What if we woke up tomorrow and there was no Kansas City Royals franchise? No Billy Butler. No Rex Hudler. No 5, 10, 20 on the Hall of Fame wall in Left Field of Kauffman Stadium. Radio shows talk wistfully about the “good old days” when Kansas City was a three professional sports team town. Before soccer. Weeds grow between the cracks in the steps of the dugout where Ned Yost and Dick Howser once roamed. And fans talk about that bastard David Glass who pissed on a team’s heart while pocketing millions to walk away.
We could be closer to that reality than you think.`
Baseball has long been a business based on consistency. It is less a factor of success, and more a factor of time. Given enough time, a baseball club will make money because of the seasonal cycle of their season. It’s based on a complex formula of television rights, advertising, attendance and rights fees – but it is driven by one constant – ownership. Ownership has always controlled how to divide the 30-piece pie and on whom they invite to partake. It has been widely known that there is a caste system amongst MLB ownership including the “haves” and the “have nots.” The Yankees and and Angels would be amongst Baseball Royalty while the Pirates, Marlins and the Royals would be in the steerage section of the ship that is MLB. All this is known, but for decades there has been stability. Since the strike in 1994, in fact. Baseball has weathered through stormy waters including steroids, earthquakes, 9/11, financial factors and the changing face of media and content delivery. Every team in Baseball has managed to make a playoff game since 1992. Every team but one… The Kansas City Royals – who last played a postseason game on October 27, 1985.
But Baseball wouldn’t lance the boil that is the winless Royals simply because of money. By all financial accounts, the Royals make plenty of money. Their attendance is fine. And their television ratings are higher than ever. But the Royals have always tripped over their own two feet when it comes to on the field matters. Bumbling and dumb luck. This is the Kansas City Royals. But the viability of life for the Royals isn’t under the control of the Royals themselves. It could easily be at the mercy of a team that SHOULD be contracted – the Miami Marlins.
Bud Selig sent a shot across the bow of the Marlins, the franchise comically owned by Jeffrey Loria, during his State of MLB address at this year’s All-Star Game. He called the problems with attendance by the Marlins in years past “a problem.” So… let’s play a little game called “Worst Case Scenario…”
Selig, frustrated with Loria decides to fix the problem and contract the Marlins. There’s plenty of good reasons to do it. Baseball has 15 teams in each league which causes some nightmares with scheduling. Additionally, shots of empty seats in Miami are a bad look. So it’s not out of the realm of possibility that MLB is in some way investigating the Marlins quietly go away.
But that leaves an imbalance in the leagues. To contract or expand, you need two teams. The Blue Jays came into the league with the Mariners in 1976. The Royals came into the league in 1969 along with the Seattle Pilots/Milwaukee Brewers, the Padres and the Expos. If you get one, you need two. On the contrary, if you lose one, you need to lose two. Divisions would drop down to 14 each which allow for more consistent Interleague Play and the march towards the conclusion of the Designated Hitter beta test.
So… the Marlins are gone. Who goes with?
From a financial perspective, the Royals wouldn’t make the final list of candidates. You’d most likely look at teams like the Padres, the Astros or the Rays before you’d look at the Royals.
But from a losing perspective? The list starts and ends with the Royals. Even the Pirates are in contention this year. And the Astros, while putting up record numbers for futility this year, have a Moneyball plan that needs to be played out. If you look at the most useless appendages to be cut off, the Royals are filled with disease.
So… if MLB were to vote with their wallets, the Royals are fine. But if the owners, who have never been fans of the Glasses, choose to take out the scalpel, the Royals are in big trouble. And the Royals have been on the chopping block before. The last time was in 2002 when the Royals were the subject of rumors of contraction after the economy tanked and baseball was still struggling in the distant shadow of the ‘94 strike. At that time, Bud Selig stepped in an opted against contraction and saved the Royals from being legitimate candidates. Selig has long been a fan and friend of the Glass family. But next year will be Selig’s last. If a more business savvy Commissioner stepped in, could Baseball be looked at as fat and ripe for trimming?
ESPN is in some financial trouble right now. What if those contract dollars started to fade away? A dire future isn’t that far out of the realm of possibility. Nobody ever expects the bottom to fall out until the bottom falls out.
And maybe Kansas City let’s Royals go. Sporting Kansas City is easily approaching the level of popularity of the Royals and in some cases, looking to surpass it. Maybe Kansas City could survive with two professional sports towns and two NASCAR races a year. After all, an entire generation of Kansas Citians never knew the Royals were known for anything other than being out of it by the time it got hot outside. Maybe “Our Time” simply ran out.
Do I think this is a likelihood? Of course not. But this all serves as yet another wake up call about the failed ownership of the Glass family. They’ve managed to point all the dials in the right direction, but they’re still not winning. The Royals could be gone faster than the weeds could grow in the cracks of an empty Kauffman Stadium dugout.