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Three Outs: Black Mamba Edition

RIP to a legend

Los Angeles Lakers former player Kobe Bryant on the field before the game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox in game four of the 2018 World Series at Dodger Stadium.
Los Angeles Lakers former player Kobe Bryant on the field before the game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox in game four of the 2018 World Series at Dodger Stadium.
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Three Outs, the column that is equal parts bloviation and ideation. This week: an examination into the Royals’ great long-term payroll situation, a look at a sports icon, and some whining about Worlds of Fun.

Out One: Kansas City’s Enviable Long-Term Payroll Situation

Alex Gordon’s $4 million contract with the Royals this year puts the projected 2020 payroll at $78.7 million. It’s likely to be one of the lowest in baseball, and is about $18 million lower than the 2019 Opening Day payroll. And while there’s much to be said and wondered about future payrolls, the Royals have maneuvered themselves into an enviable position in regard to their long-term payroll.

After a few years of overpaying for mediocre veterans, the Royals will have purged most of their large contracts—and, importantly, haven’t replaced them. Gordon’s initial free agent contract came off the books this year, and the sizable contracts of Danny Duffy and Salvador Perez both end at the end of next year. The result? After 2021, the Royals have a grand total of $3.5 million committed in free agent contracts—all to Whit Merrifield. If that sounds like it’s a low number, that’s because it is; the Royals are one of only four teams (alongside the Oakland Athletics, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Miami Marlins) to have committed less than $10 million in free agent contracts after 2021.

This is a huge deal, and I’m not sure why it hasn’t been discussed more. Just as the Royals are looking to step back into serious competition, they will have as close to a full payroll as is possible to shore up weaknesses, extend players, and even spring for a big name. It’s part of why I think the Royals could compete sooner rather than later.

Out Two: The Staggering Legacy of Kobe Bryant

If you somehow haven’t heard yet, Kobe Bryant died Sunday in a helicopter crash alongside his daughter, Gianna, and several others. Bryant was only 41, Gianna only 13. It was nothing short of a tragedy.

There will be lots of discussion in the coming weeks about Bryant as the sports world processes his sadly premature death. There will be reminiscing about his best on-court moments. There will be empathy flowing towards his family, who aren’t just dealing with the loss of a legend but are grieving for two members of their household. There will be, rightly, a re-examination of Bryant’s rape allegation and what that should mean for how we talk about him.

But what struck me about Bryant is the strength of his legacy. You can almost physically feel the impact of his death. Kobe has been an idol and a role model for tens of millions of athletes since his first steps onto an NBA court. His role in sports over the last quarter century has left an indelible impact on hundreds of millions of people. H

How many athletes have had the same impact as Bryant? LeBron, Tiger, Serena, Jeter, Brady, Jordan. But it’s not a lot. See, to get to the level of Bryant’s legacy, you can’t just be a tremendous athlete. It takes more than that. There were better players than Bryant in his career. But Kobe was something more. He was an icon. For decades, he wasn’t just a great basketball player. He was basketball. Rest in peace, Kobe and Gianna.

Out Three: A Mamba of a Different Type

While we’re discussing mambas, it’s impossible to avoid thinking about Kansas City’s mamba—the Mamba at Worlds of Fun. And, lately, it’s impossible to avoid thinking about Worlds of Fun without disappointment.

What you might not know about me is that I’m a huge roller coaster enthusiast. I have a spreadsheet where I track all the roller coasters I’ve been on and everything. As such, I have a bizarre encyclopedic knowledge of roller coasters, and therefore I can tell you without looking it up that the last time Worlds of Fun got a coaster it was 2009, when they installed the Prowler (which is a legitimately world-class wooden coaster, especially at night).

Last year marked one decade since the last coaster at Worlds of Fun. In that time, Cedar Fair has spent hundreds of millions of dollars installing gigantic coasters elsewhere, including Gatekeeper, Valravn, and Steel Vengeance at Cedar Point; Banshee, Mystic Timbers, and Orion at Kings Island; Intimidator 305 and Twisted Timbers at King’s Dominion; Leviathan and Yukon Striker at Canada’s Wonderland; and Intimidator, Fury 325, and Copperhead Strike at Carrowinds—just to name a few.

I understand that Worlds of Fun is a small park with less attendance than most other Cedar Fair parks. I acknowledge that Worlds of Fun has done a nice job retracking Timberwolf, changing it from an un-rideable concussion-on-wheels machine into a legitimately fun coaster again. But come on. Coasters are anchors for a theme park, and neglecting a park for so long is doing business to not lose money instead of doing business to make money. Throw us a damn bone, Cedar Fair.