Saturday, September 27, 2014

How Long It's Been: The Kansas City Royals Made the Playoffs

Last night, the Kansas City Royals beat the Chicago White Sox 3-1, and clinched at least a Wild Card berth in the American League Playoffs.

They still have a shot at the AL Central Division title, although they are a game behind the Detroit Tigers. With each team having 2 games left, 2 Tiger wins, 2 Royal losses, or 1 of each, and the Tigers win the Division for the 4th straight season. In order to win, the Royals would need to win both of their games and hope the Tigers lose at least 1.

The Royals' last postseason berth was in 1985, which is also their one and only World Series win. This leaves the Toronto Blue Jays, who haven't reached the postseason since winning the 1993 World Series, as the Major League Baseball team with the longest Playoff drought: 21 years. The Royals' reaching the Playoffs this season, and the Pittsburgh Pirates having done so last season (and again this season), leaves the Jays as the only MLB team not to have made the Playoffs in the 21st Century. The National League team with the longest current drought is the Miami Marlins, who haven't made it since, as the Florida Marlins, they won the 2003 World Series. (Jeff F. Weaver.)

The Royals haven't played a postseason game since October 27, 1985, Game 7 of their controversial All-Missouri World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals. Such as Series is possible again, as the Cards have won at least a Wild Card, and are in the driver's seat for the AL Central title.

But the Cards have reached the Playoffs 12 times since the Royals benefited from the goof of umpire Don Denkinger in Game 6, and throttled the Cards 11-0 in Game 7. The Royals hadn't made it since -- until last night. The Curse of Denkinger?

Anyway, that's 28 years and 11 months. How long has it been?

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The Royals were led by the 3 figures whose numbers have been retired by the team: Number 10, manager Dick Howser; Number 5, 3rd baseman George Brett; and Number 10, 2nd baseman Frank White. Their best pitcher was Bret Saberhagen, with Dan Qusienberry throwing submarine-style out of the bullpen. Quiz then held the record of 45 saves in a season (albeit in 1983, not '85), but it would be broken the next year by Dave Righetti of the Yankees, and it's now held by Francisco Rodriguez, who got 62 for the 2008 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Brett got over 3,000 hits, and is far and away the greatest player in Royals history. In fact, this is the 1st time they have ever made the Playoffs without him.

At this point, the Boston Red Sox had gone 67 years without winning a World Series; the Chicago White Sox, 68; the Chicago Cubs, 77; the San Francisco Giants, 31 (not since they were in New York); the Cleveland Indians, 37.

The 1985 season was the one in which Bob Wood, a junior high school history teacher from Kalamazoo, Michigan, then living in Seattle, used his summer off to go to all 26 ballparks then used by MLB teams, including the All-Star Game in Minneapolis. He recorded his trip in the book Dodger Dogs to Fenway Franks, published in 1988. (He used the royalties to go to all the Big Ten campuses that Autumn, and published Big Ten Country in 1990.)

In spite of its artificial turf, he liked Royals Stadium: According to the rating system he devised (based on his own preferences), it finished tied for the best ballpark, along with Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. The worst was the Astrodome in Houston.

Since then, Royals Stadium has been renamed Kauffman Stadium after founder-owner Ewing M. Kauffman, a pharmaceuticals magnate; and the artificial turf, whose fast carpet and distant power alleys were ideal for the Royals' 1976-85 game of speed, line-drive hitting, pitching and defense, has been replaced by real grass.

Only 6 teams are still playing in the same ballparks they were using then. And each of those stadiums has undergone a notable change: The Royals tore up the carpet and replaced it with grass, the Red Sox added roof boxes and seats on the Green Monster to Fenway Park, the Angels (then known as the California Angels) had the football bleachers torn down and the outfield made a lot nicer at Anaheim (now Angel) Stadium, the Oakland Athletics had the Oakland Coliseum ruined with the opposite move as football bleachers went up to make the outfield view much worse, the Cubs added lights to Wrigley Field, and the Dodgers added a lot of advertising (after previously having only 2 ads in the entire stadium, the Union 76 gasoline "balls" on top of the bleacher scoreboards).

Of the 26 MLB teams then playing, 10 had artificial turf fields. Now, only 2 do, the Blue Jays and the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays had not yet begun play, nor had the Marlins, nor the Colorado Rockies, nor the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Twins hadn't won a World Series in 61 years, as the Washington Senators. The Braves hadn't won one in 28 years, well before they moved to Atlanta. The Montreal Expos hadn't yet become the Washington Nationals. The Milwaukee Brewers were still in the American League, the Houston Astros in the National League. Each League had an Eastern and a Western Division, no Central, and no Wild Card. There was no Interleague Play.

In the NFL, the Raiders were in their Los Angeles exile. The Rams were still there. There was a team in St. Louis, but it was the Cardinals, not the Rams. There was a team in Houston, but it was the Oilers, not the Texans. Baltimore was still exiled from the NFL. The USFL had recently played its last game, although no one knew that yet. Arizona, the Carolinas, Jacksonville and Tennessee had not yet had an NFL team, although all had had teams in pretender leagues.

In the NBA, the Kansas City Kings were about to make their debut in Sacramento. There were no teams in Charlotte, Miami, Orlando, Minnesota, Toronto, Memphis, New Orleans or Oklahoma City, but there was one in Seattle.

In the NHL, Winnipeg still had the original Jets, Quebec City still had the Nordiques, and Hartford still had the Whalers. There was a team in Minnesota, but it was the North Stars, not the Wild. The idea that San Francisco might one day get a team wasn't crazy -- but San Jose? Cleveland, sure; Cincinnati, maybe; but Columbus? Dallas, Carolina, Arizona, Nashville, another team in Atlanta? They all got teams, and Atlanta has since failed as a hockey city for a 2nd time.

Smoky Joe Wood, hero of the 1912 World Series, 73 years earlier, had just died. Joe Sewell and Babe Herman, baseball stars of the 1920s, were still alive.

Some of the defining players of my childhood were still active: Reggie Jackson with the Angels, Tom Seaver with the White Sox, Mike Schmidt with the Philadelphia Phillies, and Pete Rose was player-manager of the Cincinnati Reds, and had just gotten career hit Number 4,192 to break Ty Cobb's record. (Cobb's career hit total is now officially listed as 4,189, not 4,191, but that was not generally accepted at the time.)

Derek Jeter was 11 years old, Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz were 10, Albert Pujols and CC Sabathia were 6, current Royals ace James Shields was about to turn 4, Robinson Cano was about to turn 3; David Wright, Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera were 2; Matt Kemp was 1, and Felix Hernandez was 5 months old. Stephen Strasburg, Clayton Kershaw, Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper weren't born yet.

Ned Yost, manager of the Royals now, was in his last season as a major league player, as a catcher with the Montreal Expos. Terry Collins of the Mets was managing in the Los Angeles Dodgers' farm system. Tom Coughlin of the Giants was receivers coach for the Philadelphia Eagles. Lionel Hollins of the Nets had just retired as a player, and had returned to his alma mater, Arizona State, as an assistant coach. Alain Vigneault of the Rangers was wrapping up his playing career with the minor-league Montana Magic. Joe Girardi of the Yankees was playing at Northwestern University. Jack Capuano of the Islanders was at the University of Maine. Rex Ryan of the Jets and Peter DeBoer of the Devils were in high school. Derek Fisher of the Knicks was 11 years old.

The Royals replaced the Tigers as World Champions. The San Francisco 49ers were reigning Super Bowl winners, although the Chicago Bears were shuffling their way toward a title. The Los Angeles Lakers were the reigning NBA Champions, and the Edmonton Oilers held the Stanley Cup. Wayne Gretzky hadn't yet had a back injury, and Mark Messier still had hair.

The Olympics have since been held in America and Canada twice each, Korea, France, Spain, Norway, Japan, Australia, Greece, Italy, China, Britain and Russia. The World Cup has since been held in America, Mexico, Italy, France, Japan, Korea, Germany, South Africa and Brazil.

The President of the United States was Ronald Reagan. Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, their wives, and the widows of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were still alive. George H.W. Bush was Vice President, but, at this point, the odds of his son George W. ever winning public office, much less the Presidency, were astronomical, due as much to his alcoholism as to his stupidity. Bill Clinton was Governor of Arkansas, and Barack Obama had just arrived at the University of Chicago, and begun his work as a "community organizer."

The Governor of New York was Mario Cuomo, of New Jersey Tom Kean, and, of the 2 States in Kansas City's metropolitan area, of Missouri, future Senator and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, and of Kansas, John W. Carlin. The Mayor of New York was Ed Koch, and of Kansas City, Richard L. Berkley.

There were 26 Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. Same-sex marriage was a ridiculous idea -- but so was the idea that corporations were "people" and entitled to the rights thereof. No Justice then on the Supreme Court is still there.

There were still surviving veterans of the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Campaign, the Boxer Rebellion, the Boer War and the Potemkin Mutiny. Clarence Norris, the last survivor of the Scottsboro Boys, was still alive.

The Pope was John Paul II. The current Pope, Francis, then Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was teaching at his former seminary in Argentina, the Philosophical and Theological Faculty of San Miguel.

The Prime Minister of Canada was Brian Mulroney. The monarch of Britain was Queen Elizabeth II -- that hasn't changed -- but the Prime Minister of Britain was Margaret Thatcher, who governed as though she thought she were Queen Elizabeth I. There have since been 5 Presidents, 5 Prime Ministers of Britain, and 3 Popes.

England's FA Cup had been won by Manchester United, and its Football League Division One by Liverpool-based Everton. But the team that both considered their arch-rivals, Liverpool Football Club, had recently lost the Final of the European Cup, to Juventus of Turin, Italy, at Heysel Stadium in Brussels, Belgium. Juve fans, running from Liverpool fans wanting a fight, ran into a wall in the stadium, which collapsed, killing 39 people.

The sensible thing for the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) to do would have been to suspend Liverpool from all European competition for a time. Instead, they banned all English clubs from the European Cup, the UEFA Cup, and the European Cup Winners' Cup, for 5 years, and added a 6th year for Liverpool. This was an incredibly unfair thing to do.

Major novels of 1985 included Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis, The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler, The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Cider House Rules by John Irving, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. All have since been made into major motion pictures. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, also published that year, became a major TV miniseries.

In a rarity for him, Stephen King published no new novels in 1985, but was finishing up It. George R.R. Martin published the short story collection Nightflyers. J.K. Rowling was attending the University of Exeter in England's West Country.

Major films of the fall of 1985 included Commando, Jagged Edge, To Live and Die in L.A., and Rocky IV. Back to the Future, released earlier in the year, had October 26, 1985 as the day that Marty McFly, played by Michael J. Fox, went back to 1955. Major TV shows that had begun that fall included Small Wonder, 227, The Golden Girls, Spenser: For Hire, Growing Pains, MacGyver, and the cartoon G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

Gene Roddenberry was in the early staged of preparing Star Trek: The Next Generation. George Lucas was helping Jim Henson of the Muppets make The Dark Crystal. Steven Spielberg directed The Color Purple. Roger Moore had released his last James Bond film, A View to a Kill, playing Agent 007 at age 58. Christopher Reeve was between Superman films. Adam West was still the last live-action Batman, Nicholas Hammond still the last live-action Spider-Man.

The Number 1 song in America was the 1st for Whitney Houston, "Saving All My Love For You." Starship released Knee Deep In the Hoopla, Kate Bush Hounds of Love, Simple Minds Once Upon a Time, and the Clash Cut the Crap. Bob Dylan pioneered the box set with Biograph. Live Aid was 3 months earlier.

Inflation was such that what $1.00 bought then, $2.19 would buy now. A U.S. postage stamp cost 22 cents, and a New York Subway ride 90 cents. The average price of a gallon of gas was $1.19, a cup of coffee $1.23, a McDonald's meal (Big Mac, fries, shake) $2.75, a movie ticket $3.53, a new car $11,838, and a new house $103,800. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed the preceding Friday at 1,356.52.

There were mobile telephones, but they were the size of World War II-era walkie-talkies. There were personal computers, but 99 percent of Americans had never heard of the Internet. Bill Gates was a month away from releasing the first version of Microsoft Windows. Steve Jobs had just been ousted as head of Apple. (Of course, he would be back.)

In the fall of 1985, Nintendo released its first video game console, and the game "Super Mario Bros.," taking Mario out of the Donkey Kong games and into new adventures, and revolutionizing home video gaming. An earthquake killed 10,000 people in Mexico City. The shooting of an unarmed black woman set off a 2nd set of riots in the South London neighborhood of Brixton (the 1st coming in 1981).

The Israeli Air Force bombed PLO headquarters in Tunis, Tunisia. In retaliation, Palestinian terrorists hijacked the Italian cruiseliner Achille Lauro, and killed a Jewish-American passenger, Leon Klinghoffer. The space shuttle Atlantis made its first spaceflight. And President Reagan met Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev for the 1st time, in a summit at Geneva. Switzerland.

Orson Welles, and Rock Hudson, and Roger Maris died. Bruno Mars, and Wayne Rooney, and Evan Longoria were born.

October 27, 1985: The Kansas City Royals won the World Series. For the first time, and, so far, for the only time. They have not played a postseason game since.

Now, they will again. No Kansas City team has even reached the finals of its sport since, unless you count a pair of National Championships won by the basketball team at the University of Kansas, 35 miles to the west in Lawrence. The Chiefs have been to an AFC Championship Game, but only once, in 1993-94. The NBA's Kings had moved to Sacramento. The city hasn't had an NHL team. And, for the most part, while they've rarely been bad, the Royals have been mediocre. Not good, not bad, just sort of there, and not particularly interesting.

They're still not particularly interesting. Aside from James Shields, I don't think there's a single player on their current roster who will be familiar to Yankee Fans. But they're in the postseason, while the Yankees are not. Can they win another title? Stay tuned.

1 comment:

Jason Schock said...
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