Thanks to this year's All-Star Game festivities, which are set in Kauffman Stadium, the Royals are enjoying some national media attention. This is something that almost never, ever happens. The Royals, who have ended up with a losing record for 16 of the last 17 years, have spent the last decade-plus maintaining what is perhaps the lowest profile in Major League Baseball.
The Royals actually were mentioned one time during a national Tigers-White Sox broadcast in 2007. As a graphic of the A.L. Central standings displayed on the screen, Joe Buck took stock of the division race. "At 24 games out, the White Sox have been effectively out of the hunt since midseason. And rounding out the Central, at 26 games back, the Royals, who ..."
Buck paused. "The Royals. The Royals are ... still ... huh." He took a deep sigh. "Jeeeeeeeeeez." The picture, which was set to the home plate camera, shook ever so slightly as the cameraman unlocked it from position, then sort of wandered around listlessly, pointing first at some anonymous child in the bleachers, then fixing on a pigeon sitting on a support cable and grooming its feathers, then drifting upward, where it spent several minutes clumsily panning across the clouds in the sky. "My God," said Buck. "How long has it been since ... wow ... I just ... extraordinary. Extraordinary." After this incident, broadcast producers implemented protocols that barred announcers from making mention of the Royals ever again.
I can't blame you, then, for being a little behind on my favorite American League team. As the All-Star Game nears, I thought it would be nice to offer an introduction to Kansas City, the Royals, and the stadium they play in.
About Kansas City
I was born in Kansas City, and spent the majority of my first 10 years there. Based on my experience, here are some "fast facts" about Kansas City:
- Everyone is enormously tall.
- When I was five, my parents yelled at me for taking all their books off the shelf and writing, "BOOK," on all the covers in permanent marker. They don't live there anymore, so you may be able to get away with this in Kansas City today.
- There is at least one grocery store. $hop 'til you drop!
Visitors may not know this, but the greater Kansas City area is actually made up of two cities named "Kansas City." The first is Kansas City, Kansas, whose motto is "What the Hell, we're the one in Kansas, what you gotta call yourself Kansas City for, what if we were called Missouri City, how would you like it," and the second is Kansas City, Missouri, whose motto is "lol."
About Kauffman Stadium
So now that you've taken a "virtual tour" of the town, let's take a closer look at the Royals' Kauffman Stadium, located in the Truman Sports Complex. This, of course, is the very complex President Harry S. Truman tried to warn us about back in the 1950s.
A - The iconic Royals scoreboard display behind the center-field fence. The words, "ROYALS LOSE 6-2, GO AWAY JERKS," are permanently burned into the screen, as is the on-base percentage of Tony Pena, Jr., which somehow managed to remain at .013 during his entire career as a Royal.
B - Arrowhead Stadium. During the Kansas City Chiefs' glory days, it was used for football. In 2006, it was re-purposed as a processing plant that manufactures industrial-grade ennui.
C - Cars full of disappointed children whose parents told them they were taking them to Target.
D - A recently-constructed extra baseball diamond. This is where the Royals will play during the All-Star Game, since Major League Baseball just sort of barged in and the Royals aren't the confrontational sort.
E - I don't want to talk about it.
F - I DON'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT
G - Hey, look! Fountains! Depending on your perspective, this is either one of the coolest stadium features in Major League Baseball, or a horribly inefficient water distribution system.
H - YES NOT PARTICIPATING THANK YOU
About the Royals
The Kansas City Royals have been a member of the American League for 44 years. Throughout the first half of its existence, the franchise fielded many competitive teams, won a World Series, produced a Hall of Famer in George Brett, and featured a national superstar in Bo Jackson. Throughout the second half, absolutely diddly jack horseshit has happened that is worth talking about.
Let's take a trip through the Royals' starting nine throughout the years:
This was the team that won the Royals' only World Series championship to date. Unfortunately, I was only two years old at the time and can only appreciate this squad in retrospect, but this really was a remarkable bunch. There was George Brett, the all-time face of the franchise, holding it down at third. Bret Saberhagen, the 21-year-old phenom, won both the Cy Young Award and the World Series MVP award. Lonnie Smith was in the middle of one of the most interesting baseball lives anyone's ever had. Willie Wilson was one of the fastest players in baseball history. And they had those awesome powder-blue uniforms and everything. Man, what a team.
This was the first baseball team I ever fell in love with. The '89 Royals were good, and although they didn't make the playoffs, they were probably even more awesome to watch than the '85 edition. Danny Tartabull added power to the lineup, and Bo Jackson was absolutely the most awesome dude on the planet. He was the greatest athlete who ever lived; a while back, Bomani Jones and I spent some time arguing this case. He was unbelievably fast, he hit massive home runs, he dove, he walked up walls, he broke bats, and to six-year-old me, he was God.
Having Bo Jackson on your favorite team is better than winning a World Series.
By '95, the guard had completely changed. This ushered in a trend of the Royals acquiring players I thought were awesome five years prior -- Wally Joyner, Vince Coleman, Gary Gaetti, Greg Gagne, etc. The Royals would soon pull the "acquire both members of an infield tandem with similar names from another team" once again by acquiring both Jeff King and Jay Bell.
This was not a particularly good team, but you know, ups and downs, right? The Royals can't stay awesome forever. We'll have a few down years, and by like 1998, we'll be right back at it.
Mike Sweeney was fun to root for, but this is sort of when I started realizing that losing Royals teams weren't a bug. They were a feature. This was not a baseball team, this was a losing baseball team. Even the uniforms got shitty; the Royals had ditched the powder blues long ago, and were now wearing these weird black sleeveless vests that made them look like hosts at O'Charley's. Which most of them probably were.
The rest of the 21st century
The 21st century in Kansas City baseball has been largely defined by Zack Greinke hanging out with the very worst team. There is the occasional Joakim Soria or Alex Gordon or Billy Butler who comes along, but they're never enough to turn the team around in a meaningful way. Do the Royals still have Zack Greinke? I haven't bothered to find out, because I can't imagine it ever mattering.
Some will tell you the Royals' future looks better, and they might be right, but I'm not emotionally capable of allowing myself to buy into that. Anyway, I'm glad I could take this once-in-a-decade opportunity to introduce you to my shitty team. The Royals' contractual obligation to stay in Kauffman Stadium ends in 2030, so maybe they'll move and we can talk about that.