The five men who kept baseball alive in KC
The Kansas City Star
Kansas City would not be hosting the 2012 Major League Baseball All-Star Game — heck, Kansas City today might not even be a major league city — if not for these five men:
Ernie Mehl, Arnold Johnson, Charles Finley, Joe McGuff and Ewing Kauffman.
Because these five were so intimately involved in bringing baseball to Kansas City, we’re in the national sports spotlight this week.
Each had his own reason for getting involved. Some didn’t always have the city’s best interests at heart.
Yet their stories illustrate just how much hard work went into making and keeping Kansas City a Major League Baseball town.
Ernie Mehl was the hard-charging sports editor of The Kansas City Star in the early 1950s when the city didn’t have any major league sports. With his writing and behind-the-scenes arm-twisting, Mehl lobbied for local ownership for a new club. Undeterred when that effort fell short, Mehl reached out in 1954 to contact…
Arnold Johnson, a Chicago business executive. Johnson owned the stadium where the Kansas City Blues minor league team played at 22nd Street and Brooklyn Avenue. Johnson bought the Philadelphia Athletics and brought them to Kansas City for the 1955 season. City voters enthusiastically endorsed a bond program to expand the Blues’ ballpark into Municipal Stadium. However, the Athletics struggled on the field, Johnson was an out-of-town owner, and when he died in 1960 the club’s future was cloudy. Mehl again campaigned for local ownership, but the highest bid was made by …
Charles Finley, one of the orneriest (and most creative) individuals to ever own a sports franchise. Finley hired and fired baseball executives and managers. He battled with players and the media. He brought in Charlie O, a mule, to be the team’s mascot. Finley was another carpetbagger owner, and the club didn’t have much success on the field. Throughout Finley’s reckless reign, he constantly looked to move the A’s, once to Louisville, another time to Dallas and — finally — to Oakland. When the American League approved that transition, Kansas City was without a major league club. That prompted renewed efforts to get a team by…
Joe McGuff, The Star’s longtime sports writer. Along with Mehl and U.S. Sen. Stuart Symington, a Missouri Democrat, McGuff championed efforts to make sure the American League didn’t let the sour taste of Finley’s exit forever kill baseball in Kansas City. The process quickly produced an expansion team, owned by…
Ewing Marion Kauffman, an optimistic son of Kansas City and a Westport High graduate. He was described at the time in a Sports Illustrated article as a “self-made multimillionaire” through his creation of Marion Laboratories and “the kind of man who could breathe life into a bearskin rug.” Kauffman, once known as a horse man who made money racing his two dozen horses, pivoted to baseball. Kauffman bought the team after his wife Muriel famously told him to do it.
The rest is history.
Under Kauffman’s ownership, the Royals were an exceptionally successful expansion team, winning six division titles, two American League pennants and the 1985 World Series. Kauffman died in 1993, but magnanimously left the club as a civic gift. Proceeds from the eventual sale to current owner David Glass went to charitable causes.
Kauffman also created the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, one of the largest in the country, nationally known for its work on entrepreneurism. The dynamic new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts was underwritten, in large part, with money from his wife’s foundation.
The five men made it possible for Kansas City to be at the center of the baseball world for a few shining (and hot) days in the summer of 2012. A respectful tip of the cap to all of them this weekend.