Last Saturday night at Lew's, a bar in Waldo, the Strip just about paid for Boulevard Brewery's expansion, hoping all those Pale Ales would erase the memory of the Save Our Stadiums ads.
This tough tenderloin wasn't afraid of those scary signs around town urging voters to "Keep our Teams!"
Why, just last week Chiefs Vice Chairman Jack Steadman told the Strip that if the stadium-upgrade tax didn't pass, the team wouldn't pack up and leave town. "I'm not a prophet, and I can't say for sure what the [Hunt] family will do if this doesn't pass," Steadman said. "But our first priority if it doesn't pass would be a new stadium at the sports complex here in Kansas City."
More recently, this cranky cutlet had seen the sentimentality-soaked commercials showing the Royals' glory days: players riding in convertibles during a victory parade while confetti streamed, fans packed the streets and Kansas City had another reason to tell that city with an arch why this end of Interstate 70 was better. It was quite a moving site. But then the Strip focused on all the bushy-ass 'stashes. The trucker hats before they were retro-cool. The Smurf-blue uniforms. Suddenly, it was all too clear that the winningest footage the Save Our Stadiums campaigners could come up with was two decades old.
The Strip ordered another couple of pints, because one just wouldn't numb the pain.
Since that 1985 parade, the Royals have managed just six winning seasons. Forget a pennant the team hasn't won a division title in 20 years. By the end of last season, the team was the worst in the major leagues, with a record-tying 106 losses. It was the third time in four years that the team had ended a season with triple-digit losses. The pitching squad gave up an average of five runs a game. It was enough to make this pontificating porterhouse wonder whether the players were actually Cardinals fans.
There's a simple reason for all that losin'. Back in 1985, the Royals had a payroll of $11 million, just $3.6 million shy of Major League Baseball's spending leader, the New York Yankees. But the Royals failed to keep up as salaries rose. New York's payroll is now more than five times that of the Royals. The Cardinals' is two and a half times as high.
In fact, under the tenure of Wal-Mart executive David Glass as team CEO and owner, the Royals' median paycheck has decreased. In 1993, the Royals' median salary was $1 million a year, according to USA Today, which compiles stats on player salaries. In 2000, the first year of the Glass era, it dropped to $400,000. Last year, it fell again to $352,000, lower than every team except the Colorado Rockies. Meanwhile, the Cardinals paid a median salary of $2.1 million last year. Shelling out big bucks doesn't guarantee a World Series, but teams at the bottom have no chance. The Strip figures Glass' "always low prices" approach is what's killing our team.
Glass has said he didn't buy the Royals just to make money. But this is the same guy who, when confronted by Dateline NBC with the fact that Wal-Mart goods are made by children in overseas sweatshops, said, "You and I might, perhaps, define children differently."
Perhaps Glass also defines "winning team" differently from the rest of us.
During the off-season, Glass promised to increase the team's payroll from 2005's $37 million to a more competitive $50 million. The Royals picked up some big-name free agents, including Doug Mientkiewicz (age 31), Mark Grudzielanek (age 35) and Reggie Sanders (age 38).
But according to ESPN, the Royals are still short of Glass's promise. ESPN estimates that Kansas City will have a payroll this year of about $41 million. The Kansas City Star estimates that number is closer to $45.8 million. In modern-day baseball, that's a modest increase that will keep the Royals at the bottom of the major-league heap.
With a budget like that, this sirloin knows that, once again, manager Buddy Bell (career record: 388-531) doesn't have a chance this year.
After compilin' all those stats and reading David Martin's feature story this week (see page 11), the Strip needed more liquor.
What really gets this burger's blood boiling is that Glass, even as he runs the team like a discount store, can still ask taxpayers to pay for 90 percent of the repairs to Kauffman Stadium. Kinda like how Wal-Mart doesn't pay decent health insurance, leaving states to pick up its employees' Medicaid bills.
Aw, hell, the Strip began thinking. If cheap-ass Glass wants to threaten the good citizens of Kansas City, he can take his losers and get the hell out of town.
Let Las Vegas have 'em. For years, Vegas has been trying to lure everybody else's failing sports team. The Expos ended up instead in Washington, D.C., and the Marlins are still pitting Miami against offers from elsewhere.
Las Vegas City Councilman Larry Brown says his city is ready for the Royals. "Las Vegas would be interested in considering anything when it comes to professional sports teams," Brown tells the Strip. A former minor-league pitcher himself, Brown notes that the players would prefer the big stage that his city offers. "Athletes have become superstars, and Vegas is the entertainment capital of the world."
Really, the Royals are a perfect fit for Sin City. Glass wouldn't even have to spend much money on a new logo the team could just put its curlicue letters on a deck of cards emblazoned with a Royals flush.
It's not hard to imagine the new ballpark. Just past the Bellagio fountain, down by the faux Paris, would sit the new Cirque du Soleil Park. Instead of Interstate 70, the field would look out on the neon lights of the Las Vegas Strip.
Forget public funding. There's no law stopping the team from building its very own casino right there in the ballpark, says Jerry Markling, chief of the enforcement division at the Nevada Gaming Control Board. "Theoretically, it's possible to have a casino in a stadium," Markling says. "No doubt, it's an interesting concept."
And why stop at a casino in the concourse? There's no better way to pass the time during a tedious pitching duel than to feed quarters into slot machines built into the back of every chair. Imagine: field-level poker tables, craps in the box seats, bingo numbers called out over the PA system.
Beef on bun? No, baby, this is Vegas, where even the ballpark would feature a seafood buffet. This Friday, as the Las Vegas Royals take on the San Antonio Marlins, enjoy a $2.99 shrimp buffet and the loosest slots in town!
The Las Vegas Royals would have no worries about Pete Rose-like betting scandals. In fact, the players could place their bets in the concourse, just like anybody else. Hint: Wait to place your wager until you hear which team the starting pitcher picks.
Besides, the city has a lot going for it without the Royals. We have a perennial contender in the Chiefs, an arena football team, a pro soccer franchise and an outside chance at landing a hockey club. There's the KU-Mizzou rivalry. And if you're really jonesing for a sports fix, check out the UMKC Kangaroos. Go 'Roos!
The Strip was just a shot of Jäger away from voting against the Save Our Stadiums tax. But before the bartender could bring more alcohol, three twentysomething dudes took seats at the end of the bar. All three of them wore Royals hats with frayed edges and dirt smears where they'd grabbed the brims over the years.
It was a reminder of what the teams mean to the city, and it got to the Strip's cold, cold heart.
For a couple of months now, this cutlet has been cranky over the fact that the stadium tax vote falls during the same week as opening day, that annual spring ritual of hopeless optimism. For one day, the fountains run blue and we all pretend it's worth rooting for our once-great team.
We all know what happens next. All those fans who pack the place on opening day spend the rest of the season praying that the Royals don't break records the only records the team flirts with these days: losing streaks, most losses in a season, and years without a playoff appearance.
Hell, maybe the stadium taxes aren't such a bad idea. The Royals probably aren't going anywhere, and they could use a roof over their heads. A rolling roof, to hide the shame.