Frank White turning a double play in his last season.
Granted, it's early.
But the Kansas City Royals are not having the best of winters.
Last month, management finally caved, announcing that Ewing M. Kauffman Stadium, named to honor the man who birthed the franchise, will soon have a new name. We don't know what it is yet, but don't be surprised if local delicacy Guy's Chips is in the mix.
Shortly after that heartwarming revelation, the Royals announced that this winter's FanFest was cancelled. Why? Because everyone's too busy gearing up for the All-Star Game. Next July. Now, one can't help wondering ... Have other teams cancelled their FanFests the winter before hosting an All-Star Game? I'm going to guess probably not.
And now they've really stepped in it.
Frank White grew up just a few blocks away from old Municipal Stadium, the Royals' first home (and before that, the Kansas City Monarchs' and Kansas City Athletics' home). Frank White worked on the construction of Kauffman Stadium in the early 1970s, and graduated from the innovative (if ultimately unsuccessful) Royals Baseball Academy.
Frank White debuted with the Royals in 1973, and later was a five-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glover. He played in the majors for 18 seasons, all of them with the Royals. He's one of only two Royals to have their numbers retired, and there's a Frank White statue outside the ballpark.
George Brett, of course, is the other Royal who's number is retired. And Brett, a native of Southern California, settled in Kansas City during his career and stayed. He's Mr. Royal, and always will be. But Frank White, because he grew up there, will in some ways always feel like more of a Royal than even Brett.
Which is why what's happened is such a shame.
Granted, these things do happen. If you're going to give a player a sinecure, the broadcast booth's not the best place for it. Better to pay the guy a decent salary to hobnob with the moneyed class in the luxury suites. If he wants a fancy title, give him a fancy title; last I checked, George Brett had one. I think the Red Sox have a dozen of those guys, hanging around and signing autographs and making decent money for doing nothing but playing the roles of themselves. Which, let's be honest, is pretty good work if you can get it.
But the cracks in this relationship go way, way back. In 1990, some outside group sponsored Frank White Day. Unfortunately, nobody told Royals manager John Wathan, who didn't write White's name on the lineup card.
White retired after that season, though not voluntarily, and was vocal about deserving one more year, theoretically to tutor his supposed replacement (a now-forgotten prospect named Terry Shumpert). In the following years, White held positions with the team but nothing of importance. He coached with the Royals and then (somehow) the Red Sox, but returned to the franchise in 2004 to manage the Royals' Double-A affiliate.
Apparently he expected to serve in that role for a few years and, if things worked out, get a shot at managing the big club. But White left that job after three seasons. One year later, the job in Kansas City came open, and Frank White didn't get it; Trey Hillman did. White instead moved to the TV broadcast booth, in a part-time role that became a full-time role when analyst Paul Splittorff -- another franchise icon -- got sick (and died last spring).
And now he's been fired from that job.
The Kansas City Star's Sam Mellinger has done the best reporting on this story, and got White on the phone. White doesn't seem vindictive, but he does seem wounded. About everything. On the other hand, Mellinger points out that White probably hasn't been blameless over the years ...
This is a touchy subject, enough that even an organization currently being trashed won't speak publicly other than a short, vague and entirely inadequate press release.
But White is complicit in getting to this point. His reputation for privately badmouthing the Royals caught up to him, as well as a feeling from some that he's a diva who longs to be treated as George Brett's equal without the Hall of Fame status to justify it.
The Royals have done a lot for White. They gave him a coaching job, and, when White cut an original five-year commitment in Wichita after three years, pushed him for the broadcasting job.
White is the common denominator in a tension-filled relationship with the club that stretches back to his playing days - through different general managers, front office personnel, coaches, even ownership.
Before going any farther with all this, we should address the specifics of his firing ... except we don't have any, really. The Royals haven't offered a reason, though there have been some background rumblings about his "negativity" ... except White, like almost every other broadcaster on the air, bent over backwards putting lipstick on what has generally been an ugly pig.
Still, in a vacuum I might have fired Frank White, too. He was affable enough in the booth, but I never got the impression his head was really in the game. He sort of coasted, like an active player fooling around for a few innings while stuck on the DL. You know what I mean.
He certainly wasn't the worst analyst in the majors, though. And considering his history with the franchise, I would probably have kept him around for a while longer. Not knowing anything else.
I suppose that unless you're a Royals fan, all of this seems rather petty. But of course there's a bigger issue here ... What, if anything, does a team owe a long-time player like Frank White? What do the Orioles owe Cal Ripken? What do the Padres owe Tony Gwynn? What do the Brewers owe Robin Yount? What do the Twins owe Kent Hrbek? What do the Red Sox owe Tim Wakefield?
Legally, they owe them nothing except the paychecks they earned during their estimable careers. As a fan, though, I certainly expect a team to treat these franchise icons with respect. If that means a job, it means a job. But it's gotta be a two-way street. If the icon expects gainful employment for some decades after retiring, he's gotta be willing to cast aside some of his ambitions while keeping his gripes, legitimate or not, out of the newspapers and the Internets. In the end, the old player needs the team more than the team needs the old player. Because frankly, most of the people at a Royals game in 2012 won't remember seeing Frank White when he was Frank White.
Usually, the system seems to work pretty well. Sometimes it doesn't. When it doesn't, it's not pretty.
I don't know who's more at fault here. For a few years now, the Royals have not been a particularly classy organization. For a few years more, Frank White has been at occasional loggerheads with the organization. Maybe he's arrogant, or maybe he's simply blessed with his fair share of self-respect.
I do believe that Sam Mellinger is right, though, when he writes that there should be a rapprochement. And when it happens, "it’s on the Royals to make the first apology."
There might not be a second apology. But maybe having your number retired means never having to say you're sorry.
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