Schlemiel, Schlimazel and the Kansas City Royals

OK, it seems a bit like overkill to keep writing this stuff about the free-falling Royals … but even for someone who has witnessed the repeated disasters of Kansas City baseball the last 15 or so years, this current power outage is something new and kind of breathtaking.

Since May 15 -- this is now 11 games, so we’re not talking about just a bad weekend here -- the Royals have hit two home runs, both (as mentioned in the last Royals column) by 438-year-old Miguel Tejada. This means that the Royals have not had a regular hit a home run in about two weeks. Or, you can say it this way:

-- Since May 15, the Royals have been outhomered by the Chicago Cubs PITCHING STAFF.

-- Since May 15, the Royals have been outhomered by Eric Chavez and, no, just Eric Chavez.

-- Since May 15, Miguel Cabrera alone has hit THREE TIMES AS MANY HOMERS as the Kansas City Royals.

-- Since May 15, the Royals have exactly as many home runs as Jedd Gyorko, which is not as interesting or depressing a stat as the others but it does offer an opportunity to say “Jedd Gyorko,” which I intend to do at every opportunity.

Jedd Gyorko! See?

I did mention this comical home run dry spell in the last Royals piece, but there’s something in there I did not mention, something that in so many ways gets at the heart of the curious beast that is Kansas City Royals baseball.

Last October the Royals fired hitting coach Kevin Seitzer. That made me a bit sad because I like Seitzer a lot, everybody in Kansas City does, he’s a very public figure around town (Seitz and another former Royals player, Mike MacFarlane, own a baseball academy in Kansas City) and, even more, because I think coaches -- especially hitting and pitching coaches -- take a wildly disproportionate percentage of the blame when teams struggle.*

*This happens everywhere, but it is especially true in Kansas City, where coaches are fired early and often. The team has had two general managers since 2001. I could be miscounting on this, but off the top of my head I count that the Royals have had at least six first base coaches over that same time, including Doug Sisson who apparently was causing such significant damage that the Royals felt it necessary to fire him IN THE MIDDLE OF LAST SEASON.

But, such is life. The Royals didn’t hit and Seitzer was the hitting coach and he got fired. Life isn’t always fair.

The Royals have fired so many coaches through the years that they now have it down -- they fire the coach and then in the firing press conference praise him so profusely for the job he did that you wonder why in the world they would have let go of such a talent. This was especially true of Kevin Seitzer. General manager Dayton Moore sounded like he was firing his favorite uncle at the end of season press conference. “Kevin’s one of the most gifted coaches I’ve ever been around,” he said. “Kevin’s one of the greatest people I’ve ever been around. I respect him immensely. I mean him and (Royals latest first base coach) Rusty Kuntz are 1 and 1A for me ...”

It was so gushing that you wanted to stop the press conference right there and comfort Dayton by telling him that it wasn’t too late, he could still hire Seitzer back. But the logical takeaway from it was that Dayton probably did not want to fire Seitzer. He was, rightfully, backing the decision of manager Ned Yost, who did want to fire Seitzer for a very specific and compelling reason.

The reason? Yep, you already knew it: The Royals didn’t hit for enough power.

“(Seitzer’s) philosophy was basically to stay in the middle of the field and to the off side,” Yost said. “I think we’ve got a group of young power hitters who are capable of hitting home runs.”

Sigh. The Royals fired their hitting coach so they would hit more home runs, and now they’re not hitting ANY home runs. That could be the subtitle of the Royals book I have to write someday.

But believe it or not, this thing gets even wackier than that. Less than a month later, the Royals replaced Seitzer with, get ready for it, TWO hitting coaches. Yep, two, they hired Jack Maloof as their regional hitting coach and Andre David as the assistant to the regional hitting coach. It should be noted -- it was noted at the time -- that the Royals are not the first team to hire two hitting coaches, this has become something of an odd little mini-trend. Philadelphia did it. St. Louis did it. A couple of other teams. So this isn’t just some hair-brained Royals idea.

But there were two things that made the Royals’ hire slightly different from the others

  1. They were, I believe, the first American League team to do it.

  2. They are the Royals.

The first thing might not mean anything, but I did find it interesting. The second thing means everything. Someone else could hire two hitting coaches and suddenly (and probably coincidentally) start crushing the ball. There was exactly zero percent chance this would happen with the Royals. There was no doubt once the Royals hired two hitting coaches, absolutely no doubt, that it would become a punchline at some point. It only took a month and a half.

The Royals have as many hitting coaches as home runs since May 15.

You know the difference between a schlemiel and a schlimazel, right? They are both Yiddish words, made famous by Laverne and Shirley. A schlemiel is a fairly easy word to define, he or she is a bit like a klutz, someone who messes things up all the time. The definition of schlimazel is a bit harder to get at, it is something a little bit more existential. A schlimazel is someone who bad things happen to. The classic vaudeville explanation is that a schlemiel is the guy who spills a bowl of soup. The schlimazel is one who has the soup spilled on him. Wile E. Coyote is a schlimazel.

The Royals are both schlemiel and schlimazel. But they’re more schlimazel. Yes, they often make moves that are not particularly smart, true, but they could be relatively harmless … and instead they backfire in unnecessarily spectacular three-dimensional explosions. Ken Harvey might not have been good enough to play every day (much less be the Royals All-Star selection) but he did not HAVE to get hit smack in the back with a relay throw. Mike MacDougal might not have been quite good enough to close in the big leagues but he did not HAVE to throw the ball 10 feet over the catcher’s head from 40 feet away. Kerry Robinson should not have been playing center field but he did not HAVE to climb the fence and have the ball land five feet in in front of him. Juan Gonzalez was a dreadful signing but he did not HAVE to suffer a minor day-to-day injury that kept him out for five months. On and on and on.

So, yes, the idea that hiring two new hitting coaches as the way to get more power out of players was kind of a schlemiel move -- klutzy, silly, pretty illogical, mostly pointless. Who really thinks a hitting coach -- or two of them -- can make that much of a difference? But to hire two hitting coaches to get more power and THEN go on a semi-historic powerless streak … yeah, that’s Kansas City Royals baseball.

Also: Jedd Gyorko!