More from Bill James in the 1986 Baseball Abstract…
For the benefit of anybody who is not familiar with the cities, St. Louis is a much nicer city than Kansas City, and I’ll tell you why in a moment. Yet at every insurgence of the national media, Kansas City press packets are handed out repeating a number of overworked boasts about the place. “Kansas City has more fountains than Rome.” Well, I suppose so; the only problem is that about two-thirds of Kansas City’s fountains are just jets of water shooting up in front of a branch bank in the middle of a bunch of Burger Kings and stuff, and have the esthetic impact of large lawn sprinklers. “Kansas City has more miles of boulevards than any city except Paris.” This one always conjures up images of the International Board of Boulevard Certification, walking along saying “No, I’m afraid this one is just an ‘avenue’ unless you widen the curb space by four more inches and plant six more trees per half-mile.” Another favorite is “Kansas City is the Christmas card capital of the Midwest.” Can you imagine going into New York City for a World Series and having a press person come out to Shea and tell you how many Christmas cards are printed in New York City?
There are about seven reasons why St. Louis is a much nicer city than Kansas City. Number one, it is older, and has a much richer architectural heritage. Number two, its neighborhoods are much stronger. As Kansas City has grown, it has absorbed and neutralized the small cities around it, none of which retains a distinct flavor to contribute to the city. This hasn’t happened in St. Louis. Number three, the downtown area is much more pleasant — you can walk around it, there’s shopping there, the ballpark is there. Kansas City’s downtown area is basically a business area. Number four, St. Louis has integrated the river into the city, adding a great deal to the city esthetically; Kansas City has buried its river underneath a heap of train tracks, access roads, and dirty bridges. Number five, St. Louis probably has more good restaurants. If it doesn’t have more of them, they’re easier to find. Number six, St. Louis has many more areas that one can walk around and enjoy. Kansas City is all built to accommodate the automobile. And number seven, you can drive around St. Louis without getting lost. Unless you stay on the Interstate system, Kansas City has got to be the most confusing, frustrating city to drive around in the United States, with the possible exception of Atlanta, and Atlanta only because all of the streets are named Peachtree. The Kansas City street department renames their streets about every three blocks, so that it is all but impossible to keep track of where you are and how to get where you want to go. Drive you nuts.
That being said, there are things to like about Kansas City. It’s reasonably clean. The best restaurants in Kansas City generally don’t have any kind of expectations about dress; requiring a jacket or tie is considered rather pretentious. I like that. I’m mor ecomfortable eating out in KC than I am in New York — but anybody who suggested that the third-best restaurant in KC would crack the top 50 in New York would be out of his skull. The city’s image would improve a lot if they would just accept themselves for what they are, and stop handing out malarkey about how many miles of boulevard they have.
From my perspective, I know there’s one advantage to Kansas City: passenger trains are once again using the old train station downtown, even though most of it was turned into a science
museum years ago. That’s apparently not an option in St. Louis, where the old train station was permanently transformed into a mall years ago. Also, right near the train station in Kansas City is an old building with an old advertising sign on the top…
On the other hand, my one experience at the Kansas City airport found me having to leave the security area in order to use the men’s room (in 2000 — hopefully they’ve done some rearranging in the years since); by contrast, the St. Louis airport has a more conventional design, and I remember that the exposed ductwork and digital clocks on the signs hanging above the concourse (helpfully labeled “Central Time”) fascinated me as a young boy when my family was changing planes there on the way to Iowa.
And I’ve been to a baseball game in St. Louis but not Kansas City. So, in conclusion, Bill James is absolutely right.