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5 ways Ewing Kauffman changed baseball

The First Game at Municipal and Building a New Stadium | Ewing Marion Kauffman
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We recall Ewing Kauffman’s instinct for innovation that built a model sports franchise, a modern stadium, a championship-caliber team for his hometown and an uncommon legacy for baseball.

Fifty years ago Ewing Kauffman established the Kansas City Royals. He came to the sport reluctantly, but with his wife Muriel Kauffman’s support and encouragement, he stepped up to the plate when he was convinced that the team would bring economic muscle to Kansas City. Once he committed to the idea, he poured into the team the same energy, resources, and innovative thinking that made him a successful businessman. In 1968, after American League club owners unanimously approved his bid for a major league baseball team, Ewing Kauffman told reporters, “Kansas City has been good to me and I want to show I can return the favor.”

As the Royals and their fans embark on the team’s 50th season, we recall Ewing Kauffman’s instinct for innovation that built a model sports franchise, a modern stadium, a championship-caliber team for his hometown and an uncommon legacy for baseball.

1. He drew loyal baseball fans to Kansas City.

Faced with the challenge of growing a large and loyal fan base in one of the sport’s smallest markets, the Royals adopted a regional marketing strategy. The team’s bus caravan took players to gatherings of fans and media in Leavenworth, Atchison, Lawrence, Topeka, Manhattan, Junction City, Salina, Emporia and Wichita in Kansas; Lincoln and Omaha in Nebraska; Des Moines in Iowa; Sedalia, Jefferson City, Columbia, Springfield and Joplin in Missouri; Fort Smith, Arkansas, and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Ewing Kauffman created the Royal Lancers, an elite team of boosters, including some of his sales force from Marion Laboratories, to promote the team and sell season tickets. The team’s aggressive marketing approach yielded remarkable results. In November 1968, before the Royals played their first game, The Sporting News reported that sales had reached 7,022, to set a new American League record for season ticket sales.

On September 24, 1989, the Kansas City Royals set the team’s all-time season attendance mark by welcoming 2,477,700 baseball fans to Kansas City. Operating in one of the sport’s smallest markets, the Royals fan base stretched across the Midwest. During Ewing Kauffman’s years as the team’s owner, Royals fans filled the stadium and topped the magic two-million season-attendance mark seven seasons in a row, and eleven times in all. The Royals single-season attendance record set during the Kauffman years stood for 27 years.

2. He challenged conventional wisdom and explored the science of baseball.

Ewing Kauffman hired mavericks and encouraged them to bring uncommon thinking to the game. He also brought his guiding business philosophy to treat others as you would like to be treated to the team. The Royals were the first team in baseball to offer insurance, hospitalization, pension and profit-sharing programs for members of the front office.

Mr. K read Percentage Baseball by Earnshaw Cook, an early proponent of sabermetrics, and Royals scouts and front office staff analyzed unique baseball statistics to measure players’ contributions. The unconventional approach to studying the game led Kauffman to say, “Baseball is full of traditions and myths that don’t stand up to analysis.”

Kauffman stunned the baseball world and some of his own executives by announcing that he intended to found and operate an academy in Sarasota, Florida, devoted entirely to honing the proven physical skills of undrafted athletes, even those who had not played organized baseball. The Kansas City Royals opened the Royals Baseball Academy in Sarasota, Florida, in August 1970. The 121-acre campus featured five baseball diamonds all built to the precise dimensions of the major league stadium being planned for Kansas City. Tests to determine speed, eyesight, reflexes, balance and personality traits were developed by a staff that included a psychologist who had worked with NASA and the Office of Naval Research, a research psychologist, ophthalmologists, college and professional baseball coaches and trainers.

Muriel Kauffman told Sports Illustrated that she chose green walls and gold armchair desks for the Royals Baseball Academy because “educational psychologists have determined that soft colors are the best learning color.” In addition to honing their baseball skills at the academy, the young athletes equipped themselves for their lives outside the game by taking mandatory community college courses.

Without a single drafted player on the team, the first Royals Academy team won 23 of its first 28 games, and took the Gulf League title with a record of 40-13, for a .755 winning percentage, without ever being held scoreless in a game. The team led the league in both team batting average, at .257, and team earned run average, at 2.07. They stole 103 bases, 48 more than the next closest team, and were caught stealing only 16 times.

Sixteen Academy players made their way to the major leagues, including U.L. Washington and Frank White, who played side-by-side in the Royals infield for 1,000 games. White went on to a stellar career, appearing in five-time All-Star games, winning eight Gold Glove Awards at second base, playing in two World Series, being induced in the Royals Hall of Fame and having his uniform number retired.

The team decided to end the Royals Baseball Academy and apply resources to more traditional player development programs, a decision Kauffman would come to regret. “The Academy was costing me $600,000 a year, so I thought I’d better cut it back. If I’d known what I know now, I would have kept the Academy and we would have created a dynasty,” he would say later.

Despite the decision to close the academy, Ewing Kauffman’s uncommon approach to developing baseball players was featured in both Sports Illustrated and The Wall Street Journal. Training techniques and technology introduced and developed at the academy, including the use of radar guns, pitching machines for fielding drills, videotaping, mandatory stretching, strength and conditioning equipment and even stopwatches, all have become standard practice across the game.

Years later, the academy system would serve as the model for developing young players from Latin America and foreshadowed the establishment of Major League Baseball’s current Urban Youth Academies, including the Kansas City Urban Youth Academy.

3. He built a home fit for a king.

At a time when other cities were building cookie-cutter, multipurpose sports facilities, Ewing Kauffman went against the trend to build Royals Stadium, a spectacular home for the team that was decades ahead of its time. When work delays threaten the opening of the stadium, Mr. K added nearly $7 million to make sure it would open in time for the 1973 season and be available to host the 1973 All Star game. Royals Stadium was the sole baseball-only facility built in the majors between 1962 and 1991.

Built to complement the team’s aggressive style of play that emphasized speed, hustle and defense, Royals Stadium and the fans who filled it gave the team a decided home field advantage. The team made a remarkable run from 1975 to 1978 when the Royals compiled a .651 winning percentage in their home park, and lost only 26 and 25 games at home during the entire 1977 and 1978 seasons, respectively.

One of the crown jewel ballparks of Major League Baseball was officially renamed in honor of Ewing M. Kauffman on July 2, 1993. Kauffman, who had refused to accept numerous offers to have his name affixed to bricks and mortar, resisted a long-running campaign by local baseball fans to change the name of the ballpark from Royals Stadium. Soon after Kauffman was inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame and announced his innovative plan to keep the team in Kansas City, the Jackson County Sports Authority approved a resolution for the name change. Family and friends, led by his wife Muriel, persuaded Mr. K to accept the honor, and he acquiesced. Now the sixth-oldest stadium in Major League Baseball, Kauffman Stadium is the only stadium in the American League named in honor of a person.

4. He won.

Ewing Kauffman promised baseball fans a winning team and he delivered. The Royals set a new standard of excellence for an expansion club by posting a winning record in just the team’s third season. The team made it to postseason play in 1976 and posted the best regular season record in all of Major League Baseball in 1977.

On October 27, 1985 the Royals won the seventh game of the World Series. With the 11-0 victory, the team sealed the greatest comeback in World Series history and reigned as the first American League expansion team ever to win the championship. The Royals were also the only team to ever come back from a three-games-to-one deficit twice in the same postseason and the first team to lose its first two games at home and rally to win the Series. The 1985 championship over the cross-state rival St. Louis Cardinals remains one of the Royals’ most celebrated moments and stands as a crowning achievement for team owner Ewing Kauffman.

During the Royals’ glory years, from 1975 to 1989, the team made more postseason appearances than any other team in baseball. The Royals won six division titles, two American League pennants, and the 1985 World Series Championship. In the 25 seasons with Kauffman at the helm, the Royals posted winning records 16 times. The team won 51 percent of its regular season games and never finished in last place.

5. He created uncommon ways to give back to his community through baseball.

During the Royals first season, the team established the Y-Royals Lancers, an innovative initiative funded by Ewing Kauffman and administered by the Paseo-Linwood branch of the Y.M.C.A. to provide year-round activities for 700 boys and girls in Kansas City’s urban core. The program provided for boys’ baseball and girls’ softball teams, a drill team and choral group of girls and boys, and a youth forum group composed of black youth who came together to discuss issues they faced in their neighborhoods.

After the 1980 World Series the demand for Royals season tickets reached an all-time high. Despite the season ticket windfall, Mr. K directed the team to cap season ticket sales at 15,000 so that regular season game tickets would be available for fans who did not have season tickets.

On weekends during the baseball team’s road trips, Kauffman opened the gates of Royals Stadium to teach hundreds of people CPR in the outfield. During the course of the program, volunteers from Kauffman’s Marion Laboratories teamed up with trainers from the American Heart Association and the Red Cross to teach 125,000 people how to perform CPR.

Kauffman drew from his personal fortune to improve the quality of his baseball team and give fans a championship-caliber organization. His team’s payroll was near the top of the league and he originated lifetime contacts to keep his best players in Royals uniforms.

When an agreement with a prospective ownership partner failed to materialize, Kauffman bought the partner’s share of the team at auction and regained full control of the club in 1990. He began issuing warnings in the early 1990s about the lack of competitive balance in baseball and the need for a form of revenue sharing to even the playing field.

After efforts to bring partners into the Royals ownership group failed, Kauffman developed innovative measures to ensure the Royals would stay in Kansas City after his death. His intricate and novel plan dictated that the new owner would agree to keep the Royals in Kansas City, sell the team for a fair price, and have proceeds from the sale go to local charities. It took the Internal Revenue Service two years to review and approve the groundbreaking plan. Kansas City Star sports columnist Joe Posnanski called Mr. K’s final gift to baseball fans in his hometown a noble gesture that few, if any, benefactors have ever matched.

Kauffman baseball through the years

Visit Mr. Kauffman’s online exhibit to learn more about the pivotal moments that served as guideposts for his life. EMK100 >