Thursday, May 11, 2006

Shielding Sweeney

Mike Sweeney was a normal looking big league catcher in the mid 90's. His career was going nowhere (former Royals manager Tony Muser later said that the team was trying to package him together with other players in several different trade scenarios). At 25, he looked less and less like a prized prospect, and more and more like yet another bust. The organization had lost faith in his ability to be the team's catcher of the future. He was a player without a position, and a suspect bat as well.

Early in the 1999 season, Royals first basement Jeff King unexpectedly retired, and Sweeney's career took a turn for the better. It was at that time that Sweeney transformed himself into a power hitting first basemen.

From 1999-2001, Sweeney posted exceptional hitting numbers. The Royals, after trading away other talented players and letting others leave as free agents, awarded Sweeney with a 5 year, $55 million contract just prior to the 2002 season.

He has missed considerable time due to various ailments in each season that followed.

Missed Games:
2002 - 36
2003 - 54
2004 - 56
2005 - 40

It is evident that Sweeney's body has violently broken down (despite still being in his early 30's, and never having suffered a serious injury on the field). The absence of the Royal's $55 million player (year after year) has been curiously absent in the Kansas City media's reporting of the Royals woes.

Last winter, Sweeney was very optimistic about the upcoming season. There were no hints about his lingering ailments or the subject of a forced, early retirement. In January, Sweeney told the KC Star that he was offered steroids by a Royals teammate in 1999 (the time in which his offensive numbers spiked, along with those of his teammates....the Royals offense produced several team records in 1999 and 2000), but ultimately refused to take part. Former teammate, and admitted steroids user, Jeremy Giambi, was on that 1999 Royals team, which finished 64-97 despite the impressive hitting performance from Sweeney and others.

This spring, Sweeney was again at the forefront of the team's marketing campaign, as well as it's efforts to sell taxpayers on the initiative to renovate the Truman Sports Complex.


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