It’s difficult going from hero to zero.
That’s what’s happened to longtime popular Kansas City Royals mainstay Billy Butler, that is if you listen to local talk shows or read the scathing chat lines where fans can attack a man's character behind the cloak of secrecy.
Butler arguably has been the Royals’ most popular player for the past seven years. One reason being, he's been the team’s most productive player, which endears itself to the fervent hometown fan base.
Another reason is that Billy is just likable. He looks more like a player on the old man’s slow-pitch softball circuit, with arms of a lumberjack and a girth of a guy you’d like to toss down a few brews with.
In the drudgery of what has been Royals baseball in recent years, you could always count on Butler. There were rumors he was born with a baseball bat in his crib. Until this season, he got out of bed hitting line drives. He sprayed the ball all about Kauffman Stadium and many times out of it.
But somebody has kidnapped Butler’s God-given ability this season. He has hit just three home runs, this from a guy who two years ago mashed 29. At least he’s been consistent — after a homer-less April, he has hit one in each of the last three months. The schedule hit the 100-game mark on Wednesday and not only has Butler left the yard just three times, he has only 20 doubles and, of course, no triples. That’s 23 extra-base hits, a paltry amount for a hitter of his ilk and one who for the most part has occupied the most important run-producing slot in the order.
The back of his baseball card says he should hit. Even last year, considered a down year by his standards, he had 42 extra-base blows. In 2012, he had 62. In 2009, maybe his best all-around year, he had a staggering 72. Included in that number was 51 doubles, which used to be his trademark despite his lack of speed.
Butler maintains in published interviews it’s not his bat speed that has eroded. But how else do you explain it? At the baseball-peak age of 28, he is simply too young to forget how to do what comes naturally to him. But game after game you watch him kill rallies by pounding the ball to third or shortstop for double plays (he had another on Wednesday to take the American League lead). His strikeouts are up, along with his frustration. After every out, his eyes roll and his look is that of just learning his puppy had gone missing.
You never hear mention anymore of his monicker “Country Breakfast.” You don’t see players in the dugout pointing to the jars of barbecue sauce, which was a common sight last year. The fun-loving Billy has been replaced by a player who is emotionally beaten down and searching for his past form. It can't be fun for him going from "The Man" who on Tuesday found himself hitting behind sub-.200 hitter Mike Moustakas in the batting order, which is a slap in the face.
The Royals face a difficult decision in the offseason. Butler is coming up on the final year of a contract that will pay him id="mce_marker"2.5 million in 2015, which is way overpaying for what has become a singles hitter. It’s hard to imagine with the fiscal tightness of the organization that they’ll pay him that much. In all honesty, the Royals don’t know if this year is an aberration or if this is the Butler from here on out.
It will be a difficult decision to make. Do they pay him the astronomical one-year sum for meritorious service and everything he has provided on and off the field (where he’s considered a star in the community)? Or do they pay for the Butler they know he can be and hope this has all been a bad dream and normalcy returns next season?