Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

25 Years Ago: The Kansas City Royals Rule Baseball

Posted on October 27, 2010 by Dean Hybl

In 1985 the Kansas City Royals took advantage of some amazing fortune to win the World Series title.

While it is just about impossible in today’s baseball landscape to imagine the Kansas City Royals being among the dominant teams in the game, that was indeed the case in the 1970s and 1980s when the Royals were perennial contenders. Their run of glory culminated 25 years ago when they claimed their one and only World Series title.

After entering the American League as an expansion franchise in 1969 (two years after the Kansas City Athletics left for Oakland), it took only three seasons for the Royals to post a winning campaign and in 1976 earned the first of three straight division titles under the guidance of future Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog.

Unfortunately, each season ended with an American League Championship loss to the New York Yankees.

After faltering slightly in 1979 and replacing Herzog with Jim Frey, the Royals won their fourth division title and again faced the Yankees in the post season in 1980.

This time, the Royals swept the Yankees and earned their first World Series appearance in only their 12th season. By comparison, it took the Texas Rangers (who entered the league as the expansion Washington Senators in 1961) 36 years to make a playoff appearance and 50 years to reach the World Series.

Though Kansas City lost to the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series, the core nucleus of players, including George Brett, Frank White and Willie Wilson was young enough that additional series appearances seemed likely.

However, the Royals in the early 1980s struggled slightly. After earning a playoff spot in the strike-shortened 1981 season despite having an overall losing record, the Royals didn’t again reach the playoffs until 1984 when they won the AL West with a pedestrian record of 84-78.

To no surprise, the Royals were swept in the playoffs by the Detroit Tigers.

By 1985 many recognized that the Royals, now under the guidance of manager Dick Howser, were reaching the end of their championship window.

Brett, who had been the face of the franchise since his rookie campaign in 1974 was 32 years old and still at the peak of his game. However, the team had three starters who were 34 or older and no regular position player under the age of 25.

George Brett was second in the MVP voting in 1985 and hit .370 in the World Series.

Kansas City earned their seventh division title in 10 seasons with a 91-71 record to win the division by one game over the California Angels.

In the league championship series, the Royals lost three of the first four games to the Toronto Blue Jays. In years gone by, that would have been enough to lift Toronto to the World Series. However, in 1985 they expanded the championship series to seven games.

The Royals took full advantage of this new rule as they claimed the last three games, including the final two in Toronto, to earn a spot in the World Series.

Ironically, their opponent would be their Interstate-70 mates the St. Louis Cardinals, who were now led by Whitey Herzog.

The Cardinals were making their second trip to the Series in four years and were considered the favorites.

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, luck seemed against them from the start as rookie speedster Vince Coleman was lost for the series after suffering a freak injury during an encounter with a tarp before the start of the Series.

Even with one of their offensive catalysts out, the Cardinals claimed the first two games in Kansas City to seemingly seize control.

Undaunted, the Royals won game three before being shut out by John Tudor in game four.

Needing a win to take the Series back to Kansas City, the Royals scored four runs early and cruised to a 6-1 victory in game five.

In game six, St. Louis pitcher Danny Cox, who had won 18 games in the regular season, held the Royals scoreless for eight innings. A single St. Louis run in the eighth inning looked like it would be enough to give the Cardinals the title.

The first base call in the ninth inning of game six will forever be remembered as one of the most controversial calls in World Series history.

To open the ninth inning, the Royals sent veteran Jorge Orta to the plate to face rookie relief ace Todd Worrell. Orta slapped the ball down the first base line, but it appeared that he would be out as Worrell beat him to the bag and took the throw from first baseman Jack Clark.

To the disdain of the Cardinals, and as the replay would show clearly in an decision making error, first base umpire Don Denkinger ruled that Worrell was not on the bag and that Orta was safe.

With new life, the Royals quickly took advantage. Steve Balboni singled to put the winning run on base and with one out and runners on second and third, pinch hitter Dane Iorg singled to drive home two runs and give the Royals an improbable victory.

With young Kansas City ace Bret Saberhagen facing Tudor in game seven, the Series finale was expected to be a classic. Surprisingly, Tudor was unable to duplicate his performance from game four and was roughed up for five runs before being replaced in the third inning.

The Royals ultimately won 11-0 to claim their first (and only) World Series title.

While the Royals remained a contender for the next several years, that Series proved to be the end of the playoff run for the Royals.

The next season manager Dick Howser left the team due to cancer and died less than two years after guiding the Royals to the title.

Over the next nine seasons, Kansas City had a winning record six times, but never finished better than second.

When baseball went out on strike during the 1994 season, the Royals had a record of 64-51 and were in third place in their division.

When baseball returned in 1995 without a labor agreement that included a salary cap, it proved to be a game-changer for the once proud Royals.

Over the 16 seasons since the strike, Kansas City has posted a winning record only once (83-79 in 2003). They have lost at least 90 games 10 times, including five of the last six years. Included in that tally are four campaigns with 100 or more defeats.

Unless baseball someday is able to find a mechanism that returns true competitive balance, it is likely that Kansas City will never again be able to regularly compete for a title in the manner they did from 1976-1985.

However, at least they will always have that one season in which they were baseball’s World Series Champions.

Leave a Reply

  • Current Poll

    Who Will Win the American League East?

    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...
  • Post Categories

↑ Top