I did a crapload of research on NCAA Tournament trends the last 10 years as it comes to Duke. Then, it was announced Mike Sweeney was retiring.
That Duke blog comes later.
I’ve always been unabashedly a Mike Sweeney fan. He was clearly the best player on the Royals while he was here – sorry Carlos Beltran. But what I will never understand is the beating he took from Royals fans.
I was at The Examiner and it was announced the Royals were releasing Sweeney – which was the right move because his body was broken down and he was never going to be that player again. It was time for both sides to move on. I dedicated an entire column as a thank you to Sweeney.
I’m not going to rewrite that, as there’s no point. But Sweeney did something no one else was willing to do at the time – remain in Kansas City.
Before Sweeney signed his contract, we had to say goodbye to Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, Kevin Appier – a lot of really good players. Sweeney signed up to stay. And he had one of the weirdest clauses in his contract – if the team had a winning record, he would be locked up longer.
That was huge, because it showed Sweeney wanted to be a winner – or the cynic could say it was a loophole to get him out of the contract because the Royals seemed to be going in the wrong direction.
There was some worry, and then 2003 happened. The Royals finished 83-79 and Sweeney was locked up. The truly ironic part was a lot of those wins came without Sweeney who was on the DL for parts of the season.
After his great seasons from 1999-2002 in which he truly earned that contract, the tide turned in 2004. He had a wrist injury to start the season. He wasn’t able to contribute. The Royals team that was supposed to make the playoffs after additions of Juan Gonzalez, Brian Anderson, Benito Santiago and Curtis Leskanic struggled mightily. The Royals not only failed to make the playoffs but lost 100 games for the first of three straight seasons – though I still maintain none were as disappointing as 2004.
The trips on the DL were more and more commonplace, as were the losses over the next few years. And while this happened, Sweeney’s role as captain and face of the team turned into a curse.
He became the scapegoat and had to bear the brunt of fans desperate for a winning team in Kansas City.
Fans would say things like, “We picked the wrong guy. If we wouldn’t have paid Sweeney, we could have paid Beltran.” But Sweeney took less money to say. A 5-year, $55 million deal for a hitter with the years Sweeney had before signing it was a “hometown discout.” Other players left. Sweeney didn’t. Players that wanted to stay could have worked out a deal.
How bad was Sweeney regarded? When he appeared in a game last year with Seattle at Kauffman Stadium – where he made his way in baseball and built his career – and he was booed. Years after he left, he was booed. It wasn’t right and it wasn’t fair.
As bad as the teams were while Sweeney was here, imagine how bad those teams would have been without him. We’re talking 2003 Detroit Tigers or 1962 New York Mets bad.
Sweeney signed a one-day contract today to retire as a Royal – the club that gave him a chance and turned him into one of the top right-handed hitters in baseball at one time.
In gratitude, he took a chance on the Royals and their direction. That chance failed to pay off and he was villified for it.
There are plenty of villains in the history of the Royals, particularly during the debacle that was 2004-06.
But Mike Sweeney wasn’t one of them. And if you thought he was, you clearly weren’t paying attention.
Thanks for the memories Mike. During an unbearable time to be at Kauffman Stadium, you helped make things more bearable. Can’t wait to see you in the Royals Hall of Fame.
Welcome back home.