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Ready for Battle: Royals' Mike Sweeney A Warrior on the Field.

Kansas City slugger may not be much for swearing, but on the field, he's not always Mr. Nice Guy, either

HERE'S A SIDE OF MIKE SWEENEY that Royals fans never see. After a particularly bad at-bat last season, Sweeney went into the passageway behind the dugout and disgustedly flung his bat at the door of the players' bathroom.

"I didn't fire it as hard as I could," Sweeney said, "but the door was about a third of the way open. The bat went barrel first into the toilet and bounced out. I didn't think anything about it."

Until a couple of innings later when he discovered the bowl was cracked and water was gushing onto the floor.

Sweeney remembered that teammates and even the bat boys kidded him about the porcelain attack.

"They said, `His imaginary evil friend came out and destroyed the toilet,'" Sweeney said with an impish grin.

Yep, Mike Sweeney can get hot as a boiler.

Sweeney signs countless autographs, shakes more hands than a presidential candidate, kisses babies and hugs everyone he's known for more than a millisecond.

But with a career year under his belt, Sweeney inherited the title of team leader, a tough guy's job. And that put him right in the middle of things.

"Once I get on the field," he said, "I want to win and when someone blows a ball by my chin, I'm by no means going to be happy about it. When someone drills one of my teammates on purpose, I'm going to be very unhappy about it. If somebody goes into second base and takes out one of our infielders in a malicious way, I'm going to be very upset.

"That's just part of playing baseball. You can be a great guy off the field ... once you get between those lines, it's a jungle out there. Survival of the fittest."

Sweeney's from a loving and large Irish family in Ontario, California. His father, "big" Mike Sweeney, had to go back more than 20 years for this story:

"The only time Mike has showed any anger at all is when he was about four years old. His ball had gone over in our next-door neighbor's front yard and she grabbed it so he couldn't get it. He went over there and tried to talk her into giving him the ball. She wouldn't do it and kind of chastised him. So as he walked away, he stuck his tongue out and kind of stuck his bottom out at her in anger, figuring that he'd show her."

Sweeney's parents got a call that night from the neighbor.

"You could do just about anything to Mike except take his ball or bat away," his father said. "That was the only time you could get him angry."

Today, "Mikey," as they call him at home, figures he'll have a good "snap" about once or twice a season.

Mostly, he'll vent by yelling.

"I yell words that aren't in the dictionary and make a sound. Sometimes it's funny; Tony Muser says, `Michael, you sound like a bloody gorilla. You're making all these weird noises -- awwrragah. Why don't you just drop an f-bomb and get it out of your system?'" Sweeney said, laughing.

"But I feel like I want to tame my tongue so I don't drop f-bombs."

That comes from the way he was raised, along with five sisters and two brothers.

"My husband and I have never used bad language and I remember him telling the children, `Anyone who has to use bad language has a very poor vocabulary,'" said Sweeney's mother, Maureen.

But while raw anger rarely manifests itself, his dynamic competitiveness is always on display.

Sweeney is a frequent target of pitchers. During the 2000 season, he was hit 15 times by pitches, tying the Blue Jays' Carlos Delgado for the American League high. He does tend to dive over the plate, after all.

Yet, in this time of oh-so-touchy batters, Sweeney never charged the mound until last August when Tigers pitcher Jeff Weaver yelled an obscenity at him and Sweeney lost his cool, charging the mound and hurling his helmet at Weaver. A brawl between the Royals and Tigers ensued and the game was delayed 15 minutes.

Sweeney was suspended 10 games by major league baseball for the incident and accepted his punishment without a challenge.

"My instincts say, `Go out and kill the guy.' But I've always got to be a man of serf-control," Sweeney said about being hit by a pitch. "Tony Muser told me at the beginning of last year: `Mike, you're going to get hit a lot this year. You're a big guy, a strong guy, pitchers are going to try to get you off the plate. They're probably going to drill you. I want you after you get hit, don't show them you're upset, just drop your bat and jog down to first. Don't stare `em down or yell at them.' I've tried to honor that."

Perhaps Sweeney is understanding because, as a kid pitcher, he drilled so many batters that he was called "The Hit Man" around Ontario.

"He threw extremely hard but really didn't know what zip code the baseball would wind up in," his father said.

"We played a championship game for our region of southern California when he was 12. I think he hit five batters and walked nine yet, still won the game because he struck out 17."

Instead of brawling, Sweeney channels his aggression into his performance at the plate, where last year he produced a team-record 144 RBI, and into crafting improvement at first base, his position since Jeff King retired early in 1999.

"He has a lot of emotion, like most competitors do, and he gets angry," Muser said. "But he re-groups from it. I think anger can be a detriment to a player but he's over it in about three or four seconds."

Certainly Sweeney's determination helped change him from a backup catcher, worried about being traded in spring 1999, to one of American League's most-feared hitters. In 1999, he hit .322 with 185 hits, 44 doubles, 22 homers, 101 runs and 102 RBI. He followed that performance with a .333 average, 206 hits, 30 doubles, 29 homers, 105 runs and a whopping 144 RBI last year. And through games of August 26, Sweeney was hitting .311 with 139 hits, 25 HR, 82 RBI, 87 runs and a major league-leading 42 doubles.

"I remember him when he was a catcher playing in winter ball," said new Royals closer Roberto Hernandez. "There's been a big change."

The elder Sweeney credits Muser for sharpening Mike's intensity.

"I think they complement each other very, very well," he said. "Mike has kind of changed the ex-Marine into kind of a more emotional person. And I think the ex-Marine has changed Mike into a more focused person on the field."

So don't be surprised when Sweeney tries to break up a double play by dumping the second baseman on his keister.

Or when Sweeney reaches down for the guy's hand and pulls him to his feet.

Former Royals catcher Mike Macfarlane recalled that, in Sweeney's younger days, Sweeney's anger sometimes surfaced subtly.

"The extent of it would be his veins popping out of his forehead and his muscles rippling in his arms as he tried to squeeze his bat in two," Macfarlane said.

"But nothing more than that.... Let's put it this way, he wouldn't pull a Jack Clark and beat the crap out of a toilet in the bathroom."

Well, Mac, wait till you hear this story ...

Born: July 22, 1973   Ht.: 6-3    Wt.: 225

Year   Team    AB     H   2B   HR     R   RBI     BA

1995   K.C.     4     1    0    0     1     0   .250
1996   K.C.   165    46   10    4    23    24   .257
1997   K.C.   240    58    8    7    30    31   .242
1998   K.C.   282    73   18    8    32    35   .259
1999   K.C.   575   185   44   22   101   102   .322
2000   K.C.   618   206   30   29   105   144   .333
2001   K.C.   447   139   42   25    87    82   .311

2001 stats complete through games of August 26
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Title Annotation:Kansas City Royals
Publication:Baseball Digest
Geographic Code:1U4MO
Date:Nov 1, 2001
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