Royals Baseball Academy was '40 years ahead of its time' - KCTV5

Royals Baseball Academy was '40 years ahead of its time'

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KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

It was the brainchild of Kansas City Royals owner Ewing Kauffman back in 1970. An idea almost everyone said wouldn't work - until they saw Frank White win eight Gold Gloves.

In January 1970, Art Stewart got a call to come into Kansas City to the old ballpark, Municipal Stadium.

"It had to do with Mr. Kauffman's idea of having a baseball academy," Stewart said. "Built one of the most beautiful complexes you ever wanted to see. Five ball fields, beautiful dormitory for 80-some players, swimming pool, tennis courts, big clubhouse and offices."

Baseball purists, even some inside the Royals organization, thought it was a joke - a waste of time and money.

There were 40 players in that first Royals Baseball Academy class including Frank White, who would go on to win eight Gold Gloves and play in two World Series for the Royals.

"I wasn't scouted. I was a month from turning 20 when I tried out for the academy, so no, I doubt I would have played at all," Frank White said.

And the same likely would have happened to Ron Washington, a skinny kid from the streets of New Orleans.

He went on to play 10 Major League seasons and has managed the Texas Rangers in back-to-back World Series.

The Royals brought in the great Ted Williams to work with hitters. Eye doctors checked players' depth perception. Strength and conditioning and nutrition were examined.

"It was 40 years ahead of its time," Stewart said.

The Royals put the academy team in the Florida Gulf Coast League in 1971 to play against drafted players - players who were given $30,000 and $40,000 signing bonuses.

That 1971 academy team, full of undrafted and never scouted players, was born from an idea of a newbie owner who didn't know baseball, and went 40-13, winning the league.

But sadly, the academy was closed after just four years. A construction worker's strike in the early 70s caused Royals Stadium to open a year later that expected.

Kauffman was talked into closing the academy and to save the money he would have lost by having to play one more year in old Municipal Stadium.

"The year before Mr. Kauffman died, he came up to my office and he said to me, 'Art, the biggest mistake I ever made in baseball was letting them talk me into shutting the baseball academy down,'" Stewart said.

Forty-two years later, Washington will manage the American League All-Stars this year in the stadium named after the man that gave him his chance, Kauffman Stadium.

"Mr. Kauffman, if he was here today how proud he would've been," Stewart said.

Fourteen player's from Kauffman's Royals Baseball Academy made it to the big leagues, including one name Royals' fans will remember - U.L. Washington. He and White were the middle infield when the Royals went to the World Series in 1980.

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