This weekend the Kansas City Royals will be holding a tribute to honor Negro League legend Buck O’Neil and the rich history of the Negro League in the Kansas City area, but one thing will be missing. The team will not be wearing replica uniforms of the Kansas City Monarchs, one of the more famous Negro League teams. Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star sees this as a slap in the face to those who were a part of the longest running franchise in Negro League history and the Royals sending the wrong message to their fans.
Besides the fact that Kansas City was once home to the Monarchs for 37 years, it’s still the home of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. With so much history in the area it would seem fitting that the Royals would don the jerseys of a once proud institution of the city. Instead they have decided against it and will take the field in their normal uniforms. This goes a bit beyond the Tampa Bay Rays choosing to make an alteration to the uniform they will wear to honor a past team that once called Tampa home. This has the feel of a celebration, but not really, in the eyes of Mellinger and I agree with him.
We don’t know the exact reason behind the decision, and we possibly never will. Mellinger mentioned a figure of roughly $15,000-$20,000 would be needed to purchase enough uniforms for the roster. I find it hard to believe that the decision came down to strictly a financial one, but maybe it did. I don’t know the financial situation of the Royals so I’m going to leave that one alone. He did mention that this has happened before, and finances did play a factor.
One of the enduring indictments of the bush-league way the Royals operated for most of the 1990s and first part of the 2000s is that they once canceled a Negro Leagues tribute because the uniforms cost too much.
Mellinger went on to give a few more details of what’s to be expected if you will be in attendance at Kaufman Stadium to see the tribute in person.
Fans also used to get replica Monarchs hats, the ones you see around town all the time. Instead, this weekend the Royals will be giving out souvenir pennants.
They used to invite former players, who enjoyed the reunion and a few dollars for autographs. Those players will be home this weekend, left to hear Royals marketing director Mike Bucek say “we just wanted to try something different and put the focus more on Buck”.
Buck O’Neil was one of the greatest and most recognizeable Negro League players of all-time and while he certainly deserves praise, the decision to make the tribute more about him and less about the team is a puzzling one. O’Neil passed away in 2006 and would have turned 100 later on this year, so maybe that was part of the thought process. The Royals have honored O’Neil with their Legacy Seat program, so his importance to the team has certainly not gone unnoticed.
In the end, the Royals will hold a tribute this weekend void of visible reminders of the great history of baseball in the Kansas City area. Replica hats will not be given out to those in attendance, fans will not get a glimpse of the men that once called Kansas City Municipal Stadium home, and Alex Gordon won’t be wearing a white/red jersey reminiscent of the one worn by Buck O’Neil, Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, and Ernie Banks. What takes place will be labeled as a “tribute/celebration” but it certainly won’t look like one.