When I was a kid, the Royals were truly one of the glamorous franchises in baseball. They seemed to be in the post season almost every year and put up big fights in October. They fell short in 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981 and 1984 before finally overcoming 3-1 holes in the ALCS and World Series to become World Champions.
This picture shows the Royals who won the 1978 AL West. Whitey Herzog, who would eventually find himself in the Hall of Fame, was the skipper, giving KC fans more trips to the post season in 3 seasons than the A’s and Royals achieved between 1953 and 1975.
Kansas City was no longer a joke baseball city in the late 1970’s and remained a hot bed of great baseball for a decade and big spenders of free agents after that.
The greatest fortune that ever befell on Kansas City fans was Ewing Kaufmann. He was basically the mirror opposite of the previous Kansas City owners, being Arnold Johnson and then Charlie Finley of the A’s.
Johnson brought the A’s to Kansas City, taking them from Philadelphia. Basically he treated the team like a de facto farm team for the Yankees, trading players to the Bronx for pennies on the dollar. Johnson had his eye on Los Angeles and basically was keeping them in Missouri until it became viable to be a West Coast team. But his sudden death allowed to have the team put up for sale and in came Finley.
Finley never wanted the team in Kansas City. He had dreams of moving to a new city and getting a brand new state of the art stadium to call his own. He played footsie with every available city, nearly moving to Louisville and Atlanta and Dallas and San Diego. Eventually he settled on Oakland and almost immediately regretted it.
Kaufmann came in with the new expansion Royals in 1969. Eventually they did get the state of the art stadium that Finley desired. (He probably just should have kept the A’s in Kansas City.)
Kaufmann made his millions in the pharmaceutical world, so maybe it is best to not dig too deep into his money. What Kansas City fans should give thanks for is that, unlike Johnson and Finley, his dream was to keep the team in Kansas City and make them winners.
His baseball men developed the George Bretts, Frank Whites, Willie Wilsons and Dennis Leonards of the world. Kaufmann’s wallet kept them in KC.
As other small market organizations shipped off their talent as free agency changed the baseball landscape, Kaufmann kept the team intact. Many of the players seen here from the 1978 team were still there when the title was won in 1985.
There was a steady continuity of who was on the Royals over the years and Kaufmann was a big part of that.
Perhaps an owner like Kaufmann is not possible now. He kept the team together when the highest salaries in the game were $2 million a year. Today, a mediocre middle reliever can make that.
Today, keeping a team core intact for 3 or 4 years, like this decade’s Royals who won back to back pennants, is quite an accomplishment for ownership.
Thankfully for Royals fans, Kaufmann was the right owner who had the right attitude at the right time. The Royals fortunes sagged after the 1985 World Series and plummeted after Kaufmann’s death in 1993.
They had one single winning season between his death and the 2013 season. The Royals were quick to trade away their star players and get less than pennies on the dollar in return.
When the Royals finally made it back to the World Series in 2014 and won the pennant again in 2015, they did so in Kaufmann Stadium, the new name for what was once “Royals Stadium.”
The 2015 title was great for Kansas City fans. It gave them new memories. But the memories of the first great wave of Royals teams, including the one pictured on this card, were held together by Ewing Kaufmann. That is worth a salute.