Thursday, June 15, 2006
This Glass is empty
By Jason Whitlock
Special to Page 2
You don't become the worst owner in professional sports overnight. It's a process.
For David Glass, the owner of the Kansas City Royals, that process began in the decade before he took official ownership of the club, and it culminated a week ago today when Glass cemented his Charles Montgomery Burns legacy by overreacting to contentious questions posed during a news conference to introduce the Royals' new general manager/scapegoat, Dayton Moore.
Two Kansas City sports radio reporters -- Rhonda Moss and Bob Fescoe, who have carved out niches baiting athletes, coaches and executives with condescending inquiries -- peppered Glass with questions about his decision to fire Allard Baird, the old Kansas City general manager/scapegoat.
Glass wanted the day to be a celebration of his ability to hoodwink Moore, a hot GM prospect off the John Schuerholz tree, into being Glass' next pigeon.
Fescoe and Moss saw the press conference -- Glass' first public media gathering since he announced in the Kansas City Star a month earlier his intentions to scapegoat (aka fire) Baird -- as an opportunity to publicly browbeat Glass for his reprehensible treatment of Baird.
Rather than ask Moore meaningless questions about a management philosophy that Glass' cheapness and incompetence will undermine, Moss and Fescoe took turns probing Glass (and Glass' bumbling son/team president, Dan) about his cheapness and incompetence as it related to Baird.
Glass grew visibly shaken and chippy in his retorts. And finally, emboldened by Fescoe's hypocritical radio boss's Thursday afternoon monologue lambasting Fescoe and Moss and sucking up to Glass, the worst owner in professional sports returned to his Wal-Mart roots a day later.
Glass instructed his media relations staff to strip Fescoe and Moss of their credentials for the rest of the year. No one who remembers Glass' infamous 1992 performance on NBC's "Dateline" is all that surprised by Glass' petulant response.
Yes sir, the man who as chairman of the board of directors of the Royals for seven years negotiated a sweetheart, $96 million sales price of the club for himself -- $24 million less than the other bidder -- has a history of reacting poorly to difficult public questions.
As CEO of Wal-Mart and after being given two months to prepare, Glass stormed out of a "Dateline" interview when he couldn't find the proper words to explain Wal-Mart's "Made in America" and "Bring it Home to the USA" marketing campaigns after the show aired footage of Bangladeshi children working in sweatshops and making Wal-Mart clothes.
David Glass is no overnight sensation. He's been cutting corners and making untold millions for years and years. Forbes magazine estimated Glass' yearly profits from the Royals at $20 million. Quite a handsome haul for a franchise that has averaged 97 losses and is well on its way to its fourth, 100-plus-loss season during David and Dan Glass' seven-year reign of terrible. With new Kauffman Stadium taxpayer-financed renovations on the way, the franchise will soon be valued at more than twice what Glass paid for it in 2000.
Whatever Glass lacks in baseball and media savvy, he makes up for with cold, bottom-line business acumen.
And I'm not all that sure Glass is short on media savvy. From his Bentonville, Ark., compound, Glass has played the Kansas City media like a baby grand piano. Before purchasing the Royals, he spent his seven years as chairman of the board convincing the local media that no one of any consequence wanted to buy the "small market" squad given baseball's economic inequities. Glass stiff-armed George Brett's attempt to purchase the club with virtually no local media backlash.
Glass somehow cast himself as a white knight owner willing to save Kansas Citians from an out-of-town buyer who might move the team. He was never appropriately called out for building an upper-level management team that -- like their owner -- all maintained primary residences outside of the Kansas City area.
We, the local media, ate up Glass' small-market rhetoric and told Kansas City sports fans that it was unreasonable to expect the Royals to field a contender when the Yankees and Red Sox could field teams with payrolls more than triple K.C.'s.
The Royals were treated like a child born with a disability. Tough commentary, particularly about the city's Robin (the) Hood owner, was frowned upon.
We were lucky to have an owner willing to instantly slash the budget of the scouting department, willing to compromise the draft by selecting players based on "signability," willing to begin each year with a promise of a youth movement and a self-defeating pledge of playing .500 ball and willing to pocket millions of dollars in profit.
A franchise that thrived in the '70s and '80s powered by owner Ewing Kauffman's passion for the club and the city was reduced to accepting the efforts of a half-assed owner who started every year with a half-baked plan to win half the club's games in hopes that half the stadium would be filled.
But David Glass didn't hit rock bottom overnight and Baird wasn't the first scapegoat. He followed Herk Robinson and Hal McRae and Bob Boone and Tony Muser and Tony Pena and a half-dozen pitching and hitting coaches.
The 2006 season isn't the first time the Royals committed to developing their young players while filling out lineup cards featuring 30-something has-beens.
Reggie Sanders, Matt Stairs, Doug Mientkiewicz, Mark Grudzielanek and Tony Graffanino -- the building blocks for this year's disaster -- are legacies of a tradition started and carried on by has-beens/K.C. lineup staples such as Gary Gaetti, Jay Bell, Juan Gonzalez, Jose Lima, Benito Santiago, Bip Roberts, Jeff Conine, Wally Joyner, Vince Coleman, Greg Gagne, Mike Macfarlane, Chili Davis, Jeff King, Hal Morris, Terry Pendleton, Chad Kreuter, Rey Sanchez, David McCarty, Luis Alicea, Brent Mayne, Chuck Knoblauch, Desi Relaford and Emil Brown.
Committing to youth while trying to meet ownership's mandate of a .500 finish does weird things to a GM's roster and vision.
David Glass just does weird things as the owner of a professional sports franchise. Fescoe and Moss should be glad they're getting a break from witnessing, covering and detailing Glass' incompetence up close.
Jason Whitlock is a regular columnist for The Kansas City Star. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sound off to Page 2 here.