Once a year the St. Louis Cardinals come to Kansas City and remind the Royals how dumb they were in 1999.
That’s the year Bill Althaus of the Independence, Mo., Examiner, practically pleaded with the front office to take a look at this muscular kid he’d seen belting tape measure home runs for Ft. Osage High, a short drive from Kauffman Stadium.
They did. But they decided the big youngster lacked a true position and was probably going to have trouble keeping his weight down. So they sat by while St. Louis drafted Albert Pujols and molded him into a three-time National League MVP, one of the most feared power hitters of his time.
Compounding the Royals’ embarrassment, the greatness that got away is put on full display year after year when the Cardinals play interleague games in K.C. With friends and family cramming the park, Pujols has reached base in every game he’s ever played in the home park of the home town team that snubbed him.
Now, 11 years later, can the Royals afford to let it happen again? It’s a different administration, a different general manager. But can they take a chance on letting another potential superstar from their own neighborhood slip through their fingers?
It’s a decision they’ll face on Monday night if local high school legend Bubba Starling is still available when the Royals pick overall No. 5.
Unlike Pujols, whose vast potential was suspected only by a few, Starling is practically a household name among sports fans in Kansas City and wherever major league scouts and general managers discuss great 5-tool prospects.
A multisport star for suburban Gardner-Edgerton High School just southwest of Kansas City, Starling was the Kansas high school athlete of the year. According to his growing legend, the modest, well behaved Bubba hits 500-foot home runs, throws a football 55 yards from his knees and dunks over basketball players who stand half a foot taller.
Carrying 200 pounds on a chiseled 6-foot-5 frame, he’s the best high school athlete in the draft, according to Baseball America. And he certainly is no secret to the Royals. They’ve been courting him since he was 14, bringing him to games, letting him hit in their indoor facility.
But, there’s a catch. A big catch. Besides being a standout outfielder, he was a great high school quarterback who rushed for 2,471 yards and 31 touchdowns his senior season. Recruited by just about every major program in America, he picked Nebraska.
As the baseball draft approaches, the Huskers are reminding him almost daily of their promise to also let him play baseball.
The Royals aren’t saying what they’ll do if Bubba’s on the board. If they pass on him, fans are sure to be upset.
“What I would say is that it’s obviously an important question for our organization and for the Kansas City community,” said general manager Dayton Moore. “But it’s very inappropriate for me to comment at this time about any individual player. It’s not fair to the player, it’s not fair to our organization, and it’s not fair to the other 29 organizations.”