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.
|162 Game Avg.||162||652||85||172||36||24||101||58||68||.297||.366||.486||.851||118|
|KCR (13 yrs)||1282||5278||700||1398||297||197||837||484||555||.299||.369||.492||.861||119|
|SEA (2 yrs)||104||376||36||94||18||14||52||26||45||.276||.332||.452||.784||112|
|PHI (1 yr)||26||58||10||12||2||2||8||5||7||.231||.310||.385||.695||86|
|OAK (1 yr)||42||136||13||36||8||2||12||7||6||.286||.331||.397||.728||97|
|AL (16 yrs)||1428||5790||749||1528||323||213||901||517||606||.298||.366||.487||.853||118|
|NL (1 yr)||26||58||10||12||2||2||8||5||7||.231||.310||.385||.695||86|
We’ll see ya at the induction ceremony, Sweeney.