When Robinson Cano infamously left Billy Butler, the Kansas City Royals representative off the Home Run Derby team at the All-Star Game last summer in Kansas City, (who Butler is and who he plays for is important here), Royals fans booed him mercilessly.
And all he’s been saying since is that Kansas City doesn’t understand.
Fine. Let’s talk about what Kansas City does understand. Because Kansas City understands a lot.
After the death of Ewing Kauffmann, Major League Baseball’s owners colluded to sell the team to some guy from Arkansas, which by Major League Baseball’s stretch of the imagination, is in Kansas City’s market, who proceeded to run the organization like a cut-rate discount chain for a decade–drafting players and signing free agents primarily based on whether they would sign cheaply, rather than any kind of ability. David Glass accidentally ended up getting a few talented people here and there, but he traded most of them away, receiving notable players such as Neifi Perez, A.J. Hinch, and Angel Berroa in return. The only player Glass received in exchange for any of his stars who had a career of any significant length was John Buck, a career .235 hitter.
The result of this mismanagement is that the Royals have not seen postseason play since 1985, the longest drought of any professional sports franchise.
Winning seasons are rare, even. When the Royals do have a winning record, Kansas City lights up like they won the World Series. In 2003, they managed a winning record on the ailing shoulders of Mike Sweeney and Raul Ibanez, and the city was absolutely electric, but they fell apart in late summer and barely finished above .500.
Their only other notable season was 1994, when they were four games out of first place, but that season got cancelled due to a strike. The 1994 Royals weren’t a great team either, but neither was any other team in that division. That year they had a chance, only to have it snatched away by politics.
Kansas City actually had the sense to build a nice stadium when everyone else in baseball was building disposable stadiums that looked like each other (and bore a strange resemblance to toilets), and Major League Baseball rewarded that foresight by making Kansas City wait 39 years between chances to host the All-Star Game. There are 30 baseball teams, and three cities with multiple teams, so tell me how that’s fair. In that timeframe, multiple cities, including favored cities like New York and Chicago, were chosen for the All Star game multiple times, sometimes three times.
A few years ago, Kansas City figured something out. They figured out that finishing last yielded the best draft picks, which is how the system is supposed to work. And they figured out that money that major league players would sniff at would lure talented amateurs to sign. So they drafted the best player available, slammed multi-million-dollar bonuses down on the table, and lo and behold, some of them actually signed. The result was that they built a nice stable of prospects. But Major League Baseball decided that was unfair, so a couple of years ago, they changed the rules and instituted a salary cap on the draft.
Only a small percentage of heralded prospects go on to become impact players, and to illustrate, the most accomplished of the Royals’ bonus babies are struggling to be replacement-level players right now. Those are the risks, but it was the only way for the Royals to have any hope to compete. That’s gone now.
They still won’t institute a salary cap in the majors, though. That might help the Royals keep or attract decent free agents. But Major League Baseball won’t even consider that radical idea.
Robinson Cano is 30 years old. He’s made the postseason seven times, the first as a 22-year-old rookie. He’s made more than $58 million over the course of his glamorous career playing for baseball’s richest team in baseball’s richest market. The only thing he ever experienced in his career that even vaguely resembled disappointment was in 2008, when the Yankees went 89-73, finished third, and didn’t make the postseason.
The Kansas City Royals and their fans understand a lot of things, but I guess Robinson Cano is right. They don’t understand all of that.
Here’s why they boo him. Robinson Cano made a promise to Kansas City, that he would choose Billy Butler as a player in the 2012 Home Run Derby–a promise that would have cost one of the richest players in the league absolutely nothing to keep. He broke the promise. To the city of Kansas City, that was just the culmination of Major League Baseball jerking them around for, well, the last quarter century.
So for once, the city of Kansas City stood up and said something. It was a single word, and a three-letter word at that, but at least they finally said something. And since neither Cano nor Major League Baseball got the message, now they say the same thing every time they see him.
And all Cano can say is that Kansas City doesn’t understand.
Oh, how they wish they did.