Wednesday, I learned about the Kansas City Royals' deadline-day activities the old-fashioned way: via Twitter, via my smart-phone. And what I learned gave me yet another jolt of appreciation for just how funny baseball can be.
Not funny in the Joe Garagiola, baseball-sure-is-a-funny-game-now-let-me-tell-you-a-story sense of the word. Rather, in the this-shit's-so-ridiculously-strange-that-nobody-could-make-it-up sense of the word.
Seven years ago, the Kansas City Royals were terrible. Heading into the last weekend of the season, they sure seemed to have the first pick in the next summer's amateur draft all locked up. After all, they had to play three games in Detroit, and the Tigers were the class of the American League Central (and would ultimately reach the World Series). What's more, the Tigers would finish that season with a 3.84 ERA, best in the league.
Essentially, all the Royals had to do was lose once or perhaps twice more, and that first pick would be theirs.
They won the first game, 9 to 7 in 11 innings.
They won the second game, 9 to 6.
They won the third game, 10 to 8 in 12 innings.
Somehow they wound up with 62 wins, just one more than the Tampa Bay Rays. Who thus owned the first pick in the 2007 draft. It's quite possible that no team in the history of the draft has so spectacularly earned their way out of the No. 1 overall pick.
Which didn't have to matter. Remember, baseball's a funny game. The Royals might have wound up being ecstatic about getting the No. 2 pick. But no, not this time.
The Rays selected David Price. With the second pick, the Royals chose Mike Moustakas. And you probably know the rest.
Fast-forward to 2013, and the morning of July 23. The Royals' record stands at 45-51. They're eight games out of first place in the Central, a dozen games out in the wild-card standings, and there are credible suggestions that the Royals should trade Ervin Santana. Hell, maybe even All-Star closer Greg Holland.
Considering their long history of abject mismanagement, there's certainly no guarantee that the Royals will trade Santana (let alone Holland). But the suggestions are accompanied by rumors, and it seems that absent some sort of bizarre miracle the Royals might well trade Santana, maybe even for a hot prospect or two. Since, you know, that seems the going rate these days for a good starting pitcher.
The Royals have not lost a game since then.
At the trade deadline, I was tooling around Gettysburg and looking for Gettysburg Eddie Plank's final resting place. I was not expecting to read any news that the Royals had traded Ervin Santana. Not after all those wins. I can report that I was mildly surprised to learn that the Royals had traded for Justin Maxwell, who's sort of the prototypical fourth outfielder. I was mildly surprised that the Royals, who have struggled terribly to develop starting pitchers since the (early) 1980s, traded a promising young pitcher for Justin Maxwell.
I was especially (mildly) surprised because even while the Royals were winning seven games in a row, they gained almost no ground in the standings because the Tigers and the Indians were both also winning practically all of their games. At the deadline, the Royals still trailed the Tigers by seven full games in the Central, and the Orioles by five full games in the wild-card standings. Not to mention three other teams by smaller margins. At the deadline, the Royals still had just a 1 in 100 chance of actually reaching the playoffs.
Hmmm, 1 in 100 ... Seems like a good time to trade Ervin Santana and maybe Greg Holland, right? I would have done it, and you would have done it.
But we weren't there. We weren't there, with everyone riding the Seven Game Winning Streak Happy Train. We weren't there, with an owner who'd promised a winning season, and perhaps a first-place season, by now. We weren't there, trying to save our professional reputation and perhaps avoid the ignominy of being fired and ultimately taking a lesser position with another organization.
We weren't there. You weren't there, and I weren't there.
But I do like to think that if I had been there, I would have done what was best for the long-term health of a long-suffering franchise, instead of making a short-term move that might, if everything works out, result in an 85-win season this year, but probably a 75-win season next year. We'll never know, though. General managers and owners are humans, too, just like me and you. And baseball's really, really funny sometimes.
For much more about the Royals and their never-ending quest, please visit SB Nation's Royals Review.