The Kansas City Royals tend to repeat their mistakes.
Last summer, the front office traded frustrating shortstop Ángel Berroa. His replacement, Tony Peña Jr., turned out to be even worse.
In 2006, the organization stripped two radio reporters of their credentials after they subjected team owner David Glass to a line of questioning that he found impertinent. A few weeks ago, the team's PR department went after a popular commentator who dared to suggest that the team's medical trainer should be fired.
Displaying the bunker mentality of a failing regime, team officials recently lashed out at Rany Jazayerli, a dermatologist who, in his spare time, writes about baseball and the Royals. His blog, Rany on the Royals, is full of wit and insight. (Frustrated by the team's lack of offense, Jazayerli has called the hitters' penchant for making outs "metronomic.") He also co-hosts a weekly program on WHB 810.
On June 24, Jazayerli posted a 3,000-word entry calling for the head of Nick Swartz, who has been the Royals' head athletic trainer for the last 19 years. Jazayerli documented numerous instances in which the Royals' medical staff appeared to diagnose or treat injuries improperly, including the bad shoulder that outfielder Coco Crisp finally carried to an operating table after weeks of poor play.
The Royals reacted defensively. During a pre-game huddle with reporters, Manager Trey Hillman made a point of praising "Nick and his crew" on the job they were doing.
Team officials also targeted 810, informing the station that shows featuring Jazayerli as a guest should expect less access to players and management. Mike Swanson, the team's vice president of communications, dressed down Jazayerli's radio producer in front of other media members, according to Kansas City Star sports writer Sam Mellinger.
Response to the Royals' freakout was predictable. "Ranyban" became a Twitter page where fans and other bloggers mocked the Royals for being so thin-skinned. The sports Web site Deadspin took notice, as did ESPN's Rob Neyer. "Royals' 'handling' of Dr. Jazayerli ... Real smart, guys: piss off an energetic writer," Neyer wrote in a tweet.
Tensions cooled. The Royals backed away from freezing out 810. Jazayerli conceded that his "laser-guided" takedown of Swartz might have neglected other factors, such as the role of the team's orthopedic surgeon.
As the storm clouds dissipated, Jazayerli was able to have a laugh. On his blog, he joked that the public-address announcer was due for a Swartzing. "Or maybe the guys who set off the fireworks on Friday nights. They suck."
Such mirthful page turning was unlikely to come from the Royals, however. But then, this is a tight-assed bunch.
Hillman and the man who hired him, General Manager Dayton Moore, take themselves very seriously. Moore nurtures an image of an Eagle Scout. Hillman sounds at times like a righteous man who has been forced to stand in a brothel all night.
These traits have been noted. Even Joe Posnanski, who sees the good in everyone, has remarked on Hillman's testiness.
What has received less attention is the way the organization seems to be re-creating the presidency of George W. Bush.
Bush believed that he was called by God to lead the nation. Hillman has said that God told him to move across the Pacific Ocean and manage a team in the Japanese baseball league.
The two leaders are alike in other ways.
Bush built a ranch in Crawford, Texas. Hillman lives on a ranch outside Austin, Texas.
Bush called himself the Decider. Hillman occasionally refers to himself as "Trey Hillman."
Political advisers would find Bush reading his Bible at breakfast. Hillman brings the biggest Bible to team chapel services.
Bush liked to dispense uncreative nicknames (Stretch! Brownie!). Hillman refers to coaches John Gibbons and Bob McClure as "Gibby" and "Mac." Catcher John Buck is "Bucky."
Bush was intellectually insecure. Hillman hates admitting that he might have made a mistake.
Early in his first term, the ever punctual Bush locked the door of the Cabinet Room, putting Colin Powell, who was late to the meeting, in his place. Early in his tenure, Hillman lectured his players on the field, in front of fans and the opposing team, after a sloppily played spring-training game.
The similarities extend beyond Hillman's Texas roots and flinty certitude.
Bush mandated coats and ties in the Oval Office. When he became GM, Moore instructed executives to wear coats and ties on game days.
During a town-hall debate in 2004, Bush was asked to name three mistakes he had made. He declined. After the 2008 season, which concluded with a fourth-place finish and rumblings that Hillman had lost the clubhouse, Moore said he hoped Hillman would take the same approach in 2009. "From my viewpoint, I hope he doesn't change a thing," he told The Star.
And, of course, both administrations have made attempts to silence and savage critics.
The de-credentialing of radio reporters Bob Fescoe and Rhonda Moss recalled Press Secretary Ari Fleischer's warnings that "people need to watch what they say, watch what they do." Or was the incident more reminiscent of the right-wing shill Jeff Gannon getting credentials for the White House press corps?
Jazayerli is a little like Joseph Wilson, the former ambassador who outraged the Bush administration with his op-ed article for The New York Times asserting that Iraq's nuclear capabilities had been distorted. The comparison isn't perfect, though. Wilson likes to grandstand and cuts a dashing figure. Jazayerli is up to his elbows in teen acne when he's not raising a family and watching the Royals from his home in suburban Chicago.
But each man hit a nerve, in part because they spoke the truth. Iraq was not on the cusp of attacking anyone with nuclear weapons. And the Royals need to do a better job of keeping their players healthy.
Jazayerli now says he regrets that his injury column went after Swartz so directly. But he stands by his original assertion that the Royals' medical treatments are "light-years behind the industry standard."
That the Royals care what Jazayerli thinks is partly a good sign. He's a longtime contributor to Baseball Prospectus, a think tank that takes a math-oriented approach to understanding the game. A handful of BP writers have gone to work in the front offices of Major League clubs.
In short, he's smart, and listening to smart people is helpful to any endeavor.
But attempts to harass and delegitimize Jazayerli reminded me of George Brett's f-bomb tirade against sports commentators who criticize Hillman. Moore and Hillman were clearly delighted that Brett had taken time from his golf game to bitch at a TV reporter — Moore sent Brett an appreciative text message. The correct response was to be embarrassed, and not just because Brett was wearing clown pants.
Nodding appreciatively in Brett's direction sends a message that Moore and Hillman are prissy. Yeah, Jack Harry (one of the media personalities Brett identified by name) is a grumpy old fart. But, fellas, second-guessing comes with the territory. If it's not happening, people aren't interested.
And interest is what gives you prestige and pays your salaries.
Even Bush, the former managing general partner of the Texas Rangers, could handle the heat that comes with running a baseball team. Running for president in 2000, Bush said signing off on the trade that sent Sammy Sosa to Chicago — Sosa hit 545 homes runs as a Cub — was the biggest mistake of his adult life.
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