Not long after the offseason ushered in new ownership for the KC Royals, a longtime owner many credit with saving the franchise died. And a new manager replaced the second skipper to lead the club to a World Series championship.
When Charlie Finley took his Athletics and abandoned Kansas City for Oakland after the 1967 season, pharmaceutical giant Ewing Kauffman, a man with little previous exposure to baseball, stepped up and bought the rights to bring the big leagues back to town. Kauffman assembled and maintained a team of keen, savvy baseball people, let them run the baseball side of his new business, and soon led the franchise to years of success and a World Series championship.
A board ran the team for a time after Kauffman’s death; its head, David Glass, an extraordinarily successful and wealthy businessman in his own right, stepped in and bought the club in 2000 when fear ran rampant that outside interests would buy the Royals and move them away.
Success was rare during Glass’ first dozen years at the helm–the Royals had just one winning season during that span. Things changed in 2013–the club made an earnest run for a playoff spot that didn’t end until late in the campaign, then went to the World Series in 2014 and won it in ’15. But the club’s fortunes soon declined, reviving previous complaints that Glass’ approach to baseball finances was too conservative and he simply wouldn’t spend the money necessary to maintain a winning franchise.
There were fans who rejoiced at the news, announced in August of last season when the Royals were well on their way to another 100-loss season, that Glass was selling the team to John Sherman, a longtime Kansas City resident and part-owner of the Cleveland Indians; with no real evidence, those fans believed the move signaled a change for the better–an increase in spending on players. Baseball approved the sale to Sherman and his ownership group in November. So far, Sherman’s fiscal approach seems a match for Glass’.
Sadly, Glass won’t realize his reported plans to attend 2020 Spring Training with the club. He died January 9, leaving an indelible mark on the history of Kansas City baseball.
Now it is Sherman who will run the Royals. He, too, is an eminently successful businessman who made his fortune in energy. He’s now overseen almost an entire offseason, one characterized not by a departure from Glass’ conservative spending, but instead one mirroring that approach. Time will tell how frugal Sherman’s reign will be.
Change in ownership wasn’t the only offseason alteration to the Royals’ landscape–before the sale to Sherman was consummated, Ned Yost, the only manager other than Dick Howser to skipper the team to a World Series championship, retired after 2019’s final game. Mike Matheny replaced him a month later.
Matheny and Yost followed similar paths to the Royals’ job: General Manager Dayton Moore hired Yost as an adviser after Yost’s unceremonious 2008 firing from Milwaukee when the Brewers were in a hot race for a playoff spot, then made him manager when Trey Hillman was fired; Moore hired Matheny for a similar role after he was fired, despite a winning record, four division titles and a World Series appearance, by St. Louis in July 2018, then named him to succeed Yost.
Matheny comes to the job with baggage, not the least of which is criticism of his handling of his clubhouse, tactical decisions and pitching staffs. But he was consistently successful in St. Louis, a strong indication that he can manage. And his self-improvement efforts can’t hurt his prospects for success in KC–since Moore hired him, Matheny has studied analytics and leadership and hired a media consultant.
The still rebuilding Royals have a stable of young talent–especially pitchers–on the verge of making the big leagues. Whether Matheny is, for those players and the current roster, the right manager at the right time remains to be seen. His hiring added interest to the offseason.