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Could the Royals leave Kansas City?

It’s deja vu all over again.

Minnesota Twins v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Everyone on this thread is aware of the kerfuffle going on between Jackson County and Royals ownership over a proposed new stadium.

To put it diplomatically, it’s been a circus. Royals ownership, led by John Sherman, insisted the team needs to relocate downtown and seemed set on the East Village site. The team also considered a site north of the river in Clay County. So much for the necessity of moving downtown. The team said they would make an announcement on a location by the end of September. They didn’t.

Clay County, according to press releases and official statements, is thrilled with the opportunity to land the stadium, though no one outside of the Clay County government and economic development offices really believes that the Royals will build there. Who knows, maybe they’ll surprise everyone and build a stadium north of the river. I doubt it though. To me, that move smelled more like a bargaining chip to get Jackson County to fork over more money.

Now in the last couple of weeks, things have taken another turn. The team is reportedly looking at another downtown site, just south of the T-Mobile Center, where the Kansas City Star printing press building currently stands. A quick look on Google Earth makes me wonder how they’ll shoehorn in a big-league ballpark on that site without destroying the Kansas City Star building to the south. Am I alone in thinking if that were to happen it would be a major architectural loss for the city? I can’t see that site gaining traction.

The team insists that Jackson County voters renew the 3/8 cent sales tax, which doesn’t expire until 2031, for another…40 years? Wow. The entire episode, again to put it as nicely as I can, has been sloppy.

In the meantime, former Royal great Frank White, who has become the point man for Jackson County, seems perfectly happy to put the screws to his former team. One point of contention is who will pay for the demolition of Kauffman, should the Royals build elsewhere? And what’s the estimate on that? Word out of Jackson County is that officials are frustrated that the Royals ownership group has been transparent on what the developmental costs might be. You know, the basics.

Add to this mess a disgruntled fanbase, many who still love Kauffman Stadium and would be perfectly happy to continue to see the Royals play there and you have the makings of a PR disaster. If the K were a crumbling pit, say along the lines of Oakland Coliseum, then fans would be clamoring for a move, guaranteed. They’d open their wallets for a new stadium. Kansas City fans love their Royals and Chiefs and take pride in the fact that the Truman Sports Complex looks as good today as when the respective facilities opened in 1972 and 1973. I must admit, when I’m driving east on I-70 and come around that corner and the scoreboard then the upper deck comes into view, I still get goosebumps. Even at the age of 50, it’s still a dynamite looking stadium.

To add to this brewing stew, the Royals have publicly said that Kauffman needs to be replaced because the foundation is suffering from “concrete cancer”. Across the parking lot, the Chiefs seem content to continue to play at Arrowhead for the next decade or more. Then word leaked last week that the Chiefs are considering alternative sites, including across the state line in Kansas. What the holy hell is going on here? All of this naturally raises the question, is the Royals ownership group being honest about the condition of the K? Are they being honest about their intentions for this team?

Look, I’ve been to some old stadiums. I’ve attended games at Fenway in the very early 1990’s, before the Red Sox upgraded the stadium. Fenway at the time was charming but it needed serious work. For example, in the men’s restroom on the third base side. It was jammed up under the stands and to take care of business you had to stand in front of a trough with 25 other fans. If you were over six feet tall, you had to bend at an awkward angle (the stands) to get close enough to the trough to hit your target. Not only that, but the trough ran at an angle downhill, so that by the seventh inning, the lower end of the trough was starting to fill up and overflow. Red Sox fans are a fun bunch, they like to drink their beer. The poor fans who stood at the end of the trough had to be light on their feet to avoid the overflow. It wasn’t cool or charming. It was nasty. After the game I dropped my shoes in a trash can and walked back to the hotel in bare feet.

Knowing they needed to do something, the Red Sox brass floated the idea of building a new Fenway. Fans nearly rioted. Instead, the team did a massive upgrade which rectified many problems that plagued the stadium. Fenway has retained its charm and added 21st century amenities, like modern bathroom facilities.

I can recall going to games at Wrigley in the early 2000s and seeing pieces of the upper deck being held together by wire mesh. I looked up at it and thought, “that doesn’t look safe”. Crumbling concrete held together by mesh with the weight of 15,000 fans on it? In 2014, the team spent $575 million to upgrade the ballpark. Wrigley will celebrate its 110th anniversary when play starts in April. Kauffman Stadium is nowhere close to the poor condition those two parks were in.

With news that the ownership group is could look at other sites, such as the Legends area in Kansas, the cold reality hit me for the first time that, yes, John Sherman could move the Royals out of Kansas City. And I’m not talking about a move to the Kansas side. I’m not talking about a move to Clay County or to Peculiar, Missouri. I’m talking about leaving metro Kansas City for good and relocating the team to, say, Nashville. Let me repeat that: JOHN SHERMAN COULD ABSOLUTELY BE WORKING ON A PLAN TO MOVE THE ROYALS! I’ve been following this team since their first pitch was thrown in 1969 and this is the first time I’ve ever felt like the city and the fan base could lose the team. I’ll be honest, it leaves a cold pit in my stomach.

Our older fans know it can happen. We watched Charlie O. Finley pull an eerily similar stunt over a period of years before moving the Athletics to Oakland. Finley whined about the condition of Municipal Stadium, even as city officials tried to work with him on a new stadium plan. He whined about attendance even though the Athletics never had a winning record in their 13-year Kansas City tenure. Finley fought major league baseball over trivial matters like the distance of the right field foul pole at Municipal and often acted as the de facto General Manager of the team, often to their detriment. In the end, after trying to move to basically any city that would take him, Finley took the A’s to Oakland.

I’m not aware of any Kansas City Athletics fans who transferred their fandom with the move to Oakland. I certainly didn’t. In fact, most Royal fans I knew grew to loathe the A’s. They were the Royals’ big rival in the early 70s (along with the Yankees in the mid to late ‘70s).

We watched with disinterest as the Scouts of the NHL left Kansas City, relocating first to Denver, where they were known as the Colorado Rockies and then finally to New Jersey, where they still play as the Devils. That was our team.

In 1972, the Cincinnati Royals of the NBA moved to Kansas City, and briefly, Omaha. They were renamed the Kings to avoid any confusion with the infant baseball team. Those were the Kings of Nate Archibald and Sam Lacey and many of us grew to love them. The team had a few good drafts and added players like Phil Ford, Scott Wedman and Otis Birdsong. They moved into Kemper Arena in 1975 and it looked like the Kings were going to take hold and become a Kansas City staple. In 1981, the team made an exciting run to the Western Conference Finals. That was the high point of the franchise and the closest that the city ever got to an NBA title. However, attendance and sponsorship lagged and in 1983 a group of investors from Sacramento bought the Kings for a measly $10.5 million dollars. When their lease with Kemper expired in 1985, they moved the team to Sacramento, keeping the Kings name. I stayed a fan of the Kings and was thrilled by their success in the early 2000’s before they reverted to being the Kangs. I can’t tell you when I stopped paying attention to the Kings. It’s been at least a decade, maybe longer. I couldn’t even name three players on the team.

So, it could happen. John Sherman could be playing all of us, running what appears to be an amateur hour stadium proposal, which he knows has no chance of success all the while playing the long game with his eyes on a different city, one that will pay him big bucks to move. If that happens, I’m done with baseball. I won’t follow the Royals to whatever city they move to. I won’t switch my allegiance to another team. I’ll just be done with the sport. The Royals will exist only in my mind, on a hot summer day at the K with the pregame music blaring “Afternoon Delight” and the vendors shouting “Frosty malts! Get your Frosty Malts here!” Steve Busby and Dennis Leonard throwing strikes. John Mayberry cranking long home runs. Freddie Patek swiping another base. George Brett roping one into the gap, stretching a double into a triple. Alex Gordon making another impossible catch.

We’ll understand the heartbreak felt in Brooklyn and Montreal and other cities who’ve lost their team. Losing a baseball team not only tears at the social fabric of the community, but it also literally guts tens of thousands of fans. Since 1950, there have only been 11 franchise relocations. The most common reason given for relocation is poor attendance and the owners’ desire for a new stadium. We’re more than halfway there. I hope I’m wrong. I hope that Jackson County and John Sherman work this out. Even though John Sherman owns the team, a sports franchise is still a civic institution. The team belongs to Kansas City and it belongs to all of us. It belongs to the fans in Holdrege, Nebraska and the fans in Osage, Missouri and Cedar Falls, Iowa and Lincoln, Kansas and Tulsa, Oklahoma and Dallas, Texas. I pray that John Sherman understands this and won’t tear out our hearts.