You may have read Sam Mellinger's takedown of the Kansas City Royals because they decided to save a few bucks and not spring for Negro League uniforms for Negro Leagues Day, which will played today in Kansas City. If not: Read it. I'll wait. I'll also sum up best I can: Every year, the Royals have a Negro Leagues Day. This makes sense since the Negro Leagues were formed in Kansas City, and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is in town, and the beloved voice of the Negro Leagues, Buck O'Neil, called Kansas City home and called the Royals his favorite team.
As part of the celebration, the Royals players and the opponents usually wear Negro Leagues replica uniforms. This is a nice gesture that gives the game a special feel. Later, they auction off the uniforms to raise some money. It's a nice, easy, and relatively cheap way to make the promotion a little bit better.
This year, the Royals decided not to wear the uniforms. The reason for this is generally unclear -- the explanation in Sam's column is that the Royals just wanted to try something different -- which strongly suggests that, once again, they were too cheap to do the thing right.
If the Royals had a strong history of doing things right, of course, you would give them the benefit of the doubt and say it was just an innocent mistake. But they don't have such a history. In fact, while reading Sam's column, I felt a shudder of memory: I wrote about the Royals being too cheap to wear Negro Leagues uniforms NINE YEARS AGO. At the time, the Royals were a wreck financially and structurally. Their connection to the community had become frayed to the point of breaking. They were, essentially, a national joke.
Things are supposed to be different now. The Royals are supposed to be going in the right direction. They are supposed to be building a model franchise. You may or may not care about Negro Leagues Day. You may or may not think they should even have one. But that's not what this is about. If they are going to HAVE a Negro Leagues Day, they should not let a few grand keep them from buying special uniforms for the players and the event. But they did.
Anyway, Sam's column sparked me to go back and find my original column. It ran June 28, 2002 in The Kansas City Star. With a mere changing of the names, it could run today. I enclose it here:
Royals Blunder Absurd: Teams won't don Negro Leagues uniforms
Saturday, for the first time in years, the Royals will not be wearing Negro Leagues uniforms on Salute to the Negro Leagues Night. We reported earlier that this is because the Royals are too cheap to spend the measly six grand to buy the uniforms.
Well, the Royals would like to clear things up.
They're not cheap, they explain. They're incompetent.
"The bottom line," says Charlie Seraphin, Royals vice president for marketing, "is that new guy Charlie messed up."
Sometimes, you just have to wonder whether the Royals' strategy is to alienate every single person in Kansas City individually, of if they prefer doing it all at once. They canceled the Royals banquet because it was too expensive. They thought it best to come up with no slogan for this year. They eliminated the best general-admission seats in baseball based on some shrewd business strategy that has Royals attendance at its lowest level in 25 years.
And now, no Negro Leagues uniforms. Why not? Well, here's what the Royals want you to believe. They goofed up. Seraphin is new. So is pretty much everybody else in the marketing department. And Seraphin says he just wasn't aware that this "wearing of the uniforms thing," was kind of a tradition.
"I had no concept," Seraphin says.
Never mind that the Negro Leagues were created here. Never mind that Satchel Paige, the essential player in the Negro Leagues, lived here until his death. Never mind that Buck O'Neil, the eloquent spokesman of the Negro Leagues, still lives here. Never mind that the Negro Leagues Museum is here. Never mind that Saturday in Detroit - with about one-millionth of
the Negro Leagues history of this city - the Tigers and Pittsburgh Pirates will wear Negro Leagues uniforms. Players will wear the uniforms in 10 other cities this year, some of them minor-league cities.
"I just didn't know," Seraphin says. Hard to imagine. Still, because he didn't know, the Royals set up Negro Leagues night against the Padres. And, you see, San Diego never had a team in the Negro Leagues. So, Seraphin says, naturally it wouldn't be right for the Royals to play in their Negro Leagues uniforms with the Padres playing in their regular old uniforms.
"Frankly, we think it would be stupid," Seraphin says.
Now, he readily admits that Major League Baseball did not say the Royals could not wear the uniforms. He readily admits that the Padres did not tell the Royals not to wear the uniforms. When you ask him why the Padres couldn't have just played in the classic Padres yellow-brown uniform or some other old uniform from its past (and there were black teams also in San Diego), or why they couldn't have just changed the date, or why the Royals couldn't just wear the uniforms some other night, Seraphin just says it wouldn't work.
"We don't want to compound my mistake," he says.
There you go. The Royals aren't going to wear the Negro Leagues uniforms because Charlie Seraphin scheduled the wrong team. That's the reason. And it's hard to imagine that professionals could come up with a reason that bad. I mean, these guys have meetings. Couldn't they have come up with something else? Frankly, I think the Royals should have just stuck with the "We're too cheap to pay for them," excuse. At least then we could have had a bake sale.
Poor Charlie. One thing you have to say about the Royals: They do have loyal soldiers willing to take the bullets.
"Look, I know I messed up, and I feel rotten," Seraphin says. "If there are any arrows to sling, sling them at me."
Seraphin says he wants to make up for his mistake. No, the Royals won't wear the uniforms, which would make up for the mistake. But he promises that next year's "Salute to the Negro Leagues Night" will be bigger and better than ever. He guarantees that the Royals will do a much better job supporting the Negro Leagues Museum. And, as a goodwill gesture, he said that he would have manager Tony Pena and several players come out to the opening of the Buck O'Neil Negro
Leagues Baseball Classic on Thursday night.
"Our motives are pure," Charlie says. "I realize that I'm in the Show-Me State now. Words are cheap. It's time to show Kansas
Thursday evening, the Buck O'Neil Classic began as scheduled. Kids ran the bases. They tried to hit home runs. And, here in the Show Me State, as you've already guessed, not a single Royals player showed up.