On the Royals and Frank White and especially Kevin Shank
The Kansas City Star
A few days ago on Twitter, I wrote that if Royals fans knew and cared about Kevin Shank the way they do Frank White, they’d be more ticked off at his firing.
It’s a sentiment I heard echoed or agreed with by a handful of others, including some current and former employees.
Some logical Tweeps pointed out that, hey idiot, we can’t really know Shank^ or his situation if you don’t tell us. Fair point.
^ A testament to either his anonymity or my moron-ness: I couldn’t find a picture of Shank online to put with this post.
But before we get started, wanted to lay a few things out.
First, the more you know about this, the less you believe that White and Shank were fired for making the broadcasts too negative. The Royals are more thin-skinned than they should be, and White believes the club thought he was too negative, but the reasons are far more complicated.
Like I said in the column, if you want to blame it on one thing, the Royals believe White was badmouthing them to other clubs.
The other thing, this was not general manager Dayton Moore’s decision. Part of the job description for a GM is taking blame, but this wasn’t his call.
Shank originally thought it was when I talked to him on Friday, but called back later in the day to say he changed his mind after talking to Moore.
Nobody from the Royals is raising a hand to own it, but indications point to a collaborative decision approved by president Dan Glass as part of the club’s right of approval on the broadcast team.
While it’s not rare for clubs to exercise influence on the broadcasters, Shank said it is “virtually unheard of” to do it on producers.
You probably don’t know Shank, perhaps other than as one of the people Ryan Lefebvre always mentions at the end of games. Shank has produced Royals broadcasts for 17 years and until last week a man I’d never heard anything less than glowing compliments about.
Without ever asking, I bet I’ve heard at least five people — with the Royals or the broadcast team — call Shank some variation of “one of the best in the business.” In the Royalman Report on Kings of Kauffman, Joel Goldberg said Shank’s firing “on a personal level was very devastating because he’s a good friend.”
Shank grew up in Overland Park, rooting for the Royals his entire life, a graduate of Shawnee Mission West and Kansas. This was a job for him, but also much more. The Royals are — were? — his team by birth more than contract. Like any Royals fan, he had frustrations, but always wanted the best for the club.
“My job has always been to paint them in the best possible light,” Shank said. “And I have done that.”
Shank was angry when we spoke, and asked that I use my “best judgment” in separating his raw emotion from truer feelings. I hope he agrees that I’ve done that.
Like most things, there are shades of gray here and conflicting points of view so I’ll try to keep this only to the clearest and most relevant points.
Shank said the reasons he was given for his firing were mostly vague, but that Jack Donovan of Fox Sports Midwest told him, “Kevin, we’ve been very happy, extremely happy with everything you’ve done for us over the years. You’re great at what you do.”
Shank took that to mean it was completely the Royals’ call, and when he asked Donovan for specific reasons or a specific person he could talk to, was told that neither existed.
There is one incident I’ve heard about in connection with Shank’s firing. It’s a story from this past summer, that had Shank criticizing a player to another club. I asked Shank about this.
“That’s 100 percent true,” he said. “It was after Mike Aviles got sent down. The scout was with the Boston Red Sox. We’d just played in Boston, and Mike had just got sent down…you know, at the hotel, you run into scouts at the bar and you have conversations.”
Here is Shank’s recollection of the conversation…
Shank: Are you guys still interested in Aviles?
Scout: No, we’re not.
Shank: Well, that’s good. We just sent him down. He’s not doing anything right.
Shank: Yeah. Offensively and defensively, he’s just not doing anything right.
Now, at this point, we pick back up on my conversation with Shank on Friday:
“If you look at the quotes from the manager, Ned Yost, on the day they sent Mike Aviles down, I’m pretty sure he said the exact same thing. So I was pretty much repeating the words the manager said to the media.”
Shank makes the point that he’s exchanged opinions with scouts for all 22 years he’s worked around major league baseball. His contract doesn’t prohibit it, and in fact, he believes a good producer should do this to keep informed on other teams.
Shank knows the conversation got back to the Royals’ front office, in part because Boston ended up trading for Aviles. Asked if he makes a direct connection between this and his firing, Shank said, “Yes, yes, yes. Because the rest of the stuff they brought up was just hogwash.”
So the Royals are being purposefully vague about this, but a longtime producer universally respected for his work, who grew up in Kansas City and has rooted for the Royals his entire life, is left believing he was fired for what amounts to at worst a misdemeanor violation.
The shame of it, from the Royals’ perspective, is that outside of the recent drama there is — finally — real reason to believe in the product.
The club has been at the forefront of baseball’s movement to heavily invest in amateur talent and player development, a philosophy that built the game’s best farm system and now a young roster that’s the envy of small market clubs across the league.
Mission 2012 is really here now, a roster stocked full of young players who not only will be around for years but have the chance to turn into stars. The All-Star game will be here in July.
This should be one of the most exciting times in years, a real opportunity to change the narrative of a long-struggling franchise.
Instead, at least for now, fans are seeing one more reason to think, Same old Royals.