Ewing Kauffman

This article was written by Daniel R. Levitt

Ewing KauffmanLike many successful owners, longtime Kansas City Royals magnate Ewing Kauffman could be highly demanding, both publicly and privately. Yet he was one of the few also celebrated by the community and his players for his generosity and obvious caring for their wellbeing. Kauffman made his fortune as a pharmaceutical entrepreneur in the decades after World War II, primarily on the strength of his drive, sales skills, and his active, creative mind. His compelling personality along with his ability to connect with a diverse range of individuals made him one of baseball’s more beloved owners.

“When he walked in that first meeting, I don’t know how to put it other than there was as presence in the room, even among accomplished baseball men,” longtime Royals scout Art Stewart remembered. “He just carried himself with this dynamic air of confidence. … He sort of glided into the room and introduced himself to those of us who hadn’t met him. Then he takes his coat off, rolls up his sleeves and addresses the room with the perfect blend of confidence and humility. … The motivation was amazing. Sitting there you got a special feeling about him and the group he assembled. He was a terrific leader, and the way you knew that was because he made you want to work hard for him, and would give you whatever you needed to be successful.”1

Ewing Marion Kauffman was born on September 21, 1916, just southeast of Garden City, Missouri, on his parents’ farm. According to his biographer’s research of family lore, Kauffman was named after State Senator Ewing Cockrell and his maternal grandfather, John Marion Winders. Winders was a locally famous stonemason of Scotch and Irish heritage who believed strongly in education for his six children. Kauffman’s mother, Effie Mae, graduated from Missouri State Teachers college with a strong background in the classics.2

Kauffman’s father, John Samuel Kauffman, was of German heritage and grew up on a farm, the youngest of the family’s seven children. John’s six older siblings were all female, and they helped raise and support him, even into adulthood. Though John had little formal schooling, he was something of a mathematical prodigy, often challenging Ewing on math problems, and the youngster embraced his father’s joy of mathematics.

Effie and John met while he was selling door-to-door and she was a schoolteacher. After they were married, the newlyweds lived on John’s family farm. To establish their own home and allow Effie to escape the mostly German-speaking household, the couple moved nearby to a small rental where first Ruth was born and then Ewing three years later. The young family upgraded to a leased farm with a nice farmhouse while Ewing was still a baby. Unfortunately, after several apparently prosperous years, the land flooded, and the family was forced to give up farming. Adding to the insecurity, John’s ability to make a living had been further hampered when he lost an eye in a freak accident several years earlier.

Ewing’s family moved to Kansas City, where his father’s sisters and parents helped them buy a house. John eventually turned to selling life insurance, and Effie took in boarders to help cover household expenses. Ewing exhibited an early aptitude for sales, selling eggs from his grandparents’ farm to the neighbors. Kauffman’s father never flourished as a salesman, and the family could rarely afford more than the bare necessities. Nevertheless, Kauffman grew up with a loving family, a mother who taught him the value and love of learning, an outgoing father who encouraged his mathematical interests, and an early exposure to the thrill of successful selling.

When he was 11, Kauffman was diagnosed with endocarditis, a heart ailment, for which the treatment at the time was absolute bed rest for an entire year. As awful as this must have been for a young boy, Kauffman read up to 20 books a week and learned to quickly perform complicated mathematical calculations in his head. Shortly after he recovered, John and Effie separated and then divorced. The two had been struggling for some time, and Ewing and Ruth moved in with their mother. “(Dad) was close to the earth,” Kauffman remembered. “Mother was spiritual and mental. Mother was fastidious. Dad was not. She liked to stay home and he liked to travel.”3

Once back up and healthy, Kauffman joined the Boy Scouts, winning a scholarship so he could attend Scout camp one summer and eventually earning Eagle Scout, the highest achievement level in Scouting. Anxious to make up for his lost year, Kauffman also played football and worked at a laundry to help support his family. After graduating from Westport High, Kauffman spent a little time out on the road – this was 1934 and the heart of Depression – before returning home to earn an associate’s degree at Kansas City Junior College.

Over the next half-dozen years Kauffman worked at a number of jobs, including managing laundry drivers, selling insurance, and selling training courses. He was also briefly engaged to the daughter of one of his insurance-company bosses.

For many American men still searching for their place in American society as the country began to climb out of its economic doldrums, World War II changed their trajectory, and for Kauffman it was no different. In December 1941 before heading into the military Kauffman secretly married Marguerite Blackshire, a woman he had met at Sunday school, his primary social circle. Not until later that spring did he send his mother a letter alerting her to his new bride.

Kauffman joined the Navy, where he was trained as a signalman. While at sea, with some encouragement from the ship’s captain, he developed an interest in astronomy, and on his own he occasionally checked the calculations of the ship’s navigation officer. At one point he determined that the calculations provided by the navigation officer were wrong and that several ships in the convoy might run aground due to the error. At some personal risk he sidestepped naval regulations and reported his concerns directly to the captain. Kauffman’s calculations were correct, and the captain later made Kauffman his navigation officer.

Kauffman’s time in the Navy also proved extremely profitable. Over his enlistment he won roughly $90,000 playing poker and would often send a large percentage to Marguerite to save for after the war.4 When he returned home they used much of Kauffman’s winnings to purchase a house in Kansas City. After two miscarriages the couple decided to adopt, adding Larry to the household in 1947 and Sue a year later.

By this point Kauffman had matured into an interesting, complex individual. He was extremely competitive, hard-working, and driven, and very much believed in people having to earn their rewards. But he also was generous and caring. His extraordinary sales skills came from the former tempered by his obvious openness and genuineness in wanting to help the clients he was selling to.

Shortly after the war Kauffman joined a pharmaceutical company as a salesman and “simply fell in love with the business.”5 At the time medications were typically dispensed by doctors either on house calls or at their offices, so salesmen called on doctors at their offices. Moreover, the industry was much less regulated and concentrated than it is today, with many regional suppliers of common drugs. Kauffman read constantly to educate himself about the industry and demonstrated a knack for building relationships with the doctors. He quickly became one of the highest-grossing producers in the company, and grew disillusioned when they arbitrarily reduced his bonus because they felt he was making too much.

Kauffman decided to strike out on his own. In June 1950 he took what remained of his savings and launched Marion Laboratories. Though it didn’t have any research capabilities at the time, Kauffman imagined that “Laboratories” added a gravitas to the corporate name. Critically, he managed to hold onto a number of existing clients. To save money Kauffman initially operated out of his basement, which he quickly outgrew, and began adding sales and management staff. He also introduced a couple of new drugs, effectively reformulations or recombinations of existing compounds; for his first drug he concocted a pill for chronic fatigue.6 Kauffman himself came up with the designs for these early drugs from his extensive reading of medical journals and probing of doctors. Maybe most importantly, he labored to create a quality sales staff, and in typical Kauffman fashion, he researched and experimented with ways to identify and then train salesmen. (They were all men at the time.) Kauffman also introduced significant profit-sharing for his salesmen – generally structured as equity in the company – soon broadening the plan to include all employees. He often expressed pride later in life over all the “millionaires” created by the growth of his company.

Kauffman was an attentive, inquiring, and engaged boss. To screen sales candidates, he began using skills and psychological assessments well before they were standard in industry. Moreover, he examined the results and tinkered with the tests to try to improve their accuracy. To motivate his sales force once they came on board, Kauffman introduced sophisticated sales-recognition programs. Nevertheless, though the compensation was significant, succeeding as a high-producing pharmaceutical salesman required long hours and enduring a high-pressure work environment. Turnover was a constant problem. “His cardinal rule of business is: ‘Produce or get out,’” wrote Allan Demaree in Fortune. “Sometimes if a salesman fails to increase the volume of business in his territory, says Kauffman, ‘we call him in and say, “Before we leave this room one of three things is going to happen. Either you’re going to get fired, or you’re going to quit, or you’re going to change.”’ The first time a salesman hears this pitch it constitutes a warning; the second time he’s canned.”7 Demaree went on to discuss Marion’s business: “What Marion does best is to find products in the research of others, prepare them for market, and, above, all, motivate salesmen and sell.”8

Kauffman built a solid management team to support his sales staff, and the company prospered throughout the 1950s: By 1959 Marion achieved $1 million in annual sales. His family life, however, was more troubled. Marguerite struggled with depression and continuing back problems following a car accident years earlier. In December 1960 Kauffman found her dead in her car in their closed garage with the engine running. There was no note, and neither Kauffman nor the children sensed she had been particularly despondent. The authorities ruled her death accidental.

A little over a year later Kauffman remarried, tying the knot with Muriel McBrien on February 28, 1962. Kauffman had first met the twice-widowed Muriel at a conference in Miami in March 1961. A native of Toronto, Muriel was highly accomplished in business and brought a daughter to the combined family. Muriel would become a force in her own right in the Kansas City community.

As the company flourished in the early 1960s, Kauffman wanted to take it public to bring in additional capital and create liquidity for his shares and those of many of his longtime employees. By 1965 company revenues were almost $5 million and net income had surpassed the $500,000 target set by his investment bankers. Initially, the company went public as over-the-counter stock, eventually listing on the New York Stock Exchange in 1969.

After decades of stability, the 1950s and 1960s saw a flurry of long-standing baseball teams moving to new cities and baseball expanding three times, adding two AL teams in 1961, two NL teams in 1962, and two in each league in 1969. The 1969 expansion was precipitated when Charlie Finley moved the Kansas City Athletics to Oakland in October 1967. Facing legal pressure, the American League responded by awarding franchises to Kansas City and later Seattle. Unlike more recent expansions in the 1990s, baseball chose the cities first, and then searched for ownership groups.

With the initial public offering of Marion Laboratories, Kauffman now had both significant net worth and the liquidity necessary to purchase and bankroll an expansion franchise. Marion Laboratories had a market value of roughly $156 million, and Kauffman and his family owned 31 percent.9 Moreover, he had become a sportsman in the old-fashioned sense of the word, owning a stable of several race horses and enjoying the associated lifestyle. Sportswriter and local booster Ernie Mehl pushed Kauffman to pursue the franchise, telling him, “We need to show the American League there is somebody in Kansas City that is somewhat interested in baseball and financially can afford it.”10 With encouragement from his wife, Kauffman entered the sweepstakes to own Kansas City’s expansion team.

With his typical resourcefulness, as he contemplated his bid Kauffman traveled to Anaheim to meet with California Angels owner Gene Autry and team President Bob Reynolds, who had been through the process with their 1961 expansion team. While on the trip Kauffman also met Cedric Tallis, an Angels executive who greatly impressed him. As Kauffman finalized his bid for his team, he invited Tallis to join his group as its general manager. Kauffman thought Tallis not only a smart baseball man, but also someone who could be a champion and overseer for the new stadium complex under consideration in Kansas City.

Four groups, including Kauffman, presented to the American League’s owners at the December 1967 winter meetings. Kauffman’s earlier lobbying and natural sales skills helped him in winning over the owners. More important, perhaps, were his demonstrated financial capabilities and his stated intention to own the franchise himself. When asked about his connection with gambling due to his race horses, Kauffman stated he never bet on baseball or football, and earned a chuckle when he said he would continue to gamble but only at golf and cards. On January 11, 1968, the league announced it was awarding the team to Kauffman.11 “I’ve always said it was the greatest trade in the history of baseball [getting Kauffman instead of Finley as the city’s franchise owner],” said sportswriter Joe McGuff.12 The Royals initially cost Kauffman roughly $6 million, and he signed a lease to play at Municipal Stadium until a new $43 million sports complex for the Royals and the football Chiefs would open in 1972. (Royals Stadium eventually opened a year late.)13

While pursuing the franchise, Kauffman told the owners he would bring in professional management, just as in his pharmaceutical business. Tallis, awarded a four-year contract and with a new major-league team to build, received the same memo. “Outside of finances, he will run the club,” Kauffman told reporters.14

“Kauffman did not dabble in day-to-day team management,” wrote his biographer. “He had decided early in his involvement with baseball that he would either have to trust the executives he hired or fire them. That had been his policy at Marion Laboratories where he understood the pharmaceutical business.”15 That said, Kauffman would get involved if he felt he needed to. To increase sales he mirrored his Marion sales recognition programs on the baseball side, creating an exclusive booster club with high-test perks for local businessmen who sold at least 75 season tickets.

At the ballpark Kauffman could be similarly engaged, sitting behind the dugout at home games and dissecting his manager’s decisions. “I’d have taken out the kid [Hedlund] and brought in Moe [Drabowsky] a little sooner than [manager] Joe [Gordon] did,” Kauffman remarked after one game in 1969. After learning that Drabowsky wasn’t “completely warmed up,” Kauffman backpedaled, “That’s why he’s the manager and I’m the owner.”16 But he remained attentive and unafraid to demand explanations from his senior management.

Though Kauffman allowed his baseball men to build his team, he was unafraid to think unconventionally and push to implement his ideas. He kept a copy of Earnshaw Cook’s Percentage Baseball on his desk, the first serious statistical look at the game written by an outsider. He even followed up by meeting with Cook to discuss his concepts. Kauffman also introduced one of baseball’s first computer systems, which by the end of the 1971 season contained statistics like “the nature of every pitch thrown by a Royal … what happened to every ball hit … [and] even the humidity.” One writer who witnessed Tallis and his staff reviewing some of this information exclaimed: “I felt I had walked in on a conclave of madmen. Here were six or seven grown men around a table piled high with computer cards, mulling over every pitch thrown and every ball hit in what is supposed to be a game.” This information was fed to the manager so that it could be applied. Thirty years before Michael Lewis wrote Moneyball, Kauffman believed that statistical analysis could provide a competitive advantage when added to traditional evaluation methods.17

Kauffman also had new ideas on how the team should find talent. He had publicly stated that he wanted a pennant within five years, a wildly aggressive prediction given the history of the four previous expansion franchises. To accomplish this goal, Kauffman realized that the usual methods of finding young players would not be sufficient: The amateur draft offered all teams equal access to top prospects, Latin and Caribbean countries were being scouted (though untapped opportunity was later to be uncovered there), and Japan was not yet considered a source for major-league players.18

Kauffman’s brainstorm was to create the Kansas City Baseball Academy, a school operating outside the traditional farm system where undrafted great athletes with little baseball background could learn the game. Kauffman’s academy applied a scientific approach to scouting and training: Figure out which raw skills best translated into baseball success and then how to best develop and hone those skills to create ballplayers. To house it, Kauffman purchased a 121-acre site in Sarasota, Florida. The complex cost roughly $1.5 million and required a further $600,000 or so in annual operating expenses.

In mid-June 1971 the Academy faced its first public test when a team of its cadets was placed in the seven-team, rookie-level Gulf Coast League, pitting the recruits against drafted ballplayers in other organizations. The team finished 40-13 and led the league in both batting average and ERA. This early validation of his concept was one of Kauffman’s greatest thrills in baseball.

Yet the Academy had detractors within the organization, as many in the front office begrudged the huge allocation of resources to something outside of their traditional farm system, which in tandem had built a first-rate scouting and development system. By 1973, while the Academy had produced several prospects, it had become clear that Kauffman’s brainchild needed to be revamped. The Royals’ original thesis – that great young athletes with little baseball background could be molded into major-league baseball players – had not proven out. Despite all its creative ideas and intense testing, the Academy could not create enough ballplayers from raw, unskilled athletes. The top prospect in the Academy, infielder Frank White, had significant previous baseball experience. The other noteworthy problem with the Academy was the huge cost. When Marion Laboratories stock collapsed during 1974 due to the recession and concerns over forthcoming FDA approval for a new drug (between February and August the stock price dropped from $52 per share to $11) Kauffman decided to shutter the academy and integrate its facilities into the overall minor-league system.19 He would later say his greatest regret in baseball was closing the Academy. “If I knew then what I know now,” Kauffman later lamented, “I would have kept it going. And we would have had a dynasty here.”20

That the Academy did not succeed in turning athletes into baseball players testified to the fact that traditional scouting was already finding most – though not all – of the potential major leaguers in the US. However, Kauffman’s philosophy of always looking for new sources of talent is one of the foundations of successful organizations. Of the Academy’s innovations in scouting and player development, some were transferred to the Royals farm system and many others were carried by the Academy’s coaches and trainers as they migrated within the organization and to other teams. Like most successful organizations, Kauffman’s Royals showed a sincere willingness to experiment with new ideas and methods. As a result they found a few valuable players and learned useful player development and scouting lessons.

The 1972 season was marred by a players strike that began during spring training and lingered into the season, canceling a week’s worth of games. As the players union had never taken such an action before, the events stunned many longtime baseball people, and Kauffman developed into a semi-hawk on player issues. He was a paternalistic owner in the best sense of the word, offering free career counseling and financial advice to his players or occasionally handing out hundred-dollar bills to players in the locker room after a tough game, telling them to take their wives out for dinner.21 As an owner Kauffman had spent a lot of money to acquire and build the franchise, which was still not profitable, claiming he had invested roughly $19 million in the franchise: Beyond the initial investment he had sunk $5 million into Royals Stadium and annual losses were significant. For example, in 1971 the team lost $2.2 million; $600,000 was depreciation, a noncash charge, but the other $1.6 million was operating losses.22 Kauffman couldn’t see why the players should be allowed any more of the overall baseball revenues.

In response to Marvin Miller and the players association filing to arbitrate the McNallyMessersmith challenge to the reserve clause in the fall of 1975, Kauffman filed suit, supported by the other major-league clubs, arguing that the reserve clause was not arbitrable under the collective-bargaining agreement. The court allowed the arbitration to move forward, telling Kauffman he could come back if he wanted to dispute the decision. When Kauffman led the owners back into court to overturn the famous Seitz decision that invalidated the reserve clause, the court ruled that the arbitrator’s ruling would stand. Kauffman’s frustration with free agency can be seen is his reaction to it: Through 1980 the only free agent signed off another team was utility infielder Jerry Terrell.

On the field, the Royals backslid in 1972 after a surprising 1971 season, and the impatient Kauffman decided to fire manager Bob Lemon over Tallis’s objections. As justification, Kauffman publicly mentioned a mishandled August benching of Amos Otis and Freddie Patek for not hustling and also suggested that he wanted to hire someone younger. This last comment exposed Kauffman to age-discrimination protection, causing him to have to pay Lemon an extra year’s salary. Kauffman’s impatience and unrealistic expectations were also laid bare. “Starting in 1974,” he bragged, “we expect to win (the American League championship) five out of ten years.”23

Kauffman further exasperated Tallis by hiring Jack McKeon, the manager at Triple-A Omaha, with whom Tallis had quarreled in the past. In particular, McKeon was a vocal advocate for the Baseball Academy, and hence a favorite of Kauffman’s. McKeon would go on to a successful career in baseball as both a manager and general manager, but in 1972 he owed his allegiance to Ewing Kauffman alone. The impatient Kauffman had journeyed a long way from the putatively hands-off owner of 1969.

Despite a strong second-place finish in 1973, principally due to a number of great trades and smart drafting by Tallis and the front office, Kauffman became frustrated with his mounting financial losses. Between the financial drain of the Academy and the Royals’ top-notch minor-league system, the team reportedly lost hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. Notwithstanding a strong season on the field, the opening of their new ballpark, and a near-doubling of attendance, Kauffman lost roughly $900,000 in 1973. Late in the season he hired Joe Burke to run the financial side of the Royals. Burke had spent years in the front office of the Washington Senators and, after the club’s move to Texas, two years as the club’s GM. Kauffman was clearly preparing for a change in his GM.

By the middle of the 1974 season, as the Royals hovered near .500, “Kauffman’s irritation with the costs of owning a baseball team was beginning to show.”24 He had sunk somewhere around $20 million into the club and had yet to turn a profit in any season, and his net worth was sinking due to the Marion stock slide. Kauffman bounced Tallis and promoted Joe Burke to general manager, giving him full control over both the baseball and business sides. In another cost-saving move, after the season Kauffman directed Burke to join the newly formed Major League Scouting Bureau, enabling the Royals to lay off 20 full-time and 50 part-time scouts.25 A couple of years later, as the impact of this decision began to be felt in the farm system, Kauffman reversed course and began rebuilding his scouting staff. As with the sales employees at Marion, he offered the Royals scouts better perks and profit-sharing, but they “were expected to generate more leads and baseball talent than [their] rivals.”26 In late July 1975 Burke and Kauffman again changed managers, firing McKeon, and bringing on Whitey Herzog. Herzog had managed for Burke in Texas and at the time was the third-base coach for the California Angels.

After four seasons of pursuing the Oakland A’s, in 1976 Kauffman’s team finally broke through with a 90-72 record and won the division title before losing a tightly contested ALCS with the Yankees. Of the eight expansion teams that began play in the 1960s, the Royals attained and sustained success the quickest, and Kauffman’s willingness to hire good baseball people and put money into his team was a big reason.

The team won division titles in 1977 and 1978 as well, again losing to the Yankees in the ALCS both years. Despite his success, Kauffman and Muriel never really warmed to Herzog, and the manager felt as though he was tolerated only as long as he was winning. Once when Angels owner Gene Autry asked Muriel how his “old friend Whitey was,” she responded, “Who gives a shit?”27 After falling to second place in 1979, Kauffman and Burke jettisoned Herzog, bringing in Jim Frey. Under Frey in 1980 the team finally beat the Yankees in the ALCS to win the pennant. “That was my greatest thrill in baseball,” Kauffman remembered. “And the moment was made all the more memorable because it had come at the expense of the New York Yankees.”28

After a disappointing 1981 season, Kauffman promoted John Schuerholz to GM and Burke to president. The team still boasted a talented nucleus, led by third baseman George Brett, and remained competitive in the early 1980s. The Royals finally won the World Series in 1985, bolstered by three young pitching aces.

For Kauffman, 1981 was something of a watershed year. He turned 65 and had a tumor removed from his chest along with part of a rib. On the baseball front, the Royals slumped as Kauffman believed Frey lost control of his players (Burke replaced him with Dick Howser), and the long players strike began to sap baseball’s appeal for him.29 Kauffman started searching for a partner willing to buy a 49 percent interest in the team with rights to acquire full ownership down the road. He reached an agreement with a man named Michael Shapiro in early 1983 for $11 million, but when Shapiro could not come up with the required deposit by the required deadline, Kauffman canceled the deal.30

Later that spring Kauffman cut a similar deal with Memphis real-estate developer Avron Fogelman. The two stipulated the value of the franchise at $22 million, and Fogelman paid $11 million for a 49 percent interest. Kauffman had the right to put the remaining 51 percent to Fogelman between 1988 and 1991, at which time Kauffman would be obligated sell to if he hadn’t yet done so. In early 1988 the two recut the agreement. Fogelman paid $220,000 to bring his share up to 50 percent and Kauffman’s put obligation went away; he could now remain a partner in the team. Their partnership agreement was extended through 2012 with the provision that if Kauffman died before then, Fogelman could purchase the Kauffman’s 50 percent for $11 million.31 His frustration with baseball’s economics blinded Kauffman – like many others – to the massive increase in franchise values that was about to occur.

As Kauffman aged and with some of Fogelman’s purchase capital now infused into the team, the team became more willing to pursue free agents to keep it competitive, particularly toward the end of the decade. But several high-profile signings – notably Mark Davis, Storm Davis, Kirk Gibson, and Mike Boddicker – did not live up to the hype.

In 1989 Kauffman found himself forced to reorganize his businesses. As the pharmaceutical industry evolved, Marion’s executive leadership team felt a merger with another drug company was required for its long-term survival. Kauffman hated to surrender control of the company he had built from his basement, but he acquiesced to the recommendation. Later that year Marion Laboratories merged with Merrell Dow, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical, to create Marion Merrell Dow and a nice but unwelcome payday for Kauffman. In 1988 Forbes estimated his net worth at $740 million, an amount certainly increased through the merger; now much of that was liquid as well.32

At the same time, Fogelman’s real estate empire was unraveling in the commercial real-estate lending and liquidity crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Fogelman was under tremendous pressure from his lenders and needed his equity in the franchise to bail himself out. Somewhat cornered to support Fogelman lest the franchise get entangled is his messy finances or an out-of-town buyer get a hold of his purchase option, Kauffman agreed to recut their deal. Under the new agreement, Kauffman loaned Fogelman $34 million and effectively regained full ownership of the team. In addition he would have to cover roughly $20 million in failed real estate investments awarded to players George Brett, Dan Quisenberry, and Willie Wilson, originally backstopped and advocated by Fogelman as part of their contract extensions. Moreover, Kauffman would have to fund $5 million to cover the previous year’s asset contribution defaulted on by Fogelman and the entire $7 million in operating losses for the current year, typically split between the partners. Not surprisingly Kauffman said, “I feel like I have been taken advantage of.”33 Kauffman used the franchise uncertainty created by Fogelman’s troubles to leverage a more attractive new 25-year lease on the ballpark and lock the team to Kansas City for the foreseeable future.

When four Royals players pleaded guilty to misdemeanor drug charges and were sentenced to 90 days in a federal penitentiary after the 1983 season, Kauffman was shaken and distressed. It also stimulated his charitable impulses to address the drug problem and support disadvantaged youth. Most notably, for the class entering his alma mater Westport High in 1988, he offered to pay for college, technical, or vocational training for any students who graduated, and stayed away from drugs and pregnancy. In 1992, when the class graduated, 115 of the original 240 freshmen qualified and took advantage of the offer.34 He later extended the program to other schools and classes. The Kauffman Foundation, whose mission was later expanded to promote and encourage entrepreneurship, would be a lasting legacy to Kauffman’s philanthropic vision.

By the early 1990s Kauffman was aggressively spending on his roster while at the same time seething at the players union. In 1990 as the two sides battled over the collective bargaining agreement, Kauffman said, “If they don’t settle soon, it would be my nature to withdraw everything offered and close the season down. You cannot keep giving and giving and giving.”35 Nevertheless, he still desperately wanted to win, and by 1993 after signing David Cone and Greg Gagne, Kansas City had the fourth highest payroll in the game.

His health had also begun increasingly to fail, and Kauffman began to fear for his mortality. He wanted to sell the team to a local ownership committed to keeping the team in Kansas City, but no one stepped up to the roughly $90 million price tag he hung on the franchise. Alternatively, he came up with a convoluted, tax-advantaged plan to donate the team to a charitable limited partnership upon his death, with the eventual sale proceeds going to his philanthropic interests. Kauffman also funded enough cash to cover annual operating losses, estimated at $3 million per year, for several years and required local business leaders to post $50 million, from which the interest would also be used to subsidize operating losses.

Kauffman died on August 1, 1993, from bone cancer and had a private funeral and burial three days later. A month before his death, Royals Stadium was renamed Kauffman Stadium in his honor. The franchise was turned over to the limited partnership with Kauffman’s longtime friend and Walmart CEO David Glass named managing general partner. The team would flounder under this provisional ownership but remain tethered to Kansas City until Glass finally purchased the franchise outright in 2000.

Since his death Kauffman’s stature has continued to grow. His foundation has grown to over $2.1 billion in assets and makes more than $65 million a year in grants and donations.36 It has also become one the foremost research and support organizations for entrepreneurship. The first 25 years of the Royals under his ownership also hold up well. The team was consistently competitive, had top-notch front-office executives, often maintained a payroll in excess of its market size, and showed creativity and original thinking when approaching problems. That the team didn’t quite live up to Kauffman’s initial predictions of quick and consistent greatness simply highlights his competitive fire and occasional impetuousness.

Editor’s note:

For a more detailed look at the full ownership history of the Royals, please see Dan Levitt’s article on the subject:

https://sabr.org/research/kansas-city-royals-team-ownership-history

Notes

1 Art Stewart, The Art of Scouting: Seven Decades Chasing Hopes and Dreams in Major League Baseball (Olathe, Kansas: Ascend Books, 2014), 127.

2 The principal source for Kauffman’s pre-baseball life is Anne Morgan, Prescription for Success: The Life and Values of Ewing Marion Kauffman (Kansas City, Missouri: Andrews and McMeel, 1995); also helpful were Phil Koury in Sid Bordman and Jim Reed, Expansion to Excellence: An Intimate Portrait of the Kansas City Royals (No other publication information presented), iii-viii, and Phil Koury, “Kauffman Puts Winning Record on Line,” Kansas City Star, January 14, 1968.

3 Phil Koury, “Kauffman Puts Winning Record on Line,” Kansas City Star, January 14, 1968.

4 Morgan, 46-7.

5 Morgan, 49.

6 Allan T. Demaree, “Ewing Kauffman Sold Himself Rich in Kansas City,” Fortune, October 1972: 101.

7 Demaree, 100.

8 Demaree, 101.

9 Joe McGuff, “Kauffman Goal: Flag in Five Years; Royals’ Boss Weighs Daring Plan,” The Sporting News, June 7, 1969; Demaree.

10 Roger D. Launius, Seasons in the Sun: The Story of Big League Baseball in Missouri (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 2002), 93.

11 Joe McGuff, “Four Kaycee Groups Seek Franchise,” The Sporting News, December 16, 1967: 29.

12 Gene Fox, Sports Guys: Insights, Highlights, and Hoo-hahs from Your Favorite Sports Authorities (Kansas City, Missouri: Addax Publishing, 1999), 82.

13 Jerome Holtzman, “A.L. Vote to Expand Marks 1967 History,” Official Baseball Guide For 1968 (St. Louis: The Sporting News, 1968), 180-81; Jerome Holtzman, “Expansion, Canadian Club, Feature 1968,” Official Baseball Guide For 1968 (St. Louis: The Sporting News, 1969), 181.

14 Dickson Terry, “Kaycee ‘Will Never Lose This Team,’” The Sporting News, January 27, 1968: 23-24.

15 Morgan, 266.

16 Mark Mulvoy, “KC Is Back with a Vengeance,” Sports Illustrated, May 26, 1969: 16.

17 Frank Deford, “It Ain’t Necessarily So, and Never Was,” Sports Illustrated, March 6, 1972.

18 Joe McGuff, “Kauffman Goal: Flag in Five Years; Royals’ Boss Weighs Daring Plan,” The Sporting News, June 7, 1969, 16.

19 Morgan, 176.

20 “Inside Mr. K,” The Squire, March 9, 1989.

21 Denny Mathews and Fred White with Matt Fulks, Play by Play: 25 Years of Royals Radio (Kansas City, Missouri: Addax Publishing, 1999), 86.

22 Joe McGuff, “’Players Must Learn Facts of Life’ – Kauffman,” The Sporting News, April 22, 1972.

23 Joe McGuff, “’Blame Me for Lemon’s Exit,’ Says Kauffman,” The Sporting News, October 21, 1972: 23; Joe McGuff, “Tallis-Kauffman Split Linked to Lemon Firing,” The Sporting News, July 6, 1974: 15.

24 Morgan, 260.

25 Morgan, 261.

26 Stewart, 149.

27 Whitey Herzog with Kevin Horrigan, White Rat: A Life in Baseball (New York: Harper & Row, 1987), 111.

28 Morgan, 268.

29 Jonathan Rand, “Kauffman Finds Outlet in Baseball,” Kansas City Times, undated clipping.

30 “Lawyer Says Shapiro Held Up Royals Suit in Hopes of Settlement,” Kansas City Times, February 13, 1985.

31 Bob Nightengale, “A Partnership Is Anchored in K.C.,” The Sporting News, January 25, 1988: 48.

32 Morgan, 294. “Royals Co-owner Bails Out; Highest Bidder Gets Club,” USA Today, August 1, 1990.

33 Charles R.T. Crumpley, “Kauffman OKs Loan to Fogelman,” Kansas City Star, undated clipping.

34 Erik Brady, “Graduation a Thrilling Payoff for Royals Owner,” USA Today, June 4, 1992.

35 “KC Owner Suggests Canceling Season,” Associated Press, March 11, 1990.

36 990finder.foundationcenter.org/990results.aspx?990_type=&fn=kauffman+foundation&st=MO&zp=&ei=&fy=&action=Search.

Full Name

Ewing Marion Kauffman

Born

September 21, 1916 at Garden City, MO (US)

Died

August 1, 1993 at Kansas City, MO (US)

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