Don't Kill The Mellinger

Frank White and the Royals: a silly Cold War

Frank White returned to Kauffman Stadium in September.
Frank White returned to Kauffman Stadium in September.

Editor’s note: This column originally appeared in the July 12, 2013 editions of The Kansas City Star. White has only recently returned to Kauffman Stadium since his falling out with the franchise in 2011, but as a fan and not as a guest of the Royals.

Frank White is telling you he’s in a good place, and the tone in his voice makes you believe. This is a different Frank than we’ve heard from recently. Anger is easing. Bitterness is escaping.

Frank sounds comfortable in his new life, and genuinely this time, as if he’s passed the denial stage in an ugly and unnecessary divorce from the Royals that began two offseasons ago when the team pushed him out of the television booth.

“It took a while for me to get where I wanted to get,” the new Frank is saying. “Now that I’m here, I took a deep breath and said, ‘OK, I gave it all I had.’”

But then, a little later, when the subject of ending his Cold War with the Royals comes up he says, “never say never.” And when it’s mentioned that both sides are diminished by the continued breakup he says, “I can’t argue with that.”

You can hear mostly the same sentiments privately from the Royals — there’s an effective gag order on anyone speaking publicly about White, adding to the absurdity — but neither side is willing to take simple steps to end this. It’s an ugly look for both.

This shouldn’t be White’s life, of course. He’s a Kansas City icon. Grew up a few miles from Truman Sports Complex. Literally helped build what is now Kauffman Stadium, serving on the construction crew. Talented and hard-working enough to win eight Gold Gloves and join George Brett and Dick Howser as the only men with retired numbers in Royals history.

He should be with the Royals, still. He’d be better for it, and knows it. The franchise would benefit, too, and everyone who works there knows it.

Each side could put on their big-boy pants and do something about it, but instead, they continue a Cold War built on pride and self-righteousness.

Even as each side is worse off.

That it’s gone this long is a bad look for everyone involved, a refusal by men who should be above such cattiness to serve a more important purpose than their own childish stubbornness. We’ve had more than a year for emotions to settle, for clear minds and mature men to ignore foolish ego and do what’s best for all.

The solution is so simple, really. This is mostly a fight between Frank and Royals president Dan Glass. Get them in a room, together, and if each man has enough maturity and respect for the greater good they can work this out. Yogi Berra and George Steinbrenner made up, so White and Glass can, too.

Each side has made mistakes. Glass is the current face of what White sees as an organization that long took him for granted, the last straw being when he was forced out as a team broadcaster. Glass and many others inside the Royals see White as perpetually unhappy with an organization that retired his number and built a statue and gave him six-figure jobs in retirement.

White has never admitted it and has been emboldened by self-serving apologists, but he has his own share in this: His problems with the Royals have spanned many managers, front offices, decades and even ownerships. It can’t always have been the other side’s fault.

The Royals have done more for White than any former player other than Brett, but you don’t hear others complaining. And White may or may not have made for a good big-league manager, but 29 other teams have been free to interview him, too.

As for the Royals, they’re so dug in about White criticizing them to other organizations while employed there — even White’s biggest supporters understand he shouldn’t have done this — that they’re ignoring their own mistakes of communication and support. No matter what, allowing this relationship to sink to such a point of mistrust and hurt feelings is an inexcusable error for a major professional sports franchise that needs all the goodwill it can find.

Even the staunchest company man understands the Royals will never win a PR battle with White.

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the breakup going national — the All-Star festivities here happening without White participating in anything directly tied to the Royals. He spent the week doing things in the community, signing autographs, a watch party or two for the mayor. Involved, sure, but also declining invitations to official events. He could’ve ended the bickering then, and been praised for it.

A year later, White is staying busy. He’s on staff with the T-Bones, has a 12-and-under team he coaches, weekly appearances on local radio and TV, and some work with a local roofing company. It’s a good life.

White says he’s happy. The Royals have moved on, too, the focus on a critical season in which Brett has become intimately involved as hitting coach. So the divorce of a marriage that was so good for each side continues, even as each side is admittedly harmed by it.

White says he would listen if the Royals called him, and the Royals would listen if White called. But at the moment, each side stands in opposite corners with pouty faces and arms crossed. He started it.

These are grown men, representing two important institutions in Kansas City sports. They should be mature enough to meet in the middle, to renew a relationship that helps everyone involved. Instead, they toss more dirt onto a needlessly growing pile of hurt feelings.

Imagine the ovation if White showed up to throw out the first pitch.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send e-mail to smellinger@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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