Major League Baseball franchise, currently a part of the Central Division of the American League.
The Royals were founded in 1969 as part of Major League Baseball's explosive growth period, when from 1962 to 1972 eight new teams were founded and four others changed locations (including two of the expansion teams). The Royals joined the newly created AL West for the 1969 season under the ownership of pharmaceutical magnate Ewing Kauffman.
The newly created expansion team started off as most expansion teams do, finishing below .500 for three of its first four seasons and never really rising from the middle of the pack. The early team featured young standout Lou Piniella, taken during the 1969 expansion draft by the Seattle Pilots, but traded to the Royals before the season began. "Sweet Lou" won the Rookie of the Year award in that first season, and, after playing four years with the Royals, was traded to the Yankees after 1973. By that time, however, a new franchise face had shown up in rookie George Brett.
1973: A New Face, A New Park, A New Contender
In 1973, the Royals moved to the brand new Royals Stadium (renamed Kauffman Stadium in 1993), which replaced the fifty year old Kansas City Municipal Stadium. The new facility featured a state-of-the-art (for the time) Astroturf playing surface and symmetrical outfield dimensions, ranging from 330 feet down the lines to 410 feet to straightaway center. In an era of multipurpose "cookie cutter" stadiums, Royals Stadium was the only baseball specific park built between 1962 and 1991.
The team that called this modernist masterpiece home was helmed by first time manager Jack McKeon and featured such players as Lou Piniella (in his last season as a Royal) and, inaugurating the newly-created designated hitter role, 27 year old Hal McRae. A young kid named George Brett also saw limited action at the end of the '73 season. The club that season finished 88-74 that year, good for second in the AL West. That offseason saw a trade that would set a pattern for the Royals franchise throughout the ages: Lou Piniella, who had had a down year in 1973, was traded along with a fringe throw-in for 38 year old journeyman reliever Lindy McDaniel. Piniella would go on to play for the next decade for the Yankees, while McDaniel gave the Royals 200 innings over the next two seasons before retiring.
However, this questionable deal didn't cripple the Royals. Despite their fifth place finish in 1974, the team began a dramatic upswing starting with the hiring of Whitey Herzog during the 1975 season and the emergence of George Brett as a talent for the ages. A 41-25 push down the stretch under Herzog's tutelage wasn't enough to catch the Oakland Athletics (nee Kansas City Athletics), but starting in 1976, Herzog led the team to three straight division titles and the franchise would finish first or second every year until 1986, winning six divisional titles. During this time period, "The White Rat" emphasized speed and defense with his new club, using the Astroturf playing surface to his advantage to have speedy slap hitters beat out grounders and take advantage of gappers that split outfield defenses. Brett also posted superstar numbers as a perennial All-Star third baseman and won the 1980 MVP on the strength of his incredible .390 batting average.
Herzog's departure after the 1979 season (for the cross-state Cardinals) didn't slow the franchise at all. Under new manager Jim Frey, the club would win the pennant in 1980 before a disastrous first half in the strike altered 1981 season led to his replacement by Dick Howser. Howser led the club to its second pennant win in 1985, and in the "I-70 World Series" against former manager Herzog, gave the team its first World Championship.
After the 1985 season, it was the beginning of the end for this small-market powerhouse. The team managed to stay respectable for the rest of the 80s with the help of young two-sport superstar Bo Jackson, but a combination of factors heightened the decline of this once-contending franchise. The disastrous trade of David Cone for Ed Hearn, and the later trade of Bret Saberhagen for Kevin McReynolds, Gregg Jeffries, and Keith Miller added to the downward momentum. Jackson's decline from hip injuries sustained while playing football and the death of owner Ewing Kauffman in 1993 marked a low point in franchise history. Brett also retired following the 1993 season, finishing his career with 3,154 hits, 317 home runs, and 201 stolen bases.
1993: The Glass is Half Empty
Following the death of owner Ewing Kauffman in 1993, former Wal-Mart executive David Glass was appointed interim chairman and CEO of the franchise. Glass, who as of this writing is one of the the richest owners in Major League Baseball, is frequently derided as a cheapskate who meddled with baseball operations at the expense of the on-field product. During the 1994 strike, Glass was one of the agitators for the use of replacement players and doing whatever is necessary to break the strength of the player's union.
While under Glass' control, the Royals have averaged 96 losses per season and have traded away such talent as Jermaine Dye, Johnny Damon, and Carlos Beltran. They're also perennial contenders for the "Worst Franchise in Sports" tag, as, despite Glass' insistence on a small-market payroll, the club routinely ranks as one of the most profitable in baseball due to revenue sharing. In 2006, Glass' bid to buy the team for $96M was approved by a board stacked with Glass supporters, despite a competing bid for $120M. Kauffman Stadium is now undergoing a $250M taxpayer-funded renovation orchestrated by the (mis)management of the club.
2008 and beyond
As Glass continues to bring his Wal-Mart philosophy of low wages for marginal product to baseball, it is unlikely that the franchise will ever fully pull out of its decline. Much like Bill Wirtz's ownership of the Blackhawks of the NHL, the stranglehold of a powerful owner intent on squeezing every dime out of a poor team will last for the foreseeable future.
The unbelievably awesome Baseball-Reference.com
Clem's Baseball: MLB Franchise History
David Martin, the Kansas City Pitch, March 30, 2006: "Is David Glass Smoking Grass?"
Jason Whitlock, ESPN.com Page 2: "This Glass is Empty"
ESPN.com Page 2: "The Greediest Owners in Sports"
Dave Gholokov, FoxSports.com: "Worst Franchises in Pro Sports"