The Kansas City Royals are not a big Major League Baseball brand. They have had success throughout their franchise history, including winning a World Series recently, but they have always been in the shadow of the St. Louis Cardinals, their National League Missouri brothers.
Kansas City is considered a small market franchise and doesn’t have the resources of teams based in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, but they have nevertheless been able to compete well throughout their history.
The Royals joined the American League in 1969. There is of course is no monarchy in Kansas City or in the United States, and the franchise is actually named for the American Royal, an annual livestock show, horse show, rodeo, and championship BBQ competition. I don’t know about you, but I find it hard not to like this team more when you hear about the origin of their name. It anchors the team to a community that has been critical to their success.
The team also has an interesting origin story in that it was a replacement for the Athletics, who moved to Oakland. After that happened, then Senator Stuart Symington “demanded” another team, and soon after, the Royals were born.
Expansion generally comes in pairs and and Kansas City rejoined the league with the Seattle Pilots. It is easy to declare that the Royals have been the more successful franchise. They have won two World Series, in 1985 and 2015, and played in two more, while the Pilots lasted only one season in the Major Leagues.
The first few seasons the Royals played in Municipal Stadium, moving to Royals Stadium in 1973, who’s signature waterfalls in centerfield have been the backdrop for many successful teams. In 1993, the stadium was renamed Kauffman Stadium, for founding owner Ewing Kauffman.
While the Royals have had a number of very successful seasons they have always been more a collection of talent than a cavalcade of stars. The lone player that stands out, and is in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, is third baseman George Brett. He ticks all of the boxes too, playing his whole career with Kansas City, amassing more than 3000 hits and a batting average of .305.
He won three batting titles and one MVP award and his 1980 season, in which he hit .390, is the closest we have come to anyone hitting the mythical .400 mark since Ted Williams. A fiery player, he is also well know for the infamous pine tar incident, where a critical homer against the Yankees was called back due to too much pine tar on his bat (a violation that usually goes unnoticed). The video of an incredulous Brett is a classic in baseball history.
The Royals Today
The Royals were sold in the summer of 2019 to John Sherman, a former minority owner with the Cleveland Indians (a division rival). The franchise sold for over a billion dollars. A lot of money for sure, but nowhere near the value of some other clubs.
Since playing in back to back World Series in 2014 and 2015, winning the latter, the franchise has been in decline. Most of the important players from those teams left via free agency, as Kansas City just couldn’t compete with deeper pocketed clubs for talent. They have always been focused on developing talent from within and playing a fundamentally sound brand of baseball.
The core of the current team consists of infielder Whit Merrifield, slugger Jorge Soler and speedy shortstop Adalberto Mondesi. Merrifield and Soler, the 2019 MLB Home Run Champ, are likely to grab the eyes of competing teams while Mondesi, a second generation player (his dad is former NL Rookie of the Year Raul Mondesi), is still finding his way.
Finding the right young talent and developing it in concert is key in the very competitive American League Central. All three teams above them – Minnesota, Chicago and Cleveland – made the playoffs in 2020. Kansas City will have to improve significantly to compete and while their history shows they are likely to do so eventually, it might take some time.