Kansas City, Mo. — If their second half turns out as bad as the first for the Kansas City Royals, the season will go down as one of the worst in franchise history.
As bad as 1969, the expansion team's first year. As bad as 1970, when the Royals won only 65 games while struggling for a niche in the American League.
This team that many expected to contend might even finish as bad or worse than the 1999 bunch that staggered home with a threadbare 64 wins and set a team record for futility.
"We have not performed well," said David Glass, the former Wal-Mart CEO who bought the Royals last year for $96 million. "But I am not discouraged."
The Royals start the second half of the year tonight in Pittsburgh riding a seven-game losing streak. Their 34-53 record has them 21 games behind Minnesota in the AL Central.
Glass thought, and many players agreed, they could win 86 to 88 games this year and actually look like contenders for the first time since the 1994 strike stopped a 14-game winning streak.
But unlike many owners, in times like these Glass is not inclined to begin furiously pounding the panic button.
"It's been a really disappointing first half. All of us coming out of spring training thought this team would play better than it has," he said.
"I'm disappointed but not discouraged. I still think we have the opportunity to turn this season around and build something for next year. We are better than we've played."
What has saved manager Tony Muser's job is effort. Even on their toughest days, the Royals are rarely accused of dogging it.
"Our results are disappointing, but I don't think it's caused by a lack of effort," Glass said. "I think they've played hard. But things just haven't gone well. I think the players are probably as confused and as frustrated as any of us."
They're also embarrassed. Just ask their top player.
"I've said it several times the last few weeks that I'm embarrassed. Our record tells its story on its own," said All-Star first baseman Mike Sweeney.
"It's hard for me to look at that record and think I'm part of it. I think we're a lot better than that."
If they're not the worst team since Ewing Kauffman brought major league baseball back to western Missouri, the 2001 Royals are the streakiest.
Last Sunday's 14-5 rout at the hands of Houston was their seventh straight loss. Prior to that, the Royals won six in a row, including three wins at Cleveland.
From June 12 to June 16, they won five straight, giving hope that things were turned around. Then they promptly lost five straight.
The only player besides Sweeney who has played consistently well is shortstop Rey Sanchez, who has been charged with only two errors.
The team misses leadoff hitter Johnny Damon, who was dealt to Oakland when the Royals could not afford to re-sign him.
Perhaps at least partly because of Damon's absence, third baseman Joe Randa and right fielder Jermaine Dye are not experiencing anything close to the run-production years they enjoyed the two previous seasons.
Nevertheless, for now at least, Glass is staying the course.
"I still believe in the nucleus of the young players we have on this team," Glass said. "We just need to find ways to add to that, to fill it out in a way where we attack some of our deficiencies and start winning.
"Winning changes everything."