Hearne: Much Ado About Nada – City Paper Whiffs on Royals Rewind

citypaper_finalIt’s Sunday, time for some light hearted diversionary journalism…

Remember the story earlier this week about Pitch parent SouthComm shuttering one of its hometown newsweeklies, Nashville’s The City Paper? In essence the tale was about how incredibly difficult it is for print pubs – especially freebies like the Pitch and City Paper – to survive. And not just because of today’s rag tag economy, but the trend away from print by the younger readers they so desperately seek.

Note that City Paper isn’t just doing away with its print edition and retaining the far cheaper to keep online version. The reason being that there’s no where near enough revenue generated online to sustain a full service weekly. That’s why, even though the Pitch online is far superior to its print “twin” – because it’s updated daily and has far more information – if and when SouthComm pulls the plug, the entire Pitch is likely to go.

Kinda like the Johnson County Sun. Anybody remember them two years after?

Now let’s lighten up.

When searching for artwork to run with the City Paper obituary, I stumbled on to one of its covers featuring former Kansas City Royals stars Dan Quisenberry, George Brett and Willie Wilson.

What? In Nashville?

Dan.QuisenberryQuisenberry died 15 years ago this September 30…WTF?

So I searched further and found that the City Paper cover art had been posted on September 29, 2011 by the artist who created it, Mark Draws. That’s one day prior to Quiz’s 13th deathiversary.

Here’s what Draws wrote:

“Several months back I was hired to do a cover for the Nashville City Paper. It’s a long story, but the short version goes there was a bit of a mixup with the schedule and as it turns out I had to turn around the entire cover in just about seven hours. This is far and away the shortest time I’ve ever had to do a cover for any publication and on top of that there was surprisingly little photo reference to be had of the people I had to paint. I finished on time, but I wasn’t really happy with the result, but at the time I figured at least it was done and that’s what mattered.

“The story, incidentally, had to do with a crazy contract/real estate deal involving three former Kansas City Royals, Dan Quisenberry, George Brett and Willie Wilson. Today the AD from The City Paper realized he never sent me a copy of the cover to show me how the final layout turned out. I have to admit, seeing it now months later, I like how it turned out better than I did before.”

waterford-place-apartments-nashville-tennessee-37221-270X270-center-crop-132795307The $64 million question being, what was the story about?

Since City Paper has another week or so to live, I was able to track down the tale.

Basically it’s a story about a Nashville apartment complex known as Stewart’s Ferry – anybody besides me think that sounds like a Civil War battle?

“There’s nothing spectacular about Stewart’s Ferry Apartments. Now more than a quarter-century old, it’s a mature, healthy development. It’s one of those places everybody lives in at one time or another, it seems,” the story begins. “But Stewart’s Ferry Apartments is a brick-and-mortar footnote to one of the strangest, saddest stories in baseball history. It played a key role in the decline and fall of the Kansas City Royals.”

OMG, get me Leftridge. The Royals downfall is based to a bad real estate deal in Nashville. Who knew?

But wait…

“That sentence reads like nonsense. But it isn’t,” the story continues.

“It’s 1985. The Kansas City Royals are champions of the American League. That sentence, hard as it is to believe now, is fact. It’s the Royals’ second pennant of the decade,” it continues.

“The Royals are playing the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. This is a big deal in Missouri, bigger than Lewis & Clark, the state’s famous Compromise and Truman’s election. There is no interleague play in the mid-’80s. The Royals and Cardinals don’t meet in the regular season.

7-derkinger“The Royals win — coming back from a 3-1 deficit to do so and, as Cardinals fans maintain to this day, getting a little help from first-base umpire Don Denkinger. There are lots of great stories from the I-70 Series, but to many Kansas Citians, it’s a win for the man whom Royals fans to this day refer to respectfully as Mr. Kauffman.”

At which point City Pages reminds that a dude named Avron Fogelman was co-owner of the Royals at the time. Remember him? The real estate magnate who essentially went bust and had to be extricated from the team’s ownership.

More history…

Kansas City Royals v Milwaukee Brewers“Willie Wilson, Willie Aikens, Vida Blue and Jerry Martin — served short jail terms in the offseason following the ’84 season for attempting to buy cocaine,” City Pages adds. “Aikens, Blue and Martin were traded or released from the team. Wilson stayed…”

“Fogelman, and to a degree his aging partner Ewing Kauffman, wanted to lock up the nucleus of a surging Royals team to long-term deals. So to three players — all fan favorites and bona fide stars — he would offer “lifetime contracts.

“Baseball was different in the mid-1980s. Cable wasn’t ubiquitous; there was no constantly updating Twitter stream, no blogs. Not preoccupied with protecting an image that would score them millions in endorsements or with the prospect of every misspoken word blasting around the world at the speed of light, baseball players in the ’80s were, in a word, characters.”

There was The Quiz:

“A poetry-writing, submarine-style reliever who is as remembered for his cavalcade of quotable material as for his pitching.”

And you know, that George Brett hole-in-one-golfer character.

And the speedy Wilson.

The three Royals were then signed to “some of the strangest, most convoluted — and ill-advised contracts— in the storied history of baseball,” City Paper says. “They were so bad, in fact, “they wouldn’t even be allowed now,” according to Andrew Zimbalist, professor of economics at Smith College and an expert on the business of baseball.”

Quisenberry and Wilson’s schmoozes were tied to Stewarts Ferry. 

Former (famous) Royals general manager John Schuerholz name is also on the docs, City Paper notes.

“The contracts now bear a reputation as not only some of the most bizarre, but in fact some of the worst in baseball history. And they were a symptom of the coming decline of the once-proud Royals.”

george-brett-thinks-jeter-could-struggle-to-finally-come-up-with-hit-number-3000Here comes the you-know-what hitting the fan portion of the deal.

“Almost right away, Fogelman admitted he might have made a mistake in hastily constructing the deals — part baseball contracts, part real estate transactions. Neither of those two pieces of legal paper is usually forged quickly. These were. Brett’s brother — who acted as his agent — famously described the real estate stakes as “nice little kickers.” Fogelman, in an exasperated 1987 interview with The New York Times, agreed.

“I regret that we signed contracts such as that,” he said.”

Fogelman was in financial trouble by the time Quiz and Wilson’s careers were ending, the story says.

“The Fogelmans (children) say Quisenberry and Wilson divested themselves of the real estate business when the Stewart’s Ferry Apartments ownership was reorganized amid their father’s liquidity troubles in 1990.

“Quisenberry, who died of brain cancer at age 45 in 1998, was due $23 million in 2006. Wilson, who’d made a series of bad investments, was due $16.8 million. But the pair didn’t see nearly that much.”

In a buyout, “Wilson’s 9.5 percent share was worth $1.89 million in 1990, and Quisenberry’s 24.7 percent was worth $4.9 million — both far less than they were originally owed — but at the time, both were staring down the end of their careers. Quisenberry was readying to retire and Wilson was simply playing out the string. Neither was still with the Royals.”

OK hold it right there…

Where exactly is this story of a $24 million apartment building in Nashville going? How did it somehow intertwine with the Royals demise?

Is City Paper gonna deliver the goods or are we reliving a meaningless rehash? And then why?

Turns out it’s the latter, for crying out loud and maybe this is part of the reason City Paper is going toes up.

Because when all is said and done after wading thru this sprawling story, readers are left with little more than the mere suggestion – via a question – that maybe, perhaps – this apartment deal somehow jinxed the team.


afogelmanAre Stewart’s Ferry Apartments the reason for the Royals troubles? Is this sprawling, anonymous complex in Donelson the Kansas City cognate of the Cubs’ infamous billy goat? Was this transaction — like the deal that paid for the production of No No Nanette, which allegedly doomed the Red Sox — cursed?

“Baseball fans are quick to point to curses, to find boogeymen in the shadows of team lore. That’s part of the charm of America’s sleepy pastime…

“And the Royals can point squarely at their win-now-at-all-costs attitude for their current troubles. Fogelman’s cash helped prop up the club, brought them the glory Kauffman desperately wanted before he died. But Fogelman’s all-too-1980s attitude of assuming that everything he touched would turn into gold was as doomed as Kauffman’s dreams of a Midwestern baseball dynasty.

“It’s not the apartments’ fault. They’re just a footnote.”

Geezus, even calling the apartments deal a footnote seems like a stretch.

And what the heck is George Brett doing on the cover and intertwined in the story? He didn’t even have a share in the apartments in question.

In the final analysis, it was little more than an exercise (for god knows what reason) to slap a bunch of has-been Royals stars on the front cover and relive the final hurrah of a baseball team that’s been loathsome to watch for the past 28 years (and counting).

Great cover art though!


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6 Responses to Hearne: Much Ado About Nada – City Paper Whiffs on Royals Rewind

  1. rkcal says:

    The question left begging is why anybody in Nashville would give two craps about this story. Even if there was a solid connection of some sort, why would Nashvillites care about the struggles of a baseball team in another state? Weird.

  2. Mysterious J says:

    The suspensions and jail time for the mentioned players came down after the 1983 season, not 1984.

  3. Super Dave says:

    Sounds like a Ripley’s believe it or not story.

  4. Rick Nichols says:

    So I guess this explains why ex-hitting coach George Brett is spending the week in Idaho at the family ranch while the Royals are out of town and not in Nashville at Stewart’s Ferry. Oh, well. No, I think the “recent” demise of the boys in blue (no playoff appearance since they won it all in ’85) is attributable at least in part to the Frank White curse. Until they start treating our hometown hero a little better, they won’t be breaking out the bubbly.

  5. Arte says:

    The Royals drug scandal was 30 years ago this fall. Always wanted to know more about it and how it all came down. Was told there was a connection to Dodge City, Ks of all places.

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