A changing of the guard had taken place. The team had a new General Manager, a new Director of Personnel, and a new Coach. The philosophy of the organization had evolved away from using old veterans to young talented new comers with lots of potential. Several of the new young athletes had surfaced in the previous season, but their sophomore year on the field proved to be challenging for the team. (See Sophomore Jinx.)
The team experienced a slump that extended over half the season and they lost more than 75% of their games during this stretch. For all their talent, it seemed that one major piece was missing for most of the year. By the end of a long and frustrating season, the team was finally coming together and it was only due to injuries to a key player that they didn’t finish on a winning streak.
Could the description above fit the 2012 Kansas City Royals? It’s close. Over the past few years the Royals have experienced a changing of the guard at all levels from the field to the front office. They’ve transitioned from a team that plugged holes with washed up veterans with nowhere else to play, to a team of young upstarts low on experience but high on potential. The young players have shown flashes of their talent and gave us a glimpse of what they could accomplish in 2011, but have been mired in several slumps caused by injuries and growing pains, and a lack of a strong starting pitching rotation in 2012. The first paragraph might be referring to the 2012 Kansas City Royals, but it’s a more accurate description of the 1990 Dallas Cowboys.
In 1990, the Dallas Cowboys introduced the sports world to a trio of extremely talented players who became commonly referred to as “The Triplets.” Michael Irvin, a wide receiver, was drafted in the first round of 1988. Troy Aikman, quarterback (you remember him – the guy who hawks buffalo wings for a living now), was drafted in the first round of 1989. Both players started the season and were featured throughout by the Dallas Cowboys. But it wasn’t until 1990 first round draft pick Emmitt Smith, running back (and the NFL’s future all-time leading rusher), took the field in October following a long holdout with a 121 yard rushing performance that the team finally began to fulfill its promise.
In my opinion, the Dallas Cowboys of 1990 make a good comparison to the 2012 Kansas City Royals. Both teams changed coaches, executives and philosophies from previous seasons. Both teams had introduced a few of it’s young studs the previous year. The Cowboys had Irvin and Aikman, the Royals have Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas (I’d like to put Salvador Perez in this group too, but I’ll hold off until I see his performance when he returns from his knee injury.) Both teams slumped out of the gate – the Cowboys lost 75% of their games between September 16 and November 11. The Royals notoriously lost 12 in a row in April.
Then came Emmitt Smith, the missing piece of the puzzle for the Cowboys. By November 18, 1990, Emmitt had firmly established himself and the Cowboys rattled off four consecutive wins and were within one victory in their final two games (or a single loss by the Saints) of making the playoffs. Then Troy Aikman separated his shoulder and everything went down the toilet – at least for 1990. But good things, actually VERY good things were to come for the Cowboys over the next few seasons.
It’s difficult to say exactly what the missing piece might be for the Royals. The easiest answer is that the Royals are missing a couple of quality starting pitchers. But what if having Salvador Perez behind the plate to call different pitches on the night of April 11 in Oakland would have prevented Jonathan Broxton’s nightmare-inducing 12th inning meltdown (that still haunts my dreams to this day) and could have changed the course of this season? What if this painful loss hadn’t kick-started an avalanche of bad luck and lost confidence that took a month to overcome? What if Salvador Perez is the missing piece?
I had a chance to watch Lorenzo Cain play in Surprise this Spring before he was injured and he was quite impressive. I think he could have made an impact for us if he had been on the field this year, and if you think Jarrod Dyson is the answer in Center, you’re kidding yourself. Maybe Cain is the missing piece, but probably not.
And what about the looming presence of Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi in Omaha? Could they make an appearance this year, establish themselves, and then help take the Royals to the playoff promised land next year and beyond? What if Mike Montgomery figures it out? (I have my doubts. Serious doubts.) What if the Royals packaged Cheslor Cuthbert and Yordano Ventura in a trade and picked up a #1 pitcher? (I don’t want to trade these guys, I’m just speculating on what could happen.) You never know what might transpire to supply the final piece of the puzzle and ultimately push the Royals over the top.
In 1989, the Cowboys record was 1-15. The next year, when all three Triplets appeared on the field at the same time they were 7-9 and probably only missed the playoffs due to an injury to Aikman. In 1991 they were 11-5 and reached the playoffs. In 1992 they were 13-3 and began their Super Bowl run with victories in 1992, 1993, and 1995.
Is it really that much of a stretch to see the Royals add a missing piece or two and playing competitive baseball in the second half of this year? Am I dreaming to think the Royals can make the playoffs in 2013? Would you commit me to a mental hospital if I said the Royals could be World Series bound in 2014?
Picture yourself in 1990, reading a Cowboy’s website (if there had been such a thing) and ask yourself the same questions. Would it have been realistic to expect a 1-15 team to be competitive the next season, to reach the playoffs the following year, and to begin an unprecedented Super Bowl run after that? You probably would have called the writer crazy and delusional. In hindsight we know this was the beginning of one of the greatest football dynasties ever. (It’s difficult for me to type these words considering my all consuming hatred of the Cowboys.) But few, if any, could have realized this in 1990.
I don’t know exactly what the future holds for the Royals, but I believe they may be just a couple of missing pieces away from becoming the team we’ve all dreamed about. The Cowboys proved it can be done, it’s not just a pipe dream, and I know it can happen again. I believe it’s possible because as I learned in school – history has a way of repeating itself. And as Yogi Berra once famously said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”