Obituary: David Glass (1935-2020)

RIP to David Glass, the former owner of the Kansas City Royals. It was announced that Glass died on January 9 at the age of 84. He was being treated for pneumonia, according to his family. He not only kept the team in Kansas City after the death of founder Ewing Kauffman, but he helped bring a World Series championship to town after a 30-year absence. He owned the team from 2000 until November, 2019.

“Like so many Kansas Citians, I am deeply saddened by the news of David’s passing,” said John Sherman, the new owner of the Royals, in a statement released by the team. “His voice among other owners was so respected; he served on and led several Major League Baseball committees to better our game. His passion for baseball and love for Kansas City was the driving force in bringing success on the field for this franchise.”

Source: USA Today

David Glass was born on September 2, 1935 in Mountain View, Mo. He got hooked on baseball at an early age, when the father of a childhood friend took the neighborhood kids to Sportsman’s Park to watch the St. Louis Cardinals. He recalled that Stan Musial had a great game that day. Glass wanted to play ball as well, but that didn’t work out. He served in the U.S. Army from 1954 through 1956 and received a business degree after attending Missouri State University, according to his obituary in the Kansas City Star.

Glass became vice president of the Crank Drug Store brand around 1962. He later served as vice president for Consumers Discount Markets in the 1970s. He joined Walmart in 1976 and served as the company’s CEO from 1988 until 2000. In a tribute to Glass, Walmart called him the most under-appreciated CEO in the history of business. He guided the company forward after founder Sam Walton died, and he brought it into the grocery business, where it is one of the top retail chains today.

“Without his wisdom and good judgment, his intuition that led us to blaze new trails, his iron will and the love he had for all of us, Walmart would not be the company we are today,” said Walmart President and CEO Doug McMillon.

Initially, Glass was less than impressed with the company. He had first met Sam Walton at the opening of the chain’s second store in Harrison, Ark., in 1963. He called it the worst retail store he had ever seen.

“Sam had brought a couple of trucks of watermelons and stacked them on the sidewalk,” Glass told the National Post in 1994. “He had a donkey ride out in the parking lot. It was 115 degrees, and the watermelons began to pop, and the donkey began to do what donkeys do, and it all mixed together and ran all over the parking lot. [Sam] was a nice fellow, but I wrote him off. It was just terrible.”

David Glass speaks at a Walmart grand opening. Source: The Lincoln Star, April 28, 1993

Rob Walton, Sam’s son, added the following statement: “For many years, my dad worked hard to recruit David before he joined us in 1976. Little did we know then the monumental impact he would have on us and the retail industry. David’s knowledge of the grocery industry, his financial acumen, and his embrace of technology were invaluable as we rapidly grew the business. When we lost Sam, David provided a steady, visionary hand the company needed to lead it forward. He did so with a deep sense of humility while maintaining the values and principles dad founded the company on. More than anyone beyond Sam Walton, David Glass is responsible for making Walmart the company it is today. On behalf of the Walton family, I want to express our appreciation for David as a leader and as a friend. He will be deeply missed.”

Glass helped fill the shoes of another powerful executive in 1993. He was picked to lead a five-man committee to take over the Kansas City Royals from Ewing Kauffman. It was part of a complicated succession plan that Kauffman devised in order to keep the Royals in Kansas City. The committee members became limited partners and were tasked with running the team for eight years and finding a new owner who would keep the team in town. Kauffman, who had been diagnosed with cancer, died shortly after the committee was formed.

As chairman and CEO of the Royals, Glass immediately fit into the MLB ownership hierarchy. He was part of the owners’ negotiating committee during the 1994-1995 baseball stoppage. Soon, it became pretty clear that the obvious candidate to buy the team was Glass himself. There were other bids; George Brett and a group of investors had a bid at one point, as did New York lawyer Miles Prentice. The sale didn’t become official until Glass resigned from his role at Walmart to focus on baseball in 2000. By March, he had acquired the team for approximately $96 million.

During Glass’ early years as owner of the Royals, the team found itself at or near last place. Things reached rock bottom from 2004 through 2006, when the team lost more than 100 games each season. That could not have sat well with Glass, who said after taking over the team, “I despise losing. Just because you are in a small market demographically doesn’t mean you can’t field a competitive team.”

The turning point came when Glass hired Dayton Moore as the team’s general manager and Kevin Uhlich as vice president of business in May 2006. There were some accusations that Glass and his son, Dan, had interfered with the team’s operations to no great success. Moore, who came from the Atlanta Braves, had an established record of baseball excellence. The turnaround wasn’t an immediate one; the team stayed under .500 until 2013. But Moore developed the farm system that brought young stars like Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas and the late Yordano Ventura to the majors.

“[Glass] made it very clear from day one he wanted to build a great farm system and transition young players to the majors leagues. And he understood that was going to require patience and time,” Moore said in 2014.

That patience finally paid off in 2014, when the Royals won 89 games, beat the Oakland A’s in the Wild Card Game and swept past the Angels and Orioles to reach the World Series. They fell just shy of the championship, losing Game Seven to the Giants by a 3-2 score with the tying run on third base.

The Royals recovered from their heartbreak and raced right back to the World Series in 2015, beating the Mets in five games. Of the 17 Royals who appeared in the clinching game, seven were signed and developed by the team, including starters Eric Hosmer, Moustakas, Salvador Perez and Gordon. Regulars Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and Wade Davis joined the team through some shrewd trades.

“The hard part was when all of you [media] beat up on us all the time because we wouldn’t have the shortcut strategy,” Glass said after the final win. He was willing to make a mid-season trade for the Reds’ Johnny Cueto, pushing up the Royals’ payroll to get the team over the top.

The Royals have had to deal with the realities of being a small-market franchise since then, as players like Hosmer and Moustakas have departed via free agency. Glass made the decision to sell the team at the end of the 2019 season, citing a desire to start “winding down.” He sold the team to Kansas City businessman John Sherman for $1 billion. By selecting Sherman, he did as Kauffman did shortly before his own death — ensure that the team will have a local owner who will keep the team in Kansas City.

“I wanted someone from Kansas City, who loved baseball, who would do the right thing with the Royals, and who would deliver to this fan base what they deserve,” he told the Kansas City Star in November 2019. “John was the first person I thought of, so yes, he was targeted. We didn’t do any bidding process. I talked to John. He thought about it, and decided this is something he wanted to do.”

David Glass interviewed at his office in Walmart’s headquarters. Note the baseball behind the desk. Source: National Post, February 12, 1994.

Star reporter Sam Mellinger pointed out that he could have driven up the price if he had sought owners outside of the area. “I was told that as well, but I never had an interest,” Glass replied.

Glass was active within Major League Baseball during his time as owner, serving on a variety of committees. According to MLB, he was a part of the Executive Council, the Media Oversight Committee, Diversity Oversight Committee, MLB Enterprises/MLB Properties Boards, MLB Advanced Media/MLB Network Boards (Served as Chairman through February, 2015), Business and Media Board (Served as Chairman from 2015-17), the BAM Tech Board, Ownership Committee, Audit Committee (Served as Chairman from January, 2017 thru November, 2019), the Constitution Committee and he was a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Board of Directors in Cooperstown.

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