However, one recent bit of news about the team is making some people wonder how much has really changed at all. You know how major league teams occasionally hold Negro League tributes, for which the team wears a replica jersey of an old Negro League club, often the one that played in the same city as its major league counterpart? They're a neat tribute to a significant part of the game's history, and tomorrow, the Royals will hold a tribute of their own.
So it would make sense for Mellinger to hold the Royals to a higher standard than other franchises in paying tribute to the Negro Leagues, but really, he's not even doing that...he just wants to see them do what everyone else is doing. So why aren't they doing it? Mellinger surmises that the Royals are simply "some wicked combination of oblivious and penny-pinching." Given the history, it's easy to see why. What history, you ask? Well, amazingly enough, this isn't even the first time the Royals have declined to fork over the dollars for the uniforms.
Mellinger also points out the Royals have done their share of good things to honor the Negro Leagues' legacy - specifically, he called the Buck O'Neil Legacy Seat (O'Neil was a prominent Negro League figure, and one of baseball's great personalities and ambassadors) "the coolest honor for good deeds" Kansas City has. Additionally, in the interest of fairness, he noted that the Royals planned their tribute "in a time the [Negro Leagues] museum had a void of leadership."
But as Mellinger also noted, the Royals are a major organization with the power and influence to cut a deal and pay the $20,000 or so it would take to buy replica Negro League uniforms for the team. They didn't get it done. We contacted the Royals to try and figure out exactly why they didn't get it done, but we haven't heard back yet. We'll update if the Royals get back to us.
For now, all we have to go on is Mellinger's column, as well as Joe Posnanski's additional comment that this has happened before. Combined, these observations paint a picture the Royals shouldn't be proud of. Mellinger said the Royals' director of marketing described the goal for this year's tribute as "put[ting] the focus more on Buck [O'Neil]." Mellinger:
If you knew Buck, you know he would want the players in uniform, for the focus of the day to be on the group.
For future tributes, it sounds like it would be wise for the Royals to heed those words. A long way still to go - both on the field and off.