone viral, just Google “Phillie Phanatic changes.”
In keeping with the Galapagos origin, the Phillies tweeted that the new Phanatic “has evolved, but clearly hasn’t matured.” They attached a video showing that the evolution did not include a new ability to fly (click here, 0:20).
Website Update: Speaking of the Galapagos, a new travelogue has been added to the Lonnie’s Jukebox website. Rita and I were with Larry and Diana Brewer in the Galapagos in 2007. Viewing the animals made famous by Charles Darwin was a treat, a true “Moment to Remember” (setting you up for later). Rita’s favorite is the blue-footed booby (below). It can fly. We did not see any green flightless birds. Click here for the show.
Lonnie’s Jukebox – High School Favorites: Rita and I recently spent a weekend in Tucson with friends of long standing (60-plus years for some of us). We made a similar journey last year for this mini-reunion of four couples connected by the Van Horn class of 1959. I reported on that trip in Lonnie’s Jukebox in Hot Stove #100 and linked some records that were popular during our high school years. I put the others to work this year, asking that they each make a selection for the Jukebox. We also talked a lot about the Chiefs.
Below, the Chiefs side on the left has Larry and Diana (Sullivan) Brewer in red and Lonnie and Rita in gray. The other side has Janet (Pavola) and Phil Clemens in front, and Shirley (Maycock) and Gary Nuss in back. Larry and Di now live in Phoenix. The other four have retired to Tucson after living in Colorado for many years (making them Broncos fans, but rooting for the Chiefs in this year’s Super Bowl).
I’ll start the selections with the picks from the Van Horn class of 1959. Just click on the song title to take a listen.
Shirley: “Moments to Remember” by the Four Lads. The perfect song for reminiscing classmates.
Diana: “Honky Tonk – Part 1” by Bill Doggett. Maybe the best all time for dancing the West Coast at Teen Town.
Janet: “One Night” by Elvis Presley. Originally an R&B hit by Smiley Lewis, but the Elvis cover cleaned up the suggestive lyrics.
Phil: “Dream Lover” by Bobby Darin. Showing his range, this song was between his top-10 hits “Queen of the Hop” and “Mack the Knife.”
Lonnie: “It’s All In the Game” by Tommy Edwards; “(It’s Been a Long Time) Pretty Baby” by Gino and Gina. The original “Lonnie’s Jukebox” came out in 2009 in anticipation of our 50th reunion. I had gone through my old 45-rpm record collection and selected 52 songs for the narrative. But I cut two so that there would be 50 for the 50th. These are the two that did not make the cut. Some trivia on each: The music (not the words) for “It’s All in the Game” was written by Charles Dawes in 1912, some 13 years before he became Vice President to Calvin Coolidge. Gino and Gina were one-hit wonders, never hitting the charts again. As for the 50 that made the original Lonnie’s Jukebox, click here and you will see the usual suspects: Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, etc.
Two of our group qualify as outliers for their high school graduation year.
Gary: Class of 1952, Pomona High School (CA). “High Noon” by Tex Ritter. Gary was specific that the version should be the Oscar winning song by Tex Ritter used in the movie. The bigger hit was by Frankie Laine, but Tex was the first to deliver the line of “Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’…”. The darlin’ was Grace Kelly who was threatening to forsake Gary Cooper if he had one last gunfight.
Rita: Class of 1968, St. Teresa’s Academy (KC). “You Were on My Mind” by The We Five. Rita’s top 10 could easily all be the Beatles, but she instead selected a song from one of the first albums she bought as a teenager.
Now back to 1959, but this time a graduate from North Kansas City High School.
Larry: “Shout” by Otis Day & The Knights in Animal House. Yes, I know that this is the 1978 version of the song and that it was performed by a fictional band. But let me explain.
Larry and I did not know each other in high school, but both headed to engineering school at Rolla in the fall of 1959. We met when we pledged Sigma Nu Fraternity. [Sigma Nu Trivia: Royals manager Dick Howser was a Sigma Nu at Florida State.]
Our first Sigma Nu party weekend coincided with the release of the best party song of all time: “Shout” by the Isley Brothers. Party weekends at Rolla (about six a year) were worthy of Animal House comparisons in some (but not all) ways. The school had 3,000 males and 30 females, so there was an invasion of coeds from schools all over Missouri. The “Shout” scene from the toga party in Animal House is a close reminder of some of our parties (below, two of my fraternity brothers at a toga party at the Sigma Nu house in the early ‘60s – before jumping up to dance like John Belushi).
More of the story. In our sophomore year, I fixed Larry up on a blind date with my Van Horn friend Diana Sullivan. She became a regular at our Sigma Nu parties. She and Larry got married. As seen above in their matching red Chiefs tee-shirts, they are still sharing “Moments to Remember.”