Royals ownership allows Karen Daniel to continue blazing trails: If only ‘Peanuts’ could see her now

Posted: 5:00 PM, Mar 31, 2024
Updated: 2024-03-31 23:44:12-04
Karen Daniel Kansas City Royals fans
Karen Daniel Tod Palmer interview

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The story behind Karen Daniel’s love for baseball probably has a familiar ring to many other baseball fans.

“When I was 6 years old, my grandfather loved baseball, so he sits me down — we were always over there on the weekend — and he starts explaining the game of baseball,” Daniel said.

It was the fall of 1964 and St. Louis ace Bob Gibson bounced back from a Game 2 loss to earn wins in Games 5 and 7, leading the Cardinals past the New York Yankees in the World Series.

She’d watch those games sitting on Claude “Peanuts” Cummins’ lap, moments she cherished and that unknowingly would profoundly impact the course of her life.

“I was always excited about hanging out with my grandpa, always,” Daniel said. “He had a little store on 18th and Vine and we thought alike. But it really intrigued me, this whole baseball thing, so I watched baseball all the time when I could with him.”

Karen Daniel grandparents mother Claude Peanuts Cummins
Karen Daniel became a baseball fan by watching games with her grandfather, Claude “Peanuts” Cummins (left), who is pictured here with his wife, Alyce Cummins (right), and their daughter, Claudean Daniel (née Cummins). Claudean, who is named after her father, is Karen’s mother.

A trailblazing life

Daniel, who joined the Kansas City Royals’ ownership group in November 2020, didn’t set out to be a trailblazer, but she is one as the only Black woman with an ownership stake in a Major League Baseball team.

“She tells a story that I love about her grandfather,” said Marny Sherman, the wife of Royals chairman and CEO John Sherman. ”She used to sit on his lap and watch baseball games with him, come to baseball games with him, and she remarked that she wished he was still around so he would know that she was involved with baseball, because she felt like that would really be exciting to him and he'd be so proud of what she's done.”

Daniel is “a proud Southeast Knight,” graduating from the Kansas City Public School District in 1976. She earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Northwest Missouri State and a master’s from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

After college, Daniel started her career at Peat Marwick, which later merged to form accounting behemoth KPMG, before leaving for Black and Veatch, where she quickly ascended to become the engineering firm’s chief financial officer.

But baseball remained a lifelong love.

“I go to work at Peat Marwick and get myself a reliable car,” Daniel said. “Right after that, I bought into the office pool for 10 games for the Royals. I haven't looked back since, and that was in 1982. So, I've been going to Royals games forever.”

Daniel later joined the Board of Directors for Black and Veatch, which is one of the largest 100% employee-owned companies in the country, where she remained until her retirement six years ago.

She was a trailblazer there, too, as one of only two woman and the only Black person on the 10-member board.

“I don't know that I thought of myself as a trailblazer as much as I knew that I had an opportunity to be part of something very special there,” Daniel said. “My father always taught me about being an independent thinker, independent in the sense that you're unbiased. Do your work, understand the issues on both sides, land on a position that is right — not only for you, but importantly for the company. I became respected in that regard and, therefore, was able to participate in things that maybe some CFOs didn't.”

Karen daniel Royals fans
Karen Daniel greeted fans as she walked around the stadium on Thursday, March 28, 2024, before the Kansas City Royals’ home- and season-opener. Daniel is part of the team’s ownership group.

A chance to own the Royals

John Sherman hadn't owned the Royals for a year yet when he met Daniel for dinner and extended an unexpected offer. He wanted her to join the team’s ownership group, an offer she couldn’t refuse.

“Is it weird?,” I asked. “I mean, so there's John. But there's also Eric Stonestreet and Patrick Mahomes. Your name’s right there with them.”

“Not a bad thing, huh?” Daniel replied.

“No, not all.” I said with a laugh before Daniel, also laughing in delight, added, “That’s fun. It is.”

Daniel has cut her own path and carved a wide swath — as a business executive, a civic leader and a philanthropist — for others to follow, but being part of an MLB team’s ownership group was too lofty to contemplate.

“Did I dream to be an owner of the Kansas City Royals? No. But as an adult, John helped to make the impossible possible for me,” Daniel said.

She now has a suite at Kauffman Stadium. The sign outside the door says “Peanut’s Crew.”

“Her first year, she brought her whole family to opening day,” John Sherman said. “They were all in full uniform. It's a joyous thing for her family.”

He also believes it’s important.

“When we did this deal, she was one of a kind — a Black female as an owner in a Major League Baseball franchise,” Sherman said. “I don't know if that's still the case, but that meant a lot to us, it meant a lot to her, and it means a lot to people in this community that she's part of our group.”

Daniel remained the only Black woman in MLB ownership at the time of the league’s 2023 Racial and Gender Report Card survey, which is performed annually by the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports.

Currently, she also serves as board president for the Royals Foundation, the team’s community-focused nonprofit.

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Former Black and Veatch Chief Financial Officer Karen Daniel.

Leaving a legacy

Rising to prominence at Black and Veatch and joining its boards opened other doors for Daniel.

She’s also served as the president of the Greater Kansas City Area Chamber of Commerce and the Kauffman Foundation in addition to the corporate boards for Commerce Bancshares, Snap-On Tools, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City and more.

Daniel also is the board president for KC 2026, which is overseeing the region's preparations for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

During her stint as board president for the Kansas City Parks and Recreation, Daniel oversaw the restoration and expansion of the National World War I Museum and Memorial, formerly known as the Liberty Memorial.

“The Liberty Memorial was in disrepair, terrible disrepair,” Daniel said.

It was so bad that the museum was forced to close in 1994 due to neglect, but reopened in 2006 after Daniel’s leadership help restore the memorial as a point of civic pride.

“When you think about people going to war, people losing their lives and so forth — and here we have that monument in Kansas City, the seven spirits that are up top — life-altering for me about dedication, sacrifice,” Daniel said. “I wasn't having any part of them not being able to restore and expand the museum.”

Now (mostly) retired, Daniel is eager to enjoy a new baseball season, hoping that the Royals make a playoff push and energize the city after a nine-year postseason absence.

But she’s also has more time to reflect.

“As I look back, would I say they are trailblazing activities in that environment? Yes, I would say they were,” Daniel acknowledged. “Did I go about them thinking that was going to be my role? I just knew I wanted to be part of the solution.”

More often than not, she has been, crafting a legacy of service that would make Peanuts proud.

“I think because I'm an African American woman — just finished Black History Month, now it’s Women's History Month — I would hope that my journey would serve as inspiration and educational for those who come behind me,” Daniel said. “And I'm happy to do anything I can to help that happen.”