Vahe Gregorian

Fifty years after Cedric Tallis played pivotal role for Royals, it’s time for his due

Royals historian on Cedric Tallis’ role in history

Cedric Tallis was the first general manager of the Royals and has had a lasting and profound influence. Curt Nelson of Royals Hall of Fame explains.
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Cedric Tallis was the first general manager of the Royals and has had a lasting and profound influence. Curt Nelson of Royals Hall of Fame explains.

As Ewing Kauffman began dabbling in the notion of trying to secure an expansion baseball team for Kansas City, an idea that would be hatched with its first game 50 years ago this week, he turned to Angels owner Gene Autry to get a sense of all that might be entailed in the endeavor.

In the process, Autry funneled him to vice president of operations Cedric Tallis, with whom Kauffman became so taken that Tallis soon accompanied him to Mexico City as an adviser for the 1967 baseball owners’ meetings that led to Kauffman being awarded a franchise on Jan. 11, 1968 … mere months after the Kansas City Athletics departed for Oakland.

Unless you’re of a certain age or are particularly dedicated to local baseball history, Tallis might seem virtually anonymous today, as distant a memory as the concept of paying $5.3 million for a Major League Baseball team, as Kauffman did then.

But it’s past time for the man who was instrumental for the Royals even before he became Kauffman’s first hire. Tallis was a crucial force in the Royals becoming a model expansion team and must be recognized anew with enshrinement in the Royals Hall of Fame, an inexplicable oversight that this anniversary conveniently beckons to correct.

That’s both because of the remarkable blueprint he was crucial in creating and its enduring impact on a franchise that still emphasizes home-grown talent and contouring its personnel to the cavernous playing dimensions and other flourishes he influenced in the stadium that opened in 1973.

“Not only aesthetically and its feel for us as fans but how it plays on the field and the importance of building the team to the field, something that continues to this day,” said Curt Nelson, director of the Royals Hall of Fame and himself a treasure trove of franchise history. “So his legacy with the Royals is in those first Royals championship teams, and his legacy is even still with us.

“You could say he was involved in the 2015 championship and the building of what’s coming now … Everything that Cedric Tallis has influenced still goes on today.”

In fact, Tallis is in the very DNA of the organization, in ways purely symbolic and deeply substantial and ongoing.

When the organization revealed the most fundamental aspect of its identity after a name-the-team contest, for instance, it was Tallis who sat front and center with Kauffman alongside and announced that the board voted unanimously for “Royals.”

Cedric Tallis was the first Royals general manager but underappreciated despite his ongoing influence. A look at his legacy.

(The moniker in part was credited to Sanford Porte as one of the 547 people nominating that name among the 17,000 voters. Afterward, Kauffman revealed the board had been 6-1 before he came around, with him dissenting as he mulled names such as Kings, Eagles and … Stars).

When the Royals sought a logo, it was Ewing and Muriel Kauffman and Tallis who went to Hallmark with a set of criteria, Shannon Manning, who created the logo, told The Star in 2015.

When the first uniforms were being considered, former Royals GM John Schuerholz recalled with a laugh in 2016, the young Schuerholz paraded back and forth as the model in Tallis’ office as Tallis and others assessed the look.

It was Tallis who chose Buddy Blattner to be the first voice of the team and Tallis who announced Blattner’s decision in 1968 to bring on 26-year-old Denny Matthews — another of his signatures that still resonates today.

Then there was the product itself, which won 11 more games in its first year than it did last season (58) and produced a winning season in Year Three (when Tallis was named MLB GM of the year after a Sporting News poll of baseball executives). The Royals were in the postseason by 1976 and won a World Series in 1985 — 11 years before their first last-place season.

Much of the fruits of Tallis’ labor weren’t enjoyed until after he was abruptly and still puzzlingly fired by Kauffman in June 1974, and we’ll get back to that.

But everything that sprouted had a direct correlation to the work of Tallis and the staff he was smart enough to hire and listen to, men like super-scout Art Stewart and future MLB general managers such as Jack McKeon, Herk Robinson, Sid Thrift and Lou Gorman, who brought along Schuerholz.

(Schuerholz, under whose stewardship as GM the Royals won the 1985 World Series, was a mentor to current GM Dayton Moore in Atlanta. That in effect is another element of what Nelson calls a “through line” from Tallis’ time to now, reinforced by the common denominators you can see in Tallis and Moore’s words about the importance of growing prospects and other similarities that Nelson suggests reveal they see things in a similar way.)

“Cedric hired great scouts, and he trusted them with his heart,” Stewart told my friend Joe Posnanski in 2006, when Joe argued that Tallis was not only the greatest GM in Royals history but “one of the great general managers in baseball history.”

With a philosophy geared toward procuring young talent, Tallis set about regularly “fleecing” other teams, as Nelson put it, with trades that brought in Lou Piniella (50 years ago Monday), Amos Otis, Cookie Rojas, Fred Patek, John Mayberry and Hal McRae, among impactful others, for little loss of consequence.

“Most of the players he traded away,” Nelson said, “you probably never heard of.”

Other than then-36-year-old Hoyt Wilhelm, whom Tallis selected in the expansion draft only to promptly trade away for Ed Kirkpatrick and Dennis Paepke.

His tenure featured the drafting of George Brett, Steve Busby, Al Cowens, Dennis Leonard, Paul Splittorff and Willie Wilson, among notable others, and the signing of Frank White.

Add it up, and Tallis’ ledger includes 11 of the 17 players in the Royals Hall of Fame — not to mention non-players Stewart and Matthews.

Talk about Forever Royal.

But at least in part because Tallis was fired by Kauffman in 1974, he’s not as appreciated in franchise lore as he should be.

It was a devastating time for Tallis ... and a bewildering one for those covering the Royals.

Under a story with the headline, “Firing Of Cedric Tallis Shocking And Disturbing,” Star sports editor Joe McGuff wrote that it was shocking because of the cold manner in which it was done by Kauffman and disturbing for the potential impact it could have on the franchise.

In the moment, McGuff called it a “tragic mistake,” and said, “Considering what he accomplished for the Royals, he should be awarded lifetime compensation.”

A point that only looked more true with time as the team he was most influential in putting together surged.

Theories vary about why Kauffman summoned Tallis to Marion Laboratories that June day and simply said he was “terminating me.”

At least that’s what Tallis, then with the Yankees, told longtime Newark Star-Ledger writer Jerry Isenberg in the wake of the Royals’ 1977 loss to New York with 18 players procured by Tallis’ regime on that team.

Maybe it was over some business decisions. Was it about a rift over Kauffman firing manager Bob Lemon over Tallis’ apparent objections? Or tension between Tallis and McKeon, Lemon’s replacement?

Tallis seldom if ever spoke about his wounds in the Aleutian Islands during World War II that resulted in him being awarded a Purple Heart and contending with a bullet crease on his face that gave him headaches, said his daughter, Gale Tallis, executive director of the Folly Theater.

So maybe it’s no surprise that he seldom, if ever, spoke about what happened with Kauffman.

About the most he ever publicly said was a year later to McGuff, who reported that Tallis remained dispirited but wanted to “avoid recriminations” and an “antagonistic attitude” and hoped that Kansas City would get the winner it deserved.

Now it’s time Tallis gets what he deserves — a place in the Royals Hall of Fame, which revamped its voting system in recent years in such a way that its board should be able to accommodate his nomination next time around.

When Tallis, 76, died after suffering a heart attack in 1991, the family asked Yankees owner George Steinbrenner to give the eulogy of a man who was their GM when they won the 1978 World Series among his vast other contributions to the organization and baseball.

Through the years,” Steinbrenner said that day, “I don’t know of anybody who was ever more beloved in baseball than Cedric was.”

Kansas City and the Royals should feel the same way about a man whose impact on the franchise remains indelible and ought to be commemorated as such.

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Vahe Gregorian has been a sports columnist for The Kansas City Star since 2013 after 25 years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He has covered a wide spectrum of sports, including 10 Olympics. Vahe was an English major at the University of Pennsylvania and earned his master’s degree at Mizzou.