In running Marion, Kauffman says, he "rewarded ingenuity, industry and loyalty. I never had a union; the union organizers knew to just walk on past Marion. I always said that I never had an employee—only associates." With the Royals, Kauffman has never had a grievance filed against him by a player. He has had only one notable free-agent defection, Darrell Porter, who went across the state to St. Louis in 1981, when the Royals would not offer him more than a one-year contract.
Kauffman's no-renegotiation rule has been one of his few points of contention with his players. Last winter Brett got in a public row with the Royals when he complained about his lifetime contract, which now makes him only the fourth-highest-paid Royal, but was told there would be no discussion about sweetening the deal. "I could write a book about some of this," says Brett. "But I will wait."
Kauffman's first general manager was Cedric Tallis, who came from the Angels, for whom he had overseen the construction of Anaheim Stadium. Tallis did the same with Royals Stadium, which remains one of the game's finest facilities. Tallis brought in Lou Gorman from the Orioles as director of player development and, together with Schuerholz, they got the jump on other expansion teams in scouting and drafting; one of the first players they drafted, Paul Splittorff, became a 20-game winner. They also made a string of remarkable deals in the first four years, acquiring Amos Otis, Fred Patek, John Mayberry, Jerry May, Hal McRae, Lou Piniella and Cookie Rojas for virtually nothing. By 1973 the farm system was producing the likes of Brett, White and Steve Busby, a brilliant pitcher whose career was foreshortened by a rotator cuff injury.
Tallis eventually fell out of favor with Kauffman. "He just wasn't a great businessman, and we were losing money," says Kauffman, who brought Burke in from Texas in 1973, first as business manager, then as general manager and now as president. " Joe Burke kept us ahead of the game despite our market," Kauffman says. When the Andy Messersmith decision was handed down in January 1976, striking down baseball's reserve clause and establishing free agency, Burke was one of the quickest to adapt to the new realities in the marketplace. Indeed, his signing of Mayberry to a five-year, $1 million deal was the first big muitiyear contract of the post-Messersmith era. Within a year, Burke had tied up almost all his regulars with long-term contracts.
In 1983 the Royals faced their biggest crisis, a drug scandal that involved several players. "Mr. Kauffman told us not to cover it up," says Schuerholz. "He wanted us to be honest, help the law enforcement authorities and avoid all denials. I think his and the club's position in the community helped us through, but so did the fact that the community respected his honesty. It also helped that our farm system quickly repaired us and we won. The Kansas City Royals know full well that winning cures many ills."
The 1983 season was a dismal one all around, with the Royals finishing 20 games out of first. The next spring, Schuerholz and manager Dick Howser decided to go with a bunch of kid pitchers, Bret Saberhagen, Gubicza and Danny Jackson foremost among them. From July 17 until the end of the season, K.C. had the best record in baseball and made the playoffs. In '85 the Royals were world champs.
Kansas City was able to rebuild quickly at that time because its division was so weak. Now, it's a different story. Hence the cash outlay this winter. "We're in the Big Boys League now, and we have to play the Big Boys' games," says Kauffman. "We stand to lose at least three or four million dollars. But if we hadn't entered the free-agent market in a big way, the club might have finished fourth or fifth. Would we have kept the 2.2 million attendance? No. If we lose 500,000 at the gate, that's at least a $3 million loss. Either way, I lose money, but it's more fun to lose when you win."
Kauffman adds, "Truthfully, Kansas City can't afford a major league team. But it's important. It draws $160 million a year to the city. The hotels have 100 percent occupancy when the Royals are in town, 30 percent otherwise."
Kauffman, 73, says that he worries about what will happen to the Royals when he dies. He has no heirs interested in the club. When he became ill in the early 1980s, Kauffman struck a deal that gave Memphis real estate man Avron Fogelman a stake in the Royals and was to have made Fogelman sole owner in '91. But recently Fogelman ran into financial difficulty, and in January Kauffman reportedly gave him a $34 million loan with the stipulation that if the debt is not repaid with interest in five years, Fogelman's interest in the team reverts to Kauffman. No one expects Fogelman to remain in the picture. "There might be 10 people who'd buy the Kansas City Royals, but I don't know if any of them are stupid enough to lose this much money," says Kauffman.
To maintain attendance, the Royals depend on business from small towns in six states—Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma. Every winter, groups of two and three players hop into a van and travel from town to town. On a typical day in January, for instance, White and newly acquired designated hitter Gerald Perry took off with community relations director Phil Dixon at 7 a.m. on a two-day, multistop tour. They drove an hour to Cameron, Mo. (pop. 4,500). At 8:05, they met students at a special education school. "I'm here to thank you for all the support you've given us through the years," White told the children. "Our success is a measure of the people like you that are so good to us."