From Fame To Pain

It is fair to say the Royals struggled to adapt; the Royals are the wallflower convinced the old ways of baseball work while the alpha males work them over. Playing in a stadium with wide dimensions, the Royals used speed and solid singles/doubles hitting to reach success in the American League West year after year. Today's game is about power: power hitting and power pitching, neither of which the Royals possess.

1985 World Series

I was nine years old in 1985, a meek baseball fan in the third grade who loved baseball statistics. The Royals did not have the best team in baseball that year. The team sat several games out of first place at the All-Star break. But with a huge second half, the Royals won the American League West for the second consecutive year. The team dispatched the Blue Jays in the ALCS, and through some fortune, took the Cardinals to seven games to win the World Series. It marked the last playoff appearance for the Royals.

I'll say it. Jorge Orta should have been called out. Kansas City trailed the Cardinals 1-0 in Game 6 of the World series. In the bottom of the ninth, KC didn't exactly have a murderer's row lineup waiting its turn. Darryl Motley had been due up, pinch-hitting for Pat Sheridan, but KC pinch-hitted Jorge Orta instead against hard-throwing rookie closer Todd Worrell. Down 0-2, Orta squibbed a ball up the first base line. It was an odd angle, but not an impossible play. Jack Clark, not the fleetest of guys, reacted slowly, but played the ball to Worrell covering the bag in enough time to get Orta by a half-step-- except umpire Don Denkinger called Orta safe. Numerous replays showed the opposite. The TV and radio announcers both thought Denkinger got it wrong. I can't disagree. The Royals got lucky. The Cardinals fell apart. Steve Balboni singled after Jack Clark dropped what should have been a foul-out. Jim Sundberg tried a sacrifice bunt, but succeeded only in forcing out the runner at third. Hal McRae pinch-hitted for Buddy Biancalana and Todd Worrell threw a wild pitch, moving up the runners. Worrell walked McRae. Tiny-hitting Dane Iorg pinch-hitted for the pitcher; at the time the World Series played by National League rules. With the bases loaded, Iorg stroked a single into right field, scoring two runs and saving the series for KC. The Royals would win 11-0 in game seven. Again, this marked the last playoff appearance for the Royals.

Decades of failure

Baseball changed over time. Power at the plate and power on the mound became the standard. The Royals, as far as I know, are the only team with a single-season home run record under 40. Steve Balboni hit 36 home runs in 1985, and astonishingly, that mark still stands. Short-timers Gary Gaetti and Dean Palmer rank just below Balboni. That alone does not explain the failure of the Royals. But it's a start.

Watching a team die a slow death is maddening. The Royals had recognizable players, George Brett, Frank White, Bo Jackson, Bret Saberhagen, Kevin Appier, and others. By the early 2000s, guys like Desi Relaford were holding important spots in the lineup. Pitchers like Mark Redman and Jose Lima were our aces. We spent no money. We got what we paid for. We traded Jermaine Dye for Neifi Perez. We traded almost every good player who came up through the system. Ken Harvey once hit the cutoff man in the back. How can the fans get behind that?

In 2003, the Royals caught lightning in a bottle, at least for two-thirds of a season. The team, beyond all logic, held a significant lead in the American League Central division at the halfway point. KC actually had some decent players, like a 26-year-old Carlos Beltran, Mike Sweeney, Raul Ibanez and relief pitchers Jeremy Affeldt and Mike MacDougal. Beltran hit .307 that year and stole 41 bases with 26 home runs to his name. But the Minnesota Twins had the best second half in their team's history, and overtook the Royals in September.

Like clockwork, after a ten-year hiatus, the Royals found themselves in a pennant race in 2013. Having traded the organization's top prospect in the offseason to bolster the pitching staff, KC persevered, winning game after game, but never catching the big-hitting, bigger-pitching Detroit Tigers. A wild card was still in play, even down to the last week before the basic math eliminated the Royals. I look forward to 2023's pennant race.