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Fifty years ago today, Ewing Kauffman became the first owner in Royals history

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The Royals were born!

1985 World Series Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

The Royals will be celebrating their 50th anniversary this season, a half-century of thrills for Kansas City baseball fans. It wasn’t always a given that Kansas City would still have Major League Baseball at this point. Kansas City didn’t become a Major League city until 1955 when the Athletics moved here from Philadelphia. That era was rocked with unstable ownership, poor management, and terrible baseball, and the team left in 1967 for greener pastures in Oakland.

But as part of the agreement to let the A’s leave, the American League promised Kansas City another franchise. In December of 1967, they officially awarded two expansion teams for Kansas City and Seattle (the Pilots, who spent just one year in the Pacific Northwest before moving to Milwaukee and becoming the Brewers). A month later at a meeting with league officials in Kansas City, Ewing Kauffman was granted ownership of the club over other interested bidders like Crosby Kemper of UMB Bank, banker John Latshaw of Hutton and Co., Alex Barket of Civic Plaza National Bank, and Richard Stern of the investment group Stern Brothers. Kauffman paid $5.3 million for the club.

Among the other names suggested by fans included Eagles, Zoomers, Mokans (Missouri-Kansas, get it?), and Hearts, as a reference to the “heartland.”

Kauffman, who had made his fortune building the pharmaceutical company Marion Laboratories (which later became Marion Merrill Dow), had not planned to get into baseball. But he was urged to find a hobby, and his wife Muriel, who grew up a fan of minor league baseball in her native Toronto, urged him to bid on the club. Kauffman vowed to take a hands-off approach, saying, “I intend to get the best men I can find for the job, and let them run it.”

Kauffman did just that, immediately hiring Cedric Tallis away from the Angels to run his club. Tallis was a shrewd evaluator of talent, finding gems in the expansion draft like Joe Foy, Paul Schaal, Dick Drago, Pat Kelly, and Lou Piniella. He was terrific at finding young players other clubs didn’t want, swindling other GMs in trades for Amos Otis, John Mayberry, and Fred Patek. It was the foundation of a club that would be in the post-season in just its eighth season.

“Give me, say, eight years, and Kansas City will be playing a World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals.”

Mr. K wasn’t too far off in that prediction.