Ewing M. Kauffman, the wealthy pharmaceutical executive who owned the Kansas City Royals baseball team from its inception, died at his home in Mission Hills, Kan., early yesterday. He was 76.
He had been suffering from bone cancer and died in his sleep, The Associated Press reported. Ill health had kept him from attending the ceremony renaming Royals Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., in his honor on July 2.
It was in 1968 that Mr. Kauffman, with encouragement from his wife, Muriel, purchased the rights for one of two American League expansion franchises. The Royals began play in 1969, and the new stadium opened in 1973.
The foundation for Mr. Kauffman's role in baseball was the fortune he made as the founder and chairman of Marion Laboratories Inc., a fast-growing, Kansas City-based drug company that merged in 1989 with the Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals unit of the Dow Chemical Company to form Marion Merrell Dow Inc., with Mr. Kauffman giving up control and becoming chairman emeritus of the merged concern.
Afterward, Mr. Kauffman occupied himself with overseeing the Royals and with charity work. He founded the Kauffman Foundation, whose activities include programs to deter young people from becoming involved with drugs.
In 1988, Mr. Kauffman went to Kansas City's Westport High School -- where he graduated in 1934 -- and promised the freshman class he would pay the entire cost of their college or vocational training if they agreed to avoid drugs, alcohol abuse and teen-age parenthood, and graduate in good standing from high school. He later expanded the program to Kansas City, Kan.
In running the team and its stadium, Mr. Kauffman tried to be innovative. In 1980, after the Royals lost the World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies, he announced that he had ordered the next year's season-ticket sales to be cut off at 15,000. That was said to be the first time such a directive had been issued by a major league team.
Mr. Kauffman said he had decided on the cutoff because the Royals wanted to continue to have playoff and World Series seats available for fans who did not buy season tickets.
But he was known to minimize his role in determining how his players played baseball. "Well-meaning fans assume I am seated on the bench in charge of the play on the field," he wrote in The New York Times in 1983, "when in truth in my 15 years of ownership of the Royals, I have not once even attempted such a delicate task. Nor even contemplated it."
Mr. Kauffman was born Sept. 21, 1916, on a farm in southern Missouri, the son of John S. Kauffman and the former Effie May Winders. He attended Kansas City Junior College and went into the pharmaceutical business in 1950.
In June, Mr. Kauffman named his son, Larry, and four longtime associates of the Kauffman family to run the Royals franchise as part of a complex succession plan.
In addition to his son, Mr. Kauffman is survived by his wife, the former Muriel Irene McBrien, whom he married in 1962; two daughters, Julia and Marion; nine grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
Photo: Ewing M. Kauffman (Associated Press, 1993)