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Mike Sweeney Retires a Royal

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After signing a one day contract today, Mike Sweeney announced his retirement from baseball.  He left as he came in – a Royal.

Thus ends one of the more surprising, promising, frustrating, disappointing and yet enjoyable careers in Royals history.

I’ve probably mentioned what amounts to a baseball fetish for first basemen.  I started watching baseball – REALLY watching baseball and taking in all the strategy and abilities – in the late 80s when George Brett had moved across the diamond to first base.  His retirement in 1993 was devastating, even though I knew it was inevitable.

With every first baseman who was supposed to take the wheel as master and commander of the Royals offense – Bob Hamelin, Larry Sutton, Jeff King – there just wasn’t the same threat coming from that position for the Royals.

Then Mike Sweeney came along.

For the now too-cool teenager and college student, I wasn’t going to let the same hero worship effect my baseball viewing.  Oh no, no sir.  He’s Mike Sweeney – he’s good, but, he’s not George Brett.  No big deal.

That was how it appeared, while on the inside, I knew the Royals had found the slugging first basemen they’d sought since Brett left.  In a then-loaded Royals offense, Sweeney stood out as my favorite of the bunch.  And yeah, I held him in high enough esteem to at least approach Brett in my mind.

Surrounded by Carlos Beltran, Jermaine Dye and Johnny Damon, Sweeney was the captain and the biggest threat in the lineup.  From 1999 to 2002, he had a line of .322/.396/.535/.931 and averaged 63 extra base hits a season.

There’s a certain crop of fans that took to booing Sweeney during return trips with the Mariners.  I get the frustration – while watching Kevin Appier, Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye get traded for chicken feed, the Royals were left with Beltran and Sweeney.  They were able to sign Sweeney to what was then the largest contract in team history.  After multiple injuries and a Carlos Beltran trade, it seemed they made the wrong choice.  Sweeney became the symbol for the Royals small-market sadness and fans took it out on him.  It still doesn’t make sense.

In his prime, Sweeney was among the best hitters in baseball – not just on the Royals but in the entire league.  For his career, he sits behind just Brett (and tied with Billy Butler) in regards to Royals batting average (I’m not going to count Jose Offerman‘s .306).  He’s third in career slugging percentage among Royals and surpasses even Brett in Royals OPS.

He’ll be a Royals Hall of Famer.  That much is clear.  The Royals hold him in as high regard as the other legends.  For evidence, consider that the Royals hand out team awards bearing the names of George Brett, Frank White, Willie Wilson, Paul Splittorff, Dan Quisenberry.

And Mike Sweeney.

He’s the “aw shucks” former face of the franchise, but he’s the one who stayed.  He WANTED to be in Kansas City in a time when everyone else was being jettisoned out.  He didn’t choose to be injured to the extent that he was.  He didn’t choose to bear the brunt of Tony Muser‘s scorn – when he said the Royals should be drinking tequila instead of consoling themselves with milk and cookies and prayer, it was a clear shot at Sweeney’s dry and devout lifestyle.

Well Tony Muser can shove it.

I’m not going to comment on Sweeney’s “soldier for Christ” outlook.  He can believe what he wants to believe.  You can believe what you want to believe.  That’s not why we’re here.

Mike Sweeney retired a Royal, and I believe that’s how it should have been.

Career Statistics

YearGPARH2BHRRBIBBSOBAOBPSLGOPSOPS+
1995441100000.250.250.250.50031
1996501902346104241821.279.358.412.77096
199784266305887311733.242.306.363.66874
1998923113273188352438.259.320.408.72888
199915064310118544221025448.322.387.520.907128
200015971710520630291447167.333.407.523.930131
2001147632971704629996464.304.374.542.916132
2002126545811603124866146.340.417.563.979148
2003108463621151816836456.293.391.467.858120
2004106452561182322793344.287.347.504.851117
2005122514631413921833361.300.347.517.864127
2006602522356158332848.258.349.438.787102
2007742892669157381729.260.315.404.71988
2008421361336821276.286.331.397.72897
2009742662568158341731.281.335.442.777108
201056168213858261421.252.321.444.765110
20103011011263618914.263.327.475.802123
20102658101222857.231.310.385.69586
16 Seasons145458487591540325215909522613.297.366.486.851118
162 Game Avg.1626528517236241015868.297.366.486.851118
GPARH2BHRRBIBBSOBAOBPSLGOPSOPS+
KCR (13 yrs)128252787001398297197837484555.299.369.492.861119
SEA (2 yrs)10437636941814522645.276.332.452.784112
PHI (1 yr)2658101222857.231.310.385.69586
OAK (1 yr)421361336821276.286.331.397.72897
AL (16 yrs)142857907491528323213901517606.298.366.487.853118
NL (1 yr)2658101222857.231.310.385.69586

We’ll see ya at the induction ceremony, Sweeney.

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