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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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Lady Ali: How Jackie Tonawanda Changed Women's Boxing
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As photographers and newspaper reporters looked on, Jackie Tonawanda allowed herself to be fingerprinted. It was October 7, 1974, and Tonawanda—who was dwarfed by the burly professional wrestlers waiting their turn—was taking the necessary steps to become a licensed professional boxer by the New York State Athletic Commission. The fingerprints would be sent off to Albany make sure she wasn't a felon; a physical would determine her fitness for competition.

Tonawanda didn't anticipate either one becoming a hurdle. Her main concern was that the state of New York had long prohibited women from prizefighting.

The gregarious Tonawanda told the assembled press in the commission's offices that she was the “female Cassius Clay,” referring to boxing icon Muhammad Ali. (Like Ali, she was known for boasting to the media and offering impromptu demonstrations of her hand speed.) Women could already be licensed as pro wrestlers and boxing managers in the state. Why, Tonawanda argued, should female boxers be exempt from officially participating in the sport?

Commissioners brushed off her complaints, fretting about being deemed negligent if women suffered injuries. Rumors circulated in the boxing community that blows to the chest could cause breast cancer. Ed Dooley, the head of the state's athletic commission, thought women fighting in a ring would bring “disrepute” to the venerable sport.

In time, Jackie Tonawanda would be hailed as a boxing pioneer, someone who stood up to the rampant sexism from promoters and the sport's sanctioning bodies. But in 1975, Tonawanda's license application was denied. Dooley refused to back off from his insistence that boxing was strictly a “manly art.” Tonawanda was incredulous. If that was what he believed, she thought, she would show him otherwise.

To prove her point, she would even agree to an extreme demonstration of her worth as a fighter: an unlicensed fight against a man, in full view of spectators at Madison Square Garden.

Although Tonawanda was the first woman to ever lace up her gloves at the famed New York arena, women’s boxing had been a ring attraction for decades. In 1876, two women took wild swings at one another in what may have been the first spectator women's match in the country. (The prize was a silver butter dish.) In 1954, women competed on television for the first time. But with so few participants in the sport, it was difficult for any real momentum to develop. And without endorsement from state athletic commissions, official records and rankings were nearly impossible to come by.

Such was the state of female fighting when Tonawanda decided to compete. Born on Long Island and orphaned by age 8, she started boxing at age 13, eventually migrating to the famed Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. As an adult, Tonawanda occupied a unique space in the art: At 175 pounds, she was larger than many of the other women who fought, making matchmaking difficult. She once stated she sparred exclusively with men because women “don't show me anything and they can’t take my power.”

With only scattered women’s bouts available, Tonawanda often fought in unsanctioned matches around the country. She managed to compile a 23-0 record (although this number would sometimes change in interviews, as would her birth year and even her height) before petitioning her home state of New York to sanction her bouts. Commission members like Dooley and former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson were wary, fearing the seeming fragility of women might give a proverbial black eye to the sport. They turned down both Tonawanda and Marian "Tyger" Trimiar, another female boxer, citing, among other things, concerns over the possible trauma the women might suffer to their breasts.

“I don't think a blow to the breast would cause breast cancer," Irwin Weiner, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University, told The New York Times when the women first applied for licenses in 1974. "On the other hand, it's a rather tender area that can be easily bruised. It might take longer to recover from bruises there.” Dooley remained insistent, saying a fight "could endanger a female's reproductive organs and breasts."

Tonawanda didn’t accept the decision in stride. She sued the state for discrimination, arguing that women had every right to compete. In June of 1975, while the lawsuit was still being contested, she agreed to compete at a martial arts tournament at Madison Square Garden that fell outside the purview of the commission. Her original opponent was to be a Thai fighter in a mixed-rules striking contest, but that fighter ended up being replaced by an unheralded kickboxer named Larry Rodania. In the opening moments of the fight, Rodania hit her with a shot that left her unable to sleep on her left side for weeks. For much of the first round, though, Tonawanda parried his strikes, getting a sense of his timing. In the second, she landed a left that cracked his jaw and sent him to the canvas.

The referee announced that Rodania was out, unable to answer basic questions like “Where are you?” But some observers expressed doubt that the bout was legitimate. Recapping the event, Black Belt magazine questioned Rodania’s judgment in taking the fight at all. From the outside, it appeared to be a lose-lose proposition: Beating a woman in the ring would impress few, and losing to one could be ruinous in the eyes of fans who wouldn't expect a woman to be competitive with a man. It's not clear whether Rodania ever competed again.

For Tonawanda, the spectacle of her squaring off against Rodania made headlines and led to more offers, some outside of the ring. Later that year, she not only received a boxing license from the state of Maine, but also filmed a small role for the Dustin Hoffman film Marathon Man. In 1976, she was invited to spend time at a training camp with Muhammad Ali as he prepared for a bout against Ken Norton. Being around Ali, Tonawanda said, made her so nervous that she could barely eat.

If the bout was intended to elicit a response from the New York commission, however, it didn’t work. Tonawanda continued to compete in bouts outside of the state, and the commission steadfastly refused to acknowledge the rights of female prizefighters until 1978 brought a development they couldn’t ignore.

Three years prior, Tonawanda’s lawsuit had made it to the state Supreme Court, which ruled in Tonawanda’s favor and suggested she sue once again in order to have the law in New York overturned. When Tonawanda failed to follow up on their advice, another boxer, Cathy “Cat” Davis, picked up the baton and initiated a suit. When Davis’s legal action forced the commission to throw out the ban, Davis, Tonawanda, and Tremiar became the first three women to receive licenses in the state.

For the first time, Tonawanda would be able to claim a legitimate, professional fight on her record.

Despite setting a legal precedent, the court’s decision didn't guarantee that the fighters would necessarily be able to compete in New York. With so few female fighters to match up with one another, the women who were granted licenses often sought fights out of the area. The following year, Tonawanda fought Diane “Dynamite” Clark in a six-round bout in Louisville, Kentucky, in what would be her first and only professional contest. She lost in a split decision.

While it was a crucial moment for the fighters, women’s boxing continued to endure the perception that it was a sideshow. From the Rodania fight onward, Tonawanda received offers to fight men, including noted light heavyweight Mike Quarry. Quarry, Tonawanda claimed, backed out when he realized he had nothing to gain by fighting a woman.

By the mid-1980s, Tonawanda's career was winding down. She fought a man a second time, scoring another knockout at the Nassau Coliseum in 1984. It would be one of her last competitions before being injured in a 1986 car accident that ended any consideration of returning to the ring. From that point on, she became something of a mentor in various boxing gyms in the state. At Fort Apache Youth Center in the Bronx, she advised aspiring fighters on technique. Later, she trained future heavyweight contender Israel Garcia, who she met after Garcia discovered that she lived in the apartment building where he worked.

Lalia Ali faces off against Gwendolyn O'Neil of Guyana during the 2007 WBC/WIBA Super Middleweight World Title in Johannesburg, South Africa.
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In the meantime, fighters like Laila Ali, Christy Martin, and other women began gaining notoriety and respect for being capable pugilists. While they undoubtedly faced sexism, none had been forced to insist on their right to compete. That road had been paved by Tonawanda, who demanded equal footing with her male counterparts.

Tonawanda died from colon cancer in 2009. Like many boxers, she had no pension or retirement fund to fall back on, and her remains were initially destined for a mass grave on Hart Island, New York City’s potter’s field. She was saved from that fate thanks to Ring 8, the nonprofit consortium of former prizefighters that she belonged to. The group, which provides financial assistance to veteran boxers, raised enough money for a marked grave for her in the Bronx. It was proof that boxing had ultimately accepted Tonawanda, long considered an outsider, as one of their own.

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Big Questions
Why Do We Sing the National Anthem at Sporting Events?
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In early September 1814, Francis Scott Key, an American lawyer and amateur poet, accompanied American Prisoner Exchange Agent Colonel John Stuart Skinner to negotiate a prisoner release with several officers of the British Navy. During the negotiations, Key and Skinner learned of the British intention to attack the city of Baltimore, as well as the strength and positions of British forces. They were not permitted to leave for the duration of the battle and witnessed the bombardment of Baltimore's Fort McHenry on September 13 and 14. Inspired by the American victory and the sight of the American flag flying high in the morning, Key wrote a poem titled "The Defence of Fort McHenry."

Key set the lyrics to the anthem of the London-based Anacreontic Society, "The Anacreontic Song." (Nine years earlier, Key had used the same tune for “When the Warrior Returns (from the Battle Afar)” to celebrate Stephen Decatur’s return from fighting the Barbary pirates, which included the line “By the light of the Star Spangled flag of our nation.”)

The poem was taken to a printer, who made broadside copies of it. A few days later, the Baltimore Patriot and The Baltimore American printed the poem with the note "Tune: Anacreon in Heaven." Later, Carrs Music Store in Baltimore published the words and music together as "The Star Spangled Banner."

The song gained popularity over the course of the 19th century and was often played at public events like parades and Independence Day celebrations (and, on occasion, sporting events). In 1889, the Secretary of the Navy ordered it the official tune to be played during the raising of the flag. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered that it be played at all military ceremonies and other appropriate occasions, making it something of an unofficial national anthem.

After America's entrance into World War I, Major League Baseball games often featured patriotic rituals, such as players marching in formation during pregame military drills and bands playing patriotic songs. During the seventh-inning stretch of Game One of the 1918 World Series, the band erupted into "The Star-Spangled Banner." The Cubs and Red Sox players faced the centerfield flag pole and stood at attention. The crowd, already on their feet, began to sing along and applauded at the end of the song.

Given the positive reaction, the band played the song during the next two games, and when the Series moved to Boston, the Red Sox owner brought in a band and had the song played before the start of each remaining contest. After the war (and after the song was made the national anthem in 1931), the song continued to be played at baseball games, but only on special occasions like opening day, national holidays, and World Series games.

During World War II, baseball games again became venues for large-scale displays of patriotism, and technological advances in public address systems allowed songs to be played without a band. "The Star-Spangled Banner" was played before games throughout the course of the war, and by the time the war was over, the pregame singing of the national anthem had become cemented as a baseball ritual, after which it spread to other sports.

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