Kansas City is a unique franchise. For starters, it has never finished last. From their beginning, in 1969, the Royals have been the mode of how an expansion team should be run. (Consider that of the eight expansion clubs since 1962, only the New York Mets and the Royals have won a World Series, and the only other teams that have won a pennant are the Milwaukee Brewers and the San Diego Padres.) In the last 15 years, Kansas City has finished first six times (the most of any club) and second six times. In the last 11 full seasons, it has averaged more than 2.2 million customers. This year the Royals had a team-record season ticket sale of 15,900.
"Back when free agency began, the Royals were so good that if they'd been able to get one top free-agent pitcher, they'd have won two or three world championships," says St. Louis manager Whitey Herzog, who managed K.C. from 1975 to '79. "But we couldn't compete with the Steinbrenners." Until this winter, the only free agent the Royals had signed was Jerry Terrell, a utility infielder who got $75,000 in '78.
"We were being used by free agents as leverage to jack up the prices until the big-market teams forked over what they were looking for," says Wathan. " Mr. Kauffman got disgusted."
"Times have changed," says Gubicza. "The money is so great today, players weigh a lot more factors than the highest bid." Gubizca, one of baseball's best pitchers (he has averaged 255 innings pitched and 16 wins the last three seasons), could have, at age 27, entered the free-agent market last fall and commanded a five-year deal at more than $15 million. Instead he signed with the Royals for three years and $7.4 million. "I'm happy here," he says. "Money can't buy me love."
When Mark Davis took his Cy Young Award into the market, he and his agents Randy and Alan Hendricks sat down and drew up a list of priorities. "The first thing was a place for my family," Davis says. "The schools here are among the best in the country, and you can get a fabulous house for less than in most areas. Then I listed the winning tradition; the Royals are always in it. The ballpark? Great for pitchers. Clean. The facility? It looks as if it were opened yesterday. It reminds me of Disneyland—if someone drops a piece of paper, someone else picks it up. The clubhouse is impeccable. Travel? Don't think players today don't think about this a lot, and being right in the middle of the country means no flight is longer than three hours: no 4 a.m. arrivals as on the coasts, and more time at home. They always fly charter. I also listed atmosphere. Every priority had the Royals up at the top of my list. It was worth a shorter contract and less money."
Davis could have gotten five years and $18 million from the Yankees or the Detroit Tigers. He took $13 million and four years from Kansas City.
K.C. has other things going for it. "Stability is the operative word for this organization," says Schuerholz, naming one of those advantages. Schuerholz came to the Royals from the Orioles as an administrative assistant right after Kansas City received its franchise in 1968. Club president Joe Burke arrived in '73. Vice-president Herk Robinson has been there from the beginning. Public relations director Dean Vogelaar signed on in '73, and finance director Dale Rohr in '74. Second baseman Frank White came up in June '73. George Brett arrived two months later. No two current major leaguers have played longer together.
Dick Balderson, who signed with Kansas City in 1968, pitched in the organization for eight years and then worked his way up to scouting director, did leave in '85 to take the general manager's job in Seattle. Says Balderson, who is now the scouting director for the Cubs: "It all comes back to ownership. Ewing Kauffman created the stability."
Kauffman is a native of Kansas City who built Marion Laboratories, a pharmaceutical manufacturing company he founded in 1950, into a diversified healthcare giant. In a merger with another pharmaceutical firm, in December '89, Kauffman received $675 million for 43% of his stock in Marion. He still has a large stake in the resulting company, Marion Merrell Dow. He is a local icon. His numerous civic good works include the founding of a nationally acclaimed drug abuse program called Project STAR (Students Taught Awareness and Resistance).
"I wasn't a baseball fan," says Kauffman, "but when Charlie Finley pulled the A's out after the '67 season, community leaders felt it was vital to the city to have a major league team. They convinced me of how much it meant to the community, that there really weren't many people in a city like Kansas City who could afford a team, and that I should do what I could." Seattle was awarded an American League expansion franchise that same year, when Montreal and San Diego also received National League franchises. In their third year, the Royals were above .500. In their eighth, they were in the playoffs. It took 10 years for the Pilots/Brewers and Padres, and 11 for the Expos to have so much as a winning season.