On this date in 1993, the Royals began their slide into irrelevance.
It was the day Ewing Kauffman died.
In death, sometimes a person gains otherworldly qualities. We tend to gloss over that individual’s shortcomings while focusing on the positive. (I mean, when Charlie Finley passed away, there were people who were saying he was good for baseball. Really?) With Mr. K, it doesn’t feel like we’re ignoring anything when we talk about the good he did for this city.
Kauffman was a businessman. A successful one. It’s rare when a successful businessman doesn’t make enemies along the way. I’m sure there are some who don’t have good feelings toward the man.
But if you’re a Royals fan, you have to hold Mr. K in the highest regard.
With good reason. Without Kauffman there wouldn’t be any Royals in Kansas City. After Finley pulled his A’s across the Continental Divide, the community needed a civic leader to step forward and put his cash and his reputation on the line. Spearheaded by Joe McGuff of the Kansas City Star and Senator Stuart Symington, Kauffman was convinced to submit a bid for the franchise when MLB decided they would expand in 1969.
Kauffman wasn’t perfect by any means. He publicly clashed with George Brett, came under fire for the dismissal of Whitey Herzog and sold a 49 percent stake of his team to real estate mogul Avron Fogelman. When Fogelman was torpedoed by bad real estate investments, Kauffman had to purchase his shares back in order to stabilize the club. Kauffman realized the economics of the game were changing around the time of his death. He knew his franchise was at risk and took steps to ensure it would remain an asset of the community. Sadly, his plan was flawed as the six years following his death were marked by inertia and a stewardship of a board of directors who cut costs at every opportunity. He also brought David Glass into the fold.
Kauffman has gained a God-like status in Kansas City since his passing. With good reason. First, he was all about Kansas City. Second, he took care of his people. Third, he did whatever it took to make his team competitive. And fourth, he was accountable and visible the entire time he owned the team. Fans of my generation remember the Kauffman’s waving to the crowd from their box, or throwing out first pitches before big games, or just being on the field to present a special event.
Mr. K had been sick for a while... Bone cancer. We knew death was coming, but it's not always easy to prepare. On August 1, 1993, we knew things would never be the same.
What would Ewing do? That’s the question that many fans ask today. There's no question during his tenure as owner, he did everything he could to bring success to his franchise. He signed key Royals to "lifetime" contracts. He tried to lure Pete Rose to KC with Marion Labs stock options. Mr. K famously opened his own checkbook to bring David Cone to Kansas City. He gave Herk Robinson the green light to pursue high-level free agents. Famously, in 1990 the Royals had the highest payroll in baseball. It didn’t always work, but toward the end, it was always about winning one last championship. In today’s climate would he do the same? Difficult to say. It’s been almost two decades. Much has changed.
And almost two decades later, Mr K is greatly missed.
(Hat tip goes to Chris Jaffe at the Hardball Times.)