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As time runs out

When Kansas City Royals general manager Allard Baird gets fired this week, he probably will hop a plane to Miami and head to his house in South Beach. His wife, Julie, lives there. They see each other about 30 days a year, and on those special nights, they enjoy nothing more than a good meal.

Knowing Baird, they will talk not about why Royals owner David Glass chose to get rid of him or how 18 years with the organization vanished in an instant. They will ruminate about the future, their future, because running the Royals has trained Baird to look in that direction, and still, after years watching baseball's version of the Washington Generals, Baird is a believer.

"If I felt there was no light at the end of this, I wouldn't do it," Baird said last week. "I have to believe it."

By all indications, Glass' belief in Baird has waned. He talks ominously about change, and since he's not going to fire his son Dan, the team president, and has said he won't fire Buddy Bell, the manager, the blame would seem to fall on Baird, unless, of course, Glass chooses instead to scapegoat the clubhouse attendants, which would be consistent with the way the Royals have been run into the ground, past the plumbing and so deep into a hole they need earthmoving machinery to excavate themselves.

After Sunday's loss to Chicago, the Royals are 7-22, the same record they held a year ago when they lost a franchise-worst 106 games, a record that has them on pace to lose 122 games this season.

The probability of the Royals usurping the 1962 Mets' record of 120 losses is unlikely, and the chance of them ripping off a 19-game losing streak like they did last year is just as slim. Minute, in fact, according to a group of statisticians at UC-Riverside that calculates such things and has adopted the Royals because of their futility.

Sadly, the Royals' ineptitude is the only thing that keeps them relevant.

The failure, in part, is due to Baird's kneecapping decision-making. The only tangible return he got for trading his All-Star outfield of Carlos Beltran, Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye was shortstop Angel Berroa. And since his Rookie of the Year season in 2004, Berroa has been average at best.

No one knows what Baird could have done if Glass put his money (the Royals received upwards of $60 million in shared money last season) where his mouth is ("We've got to have a winning team to put out there," he told The Kansas City Star). Finances are perhaps the only reason Baird was in California last week watching University of Washington starter Tim Lincecum.

The Royals own the No. 1 pick in this year's draft, and North Carolina left-hander Andrew Miller is, according to officials and scouts, hands down the best player available. Problem is, Miller is expected to seek close to a signing bonus close to the $6.1 million Arizona gave the top choice last year, Justin Upton, even though Miller's upside is far less.

So Baird is out there, looking for the player he probably won't choose.

"I try to consume my time," he said. "I'm out here seeing free agents and preparing for the draft. I preach to everybody, staff included, that you deal with the controllables. If you waste your time and energy dealing with what you can't control, that's counterproductive."

That, too, is why Baird never has complained about payroll limitations that neuter the Royals' chances. He's the loyal soldier. Baird stood by his former manager, Tony Peña, before he quit last season. He stands behind his current manager, Buddy Bell, and a training staff that can't seem to keep anyone healthy and a scouting staff that has produced a threadbare minor-league system and a baseball-operations staff that hasn't groomed consistent major leaguers despite three rebuilding plans during Baird's six-year tenure.

"The way we're doing it now is the only way to do it," Baird said. "That's not whether I'm the general manager here or not. In our market size, our revenue, it's the only way.

"The toughest thing I've had to do is trade Carlos Beltran. That really meant we were in a position where we couldn't sign those types of players we developed."

On Sunday, the Royals trotted out a lineup that included Tony Graffanino (.196) hitting third, Emil Brown (12 RBIs) hitting fourth and three players who were in Triple-A two weeks ago – Aaron Guiel, Kerry Robinson and Justin Huber.

In the fourth inning, Joe Crede hit a fly ball to deep center field. Robinson climbed the wall to grab it. The ball landed – on the warning track.

"Never seen that," Bell said.

Nor has he been in a situation like this. Bell managed rebuilding teams in Detroit and Colorado, but he never managed through a change in GMs. Whether it happens Monday or Tuesday, Bell's job will be the same: manage the team Baird put together.

Baird, on the other hand, will leave the Kansas City hotel he lives in and spend some good time with Julie, eat some good meals. The whole time he'll have an eye on the Royals, the team he believed in – and still does.

"David Glass is a winner," Baird said. "He does not like losing, no different than all of us. This direction, we have to be patient. When you win games, you get patience. If you don't get wins, ultimately you have to change the direction or change the personnel.

"I realize where I'm at right now in this whole thing. I'm the personnel."

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