Sure, New York has won 27 World Series to Kansas City's one. But things are different at Kauffman Stadium these days.
Reuters/Ray Stubblebine/Dave Kaup
You wouldn't know it from the scoreboard, but the Kansas City Royals are better than the New York Yankees.
Sure, the 2010 American League champion Texas Rangers beat the Royals in extra innings last night. Yes, the Yankees stopped a six-game losing streak by beating Tampa Bay on Tuesday, and last night bested Baltimore in a 15-inning thriller.
And yes, the Yankees have won the World Series 27 times, while KC hasn't had a winning record since 2003, and finished dead last in the AL Central in six of the last seven seasons. The Royals haven't even made the playoffs since 1985, when VHS was beating Betamax to win the video format wars, and the George Brett-led Royals beat St. Louis to win the I-70 World Series.
But the Royals are still a better team.
To begin with, things are different at Kauffman Stadium these days. KC General Manager Dayton Moore, who helped build the Atlanta Braves' dynasty that won an unprecedented 11 straight NL East titles, is in his fifth season with the Royals. Moore is finally seeing his efforts to remake the team pay off. Strange things are afoot at the K. Shocking things. Good things. Like, it's mid-May, a quarter of the way through the MLB season, and the Royals are still hovering near respectability, with a record of 20-22.
The Yankees do have a little bit better record, at 22-19. But the Bronx Bombers, no big shock, also have baseball's highest payroll—a tad over $202 million. Kansas City, meanwhile has the game's lowest payroll, at about $36 million. The Yankees therefore are spending an extra $165 million dollars and so far have precisely two more wins to show for it. That's not smart shopping. But wait. It gets better. Under baseball's revenue-sharing plan, the richest teams pay into a fund that supports the poor one. That means, basically, the Yankees are covering a big chunk of the Royals' payroll. Which, if you think about it, makes those supposedly sophisticated New Yorkers look like a bunch of suckers, chumps, rubes, marks, and patsies.
And by the way? The Royals have the better shortstop.
In his fine book Fielder's Choice: Baseball's Best Shortstops, Prof. Michael Hoban, Ph.D, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at City University of New York argued—pretty successfully, too—that Derek Jeter is one of the worst defensive shortstops of his time. That book came out in 2003, and it isn't like Jeter has been getting faster with age. No one does, and lately the territory the team captain can cover has been shrinking like the British Empire after Churchill.
Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar, on the other hand, has the range of Gary Oldman. He's also got a nuclear-powered slingshot where his right arm should be, and throws to first like he's holds a grudge against glove leather—tools he put to good use robbing, for instance, Victor Martinez and Orlando Cabrera. Sure, Escobar is flirting with the dreaded Mendoza line, hitting around .220. But Jeter isn't much better at .253.
The Royals have a better third-basemen, too. The Royals' Wilson Betemit is batting .316, while Alex Rodriquez swats a feeble .250. Sure, A-Rod has shown signs of warming up, hitting two dingers on Tuesday against Tampa, then going 4-for-7 on Wednesday night. But at least you'll never see Cameron Diaz feeding popcorn to Betemit at the Super Bowl.
There is no Yankee to compare with Jeff Francoeur, either. No, not because "Frenchy" had just 54 RBI for the Mets all last season and already has 26 batted in for KC. It's because no Yankee ever hit a ball all the way to Denmark.
The Royals' roster is baseball's youngest, with human fireplug Billy Butler a clubhouse veteran at age 25. The Yankees have the game's most decrepit dugout, averaging a rheumy 30.8 years. Jeter is 36. A-Rod is 35. Bartolo Colon is 37. Jorge Posada's knees are about 80. Mariano Rivera is 41 and looks it. Witness last night's third blown save of the year. The New York Post's Joel Sherman wrote that the Yankees "have more aging icons than any other team." Which is true. They also have more aging icons than a Friar's Club Roast attended by the Sex in the City cast held in a museum devoted to Byzantine religious art.
Sure, the Yankees will always have great prospects to replace aging stars. That's because they have scouts traipsing through every corrugated tin roof village in Central America and the Caribbean, throwing wads of cash at any 12-year-old with a fastball. Yet the Royals' farm system might be better. ESPN's Jerry Crasnik says Kansas City has the most prospect-laden minor league system in the game, and Keith Law has six Royals in his top 100 MLB prospects.
Those young players are about to set an incredible record, too—one that may never be broken. Once mega-touted third-base prospect Mike Moustakas gets called up from Omaha, he will join Billy Butler, Jeremy Jeffress, Dan Duffy, Michael Montgomery, and Sean O'Sullivan to form the single most alliterative roster in the whole history of Major League Baseball.
Being a Royal—and a Royals fan—also means breathing the sweet, laid-back air of lowered expectations. Yankee fans are spoiled rotten by victory. Accustomed to winning, they could care less about an AL East title or just getting another pennant. Unless the team wins a World Series, nobody in Yankeeland is happy. And, what with winning a World Series being hard and all, Yankee fans are consequently unhappy a lot. Maybe that's why New Yorkers wear so much black.
Not so in KC, where merely competent baseball would be a thrill. If the Royals could somehow manage a .500 record, the city's victory-starved fans would likely dance naked in the aisles of Kauffman. Figuratively, of course. We hope. Despite a vast selection of frou-frou chow, Yankee Stadium doesn't sell the James Beard- and Zagat Award-winning pan fried chicken from Stroud's Restaurant that Kauffman does. Which helps explain why KC always makes that America's Fattest Cities list, and why any Royals' fans dancing in the aisles probably ought to leave their clothes on.
Kaufman Stadium is also surrounded by greenery, including public parks where underprivileged youth might romp and frolic. Yankee Stadium, built by demolishing a 25-acre park in the already-toxic South Bronx, is a monument to greed, and an architectural expression of the wealth stratification that threatens to tear apart the fabric of American life.
Like seats in the first nine rows, the Legends Suite, which top out at $2,600 per tush, and offer access to exclusive restaurants and a lounge. They also let you stay away from the riff-raff, aka your fellow baseball fans. The Legends Suite seats are separated from the rest of the lower deck by a now-infamous plexiglass "moat" that keeps fans sitting in less ritzy parts of the park from getting close to the field—even during pregame batting practice, which sows the seeds of class hatred, dividing people in a place where they should be coming together.
But here's the M. Night Shyamalan surprise ending: The new Yankee Stadium was designed by the architecture firm formerly known as HOK Sport, based in, you guessed it, Kansas City. In all likelihood, the divisive seating setup in Yankee Stadium is all part of a brilliant plan by Royals' loyalists inside HOK to suck all the energy out of the Yankees' ballpark and so rob them of any home field advantage.
It seems to be working, too. Just look at the last, and the clearest indicator that the Royals are a better team than the Yankees. The clubs have played once this year—a three-game set two weeks ago in the Bronx. The Royals took two out of three, winning a series in New York for the first time since 1999. That's all you need to know right there, really. If two teams play a best-of-three series, it doesn't take a math professor to figure out that whoever wins two games is, by definition, the better team.