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No soothing Royal pains

Bell appears to have lost cause on his hands

Buddy Bell is one of Terry Francona's best friends in baseball, a third baseman with a long and distinguished playing career, a baseball lifer known also as a strong family man, the father of five children, one of whom, son David, followed him into the big leagues.

So would someone please enlighten us to why Buddy Bell, of all people, should endure so much losing, as a player, coach, and manager, now stuck with a team, the Kansas City Royals, on pace to be the worst ever?

Bell broke into the big leagues in 1972 with the Indians, and never finished higher than fourth. He went to Texas, where the Rangers lost 98 games in '82.

His first season as manager, 1996, when Francona was one of his coaches, the Tigers lost 109 games. Bell was fired by the Tigers in '98, the team having lost 85 games by Sept. 1.

Two years later, Bell surfaced in Colorado and actually tasted success, finishing two games above .500. But the Rockies fell 16 games below .500 the next season, and were 6-16 when Bell was fired.

Now he's with the Royals, a team on pace to lose more games than the Amazin' Mets of 1962, on pace to lose more games than any team since the 1899 Cleveland Spiders. As of Friday, the Royals were 10-35, a start exceeded in futility by just three clubs: the 1904 Senators, the 1932 Red Sox, and the 1988 Orioles, who were 9-36.

Before beating the Yankees Friday night, the Royals had lost 13 straight. They did not have a win outside the division (0-14) and were 2-20 on the road. In fact, they had lost their last 14 games in the Bronx.

During the losing streak, they were outscored, 100-49, and they had a 7.63 ERA. They lost games in which they led, 6-0, 5-0, and 4-0.

``It's getting to be pretty sickening," said first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, who should have been allowed to keep the World Series ball from 2004 on humanitarian grounds -- so he'd have at least one tangible reminder of what it felt like to win. ``I'm sick to my stomach, going and losing every day."

Hard to remember that the Royals were the American League's model franchise in the '70s, when they had stars like Bret Saberhagen, Amos Otis, Frank White, George Brett, Dan Quisenberry, Willie Wilson, and John Mayberry. Even in small-market Kansas City, they won six division titles, two pennants, and a World Series when Ewing Kauffman was owner.

Royals fans now are benumbed by a team well on its way to losing 100 games for the fourth time in five years, one whose only stars -- Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran, and Jermaine Dye -- were dealt for cost-cutting purposes and brought little back in return.

There's a website, selltheroyals.com, dedicated to shaming current owner David Glass, the man with the Wal-Mart connections, into dumping the club. That appears to be a futile exercise, as Glass told the Kansas City Star this past week he has ``no intentions" of selling.

The primary grievance against Glass is his refusal to spend what it takes to compete, despite raking in millions from revenue sharing, national TV money, Internet rights, etc. Glass did nudge the payroll from $36 million to $47 million last winter, adding veterans like Scott Elarton, Mientkiewicz, Mark Grudzielanek, and Reggie Sanders, but those were viewed as Band-Aid moves for a team in need of a major infusion of talent.

The man most likely to take the fall for the Royals' woes is general manager Allard Baird, who was unable to make the best of a very bad situation, especially considering his mediocre haul for Damon, Beltran, and Dye.

A team that did not have the depth to survive major losses started the season with three of its starting pitchers on the disabled list, including the promising righty, 17-game loser Zack Greinke, who lost his desire to play, according to Royals insiders, and went home, leading the club to put him on the 60-day DL. Other key players -- slugger Mike Sweeney and closer Mike MacDougal -- also went down in the first few weeks.

``We're going through a period now I just didn't think was possible," Bell said. ``The situation's turned into every night it's a pressure cooker. You have a lot of young guys, and it's tough for them to handle sometimes."

Glass has promised to overhaul the organization, and reportedly received permission to interview Dayton Moore, the Braves' executive who pulled out of the Sox GM search last fall. If Moore wanted no part of Boston, why on earth would he even consider KC? The guess here is he won't.

A pressing issue with Bonds

It doesn't come entirely as a surprise to former Giant J.T. Snow that Barry Bonds has struggled in his bid to surpass Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list. Entering the weekend, Bonds was batting just .220 this month, and had only three home runs in 79 plate appearances.

``He's always pressing when he nears a milestone," the Sox backup first baseman said last weekend in Philadelphia. ``He does that in the playoffs."

The Giants were eliminated by the Mets in the 2000 National League Division Series, winning the first game then losing three straight despite a game-tying, three-run pinch home run by Snow in the bottom of the ninth inning, a game the Giants would lose in the next inning.

Bonds had a miserable series, batting just .176 (3 for 17) with no home runs and an RBI. It continued a legacy of poor playoff performances by Bonds, who in five postseasons to that point was batting .196 (19 for 97) with 1 homer and 6 RBIs in 30 games.

``I talked to him on the way home on the plane," Snow said. ``It was weird, because he was like one of us.

``To see a guy like that, to know he's trying and putting pressure on himself like other guys do, was a pretty amazing thing. The thing was, it bothered him that he wasn't doing well in the postseason. I saw a pretty human side of him that not a lot of people know about or even see on the airplane. I sat and talked with him probably a couple of hours."

Snow said that Bonds is an ``easy target, but was good with teammates in the clubhouse. He can be kind of squirrelly with the media, standoffish, all that stuff. I guess it comes back to get you at some point or another."

Snow said he didn't read ``Game of Shadows," which is a damning recitation of Bonds's alleged use of performance-enhancing substances.

``I played with the guy for nine years," said Snow. ``I don't have to read all that stuff."

Did he sing, 'How does it feel . . . to be out at home'?

Who knew?

So what does Bob Dylan, troubador-turned-DJ, sing on his 65th birthday at the start of his weekly radio show on XM Satellite Radio? Try ``Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

Baseball was the topic last week on Dylan's ``Theme Time Radio Hour," following hours in which he devoted shows to ``Weather," ``Mothers," and ``Drinking."

That baseball remains close to Dylan's heart shouldn't come as a complete surprise. He's toured minor league ballparks the last two years, including a stop in Brockton's Campanelli Stadium with Willie Nelson.

On Dylan's playlist for his tribute to baseball: Billy Bragg and Wilco's ``Joe DiMaggio Done It Again," Buddy Johnson's ``Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit the Ball?," ``The Wizard of Oz" by bluegrass artist Sam Bush, honoring shortstop Ozzie Smith, ``Baseball Boogie" by legendary R&B singer Mabel Scott, and ``Newk's Fadeaway" by Sonny Rollins. He also mixed in calls from classic baseball games, like Curt Gowdy announcing Ted Williams's home run in his final at-bat with the Red Sox.

There are bootleg copies floating around of the baseball song Dylan wrote, ``Ode to Catfish," a tribute to Hall of Famer Catfish Hunter that includes the lines:

``Used to work on Mr. Finley's farm But the old man wouldn't pay So he packed his glove and took his arm An' one day he just ran away. Catfish, million-dollar-man, Nobody can throw the ball like Catfish can." And for those who have attended Dylan concerts in which the legend never spoke a word, you'll be surprised to hear he cracks wise in his new calling.

``If diamonds are a girl's best friend, why do so many girls get mad when you want to go to the ballpark?" Dylan said on his show. ``You tell me."

Maybe Dylan could line up a gig with Bronson Arroyo, the former Sox pitcher who hasn't set aside his guitar just because he was traded to the Reds. Arroyo will join Raquel Aurilia, the wife of Reds teammate Rich Aurilia, and a local Cincinnati band, Screaming Mimes, in a benefit concert for the Cincinnati Reds Community Fund at the Madison Theatre in Covington, Ky. (just outside of Cincinnati) June 15.

Etc.

No shortage of talent
Has any team ever done a better job than the Red Sox of sharing the wealth with shortstops? Four ex-Sox shortstops came into the weekend hitting .300 or better: Nomar Garciaparra (now playing first for the Dodgers) at .375, Hanley Ramirez of the Marlins at .335, David Eckstein of the Cardinals at .321, and Edgar Renteria of the Braves at .314. Orlando Cabrera of the Angels was hitting .275, while Adam Everett of the Astros was hitting just .221 but had made just two errors. Renteria has reverted to the form that made him one of the most respected shortstops in the game. ``He's been everything I expected, and more," Braves second baseman Marcus Giles said. ``Obviously, on the field, but even more importantly, as a leader in the clubhouse." Here, of course, he was known for his 30 errors. Renteria acknowledged he was never comfortable in Boston. ``If you do good, everybody likes you," he said. ``If you do bad, everybody hates you." Renteria said the constant scrutiny affected him. ``It's not for me," he said. ``If you think you're going to play good every day, to me, that's wrong. If you think you're going to play bad every day, that's wrong, too. You don't want to feel like that. You don't want to put pressure on yourself that you have to do this, you have to do that."

Counting the milestones
When he wins his 200th game, Curt Schilling will become the 11th pitcher since 1985 to reach that number. Of that group, five have pitched for the Red Sox: Roger Clemens (332), David Wells (227), Jamie Moyer (207), Pedro Martínez (202), and Schilling. Another three wins and Tim Wakefield will be one of 27 pitchers to win 150 games in that span.

Catcher makes a good target
A.J. Pierzynski may have a friend in Red Sox strongman David Ortiz, but the White Sox catcher and world-class instigator may want to watch his back, judging by a recent poll conducted by Sports Illustrated. In the poll, 470 players were asked, ``Which major leaguer would you most like to see get beaned?" Pierzynski was the leading vote-getter with 18 percent, while Barry Bonds (14 percent) was second. Let's hope that ``beaned" was not referring to head-hunting but just throwing at a hitter. Even White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen was unsparing of his catcher. ``If they ask me about it, yeah, [I would vote for him]," Guillen said.

Pitcher eats up this batter
Red Sox outfielder Coco Crisp has an obvious breakfast tie-in, but Brandon Webb, the Arizona righthander who has a National League-leading eight wins, may soon be giving him competition. Webb's game-day routine includes a stop at IHOP for an omelet and pancakes. So far, he's unbeaten in four starts at home. Freebies? ``Well, it's IHOP, so it's not that big of a deal," he said. ``They haven't recognized me yet."

The K Zone
My buddy Hench in Los Angeles passes along an observation that has pretty much gone unnoticed in these parts: Kevin Youkilis, who has been celebrated for his patience at the plate, his high on-base percentage, and the superb job he's done of leading off, entered last night's game fourth in strikeouts on the Red Sox with 36 in 167 at-bats, just one behind Ortiz and Wily Mo Peña and six behind Manny Ramírez. At that pace, over 500 at-bats, Youkilis would finish with 108 K's. The good news is he also has walked 32 times, which would have him finishing with 96 walks. Best, then, to place those whiffs in context: His willingness to go deep in the count will inflate his strikeout total. Peña has 37 K's, but in just 112 at-bats; over 500 at-bats, that would be a season of 165 whiffs, Mark Bellhorn country.

Frank display of emotion
And as if there weren't enough reasons to admire Frank Robinson, who belongs in the top five of any discussion of the game's greatest players, how about the way he was so deeply affected by having to remove third-string catcher Matthew LeCroy in the middle of an inning Thursday, after the Astros had stolen seven bases and taken advantage of two LeCroy throwing errors. Robinson was so distressed about embarrassing LeCroy in that fashion that he had tears streaming down his cheeks after the game as he explained why he had no choice.

Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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