It was 1965 and the genre of American musical was in its heyday. Nearly everything that Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein wrote was guaranteed to win awards on Broadway and the silver screen. As such, they decided to take on a heartwarming story of the von Trapp Family Singers, a popular singing group prior to World War II. The story, starring Julie Andrews (and later covered by Carrie Underwood) featured a song that I was reminded of as we approached #42 in our countdown. “How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?” is the name of the song and it is about the character Maria von Trapp, who was boisterous, flightly, too frivolous, and frolicsome the the conservative file at the Abbey.
So today, I ask the musical question, how, Royals fans, do you solve a problem like the Tony Pena years in Royals baseball? In many ways, it was the bottom of the bottom. Numerous moments later in the countdown began in these years from 2002 to the middle of the night on May 10, 2005. On that day, Pena unceremoniously quit his position as Manager of the Kansas City Royals in a move widely believed was to avoid being served some sort of legal action upon stepping off the plane in Kansas City returning from Toronto.
Noted Royals and now national baseball writer Rany Jazayerli summarized the Tony Pena era on his blog, Rany on the Royals like so, “at their best brought us 92 days in first place in 2003, but at their worst gave us the spectacle of having the manager jump into the shower fully clothed to motivate his troops in 2004, then going so far as to guarantee the Royals would win the division when the team fell to 7-14 going into their game on May 1st at Yankee Stadium, where Pena and Baird decided was the perfect place for the immortal Eduardo Villacis to make his major league debut. (And, as it turns out, his swan song.)” CK: Spoiler for an item later in the countdown.
This is the 2003 AL Manager of the Year we’re talking about. He took a 2002 Royals team that finished with 95 losses and had them in first place after the first few months of 2003. He was the flagship hire by Allard Baird, and he was able to will a shitty 2002 team to play out of their gord for 2 months in 2003.
This is also the wildly inconsistent and, frankly, spastic manager that literally only had two good months in the 4 1/2 years as manager of the Royals. His .410 winning percentage is among the lowest of Royals managers and he managed the first 100-game losing team in 2004 and would’ve in 2005 until he “peace’d out.”
His slogan “Nosotros Creomos” (We Believe),was the mantra in 2003 and Tony Pena was able to will one blip on the radar screen, then parlay that into a Manager of the Year award and a contract extension. However, the team fell flat down the stretch and finished well out of contention in 2003. So what kind of team did Pena manage? The shit-burger 2002 team? The hot as Carrie Underwood’s legs team of early 2003? Or the also-ran late-2003 team?
These were the questions entering into the 2004 season. And that brings us to our 42nd Worst Moment in Royals history, April 17, 2004. I’ll let the Kansas City Star pick up the story from there. Some young denim-wearing whippersnapper named Rustin Dodd tells us the news, ”
The Royals were a trendy pick to win the AL Central in 2004. By Saturday, April 17, they had lost five in a row, and manager Tony Pena tried to break the tension by stepping into the showers in Minnesota with his uniform still on.
He lathered himself up with soap, complimented Aaron Guiel’s hair, and then returned back to his office.
“I had to do something,” Pea explained. “Make them laugh. Well, they laughed. We know we’re better than this. We know that.”
“We’re going through a tough time,” Pea said, “but every team goes through a tough time. I’m not going to let my team get down. I want my team smiling. Nobody is going to knock the smile off of my face.”
First off, we are contractually obligated to compliment Aaron Guiel’s hair. That dome was as close to perfection as any square inch on Carrie Underwood’s silky smooth body.
So what do you do with a problem like Tony Pena? Frankly, you look to what Tony Pena would do, or did, and do something so zany it would go down in the annals of Royals history. Did it work? Absolutely fucking not. The Royals lost 100 games for the first time in franchise history. There was pitching so bad on that ballclub and managerial decisions that the Royals are thankful that Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist during that era.
Pena would move to the Yankees organization where he has served as a long time bench coach. There have been no reports of fully-clothed showers, or midnight law-avoiding runs from justice, or any of the other goofy things Pena was linked to. Maybe Kansas City just didn’t know how to handle him.
In closure, we look back on the Sound of Music song and we hope to get closure on what to do about the problem of Tony Pena:
Oh, how do you solve a problem like Maria?
How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?
Farewell, Tony Pena. Your moonbeam was just too bright to stay in Kansas City.