Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Kansas City Royals: Baseball, Wal-Mart Style

by Jeremy Bird

In 2005, the Kansas City Royals posted an abysmal 56-106 (.346) record, a full 43 games out of first place. It was the worst record in baseball. It was the worst record ever posted in the history of the franchise, yet just two games worse than their awful 58-104 2004 season.

This year the Royals are set for a third straight 100-plus losing season. Off to another embarrassing start at 4-13, a streak that has already included an 11-game losing streak, the 2006 team is currently 27th in the majors in hitting (.247) and dead last in pitching with a 6.19 ERA.

The Royals’ recent woes can best be explained by this baseball truth: you can’t win baseball games with Wal-Mart-style management.

Wal-Mart and the Royals
The Royals’ current owner, David Glass, was Wal-Mart’s CEO in his former life (1988-2000). Unfortunately for Royals fans, Glass is running the Royals like he did Wal-Mart. As Wal-Mart’s CEO, Glass was responsible for expanding the company’s business model, including forcing taxpayers to subsidize his profitable company, paying workers substandard wages, and destroying small businesses (to name just a few).

Under Glass' "leadership," the Royals are 401-571 (.413). Glass’ teams have lost 100 games in three of his six years as owner (they lost 97 another year).

Ultimately, Glass’ business model with the Royals does what it did while he ran Wal-Mart: screws over the players, other businesses, fans and taxpayers. It also loses baseball games, by the hundreds.

Welcome to baseball Wal-Mart style.

Baseball on the cheap
Granted, there is no comparison to the wages of a Wal-Mart worker versus a Kansas City Royal. However, there are similarities if you examine the Royals in comparison to other major league teams.

In every year of Glass’ reign, Kansas City has ranked in the bottom 10 of MLB payroll. Last season, the Royals had the lowest payroll in baseball ($29.7 million). This season, Glass opened up the pocket book a little; the team is now fifth lowest in the majors (total payroll of $47.3 million). The MLB average for 2006 is $77.6 million, ironically leaving the Royals about 60 percent below the industry average in pay (similar to Glass’ Wal-Mart).

The biggest problem is that the team is not going on the cheap with young, farm-built talent. Instead, Glass’s offseason spending increases included signing these free agents: Reggie Sanders, Mark Grudzielanek, Doug Mientkiewicz, Scott Elarton, Joe Mays, Mark Redman and Paul Bako. Hardly the impact players that will turn around a 100-game losing team. Not nearly enough to justify the raise in sales taxes and ticket prices.

The average age of the team on the field last Saturday night for the Royals was 31. The Royals current squad is what you get when you spend less money than other teams, when the only free agents you can sign are the ones other teams won’t bid a lot of money for.

In case the last three Royal seasons have not convinced you, you can’t win baseball games on the cheap unless you actually invest in your young players and develop them. Mientkiewicz and Sanders just aren't going to bring the playoffs back to K.C.

Taxpayer Subsidies
This April, the Kansas City Royals (and Chiefs) received $425 million in sales-tax subsidies with the raising of sales taxes to pay for ballpark renovations. Glass claimed that the subsidies would help the Royals add 2,500 seats in their signature fountain area in centerfield, among other park amenities. Does anybody think a team coming off two 100-plus losing season and a recent 11-game losing streak needs additional seating?

Here is the sad truth: According to federal data, raising sales taxes by 0.375% to pay for the renovations will take $25 a year out of the pocket of the average Jackson County, Missouri resident. Taxpayers are subsidizing Glass, the millionaire owner, just like we did Glass, the millionaire CEO.

Poor residents are seeing increased sales taxes to help keep a team that recently lost 11 games in a row? Makes about as much sense a taxpayers subsidizing a new Wal-Mart in their town while the company rakes in billions in profits. Glass ought to be paying taxpayers and ticket holders rather than the other way around.

The Real Losers
At the end of the day, both Wal-Mart and the Royals screw the customer (fan). Once upon a time the Kansas City Royals were described by Yankee owner George Steinbrenner as a “model franchise” in major league baseball. From 1975-1989 the Royals were perennial contenders. Playoff baseball was expected.

The Royals used to have one of the most rabid fan bases in the country, with supporters reaching several surrounding Midwestern states. The constantly losing has slowly killed off the fan base.

What would happen to a baseball team and its city if it were managed like Wal-Mart?

Welcome to Kansas City.

Full Journalistic DISCLOSURE: This columnist works for a watchdog group devoted to improving the working conditions for Wal-Mart workers. He hates the Royals and still believes the runner was out at first base in game 6 of the 1985 World Series, a call that robbed the St. Louis Cardinals of another World Series title. The columnist also believes the umpire who screwed up that call, should be banned from baseball for life. He thinks Glass is an immoral corporate schmuck and hopes the Royals lose 120 games this season.

Bird's Eye View appears alternate Tuesdays

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