The book is out. The distribution is beginning. Get ready to put your hands on: From Worst to First…A History of Kansas City Major League Baseball 1955-1985.
A great book, if I say so myself. Why not! I’m a co-author. I, along with Del Black, Sid Bordman, Joe Henderson and Jim Murray put together this hard-cover, landscape format book that takes an in-depth look at the politics, machinations, players, managers, owners during the development of the KC A’s and Royals.
Black and Bordman were Kansas City Star beat writers for the Royals, Henderson was a long-time reporter for the Star and Murray was an illustrator for the paper. I started my career in journalism at the Star. We represent 420 years of life, mainly with newspaper blood in our veins. We lived the history that’s covered in the book.
When we sit around a table, we may look like the recreation committee at an assisted living complex. We sit around tables, for sure … have a libation or two while solving world problems, mocking Royals broadcaster Rex Hudler, denigrating decisions by Manager Ned Yost and either praising or panning various sports endeavors.
We can be found on most every Wednesday afternoon at Governor Stumpy’s, ready to talk baseball during the summer days; throughout the year, we discuss most any sport, stupid Kansas politics and painful Star decisions.
The idea for the book actually hatched during sessions at Governor Stumpy’s. Jim and I had been pushing Sid to write a book about his long-time coverage of baseball in Kansas City. Geez, wasn’t he a pal of Abner Doubleday! While discussing various baseball anecdotes, we kept hearing Sid come up with gems, facts, anecdotes and stories about baseball in Kansas City. Damn, Sid, put that down on paper, write a book.
We couldn’t get him to do it alone. So, finally, Jim and I said, “The hell with it; let’s get all of us together and write a book.”
What an undertaking for us. Five hard-headed journalists getting together and agreeing on something — do you get the picture! Plus, we’re creative geniuses, not businessmen who know how to market and promote.
Del’s closeness to Manager Whitey Herzog was productive. Sid’s insight was remarkable. Joe’s friendship with Ernie Mehl and Joe McGuff paid huge rewards. Murray’s illustrations set off the book from any other histories. My temperament kept matters moving.
Right here and now, let me say this: A most valuable and salient point is made in the book; if it hadn’t been for the Star in general and Mehl and McGuff in particular, there would be no major league baseball in Kansas City today. No ifs, ands or buts.
Sure, sure. Some good people became involved with the franchise. But Mehl, as sports editor, became a super salesman for the city and swayed major league baseball, KC civic leaders and politicians to help keep a team here.
He worked hard to get Arnold Johnson to buy the old Philadelphia A’s and move them to Kansas City. He struggled with Charlie O. (for Owner) Finley, who was able to persuade other owners to move the team to Oakland. Finley had even threatened to move the team to Peculiar, Missouri.
Anyway, in 1968, Kansas City found itself without major league baseball once again. Mehl tirelessly worked to solve the problem. The odds were against him. After all, the stigma spread that the city was small-market and really couldn’t support a major league team in the proper manner. Mehl would have none of it.
He went to Missouri U.S. Senator Stuart Symington and discussed ways to get a team back to the city. Symington had the answer: He went to the owners and said if they didn’t act, he would introduce an anti-trust bill against baseball. Yikes. The owners acquiesced. However, they wanted to wait three years. No, no, cried Mehl and Symington. The specter of anti-trust continued to catch the owners’ attention and they agreed to place an expansion team in the city within a year. The Royals took the field in 1969.
Mehl had to find an owner. In an earlier battle to keep the A’s in town, he had trouble finding money. As the book noted, Mehl went to banker James Kemper and asked for help. Henderson related the story: “Kemper told Ernie, ‘Sure. You can count on me for $10,000.'” Not quite the amount, huh. Ernie was looking for millions.
Mehl found an owner, Ewing Kauffman. A pharmaceutical entrepreneur and Kansas City philanthropist and civic leader, Kauffman became quite a good owner and a soulful savior for Kansas City baseball. He was born in 1916 into a farm family near Garden City, Missouri. As a boy, his salesmanship acumen surfaced early and helped his financially challenged family to make ends meet. He sold eggs and magazines door-to-door and noodled for catfish in the muddy waters of the Grand River. He caught them and sold them. He served in the Navy in World War II, and in the long stretches aboard ship, he played poker and, as the story goes, put away $90,000 in gambling winnings. The money was used to invest in real estate; when the war ended, he took his time to find a job, feeling flush with all the poker money.
That job was in sales at a pharmaceutical firm, Lincoln Laboratories — no salary, no benefits, only 20 percent commission. In 1950, he quit Lincoln and started Marion Laboratories in his basement. And that evolved into a multi-million dollar enterprise, earning enough to become owner of the Kansas City Royals.
His story is in the book, along with many others of the 30-year era.
But, please, no more talk about small market Kansas City. On page 45, the book includes more on the probability of the city not having a major league franchise. Bordman pointed out, “Kansas City was in the American Association with cities like Indianapolis, Toledo, Columbus and Louisville. Through the years those cities haven’t been able to acquire a Major League Baseball franchise.”
Critics certainly would use the small market factor now in trying to freeze out major league baseball in Kansas City.
The book contains game action, political action, player action. There are photos, illustrations, graphics. Franchise side issues are scattered throughout the pages. The authors also chose a 1955-1985 All-Star team. Yeah, George Brett and Frank White are on it. But get the book to see who else. Of course, the book goes into detail on the World Series championship year in 1985. You probably will even get a chuckle out of seeing the old ads from the newspaper and game programs.
The book cost $25 and the artwork on the jacket is worth more than that. You can buy a book from any of the authors. And it’s available in various other places, including the Rainy Day Book Store and cumpys.com on the internet.