The 2002 Royals promise to be all jersey and no jock.

Black and Blue 

The 2002 Royals promise to be all jersey and no jock.

The Royals invited the media to a party shortly after the New Year to see how much the team has changed for 2002. When you've dropped a franchise-record 97 games and finished last in the American League Central, change is a good thing. Unfortunately, the Royals didn't change what most needs to be altered. There they were, not far behind me in the buffet line: Tony Muser and Allard Baird.

Neither appears to be evil. Nor are they slick salesmen trying to sell something neither believes in. They are both simply incompetent at their jobs. Heading into his sixth season here, Muser has been an incredible flop as Royals manager. Baird's work as general manager -- and his refusal to can Muser -- has disproved every glowing prediction about him when he took over for Herk Robinson three seasons ago.

"I've gotta give Allard Baird credit," says John Brattain, a baseball historian and senior columnist for TOTK.com. "He has taken a last-place club and managed to make it worse. He, with great skill, has permanently and irrevocably managed to bury the concept that when you hit rock bottom, there's no place to go but up. He has jumped into a hole, kept digging, hit rock, then started to use a pickax to continue on down."

Baird stood at the podium. "I have a very important announcement to make before we get started," he said. Forks fell silent. Chairs were pushed back on two legs. Necks craned, heads turned and idle chatter ceased. "I'm happy to announce that this morning we were able to re-sign Paul Byrd." The 31-year-old right-hander was 4-6 last season with the Royals and has a lifetime ERA of 4.59.

With those words, it became obvious that the only changes seen this season will be cosmetic. Sure enough, the Royals paraded out the team's new look: sleeveless road jerseys and cool bad-ass black tops for weekend play.

When you are not willing to spend money to improve your product, you dress up the same old stuff in a new package. This team remains filled with low-budget talent who haven't played in meaningful late-season games in more than ten years. Herk Robinson chose the exact moment that Chris George modeled the new black jersey to leave his front-row table and head out of the room. A silent show of protest from the tradition-loving former GM?

Muser stepped to the podium and praised Baird for signing the Yankees' light-hitting castoff Chuck Knoblauch and recycling former Royal Michael Tucker in the off-season. This is a sure sign that the Royals intend to sign quick-fix aging talent at the expense of grooming homegrown guys like Mark Quinn and Dee Brown. "Nobody's given up on Mark Quinn," said Muser. Sure. This is the same guy who tried trading Mike Sweeney in the spring of 1999 because he didn't think he had the tools.

And just in case Muser and Baird hadn't divided their club enough by alienating Quinn and Brown, Muser took a shot at Carlos Beltran, one of the best young players in baseball despite Muser's attempts to destroy the kid's confidence. "[Knoblauch] gives us some insurance in center field if Carlos Beltran has any trouble at all," said Muser. Just what Beltran wants to hear from his skipper: He's ready to replace him with a guy who hit .250 last season and had to move to the outfield because he can't make a 50-foot throw from second base.

The following day, the club started an "optional" three-day minicamp here in Kansas City. The only starting-position players who attended from a team that lost 97 games were Quinn and Carlos Febles. Actions speak much louder than black jerseys.

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