(Mike tells Sam that he looks much older in his byline photograph)

The Kansas City Star’s Sam Mellinger
warns “for the Royals’ $55 Million Man, Playing Days Could Be Numbered”. The good news is, he’s referring to Mike Sweeney rather than Gil Meche.

œIs our last game Oct. 1 or Sept. 30? Sweeney asked.

It™s Sept. 30.

œOK, he said, œif I have to load up on Vicodin and get out there and play on Sept. 30, I will be there. Definitely. My last day as a Royal will not be limping around on crutches.

The Royals are 301-442 since his five-year, $55 million contract began in 2003, and Sweeney has played in just 61 percent of those games. Depending on your perspective, he is a star-crossed good guy or paper slugger.

Either way, he might be Kansas City™s most-booed athlete since Elvis Grbac.

œHe was a steal the first two years when you look at the money he was making and guys putting up those same type numbers, Brett said. œNow, it looks like Mike™s stealing money. I know the type of individual he is, and he feels terrible about it.

You ask Brett if Sweeney has been treated fairly.

œNo, he said quickly. œNo, he hasn™t. (Fans) don™t know what he™s gone through. I know what he™s gone through.

œIt™s been year after year after year, said Royals Hall of Fame second baseman Frank White. œThat™s where it just frustrates people. You get to the point where it™s, ˜Oh, well, what™s new? Sweeney™s hurt, what™s new?™ That means you™ve been hurt too much and people are losing interest. That™s what he™s dealing with now.

Put another way, in the four seasons before the contract went into effect, Sweeney hit .324 with 104 homers and 431 RBIs in 582 games. In the five seasons since, he has hit .283 with 74 homers and 309 RBIs in 453 games.

It™s even worse when you see what has happened with the guys the Royals were forced to trade because of money and the players™ wish to win.

Carlos Beltran starred in the playoffs for two teams. Johnny Damon became a Boston folk hero for helping the Red Sox win the 2004 championship. Jermaine Dye was MVP of the 2005 World Series for the White Sox.

Meanwhile, Sweeney is in Kansas City, an All-Star talent unable to help his teammates, taking the brunt of fan backlash.

œThere™ve been some tough times, he said. œBut you know what? The tough times have helped shape me as a man. I really do not ever think, ˜What would it be like if I didn™t sign?™ I never have thought that. I realized when I prayed, and I had that peace I can™t explain, that this is where I belonged.

œTherefore, I™ve never asked myself, ˜Man, what would it be like to have been in Jermaine™s or Johnny™s shoes?™‚

With Sweeney counting money on his couch undoubtedly rooting his teammates on, the Royals won their 2nd of 3 this weekend over the Tigers, a 5-2 result that improved former Met Brian Bannister’s record to 6-6. K.C.’s victory, coupled with Chicago’s 8-5 loss to the Red Sox has the Royals a mere half game behind Ozzie G’s underachievers.

With the ‘Stache likely done for the year after fracturing his right tibia in Friday’s win over the Dodgers, Mets GM Omar Minaya hints to the Daily News’ Adam Rubin that he’d sooner stick with Ruben Gotay at second base rather than pursue the Astros’ Mark “When I Talk To” Loretta. At Chavez Ravine today, the Mets have managed no more than 3 singles over 5 innings against the Dodgers, as LA starter Eric Stults is making a strong bid for his 2nd career big league victory, with the hosts leading, 2-0.

I realize many of you are big fans of Stults’ cinematic endeavors, but I’ve always though he was a little overrated in “Mask”. He had great chemistry working alongside Mary Stuart Masterson in “Some Kind Of Wonderful”, so I’m sure Russell Martin is in for a treat.