One for Wil(l)neau, or #willmcdonaldthebest

So this is how it ends. Will McDonald (now ExRoyalsReview on Twitter), longtime mainstay of Royals Review, has decided to call it a day after eight years of blogging about the Royals. During that time, Royals Review grew from just some guy’s blog to a team site on the fledgling SB Nation network to perhaps the most popular Royals blog around.

With the management formerly of Royals Authority taking the helm, things should be in good hands. Still, it is hard for many of us to imagine following the Royals without the incentive of knowing the referents for Will’s next brilliantly-written combination of anger and comedy. How will we get through the season without more Royals Bibliomancy or Mitch Maier’s Letters Home From Baseball Camp, or expressions of irritation over Royals prospect Wil Myers spelling his first name incorrectly.

Will has been a huge inspiration. Don’t hold it against him, but, while I never “worked” at Royals Review, I probably would not be blogging today if it were not for reading Will’s stuff. Will’s posts garnered attention far beyond Royals fandom — I think the first “big break” his blog received was when Keith Law linked to it in one of his ESPN chats. I cannot summarize Will’s work, but that is the nature of all good art. So as a tribute to Will (or “Freneau,” a moniker he adopted in recent times in tribute to a poet from the era of the Revolutionary War) and as a public service, I will briefly go through just a few of McDonald’s best moments of the last few years.

Perhaps my favorite McDonald piece is still a relatively early post from 2007 when the Orioles and Royals faced off. The Orioles were accompanied by former Royals catcher Paul Bako. Will, of course, latched right onto this, expressing the “betrayal” of Royals fandom by the greedy free agent: Watch Your Bako. Arguably, all of the classic McDonald traits are there: above all the sharp end directed at the nostalgic and ignorant cliches so often found in much “mainstream” baseball writing. In this case, Will uses a backup catcher as an occasion to poke fun at the anger at players leaving through free agency:

Royals-Orioles just got a whole lot more interesting.

As you will recall, in December of 2005 Bako joined the Royals. Only 34, the expectation throughout the Midwest was that Bako would finish his career as a Royal, probably playing through age 45.

Thousands of fans envisioned a bright summer day sometime during the 2010s when they would stand up and cheer as Bako blasted his 15th, or even 20th career home run, in a Royal uniform. They wanted to witness his 5th career stolen base, his 150th career RBI, his 10th career triple, in a Royal uniform. Yes, its silly, but big round numerical landmarks are important to us. Especially when its one of our own, a true Royal like Bako.

What becomes of a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Or does it explode?

Certainly Will’s publicized moment occurred when he announced that Carl Crawford would be opening an antiquarian bookstore after he signed with Boston. It is a brilliant piece in itself, and even had a bit of actual resonance in American literature. But it was, at least to most of us, pretty obviously a joke riffing on a comment by Crawford that he had not “read a book in forever.” But a few Boston-era booksellers and literary enthusiasts took it seriously, and when Crawford’s verified twitter account “confirmed” the story, things really took off. The whole thing got cleared up pretty quickly, but after reading the bi-coastal accounts both in an LA Times blog post and, of course, the New Yorker, one gets the feeling that Will had inadvertently Sokal-ed some smart people. Will even got interviewed by FanGraphs Audio!

McDonald was not singling out Carl Crawford. The Crawford piece really needs to be read as a spin-off from an earlier series of posts on the long-time friendship, nay, intellectual kinship, between Arkansas literary raconteur Cliff Lee and Louisiana’s answer to Faulkner, Gil Meche. It began with their eyebrow-raising meeting in 2008 (“I can still remember the way Lee looked when he walked over to the radio, turned off NPR, and told Meche that he ‘was manifestly flawed if he didn’t at least consider an analog between the Levellers and the Abolitionists in this question as well’. Oh, how his eyes gleamed!”). It extended to Meche’s congratulatory call to Lee after the latter’s big playoff win in 2010 (“You needn’t finish… the truest part of the Old Testament for me remains the profound sense that Man’s fate, all too often, is a kind of profound estrangement. A wandering in search of home.”) and concluded (?) when Lee called Meche on the occasion of Meche’s surprising retirement with one year left on this contract (“Lee: I’m just thankful you didn’t label me a Ramsay MacDonald… Meche: Oh, but what if I had said Harold Wilson…” [they both giggle delightedly])

It was not all about pure hilarity, though. Will’s take on the Royals, well, let’s just say it sometimes made Rob Neyer sounds like Kansas City’s version of Hawk Harrelson. But given the Royals’ fortunes of late, can one really blame either of them? Anger and frustration are powerful motivators in the blogosphere, and the clash of Dayton Moore and Will’s views of the game led to some classic moments. This post is too long already, so I will simply single out probably the most incredible piece in the wake of then-manager Trey Hillman’s repetition of Dayton Moore’s claim that Royals fans were too impatient and needed to “Trust the Process.” It got links from, among others, Keith Law and Joe Posnanski, and, perhaps most impressively, inspired Rany Jazayerli (the “dean” of Royals bloggers) to make his one and only comment on SB Nation.

And really, Mr. Moore and Mr. Hillman, spare us your brilliant analysis of American culture. Frankly, you don’t know a damn thing about American culture, and you should be happy that you don’t. Your careers in baseball have been extremely unique compared to the lives of most Americans, in just about every way. Your level of compensation, your hours, your schedule, your amount of travel, your employment expectations, the way you dress for work, the people you work with, the places you work, the places you vacation, all of these things are extremely unusual.

Wow, Americans are into the short-term. Smashing analysis. I’ll have to borrow your copy of Megatrends 1982 to read more about it.

Outside of baseball stuff, here’s what I would take your advice regarding: best methods for sleeping on a charter plane, cool places to eat in Georgia or Japan, things I shouldn’t ask Jose Guillen, stuff about the Bible. That’s it. Because here’s the thing you don’t seem to understand, just how you don’t like us civilians telling you about baseball, we don’t especially appreciate being told about the state of American life from guys who generally know more about spitting etiquette.

Will was the centerpiece of classic Royals Review, but he also engendered a sense of community participation from similarly-minded fans. Thus, his brilliant posing of the eternal question of which of Jason Kendall or Jeff Francoeur was (is?) the superior leader was only topped by the comments it generated. Francoeur again galvanized the community when McDonald (inspired by a comment from, who else, Lee Judge) and his readers attempted to draw Life Lessons from Frenchy’s example.

Once again I am risking emphasizing Will’s comedic talents at the expense of his general skill as a writer. For other sorts of writing, I would recommend pieces such as his tribute to Mike Sweeney, his sober comment on Buddy Bell’s resignation, and above all his wonderful series of Royals radio affiliate profiles.

There really is no way to end this. The prospect of facing another (probably losing) Royals’ season without Will is daunting. But if there is a place to leave off for now, it has to be in Grass Creek, Wyoming. Will was the first to realize the important of Grass Creek as the midpoint between Kansas City and Seattle, and thus the strategic and moral significance of the small town in the seemingly endless, bitter struggling between the Royals and Mariners.

People are dying right now in Central Wyoming.

It was a battle made all the more bitter by the Royals stealing away Mariners stalwarts such as Gil Meche, Jose Guillen, Horacio Ramirez, Miguel Olivo, Yuniesky Betancourt, and, above all, Willie Hustle, the true symbol of the Grass Creek rivalry.

If I can’t end a tribute to Will McDonald with Willie Bloomquist, how can I end it? Cheers, Will. It won’t be the same without you.

We hoped you liked reading One for Wil(l)neau, or #willmcdonaldthebest by Matt Klaassen!

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

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Steve the Pirate
Steve the Pirate

I still can’t spend $11 at Taco Bell.