Kansas City, Mo. Hiring a new manager might not be as simple as finding the man the Kansas City Royals want. It will have to be someone who wants the Royals.
This small-market franchise has fallen upon hard times. Deep problems may prove sobering to any would-be successor to Tony Pena, who resigned Tuesday night with the worst record (8-25) and second-lowest team payroll ($36.9 million) in the major leagues.
Barring a miracle turnaround, the once-proud Royals are about to go 21 straight years without making the postseason. They lost a franchise-record 104 games in 2004, and this year, lacking power as well as speed, could be even worse.
Fan interest in a town that once boasted such stars as George Brett, Hal McRae, Bret Saberhagen and Frank White has been shrinking.
Although aging Kauffman Stadium is still one of the prettiest parks in the American League, it needs expensive renovations to keep pace and help create new revenue streams. Yet voters rejected a sales tax last November that would have raised the funds for the renovations.
Most galling to fans is that the Royals have developed only one outstanding player the past 10 years who stuck with them -- first baseman Mike Sweeney.
Gone to wealthier clubs are Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran and Jermaine Dye.
"The Royals have made progress," owner David Glass said Wednesday from New York, where he was attending owners' meetings. "Now, our record wouldn't indicate that. But our record is deceptive in that we've got some positive things on this team. You can look at the young pitching and feel really good about it."
Patience will be a must for the next field boss. Hoping to follow the same path to success as AL Central rival Minnesota, the Royals are committed to enduring the lean times that accompany a youth movement.
Pena, the AL Manager of the Year after a surprising 83-79 mark in 2003, helped develop some promising pitching prospects. Zack Greinke, Runelvys Hernandez and Denny Bautista one day could form the core of a solid rotation.
There are also young prospects at several positions. But the Royals, young and old alike, have fallen into bad habits as boneheaded blunders became almost routine.
"The best way to get through this is stick with the plan No. 1, stay together as a group and don't fracture," general manager Allard Baird said. "You have to look through the clouds to see the sunshine, but it's a very unique talent to be able to embrace so many young guys who may not be physically ready and develop them at the major-league level."
Major-league managerial experience also may be something the Royals look for, which would work to the advantage of former Phillies boss Larry Bowa.
"You absolutely have to consider (experience)," Glass said.
The hard-nosed Bowa was 337-308 at Philadelphia before being fired after last season. He would be the polar opposite from the upbeat Pena, who once showered with his uniform on after an error-filled loss to "get the stink out."
Bowa hopes to talk with Baird.
"Because you're young doesn't mean you're going to get beat," Bowa said Wednesday. "Playing winning baseball is hard. You've got to put in the time and the effort, respect your other teammates, respect your manager and respect your coaching staff. It takes work."
Another possibility would be White, the gold-glove second baseman of the glory years who now is managing the Royals' Double-A team in Wichita.
"If they're interested, then I'm interested," White told the Associated Press. White, who was 73-66 last year in his first season at Wichita, also took issue with the notion that he was so popular in Kansas City, that the Royals, should they hire him, might find it difficult ever to fire him. White and Brett are the only former players whose statues stand outside Kauffman Stadium.
"If I was worried about that, I wouldn't be in Wichita," he said. "I can get fired in Wichita just as easily as in the major leagues.
"It's about loving the job, about wanting to be one of the top people in the game and thinking you can make a difference. I wouldn't want the Royals to worry about having to fire me. It's all about performance."
The final consideration may be which candidate is best suited to shepherd a roster full of youngsters through their growing pains. The Royals have the No. 2 overall pick in the draft next month, and Glass has said they would take the best player available without regard to signability.
"Young players have to be a big part of the equation. Going young and developing talent through the system is the only answer for small-market clubs like ourselves," Glass said. "We need a manager to be someone who can work with young players, someone with the patience to communicate with young players."
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