KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred walked into a Kansas City coffee shop Thursday morning and saw what he had seen seven months prior to his most recent visit to Kauffman Stadium — a handful of Royals hats.
On the tails of its most successful season in nearly 30 years, Kansas City has responded by averaging more than 30,000 fans per game at Kauffman Stadium, nearly a 10,000-person jump from last season at this point. The top five highest-rated games on FOX Sports Kansas City have all come this season.
Manfred said Kansas City has set an example for small-market teams.
"I think that 30,000-plus, plus the television ratings in this market, sets the kind of example that in every small market, teams can look at it, take it as concrete evidence of their ability to compete and, quite frankly, can aspire to," Manfred said.
The Royals’ success — an American League championship in 2014 and an early division lead this season — has also established a model for small-market clubs. Kansas City has built itself through the draft, selecting and developing young talent into big-league contributors.
They constructed a team centered on a strong bullpen, elite defense and speedy baserunning.
"I think that the success that Kansas City had last year, the great start that they’re off to this year, and the fact that they have a strategy that is sustainable within our system says a lot about the health of the industry," Manfred said.
"I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that it takes foresight and diligence to accomplish what (owner) David Glass, (club president) Dan Glass and (GM) Dayton (Moore) have accomplished. While I do believe that we have a system within which you can draft, acquire young talent and build a winner, it’s still a tall order to actually accomplish that in the way that they have here."
Manfred also touched on the idea that baseball has typically policed itself throughout the years, pitchers taking matters into their own hands by protecting their teammates.
The Royals have been at the forefront of this topic this season, with bench-clearing incidents against the Angels, Athletics and White Sox, some stemming from late slides and hit by pitches.
"I think that the idea that you’re going to take the old-school, ‘I hit yours, you hit mine’ out of the game, even if you wanted to do it, would be an unrealistic aspiration," Manfred said. "I think where we get concerned are two issues. One, you hit somebody in the lower part of the body, that’s one thing. Pitches that are up and in concern us and we look at them differently, obviously, because of the safety issue."
The second part that concerned Manfred was what happens when the plunking goes too far and morphs into something different.
"I hit mine, you hit yours and it escalates either to a brawl, verbal confrontation, whatever," Manfred said. "That concerns us, as well."