What have the Royals got to lose?
This Sunday, Zack Greinke will pitch the last game of the season. It’s a home game against the New York Yankees, and it might just be the last game of Greinke’s entire career.
Unfortunately, the game doesn’t have much stakes. The Kansas City Royals’ draft odds are locked in: even if they somehow fall to third place, they’ll have the same shot at the number one pick. And the Yankees, for the first time since 2016 and only the fifth time since 1995, have been eliminated from the playoffs.
But that does open a door for something magical to happen: letting Zack Greinke hit. The Royals should absolutely let him hit in Sunday’s game and it will be incredibly disappointing if he doesn’t at least get one plate appearance.
Why would we want this to happen? It’s simple: Greinke loves hitting more than he loves pitching, and he was one of the only pitchers who could hold his own at the plate in his National League prime. Does that mean he was a good hitter? No, as his career wRC+ of 59 would attest. But he was leagues better than his contemporaries—Clayton Kershaw, Greinke’s teammate in Los Angeles—has a career wRC+ of 6.
There are a few great stories about Greinke’s hitting, too. They both revolve around his first big league home run in 2005. Quite the uniform matchup, too.
The first story is that, well, Greinke called his first home run. As Allard Baird said:
Buddy Bell was the manager. Buddy and I were in the office and he came in the office and said, “You know, hitting’s not that hard.” Buddy and I looked at each other and said, “Zack, elaborate.” He started giving all these little reasons, and on the surface they were all good reasons, but it takes more than that to be a good hitter. So he leaves the manager’s office and I turn to Buddy and say, “Let’s map it out. Is there a chance he’s going to hit in Arizona?”
So we went through the schedule and realized there was a chance he might get to hit. We go to Arizona, and either the night before he started or the night he started, Buddy and I are in the office. He was going by and I said, “Come in here, Zack. You’re going to get your chance to hit. You still feel it’s pretty easy to hit?” He goes, “I still feel very confident.” Buddy and I looked at each other and laughed. If you look at his start there, he got banged around pretty good. But his first at-bat he hits a home run, and I’ll never forget it. Buddy stepped out of the dugout and looked at me behind home plate like, “What?” It was something.
In the words of Joe Posnanski:
“Hey Allard,” [Greinke] said to Royals general manager Allard Baird and Bell before the game. “Watch me tonight. I’m going to hit a home run.”
“Guaranteed?” Allard asked back.
“Absolutely guaranteed,” Greinke said with that funny little smile he often has on his face. “Just watch.”
Sure enough. Home run. A few years later, Greinke used the video of that event in order to cheer up and inspire Alex Gordon.
Alex Gordon, was really struggling at the plate. Gordon just couldn’t hit anything at all, and one day Greinke came up to him and said he wanted to show Gordon something in the video room. Gordon was thrilled — Greinke is renowned for his baseball eye. For a long time, the Royals thought Greinke would make a great scout after he retired (that plan is probably scuttled since Greinke will clear $300 million in baseball after he plays out this contract).
Anyway, Gordon followed Greinke into the room and got ready to receive some advice. On the television, cued up, was the home run Greinke hit against Arizona in his fourth big league at-bat. They watched it together. And then watched it again.
“Do more of that,” Greinke said.
Greinke hasn’t hit a lot lately. This is mostly due to the fact that he hasn’t pitched in the National League since 2019, and of course partly due to the universal designated hitter rule’s existence over the last two years (and 2020). And in 2021, he only had a pair of plate appearances.
And, let’s not kid ourselves here, Greinke probably wouldn’t do very well at the plate. He was only a good hitter as a pitcher, and the Royals would be better served by anybody batting instead of Greinke. That’s why the universal DH rule is a thing.
But come on! This is the last game of the worst ever season of a franchise who is no stranger to crappy baseball. Greinke batting would be fun, and it would be a nod to a player who is on his way out—whether he retires this year or fights through one more subpar season until Father Time welcomes Greinke with a warm embrace. It’s the perfect thing to do from an entertainment perspective, which is ultimately what the Royals are.
So give the fans what they want. Give Greinke what he wants. Let Zack hit!