How many times can the Kansas City Royals' organization do wrong to one of their all-time greats, Frank White? Apparently the team's management - and not just the current regime - has an issue with the former Gold Glove second baseman and member of the Royals' Hall of Fame.
It's not personal, just business is the unwritten message in the latest Royals' action against White, who is extremely popular among the local fan base. On Friday, the Royals announced that the major league baseball team and Fox Sports Kansas City, the rights holder to Kansas City Royals television broadcasts, had reached the mutual decision to end White's role as a color analyst on the Royals TV broadcast team.
White wasn't the only one affected by this controversial decision. Producer Kevin Shank, who had been involved with the Royals' television team for 17 seasons, also was let go.
It would be one thing if this were the first public slap in the face directed at White by what strongly appears to be an ungrateful Royals organization. But it isn't. By my count, this is at least the third or fourth occasion over the last two decades that the front-office management of the team at the time could be accused of disrespecting one of the true icons and role models from the Royals best years in the game.
In 1990, the former Lincoln High School athlete, who got the rare opportunity to play and star for his hometown major league team, was nonchalantly and, some would say, callously released from the team. Just like that. Poof, and one morning you wake up to learn that you're gone, no longer of any value or use to the organization you had spent the last 18 years playing for. Some loyalty, huh?
Perhaps White's skills and true value to the team had, indeed, diminished. And perhaps the then-40-year-old White should have recognized this before the Royals were compelled to remind him. But be that as it may, you would think the Royals would have found another way to deal with the situation. Especially when it involved a dedicated and decorated player with accomplished career numbers who gave the organization everything he had every day of his 18-year playing career and who, arguably, is one of the top five Royals stars of all-time. So that was snub No. 1.
The eight-time Gold Glove winner served as the first-base coach for the Boston Red Sox before returning taking a job with the Royals' organization in the 1997 season. White's No. 20 with the Royals was retired in 1995, while he was a member of the Red Sox coaching staff, and you easily could argue that this was an overdue, but highly deserved gesture on the part of the Royals. The popular former player was also inducted into the Royals' Hall of Fame that year.
Manager Tony Muser was fired by the Royals in the 2002 season. White, who had been the Royals first-base coach, like he was in Boston, for the previous five years, was hopeful that the Royals' general manager at the time, Allard Baird, would consider him a candidate to replace Muser. You know where this is going, right? To White's disappointment, he was not even spoken to about the opening. A couple of years later, White was given a managerial opportunity, but at the minor-league level with the Roayls' Class AA affiliate in Wichita. White looked at the opportunity as a pathway to managing in the major leagues some day. While in Wichita, the five-time American League All-Star selection helped groom Zack Greinke, Billy Butler and Alex Gordon, all three currently in the major leagues (Butler and Gordon are still in the Royals organization).
Almost ten years after his induction into the Royals Hall of Fame, a bronze statue of White was dedicated outside of Kauffman Stadium, one of four honoring important people in the team's history. The other statues are of MLB Hall-of-Famer George Brett, former manager Dick Howser and team founders Ewing and Muriel Kauffman.
The Royals' manager job came open again in 2005, when Buddy Bell was hired. White was not interviewed for the job at that time, either. He did finally interview for the Royals' managerial opening when Bell was fired in the 2007 season, but Trey Hillman got the job. It was then that Kansas City's hometown hero turned to broadcasting, taking a position with Fox Sports working the Royals pregame and postgame shows.
One of White's former teammates on the Royals, pitcher Paul Splittorff, was performing the color commentating duties then, working with lead TV announcer Ryan Lefebvre. When Splittorff encountered health problems in 2009 that eventually led to his untimely death in May this year, White moved into the TV booth to provide analysis alongside Lefebvre.
That brings us full circle. The Royals reportedly felt that White was too negative during broadcasts. That sounds like a cop out to me. It is true that the team's broadcast announcers must be mutually approved both by the Royals and by Fox Sports. As a fan, though, and a practicing journalist still today, I can't imagine how poor and unprofessional it would be to have the announce team report the games through a rose- colored lens only and explain every situation only from the employer's point of view. The fans aren't stupid, after all. We recognize a bad play or questionable call, for or against the guys in Royals Blue, when we see one.
White's broadcast style could never be accused of being overly excitable or over the top, but I found his analysis always informative and helpful and from the perspective of someone who definitely knows his baseball. If he was overtly or unfairly negative toward the Royals, I certainly didn't detect it. Besides, it was terrific having one of our former Royals' greats providing the expert commentary on what was happening in the game and why.
Another snub of sorts came back in January of this year when White was informed by the Royals that his pay as the director of community relations for the team was going to be cut because his broadcast duties were believed to be seriously limiting his availability to carry out his community relations responsibilities. White responded to the accusation by resigning his community relations position with the team.
In hindsight, this impulsive response might not have been the best decision on White's part, certainly not insofar as helping his relationship with the Royals' current general manager Dayton Moore and the rest of the team's executive management.
I wouldn't blame White with being fed up with all the disservice that the Royals' organization has shown to him, one of the team's great success stories (growing up in Kansas City and being the first major-league product to come out of Mr. K's innovative Royals Academy back in the early 1970s) over his years of service to the Kansas City MLB franchise.
White has seemingly endured a lot with the Royals, giving a lot more than he has gotten in return. After learning of the latest action taken against him by the Royals, White had this to say to Kansas City Star reporter Bob Dutton, who covers the Royals: "They (the Royals) don't have a passion for the fact that I grew up here, I played here, I stayed here," White said. "And I did everything the club had asked me to do, and then some. And then to have to go out with someone saying, ‘He's too negative.' I've worked too long and too hard for someone to be able to say that about me."
I recognize that there are two sides to every story, and that my siding with one of the great former players that I believe will forever symbolize the success on and off the field that Mr. K wanted to build in bringing the Royals to Kansas City does not, in truth reveal the whole story. But I readily admit that this editorial opinion is intended to be negative toward the Royals, just like they are accusing Frank White of being.
Two of Mr. K's core principles in founding his own company, Marion Laboratories, which became the fastest growing and one of world's most successful pharmaceutical companies, and in agreeing to be the founding owner of the Royals, were: "Those who produce shall share in the results," and "Treat others as you would want to be treated." Frank White is a contemporary of Mr. K's ownership, and I don't see either these principles evident in the Royals' repeated questionable actions toward their revered All-Star second baseman the past 20 years.
Can White's feelings toward and relationship with the major-league franchise with which he has spent almost 40 years of his life be healed over time? "No, not with the current people in place," he answered after the decision last Friday.
So, for now at least, the relationship between White and the Royals appears to have reached the end of the road. I can't believe that is what either party truly wants.
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