Some brief and belated thoughts on the biggest week of baseball in Kansas City since 1985:
1) With baseball’s spotlight on Kansas City for the first time since 1985…everyone killed it. The team, the ballpark, the fans, the city, the barbeque, everyone. While I couldn’t stay for the All-Star Game itself, I couldn’t miss out on the festivities entirely, so I flew in Saturday morning and stayed until Sunday night.
It was obvious from the time I got off the plane that Kansas City was determined to do this right. There were signs everywhere at KCI referencing the All-Star Game, and while that might seem like a small and simple thing, if this game had taken place at US Cellular Park, you probably could have changed planes in O’Hare and never known the All-Star Game was in town.
That’s the advantage that a smaller market has when it gets to host an event like this: it’s not embarrassed to go all out. From the billboards all around town promoting the game, to the radioactive blue dye they put in the fountains outside FanFest, Kansas City made it clear: this was a BIG DEAL to the city.
2) It was a big deal to the fans as well. I went to FanFest on Saturday, and it was a zoo. Autograph lines snaked around for hours. I went to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum – which everyone should go see if you haven’t been there, but you already knew that – for a Baseball Prospectus event on Sunday morning. We held the event across the street at the Gem Theater, and then went over to the museum proper, which was standing room only to hear Dave Winfield interview former Negro Leaguers talk about their experiences.
I then headed over to Kauffman Stadium to prep for the Futures Game. The game started at 4:05, but when I pulled in to the parking lot at 1:30, it was already a quarter full and people were tailgating. Fans were tailgating two-and-a-half hours early to a minor-league exhibition.
As you may have heard, the Futures Game was a sellout. While there were a few empty pockets of seats in the stands, there were only a few – announced attendance was just over 40,000, and that seemed like an accurate count. It was easily the most well-attended Futures Game in history. While I had to leave to catch a flight, I’m told that more people stuck around to watch the Celebrity Softball Game afterwards than attended most previous Futures Games. Wil Myers was serenaded like a conquering hero.
3) And that, of course, was just a prelude to one of the great random moments as a Royals fan of the last quarter-century. I don’t have anything to add to the coverage of the Can0 Affair itself. Robinson Cano was booed like no Home Run Derby participant in the event’s history, and put on the worst performance of any Home Run Derby participant in the event’s history. (While a few others have also been skunked, I doubt anyone else hit three foul balls among his ten swings.) Those two things are not coincidental. Kansas City fans got into his head, and it was a beautiful thing.
The media reaction was, for the most part, understanding if not necessarily supportive. There were, though, a few in the media who thought that the reaction of Royals fans was tasteless, classless, and made the city look small and provincial. With all due respect, I couldn’t disagree more. If that’s what you took away from what happened, then you must actually think that the booing was about Robinson Cano.
It wasn’t, not really. It was about a fan base that, with the eyes of the nation turned on them for the first time in decades, collectively said, “WE LOVE BASEBALL AROUND HERE. NOT EVEN 27 YEARS OF SUCKING CHANGES THAT. GIVE US A WINNER AND YOU’LL SEE.” For the rest of the nation, the Royals have – justifiably – been irrelevant for the past 27 years. This was a chance to remind the nation that while the Royals may have been irrelevant, Royals fans were not. Royals fans got their moment, and they owned it.
Two comments from the media stood out: the first was that some players were so turned off by the display that they would be less likely to come to Kansas City to play in the future. The second was that if Royals fans really wanted to show their displeasure, they should have been booing the Glass family.
Regarding the first: really? Are you telling me that Cole Hamels might be less likely to sign with the Royals this off-season? Hold on while I peel myself off of this fainting couch. Kansas City has never been a premier destination for free agents, and for the Royals to sign a free agent, they usually have to offer something no other market can – namely, more money. That’s how free agency works. And if the Royals offer a free agent more money than anyone else this winter, he’s not going to say, “yeah, but they booed Robinson Cano.” Otherwise no one would sign with the Phillies, who, you know, boo their own players.
Speaking of which: what ballplayer looks at that display of righteous anger at an opposing player for snubbing their own player and thinks, “Man, these fans hate the other team, and they love their own players. I DON’T WANT TO PLAY HERE.” Booing Cano was not an expression of hatred – it was an expression of passion and loyalty. Loyalty to one of the guys who wears our uniform, who we were led to believe would get to take part in a meaningless but enjoyable spectacle, and then was snubbed.
Personally, I don’t think this affects the Royals’ chances to sign Cole Hamels. But you know who it does affect? BILLY BUTLER. It’s way too soon to know whether the Royals will even want to re-sign Butler at the end of his contact, which ends (if they pick up his option) after the 2015 season. He’ll be almost 30 then, and 30-year-old glacier-slow right-handed-hitting DHs don’t typically age well. But if Butler is still an elite hitter and the Royals do want to re-sign him for 2 or 3 years, you don’t think he’ll remember this supreme exhibition of love from his fan base? Butler was beaming from the time he was introduced on Monday until the game was over on Tuesday. Butler’s a Kansas City kind of guy, and as such was really the perfect choice to represent the Royals at the All-Star Game. Long after this incident is forgotten and Cano has gone back to torturing the Royals on the field, Butler will remember how the city embraced him, and defended him to the world.
And regarding the second point: did you notice how David Glass wasn’t introduced to the crowd? I mean, if Royals fans were told that David Glass would be on the field in front of 45,000 fans, and if they were given a week to prepare about it, you don’t think they would have booed him until he fled inside a dugout?
The message that Royals fans sent to major league baseball? It was also a message to the Glass Family: THIS IS WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF YOU’LL JUST BUILD US A WINNER. What bothers me about the Glass family’s unwillingness to spend on major-league payroll* isn’t that it’s cheap: it’s that it’s poor business. Spending money on player salaries isn’t a cost – it’s an investment. (Unless you spend it on Jose Guillen.)
*: As recently as 2 or 3 years ago, I felt that the Glass family was spending a reasonable amount of money on major-league payroll, particularly given how much they were spending to sign amateur talent. But this season, the Royals’ payroll is roughly $64 million. That’s almost identical to their payroll in 2008, and more than $10 million LESS than their payroll in 2009 and 2010. Given how much industry revenues have increased the last few years, AND given that the Royals are now prohibited from spending as much money in the draft and in Latin America, that’s inexcusable.
If All-Star week didn’t convince the Glass family that there’s an upside to spending the money to build a contender, nothing will.
4) The game itself? Well, it sort of sucked. How appropriate that the American League suffered the worst loss in its history. That would be The Most Royals Moment of the season, except, of course…
5) …Melky Cabrera was named MVP of the All-Star Game. Yeah, hard to top that one.
6) Before this week, I had said that as it had been nearly 40 years since the Royals had hosted an All-Star Game, it would probably be another 40 years before they did again. But really, Kansas City put on a show, and don’t think that The Powers That Be didn’t notice. One of the reasons it’s been so long is that, for the past 20-25 years, virtually every All-Star Game has been awarded to a team that had just built (or renovated) their stadium. Which was 80% of the teams in baseball.
But that ballpark boom is almost over – there’s maybe 5 or 6 teams left to go. At that point, the game will likely be awarded at least partly based on where it’s likely to get the most attention. And at least locally, it’s hard for a game to have received more attention than this one. I don’t think Kansas City will get to host another game in 5 or 10 years, but at some point in the 2020s, it’s a distinct possibility.
Hopefully there will be some other meaningful games at Kauffman Stadium between now and then.
7) And on that note, I wrote about the Royals for Grantland on Tuesday, which you can read here. I can’t say I was very nice, but I can say that I was fair. The Royals are not in a good place right now. That doesn’t mean that things can’t turn around quickly, but the boundless optimism of 18 months ago has largely melted in the face of the fierce heat of reality. The Best Farm System In The History Of Whatever hasn’t lived up to the hype yet, and Dayton Moore hasn’t done enough to compensate. With 2013 shaping up to be a make-or-break year for him, he’s got about eight months to overhaul the rotation and fix his offense. That’s a tall order.