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24 Things You Might Not Know About the Kansas City Royals

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It’s already been a remarkable October in Kansas City. For the first time since 1985, the Royals qualified for postseason play, and since defeating Oakland in the American League Wild Card Game they’ve become America’s baseball Cinderella, sweeping their way to their first World Series berth since that 1985 campaign. Before you hop aboard the royal blue bandwagon, here are 25 things you might not know about the Kansas City Royals.

1. Lou Piniella was one of the most influential baseball figures of the late 20th century thanks mostly to his time as a Yankee outfielder and Major League manager. Before all that, though, Piniella was left unprotected in the 1968 expansion draft and was selected by the Seattle Pilots, then traded to fellow expansion team Kansas City on April 1, 1969 for John Gelnard and Steve Whitaker. A week later, Piniella collected the first hit in Royals’ history—a leadoff double. That hit jumpstarted a campaign that ended in Piniella winning the American League Rookie of the Year award.

2. Speaking of those expansion Royals, Kansas City owes its place in the 1968 expansion draft to Missouri Senator Stuart Symington. The city had just lost the Athletics to Oakland following the 1967 season but didn’t have to wait long to receive a new franchise when Symington threatened to revoke baseball’s antitrust exemption if Kansas City wasn’t awarded a team.

3. The Royals didn’t take their name from any noble connections, but rather from the city’s reputation as a livestock hub. The team held a contest in 1968 to name the franchise, and many of the top suggestions showcased the city’s deep ties to the livestock industry, with monikers like “Mules” and “Cowpokes” among the suggestions. Kansas City engineer Sanford Porte managed to make that connection in a dignified fashion when he suggested the “Royals” in honor of the American Royal livestock show, an October tradition being forced this year to share Kansas City’s attention with the ballclub for the first time since 1985.

4. Team mascot Sluggerrr has a knack for stirring up trouble. Sometimes, it’s all in good fun, like when he pulled an exceptional troll job on Mr. Met earlier this year.

5. On the other hand, there was the time Sluggerrr allegedly detached a guy’s retina. Fans are warned before games that objects may leave the playing field and enter the stands, but that hasn’t stopped Sluggerrr from facing lawsuits after some misfired meat struck one fan in the face back in 2009.

6. One more Sluggerrr fact before we leave this mischievous mascot alone—and we’ll even end on a far more heart-warming front. Earlier this year, Sluggerrr helped the Make-a-Wish Foundation build a hero out of a local boy battling leukemia. As part of a day-long series of activities akin to the Batkid stunt in San Francisco, 6-year-old Isai Rojas was asked to rescue Sluggerrr from the evil KC Cucaracha. Rojas—dressed up as Muchacho de Hierro—defeated Cucaracha and rescued the Royals’ rope-tied mascot just in time.

7. Missouri native Ewing Kauffman purchased the rights to the expansion Royals after making his fortune forming and operating a pharmaceutical company. The entrepreneur lived a fairly remarkable life, with one of his particularly unique achievements coming as a child. Kauffman—the namesake for Kauffman Stadium—was bedridden for a year with a heart ailment when he was 11. In order to pass the time, he claims to have read an average of 40 books per month.

8. Office fans, remember that time Michael Scott promised college tuition to a whole class of kids if they graduated high school? That was Ewing Kauffman’s idea, only the Royals’ founder actually came through. In 1988, Kauffman developed Project Choice, a program that funded post-secondary education for nearly 1,400 Kansas City students who “graduated on time, avoided drugs and pregnancy, and otherwise stayed out of trouble.” The final Project Choice students graduated college in 2001 and, in 2003, the Kauffman Foundation followed up with the launch of the Kauffman Scholars program, a 19-year initiative aimed at “academic enrichment and mentoring.”

9. Royals Hall of Fame third baseman and current VP of baseball operations George Brett is credited with coining the term “The Mendoza Line,” a short-hand term used to describe a batting average of exactly .200. “The Mendoza Line” was first referenced publicly by Brett in 1980 in response to questions about an early season slump. Brett quipped to reporters, “The first thing I look for in the Sunday papers is who is below the Mendoza line,” referring to light-hitting Mariners shortstop Mario Mendoza, who finished his nine-year career with a .215 average.

10. Brett developed into quite a storyteller over the years. It’s a bit difficult to hear, but the tale Brett told a few spring trainings ago about a Vegas vacation gone awry (NSFW) is perhaps the best Inside Baseball moment fans have gotten in the internet age.

11. Royals manager Ned Yost has built up quite the list of famous friends in his career. During the 1994 baseball strike, Yost—a NASCAR fan—served as a volunteer member on Dale Earnhardt’s pit crew, working eight races down the home stretch and forging a friendship with the Intimidator that lasted until his death in 2001. He’s also hunting buddies with comedian Jeff Foxworthy, and even promised the world famous redneck a role as bench coach—a promise that as of 2011 hadn’t been fulfilled.

12. Current outfielder Alex Gordon was a notable name for baseball card collectors long before making the Majors. Gordon, the second overall pick in the 2005 draft, was included in Topps' 2006 baseball card set completely by mistake. Due to MLB Players Association rules, Topps was only allowed to print cards for players who made the 25-man roster or played in a Major League game the year before—neither of which applied to Gordon in 2006. Despite that, a few Gordon cards slipped into some packs that were mostly shipped to Wal-Marts. One lucky fan found five Gordon cards at his local Wal-Mart and flipped those cards for $5,761.79.

13. While Brett’s 1983 pine tar incident is perhaps the most famous pre-steroid, post-Black Sox scandal in Major League history, the third baseman wasn’t the only Royal who bent the rules at the plate in the ‘80s. In a 1992 Mobile Press story, long-time Royal Amos Otis admitted to corking his bat in roughly half of his 7970 plate appearances. The outfielder hit .277 and made five All-Star teams during his 17-year career, earning entry into the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame and the Mobile Sports Hall of Fame. “I’m also in the hall of shame. That’s when you cheat in the big leagues,” Otis said.

14. Long-time reliever Dan Quisenberry published a book of poems shortly before his death in 1998. Quisenberry made three All-Star teams and finished in the top five of Cy Young voting five times in his 12-year Major League career, played primarily in Kansas City. Quisenberry was an affable, quotable submariner who released his first poems shortly after retirement. A few months before he passed of brain cancer, he published a collection of work titled On Days Like This.

15. Rookie reliever Brandon Finnegan has only been a professional baseball player for a few months, but he’s already figured out how to make himself a fan favorite. Self-proclaimed “broke Royals fan” Nicholas Knapple reached out to Finnegan via Twitter prior to the American League Championship Series, hoping the TCU product could hook him and his girlfriend up with some tickets. Finnegan shocked Knapple by responding that, yeah, he could get him some tickets, even ensuring Knapple had seats when Tuesday’s scheduled game was postponed.

16. Veteran Royals outfielder Raul Ibanez was one of Fredi Gonzalez’s earliest coaching success stories. Ibanez was a sophomore catcher at Miami’s Sunset High School when he was introduced to Gonzalez, now the manager of the Atlanta Braves. At the time, Gonzalez was working as a security guard at Sunset High—an offseason gig for the then-minor leaguer—and the future skipper helped coach up Ibanez, with the pair connecting thanks in part to their shared Cuban heritage.

17. There are teenagers who have played baseball for longer than current Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain, who hit .301 in 133 games on this year’s Royals’ squad. The Florida native tried out for his high school baseball team as a sophomore without any baseball experience—or even a glove—but ended up making his way into the Brewers’ organization as a 17th-round pick in 2004. Cain went out for the baseball team after failing to make his high school’s basketball team. “If I would have made the basketball team, there’s no chance I would have played baseball,” Cain told the Kansas City Star.

18. Teams have tried a lot of fascinating things to gain edges in the world of player recruitment and development, but perhaps nothing has matched the Kansas City Royals Baseball Academy both for creativity and surprising results. As a struggling expansion team, Kansas City was looking for any edge possible—as well as some positive publicity—in its early days, which led Kauffman to the idea of the Academy. The team constructed the site with dormitory-style housing in Florida in 1971, aiming to sign undrafted athletes who were light on baseball experience. The academy was shuttered after just four years, but managed to churn out 14 Major League players, including eight-time Gold Glover Frank White, Ron Washington, and U.L. Washington.

19. Bo Jackson did some absurd things as a member of the Royals from 1986 until 1990, including becoming the first player to make All-Star teams in two different professional sports.

20. The last time the Royals made the postseason, they beat the St. Louis Cardinals in what was dubbed the I-70 Series, after the interstate that connects the two Midwestern cities. Dayton Moore—Kansas City’s GM since 2006—was on hand for the Royals’ 11-0 Game 7 victory, though he didn’t have a ticket. Instead, the then-19-year-old Wichita native and lifelong Royals fan camped out on a knoll between I-70 and the left field fence at Royals Stadium, hoping to catch just a sliver of the action.

21. Los Angeles native and Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas is very proud of his Greek heritage, something he had in common with locker mate George Kottaras last season. The duo hung a Greek flag over their lockers, with Kottaras noting, “I don’t know how many times you’ve had two Greek guys in the same clubhouse on the same team.” Kottaras even represented Greece at the 2004 Olympics. Moustakas might’ve joined him, but he “was only about 14 years old then,” he said.

22. Japanese outfielder Nori Aoki was a pitcher in high school and didn’t transition off the mound until he arrived at Waseda University. At Waseda, Aoki supported a team stacked with players who went on to have pro careers. Four hitters from his class alone went on to play professionally (Aoki, Takashi Toritani, Toshimitsu Higa, and Shintaro Yoshida), plus he was one year behind left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada, who made his MLB debut with the Cubs this summer. Two older teammates from Wadeda later joined Aoki on the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in Nippon Professional Baseball (Hiroyasu Tanaka and Shinichi Takeuchi).

23. Once he made it to the Swallows, Aoki went on to become just the second player in NPB history to get 200 hits in a season—the first was Ichiro Suzuki.

24. Kansas City-based sportswriter Jeff Passan has helped make baseball’s postseason return to the City of Fountains even more memorable for the baseball press by showing up to K.C. home games with boxes of food from Oklahoma Joe’s Bar-B-Que, often considered the top BBQ spot in a city famous for its slow-cooked meats. Passan, a writer at Yahoo Sports, may be trying to score some points with his media buddies in return for some positive press regarding his book about baseball’s scourge of Tommy John surgeries, set for release in 2015.

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Big Questions
Who Was Heisman and Why Does He Have a Trophy?
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Brett Deering/Getty Images

On Saturday night, one of three finalists will be named this year's Heisman Trophy winner. But before anyone brings home the hardware, let’s answer a few questions about John Heisman and his famous award.

Who Exactly Was John Heisman?

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His name is mostly associated with the trophy now, but Heisman (right) was a player, coach, and hugely successful innovator in the early days of football. After playing for Brown and then Penn as a collegian from 1887 to 1891, Heisman became a coach at a series of schools that included Oberlin, Buchtel, Auburn, Clemson, Penn, Washington & Jefferson, Rice, and, most notably, Georgia Tech.

For What Football Innovations Does Heisman Get Credit?

Just some little trivial stuff like snapping the ball. Centers originally placed the ball on the ground and rolled it back to their quarterbacks, who would scoop it up and make plays. When Heisman was coaching at Buchtel (which later became the University of Akron), though, he had a 6’4” QB named Harry Clark. Clark was so tall that picking the ball up off the ground was wildly inefficient, so Heisman invented the center snap as an easy way to get the ball in Clark’s hands. Heisman also innovated the use of pulling guards for running plays and the infamous hidden-ball trick.

Any Other Shenanigans on Heisman’s Resume?

You bet. When Heisman found a way to gain an edge, he jumped on it no matter how ridiculous it seemed. When Heisman was coaching at Clemson in 1902, his team traveled to Atlanta for a game against Georgia Tech. Although Heisman was known for being a rather gruff disciplinarian, the Clemson team immediately started partying upon their arrival.

When Georgia Tech’s players and fans heard that the entire Clemson squad had spent the night before the game carousing, they prepared to coast to an easy win. When the game started, though, Clemson roared out of the gate en route to a 44-5 stomping.

How did Clemson crush Tech when by all rights they should have been ridiculously hungover? The “team” that everyone had seen partying the night before wasn’t really Heisman’s Clemson squad at all. He had sent his junior varsity players to Atlanta the night before to serve as drunken decoys, then quietly slipped his varsity team in on a morning train right before the game.

What Kind of Coach Was He?

Heisman worked as an actor in community stock theater during the summer – he consistently received rotten reviews – and allegedly spoke in a brusque, yet bizarrely ostentatious manner. Georgia Tech’s website relates a story of one of Heisman’s speeches he would break out on the first day of practice while describing a football: "What is this? It is a prolate spheroid, an elongated sphere - in which the outer leather casing is drawn tightly over a somewhat smaller rubber tubing. Better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football."

How Did His Name Get on the Trophy?

After leaving his head-coaching job at Rice in 1927, Heisman became the athletic director at New York’s Downtown Athletic Club. In 1935 the club began awarding the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy to the nation’s top college football star. (Chicago’s Jay Berwanger won the first trophy.) Heisman died of pneumonia the following fall before the second trophy could be awarded, and the club voted to rename the prize the Heisman Memorial Trophy Award.

Did He Ever Really Throw that Iconic Stiff Arm?

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Possibly, but Heisman didn’t have the ball in his hands all that much. Even though he was a fairly small guy at just 5’8” and 158 pounds, he played as a lineman throughout his college career.

The famous “Heisman pose” is actually based on Ed Smith, a former NYU running back who modeled for the trophy’s sculptor in 1934. Interestingly, Smith went years without knowing that he’d modeled for the famous trophy. His sculptor buddy Frank Eliscu had just needed a football player to model for a project, and Smith volunteered.

Smith figured Eliscu was just doing some little personal sculpture and remained totally oblivious to his spot in football history for the next 48 years until a documentary filmmaker called Smith to interview him about the Heisman in 1982. Smith initially had no idea what the guy was talking about, but he eventually remembered his modeling days. In 1985, the Downtown Athletic Club gave Smith his own copy of the Heisman, and in 1986 he even received recognition on the televised ceremony. He looked at the four finalists – Vinny Testaverde won that year – and quipped, "Whoever wins the award, I feel sorry for you, because you're going to be looking at my ugly face for a long time." [Pictured Above: Auburn's Bo Jackson in 1985.]

What’s a Heisman Trophy Worth on the Open Market?

Quite a bit. A number of Heisman winners have eventually sold their hardware, and the trophies fetch quite a bit of loot. O.J. Simpson got $230,000 for his, and several others have gone for six-figure prices. The most expensive trophy that’s changed hands was Minnesota back Bruce Smith’s 1941 award; it fetched $395,240.

How Did Steve Spurrier Change the Process?

SEC fans are going to be floored by this one, but the Ol’ Ball Coach did something really classy when he won the Heisman in 1966. Instead of taking the trophy for himself, Spurrier gave it to the University of Florida so the school could display it and let the student body enjoy it. Florida’s student government thought Spurrier’s generosity was so classy that they paid for a replica for Spurrier so he’d get to have his own trophy, too. Since then both the school and the player have received copies of the trophy.

So Heisman Must Have Been the World’s Greatest Sportsman, Right?

Well, not really. Heisman was on the victorious side of possibly the most gratuitously run-up score in sports history. In 1916 tiny Cumberland College canceled its football program and disbanded its squad, but it had previously signed a contract to travel to Atlanta to play Heisman’s Georgia Tech team. If Cumberland didn’t show up, they had to pay Georgia Tech a $3,000 penalty, which was quite a bit of cash in 1916.

Rather than forfeiting the money, Cumberland scraped together a team of 16 scrubs and went to take their walloping from Heisman’s boys. For reasons that still aren’t totally clear – some say it was to avenge an earlier baseball loss to Cumberland, while others claim Heisman wanted to make a statement about the absurdity of the old system of using total points scored to determine the national champion – the legendary coach showed Cumberland’s ragtag band no mercy. Tech went up 63-0 in the first quarter, but Heisman kept attacking until the final score was 222-0. There are tons of hilarious stats from the game, but the funniest is Georgia Tech rushing for 1,620 yards while Cumberland only squeaked out negative-96 yards on 27 carries.

This article originally appeared in 2010.

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#TBT
Thin Ice: The Bizarre Boxing Career of Tonya Harding
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Al Bello/Getty Images

In 2004, the Chicago Tribune asked Tonya Harding about the strangest business offer she had received after her skating career came to an abrupt end in the mid-1990s. “I guess to skate topless,” she answered. In 1994, the two-time former Olympian became infamous for her ex-husband’s attempt to break the leg of rival Nancy Kerrigan. Although Harding denied any knowledge of or involvement in the plan—which ended with Kerrigan suffering a bruised leg and Harding being banned from the U.S. Figure Skating organization, ending her competitive pursuits—she became a running punchline in the media for her attempts to exploit that notoriety. There was a sex tape (which her equally disgraced former husband, Jeff Gillooly, taped on their wedding night), offers to wrestle professionally, attempts to launch careers in both music and acting, and other means of paying bills.

Though she did not accept the offer to perform semi-nude, she did embark on a new career that many observers found just as lurid and sensational: For a two-year period, Tonya Harding was a professional boxer.

Tonya Harding rises from the canvas during a boxing match
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Following the attack on Kerrigan and the subsequent police investigation, Harding pled guilty to conspiracy to hinder prosecution, received three years’ probation, and was levied a $160,000 fine. (Gillooly and his conspirators served time.) Ostracized from skating and with limited opportunities, Harding first tried to enter the music scene with her band, the Golden Blades.

When that didn’t work—they were booed off stage in Portland, Oregon, Harding’s hometown—she disappeared from the public eye, offering skating lessons in Oregon before resurfacing on a March 2002 Fox network broadcast titled Celebrity Boxing. Using heavily padded gloves and outsized headgear, performers like Vanilla Ice and Todd Bridges pummeled one another on the undercard. In the main event, Harding used her physicality to batter and bruise Paula Jones, the woman who had accused then-president Bill Clinton of sexual harassment.

This was apparently the boost of confidence Harding needed. “I thought it was fun knocking somebody else on their butt,” she told the Tribune. Boxing, she said, could be an opportunity to embrace her self-appointed title as “America’s Bad Girl.”

Harding looked up a boxing promoter in Portland named Paul Brown and signed a four-year contract that would pay her between $10,000 and $15,000 per bout. The 5-foot, 1-inch Harding quickly grew in stature, moving to 123 pounds from her 105-pound skating weight. Following her win against Jones, Brown booked her a fight against up-and-coming boxer Samantha Browning in a four-round bout in Los Angeles in February 2003. The fight was said to be sloppy, with both women displaying their limited experience. Ultimately, Browning won a split decision.

Harding rebounded that spring, winning three fights in a row. Against Emily Gosa in Lincoln City, Oregon, she was roundly booed upon entering the arena. “The entire fight barely rose above the level of a drunken street brawl,” The Independent reported.

Of course, few spectators were there to see Harding put on a boxing clinic. They wanted to watch a vilified sports figure suffer some kind of public retribution for her role in the attack on Kerrigan. Following her brief winning streak, Harding was pummeled by Melissa Yanas in August 2003, losing barely a minute into the first round of a fight that took place in the parking lot of a Dallas strip club. In June 2004, she was stopped a second time against 22-year-old nursing student Amy Johnson; the Edmonton, Alberta, crowd cheered as Harding was left bloodied. Harding later told the press that Johnson, a native Canuck, had been given 26 seconds to get up after Harding knocked her down when the rules mandated only 10, which she saw as a display of national favoritism.

Harding had good reason to be upset. The Johnson fight was pivotal, as a win could have meant a fight on pay-per-view against Serbian-born boxer Jelena Mrdjenovich for a $600,000 purse. That bout never materialized.

Tonya Harding signs head shots on a table
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There was more than just lack of experience working against Harding in her newfound career. Having been a longtime smoker, she suffered from asthma. The condition plagued her skating career; in boxing, where lapses in cardiovascular conditioning can get you hurt, it became a serious problem. Although Harding competed again—this time emerging victorious in a fight against pro wrestler Brittany Drake in an exhibition bout in Essington, Pennsylvania, in January 2005—it would end up being her last contest. Suffering from pneumonia and struggling with weight gain caused by corticosteroids prescribed for treatment, she halted her training.

In an epilogue fit for Harding’s frequently bizarre escapades, there was remote potential for one last bout. In 2011, dot-com entrepreneur Alki David offered Harding $100,000 to step back into the ring, with another $100,000 going to her proposed opponent. Had it happened, it probably would have gone down as one of the biggest sideshows of the past century. Unfortunately for Harding, Nancy Kerrigan never responded to the offer.

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