Look around any stadium on game day and you’re bound to see more than a few in the crowd — from George Brett to Tony Gonzalez; the old jerseys our favorite players left behind. But All-Stars fade and rising stars soar … out of reach of the payroll — especially in Kansas City. Parting can be such sweet sorrow — well, sometimes. Victor Wishna explains, in this month’s 'A Fan’s Notes.'
We sports fans love our teams — and even when we hate them, we sort of love to hate them. There are ups, there are downs, the relationship continues.
But sometimes it’s more personal. Because when it comes to individual players — the ones we’ve gotten to know, the ones we love — there isn’t always next year. And when the end comes, it can get complicated. As the old song goes, breaking up is hard to do ... comma comma down, dooby do down down.
Take the odd, are-we-gonna-get-back-together-again-or-not courtship between the Royals, along with their fans, and Eric Hosmer. When he walked off the field with Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, and Alcides Escobar during last season’s final game, we all assumed it was into the sunset. As the old cliché goes, if you love something, let it test free agency.
But the market has proven a little lukewarm, and the Royals have opened up their lovin’ arms — to the tune of a reported $147 million. So there’s a chance this fling with Hos, who debuted as a Royal in 2011, might just survive the seven-year itch.
But should it? That’s a lot of money, and Hosmer is just one player. Last year, with much of the championship core still around him, he had his best season ever. The Royals didn’t.
But then, he is a winner, and a leader. And how can you put a price on intangibles? And how can we bear the thought of seeing him in some other team’s jersey?
It’s a different story for quarterback Alex Smith, who has one year left on his Chiefs contract. If sports-talk radio is any indication, legions of fans say either Smith goes or they do. At least one set fire to his No. 11 jersey, which seems like a colossal waste of money, and lighter fluid. And those of us who, for some reason, watched it on YouTube will never get those 90 seconds back. But then, heartbreak will make people do crazy things.
Crazy, perhaps, because Smith just had, statistically speaking, the best season of any QB in team history. His first half in the Wild Card game against Tennessee was one of the best by a quarterback in the NFL playoffs ever.
But then came the second half.
Of course, it’s not all Smith’s fault. He doesn’t play defense; he doesn’t coach; he doesn’t officiate. It’s not that he’s lost big games for the Chiefs, it’s that he hasn’t gone out there and won them, at least not often enough. And since he plays for a coach with his own late-game limitations — and a franchise that has made an art form of postseason futility, it’s not a good match.
Especially not when fans’ eyes have started to wander.
For the first time in forever, the Chiefs have a plan and a new crush. You don’t trade up 17 spots in the draft to grab a quarterback in the first round for the first time since 1983 if you don’t think you’re in love. And when Patrick Mahomes ended the season by driving his new team for the winning score in the most meaningful meaningless game in memory, hearts across KC fluttered anew.
The Chiefs will likely move on from Smith, perhaps in exchange for a few draft picks. And the money they’ll save by jettisoning his contract will allow them to surround their new beau with some talented tokens of their affection.
As for Hosmer, it probably makes sense to let him go, too, to use those resources to get started on a rebuild that shouldn’t take 30 years.
It ain’t over ’til it’s over. But sometimes, it’s over.
We’ll always have our memories of the good times. If this is farewell, to Smith and to Hosmer, I think we can agree: Indeed, ’tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
But it’s much better to have loved and won.
Victor Wishna is a writer, editor and sports fan. He lives in Leawood.