Giants’ string of World Series wins deepens my appreciation for Yankee history

1 11 2014

How great have the Yankees been through baseball history?

Only one other National League team has ever done what the San Francisco Giants just did, winning their third championship in five years. That team was the St. Louis Cardinals of 1942, ’44 and ’46. So that’s two National League teams ever with three championships in five years.

In the American League, the Oakland A’s won three in a row from 1972-74. The Boston Red Sox won three World Series in four years, 1915, ’16 and ’18. And they won three in five, on the other end of that pair: 1912, ’15 and ’16. The Philadelphia A’s also won three World Series in four years, 1910, ’11 and ’13.

That’s it, twice by the A’s, two overlapping sets of three championships in five or less years for the Red Sox and once each by the Cardinals and Giants. That’s six times it’s happened in baseball history, five if you count the Red Sox only once. The Red Sox are the only team with more than three championships bunched closely enough to have two overlapping sets of three wins in five years.

Then there are the Yankees:

  • Four championships in five years: 1996, ’98, 99 and 2000. No other franchise ever did that.
  • Three championships in five years: 1958, ’61 and ’62.
  • Three championships in five years: 1952, ’53 and ’56.
  • Overlapping with the stretch above, five championships in five years: 1949-’53. Again, no other franchise ever did that.
  •  Overlapping with that stretch above, four championships in five years: 1947, 1949-51.
  • Three in five years: 1939, ’41 and ’43.
  • Overlapping with one of the years above, four a row, only topped by the later Yankee stretch of five in a row: 1936-39.

Interestingly, the Babe Ruth Yankees won four World Series, but never three in five years. They won three in six years twice, each set including their 1927-28 back-to-back titles.

If you count overlapping stretches of three crowns in five years, the Yankees have had seven stretches and the rest of baseball has had six. If you don’t count overlapping stretches separately, the Yankees still have four. And all of them but the ’58-’62 stretch won more than three in a stretch of years that never counted less than three in five years:

  • Four titles in five years from ’96 to 2000.
  • Seven titles in 10 years from ’47 to ’56.
  • Six titles in eight years from ’36 to ’43.

None of those periods of dominance was matched by any other franchise. The closest any other franchise has come to matching any of those stretches of dominance, besides that early-1900s stretch when the Red Sox won four championships in seven seasons, was the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers with four titles in 11 years from 1955 to 1965. Next would be the St. Louis Cardinals with five in 16 years from 1931 to 1946 or four in 13 years from 1934 to 1946.

And, if we’re going to count stretches as long as 10 years, we need to include the Babe Ruth team with four titles in 10 years from ’23 to ’32, which only that Red Sox franchise matched. (The David Ortiz Red Sox won three in 10 years, from 2004 to 2013.)

And if you’re going to stretch your measure of dominance into double digits, here’s the measuring stick: The Yankees won 11 titles in 14 years from 1947 to 1962.

The Giants have to win the next two years to match the reign of the Derek Jeter/Mariano Rivera Yankees.

And that list of Yankee championship clusters doesn’t include the 1977-78 Yankees. Their achievement of back-to-back championships was exceeded among non-Yankee teams only by the  1972-4 Oakland A’s and matched only by these other teams:

  • 1992-3 Toronto Blue Jays
  • 1975-6 Cincinnati Reds
  • 1929-30 Philadelphia A’s
  • 1921-22 New York Giants
  • 1915-16 Boston Red Sox
  • 1907-8 Chicago Cubs

That’s it. The sixth-best period of dominance in Yankee history was never matched in the proud histories of the St. Louis Cardinals, Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers, Detroit Tigers, Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates or Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves, not to mention lots of other teams with less-proud histories.

Congratulations to the Giants. They have achieved a level of sustained excellence that’s rare in baseball history. This was a disappointing season to be a Yankee fan. But the Giants deepened my appreciation for what the Yankees have done for their fans through the generations.

Source note: Facts for this post came from the post-season records of Baseball-Reference.com.





Final thoughts on the Royals and Giants and the 2014 season

30 10 2014

Wrapping up an exciting post-season:

Royals

The Kansas City Royals made an incredible run. To fall short in Game Seven of the World Series with the tying run at third base was a heartbreaking end. But this year brought excitement back to Kansas City after decades of mediocrity.

I know my sons (all huge Royals fans) will cherish our Game Two memories a long time, maybe longer than last night’s loss will ache.

The Royals played well in the World Series, so you shouldn’t waste much time second-guessing. I’d like to see what would have happened if Ned Yost hadn’t given an out to Madison Bumgarner (who got plenty without help) Omar Infante on base leading off the fifth inning. If he was going to do that, he absolutely needed to pinch-hit for Nori Aoki, who was struggling, to take his best shot at scoring the run. I’d like see what Alcides Escobar and a pinch-hitter could have done swinging away. And I was shocked not to see a pinch hitter for Aoki in the eighth inning. I’d have liked (maybe) to seen third-base coach Mike Jirschele send Alex Gordon to try and score on the ninth-inning error (not saying I’d have had the guts to send him or that he’d have made it, but I thought he had a shot).

But the way the Royals played, managed and coached brought them to the final out of the World Series with a chance to win. I’ll take it.

I think the Royals have a chance to contend for the playoffs again next year (and, as we’ve seen, if you get in the playoffs, anything can happen).

They are likely not to renew Billy Butler’s contract. He’s young (just 28), but he was not even an average designated hitter this year, with a .702 OPS, just nine homers and 66 RBI. While I like him and cheered some timely post-season hits, I think their possibilities of upgrading at DH are pretty high.

I heartily applaud the James Shields trade. I don’t care how good Wil Myers becomes. Shields was a key player in getting the Royals back into the post-season and to the brink of winning the World Series. That makes the trade worth it. If you trade a prospect for a veteran, you’re trying to win now. The Royals did. Good trade, even if he needs a new nickname.

But someone (maybe my Yankees) is going to overpay for him in the free-agent market this season. A 32-year-old 14-8 pitcher with a 3.21 ERA made a notable contribution to the year just completed, but isn’t worth the money he might get in free agency. If the market doesn’t go crazy for his skills, the Royals shouldn’t re-sign him. Brandon Finnegan might not be able to step into his role immediately, but I’d take my chances with him.

Most of the rest of the Royals are young and likely to improve next year. They have baseball’s best bullpen (unless they make Kelvin Herrara or Wade Davis a starter, and either might be outstanding). Next year looks good for the Royals.

Salvador Perez may be the toughest man in baseball. To catch 146 regular-season games (Buster Posey caught 111), then 15 more in the post-season, then get hit by a pitch above the knee in the second inning and keep crouching behind home plate and taking his cuts was incredible durability. I was hoping for some kind of Kirk Gibson/Bill Mazeroski mashup in the final at-bat of the series. But I can’t say the popup surprised me. Rest up, Sal. You’ve earned it.

Giants

The San Francisco Giants are the only National League team other than the Cardinals of 1942-46 to win three championships in five years. I don’t count anything as more important than championships in measuring sports greatness, so I’ll call the Giants the best National League “dynasty” ever. They had a losing record in 2013 and finished eight games back in their division in 2011. So they didn’t sustain excellence as well as the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s, the Big Red Machine of the 1970s or the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals of the 1960s. But, like I said, I start measuring greatness with championships. The Giants play in an era where a wild card can win a championship (both the Giants and Royals were wild card teams). But a championship is a championship and no National League team can top what the Giants did. The closest, I would say, is the Walter Alston Dodgers, with championships in 1955, ’59, ’63 and ’65 (and World Series losses in ’56 and ’66).

Bumgarner gave a performance for the ages. Will be interesting to see if he can turn this into regular-season excellence and start putting up 20-win seasons and winning Cy Young Awards. To this point, he’s been a good regular-season pitcher, but not great. At age 25, he could be on the verge of turning great. Or maybe he’s just a good pitcher who finds something extra in October.

It was a ridiculous call by the official scorer to initially give Bumgarner the win. Jeremy Affeldt was the winning pitcher. He pitched well and was the pitcher when the Giants went ahead. After I howled about it on Twitter, they changed the ruling. I’m sure that’s why. ;)

Joe Panik made the best play of the World Series. If that ball goes through, the Yankees win. But really, isn’t he the same guy as Posey? I never could tell which one I was looking at when you showed their faces. Unless a guy was wearing a catcher’s mask.

Yankees

I hated to see Derek Jeter‘s career end out of the playoffs. I don’t know whether to view this year as like 2008 — out of the playoffs but ready to return to championship form — or like 1983 — second straight year out of the playoffs and the start of a long drought. I’m glad my second-favorite team (and my sons’ fave) made this such a special year.

Source note: The stats in this post come from Baseball-Reference.com.





A team of the best who played for Yankees and Royals

28 10 2014

Decades ago, the Kansas City A’s and New York Yankees made so many trades the A’s were derided as a Yankee farm team. The Yankees and Royals haven’t made as many trades, but still have shared a lot of the same players.

Since I usually blog here about the Yankees, but have been blogging about the Royals this month, I’ve compiled a team of the best players who played for both teams (most of them not involved in trades between the two teams).

Catcher: Don Slaught. Slaught barely missed the Royals’ world championship year. He caught 124 games for the 1984 division champions, but was traded to the Texas Rangers in a four-team deal that brought Jim Sundberg to Kansas City. After three years in Texas, Slaught was the starting catcher for the Yankees in 1988 and ’89, two fifth-place seasons.  This isn’t a strong position, but Slaught started for both teams. Fran Healy had a couple mediocre years as the Royals’ starter, but was just a sub for the Yankees.

First base. Steve Balboni was a feast-or-famine slugger for the Royals who had his best year in the Royals’ 1985 championship year, with 36 homers, and led the league in strikeouts that year with 166 (he had 146 hits). Known as “Bye Bye” Balboni in the Yankee farm system, he had no chance of winning the first base job away from Don Mattingly. Balboni became “Bonesy” in Kansas City, where his homers are remembered fondly, but not as fondly as the single that eventually became the tying run (Onix Concepcion pinch-ran) in Game Six of the 1985 World Series. Read the rest of this entry »





Game Two was worth the wait for my sons and me

25 10 2014

Sometimes the anticipation of a wonderful event results in a letdown when it actually happens. Not Wednesday night. My three sons and I experienced a return to Kauffman Stadium that we will always cherish.

As a family experience and a baseball experience, it was worth the dozens of high-fives we exchanged throughout the evening.

I was too busy Thursday and Friday to blog about it before now, but I have to wrap up the story I started last week. As I recounted when the Royals won this year’s American League championship, when I decided to take Mimi to Game Two of the 1985 World Series, I promised our disappointed oldest son, Mike, that I’d take him the next time the Royals were in the World Series.

For seven seasons from 1985 to 1991, I took Mike and his brothers, Joe and Tom, to more than 100 Royals games, usually in pairs but sometimes all four or five of us. Though I regaled them at the ballpark with tales of Yankee glory, they all became loyal fans of the team they were watching. We moved away and over 28 seasons since that championship year, my sons cheered a few winning teams that fell short and way too many losers. But they stayed loyal.

When the Royals made the World Series this year, I knew I had to take not just Mike, but his brothers. Joe and Tom hadn’t gotten in on the 1985 promise because both were too young at the time to know how special the World Series was and to beg to be included. But Royals games became a father-son bonding experience for all of us. We needed this adult bonding experience as a foursome.

So I paid a dear price for four upper deck tickets in Section 409. We chose Game Two for work-schedule reasons, but it seemed fitting since it was Game Two that Mike missed out on in 1985. And after waiting 29 years, Mike wasn’t going to risk that the series would go six or seven games.

Joe (coming from Las Vegas) and Tom (from DC) arrived Tuesday, but couldn’t score tickets to Game One. They watched with other fans in the Power & Light District. That was a tough game for Royals fans, a 7-1 rout that was never close.

Mike (coming from the Twin Cities) and I (from Baton Rouge, La.) arrived at the airport midday Wednesday, a little over an hour apart. He was waiting for me in the rental car. He had told me he had a cap that was a little too big for him. It was too small for me, but it fit in a Lou Piniella kind of way.

Mom with, from left, Tom, Joe and Mike.

Mom with, from left, Tom, Joe and Mike.

My mother lives in an assisted living home in Lee’s Summit. We met Joe and Tom there and visited Mom briefly. Though she’s a lifelong Cubs fan, the Royals became her second baseball love. Alzheimer’s has robbed her of her baseball memories, but she was happy to see family and to wear my cap for a photo with her grandsons in their Royals gear.

Then it was off to our favorite Kansas City barbecue joint, Fiorella’s Jack Stack. (Just like Kauffman was Royals Stadium back in the day, Jack Stack was Fiorella’s Smokestack when we became fans of Kansas City sports and barbecue. I might call them Royals Stadium and the Smokestack more than I call them by their current names, but I’m an aging creature of habit. The boys – and when we’re at the ballpark together, they’re still my boys, even if they’re all in their 30s – don’t correct me.)

We tailgated with the barbecue, then headed into the Stadium, whatever you call it. We all wore Royals hats. Mike and Joe wore jerseys honoring Alex Gordon. Tom sported a Mike Moustakas shirt.

First we found our old seats, behind the home dugout, and found a friendly fan who’d take a picture:

Mike, Tom, Joe and me.

Mike, Tom, Joe and me.

Then we connected with my cousin, Doug Worgul, who took another photo.

Joe, Tom, me and Mike, visiting cousin Doug in Section 110 before our visit to the Royals Hall of Fame.

Joe, Tom, me and Mike, visiting cousin Doug in Section 110 before our visit to the Royals Hall of Fame.

Next we visited the Royals Hall of Fame, with nice displays honoring this year’s team as well as the Royals of yesteryear and other stars from the Monarchs, A’s and other Kansas City baseball teams. I picked up a Royals World Series t-shirt to pull over the long-sleeved denim shirt I was wearing (but Mike wouldn’t let me pay for it).

Note to the Royals: Bo Jackson needs to be in the Royals Hall of Fame. His career was short and he did get injured playing for the hated Oakland Raiders. But Bo provided some of the best highlights of the years between World Series. Time to give him his due. Other than George Brett, what Royal was as famous as Bo?

Speaking of Brett, they honor him in the hall with a sculpture of 3,154 baseballs, one for each of his hits, arranged in the shape of his uniform number, a huge 5. The bat in the middle of the sculpture isn’t the famous Pine Tar Bat (that’s in that other Hall of Fame in Cooperstown), but the bat he swung for his 3,000th hit (and it has a lot of pine tar).

George Brett's Royals Hall of Fame sculpture.

George Brett’s Royals Hall of Fame sculpture.

Brett also has a statue in the outfield plaza area, along with Frank White, eight-time Gold Glove second baseman and a Kansas City native now running for political office, and Dick Howser, manager of that 1985 team.

Brett poised to swing for hit number 3,155.

Brett poised to swing for hit number 3,155.

The statues are behind the fountains that remain a beautiful and distinct feature of one of baseball’s most beautiful ballparks.

The view of Kauffman Stadium from behind the fountains.

The view of Kauffman Stadium from behind the fountains.

Eventually we made our way to Section 409, Row KK. Not the farthest seats in the stadium from the action, but a few rows in front of those seats. We proved what people have always said about that ballpark: There isn’t a bad seat in the house. We missed a couple routine catches in the leftfield corner, but most of the action unfolded right in front of us.

No point in recounting the action in great detail a couple days later. Our hearts sank with Gregor Blanco’s leadoff homer. After the 7-1 Game One drubbing, it was a sobering reminder that this great experience could turn quickly to bonding through shared misery. But Royals designated hitter Billy Butler tied things up with an RBI single in the bottom of the first. The ballpark came alive and was boisterous for the next eight innings.

I always love a close game. But it’s great fun watching a big inning for your team. We got a taste of both: a 2-2 struggle through five innings, then a five-run 6th inning, with Butler delivering the go-ahead single, Salvador Perez doubling home two runs, then Omar Infante driving a two-run homer to the back of the Royals’ bullpen beyond the leftfield fence.

In Mike’s video at the top of this post, you can see the boys and me celebrating the homer. We were so busy high-fiving that we missed the start of the short fuss when Hunter Strickland, the Giants’ gas-can pitcher who gave up the double and the homer, started yelling at Perez.

Even teammates struggled to explain Strickland’s tantrum.  This was the fifth homer Strickland has given up this post-season. I enjoy a good baseball fight. It’s always good to see the players jog in from the bullpen ready to join a brawl (as the Royals did, but the fuss was over with no punches thrown by the time they reached the infield). You understand why a batter gets angry when hit by a pitcher. But if you’ve given up a homer — especially if you’ve given up five in one post-season — you need to shut up and ask the umpire for a new ball and hope the manager leaves you in to throw it. Royals fans, including those of us in Section 409, were too busy expressing loud appreciation for Infante to give Strickland the scorn he deserved.

I used to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with the boys on our way to Royals Stadium, not to mention during the seventh-inning stretch. We didn’t sing on the way to the park this time, but we sang with gusto in the seventh-inning.

The Royals’ amazing bullpen of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland wasn’t really needed with a 7-2 lead. But Herrara came into the tie game in the top of the sixth. And the others needed a little work. So they mowed through the Giants and gave the fans more to cheer.

When Holland retired the final out of a 7-2 win, we soaked it in for a while before heading for the exits. You’re not going to beat the crowd from Section 409.

A win in Game Three in San Francisco returned home-field advantage to the Royals. The series will return to KC for Game Six unless the Royals sweep in San Francisco and return with their second World Series trophy.

We’re all back at our respective homes, high-fiving (and critiquing Ned Yost’s managing moves) by text message. But Wednesday night was the perfect return to Kansas City: quick visits with a couple other family members, healthy helpings of barbecue, plenty of time to wander a favorite place, wonderful father-son-brother time, exciting baseball action, lots of high fives and a Royals victory.

We’ll cherish this night as long as we waited for it.

This lonely 1985 trophy in the Royals Hall of Fame needs a companion.

This lonely 1985 trophy in the Royals Hall of Fame needs a companion.





Kansas City Royals’ ‘all-lost years’ team

21 10 2014


Son Tom Buttry, who already blogged about his love for the Royals and the meaning of their first playoff win this year, has another blog post, adapted from an email. I argued with him briefly about the order of the starting pitchers, but he has given this much more thought than I have or will. Here it is with little editing and a few comments from Dad:

With the excitement of the Royals making the World Series, I couldn’t help but think back on the 28 seasons we went without even making the playoffs.  While the teams I saw regularly when we were in KC from 1985 to 1991 are definitely the ones I was most attached to during that stretch, I also have fond memories of other Royals teams and players who weren’t part of any sort of glory years.

I started assembling a roster of the best Royals from the lost years who were never part of a World Champion/World Series team.  Going over this, a number of things stuck out.  One, this would be a pretty good team, but almost any other franchise cherry-picking their best players from 1986-2013 could put together a better roster.  First, an explanation on how I assembled the team.

Rules

No direct contributions to a Royals postseason team (The Steve Farr/Raúl Ibañez Rule). It doesn’t matter how small the role, if someone was on the Royals’ roster at any point during the 1985 or 2014 season, they are ineligible for this team.  The only exception is for 85 players who became lost-era managers (ie. Wathan and McRae).  The rule is named after those it “screwed” over since they didn’t have a major role for their respective World Series teams and did a ton for teams in the lost years, but Farr got a World Series ring (and a postseason win, despite only two appearances in the 85 postseason), and Ibanez has a shot to this season.

Only their time with the Royals counts (The Johnny Damon Rule). What a player may have done when they weren’t with the Royals is thrown out the window. We’re honoring Royals greats (or in some cases, goods), not greats who played a few seasons in KC.  Damon is still competitive under this criteria, but he’s clearly not one of the three best outfielders. This also goes in the other direction. I’m not holding Joakim Soria‘s post-season meltdowns with the Tigers against him.

Honor the player’s role (The Jermaine Dye/David DeJesus Rule). It would be fun to consider someone like the two mentioned players a fourth outfielder or a defensive sub, but if they were an everyday starter for the Royals, they’re considered with the other starters. I did some slight fudging with this rule (I had to put both Monty and Soria on this team), but the bullpen isn’t entirely loaded with closers, for instance.

Time served counts (The Bob Hamelin/Chili Davis Rule). One year wonders are fun, but having put in a number of years doing well counts for much more than having one good season with the Royals.  I also used time served as a tie-breaker between some players who I considered to very close.  This and the above rule really put a dent in the bullpen.

The Team

Manager

John Wathan — I was too young to understand the nuances of managing and effectively compare Wathan to other managers like Hal McRae and Bob Boone, but Wathan managed the best Royals teams from the lost years (with the possible exception of the 1994 team), so I’m giving him the nod.

Pitching Staff

Starting pitcher: Kevin Appier (R) — Between service time and quality, Appier is the clear #1 pitcher out of the Royals from the lost years.  If there was any understanding of advanced stats in 1993, he would have won the Cy Young.  He put in eight above average seasons by ERA+ as a starter for the Royals.

Starting pitcher: Zack Greinke (R) — He was up and down as a Royal, but still solidly above average in most of his seasons, and his Cy Young 2009 season was without question the best season ever by a Royals starter of any era (I feel safe in saying that if Greinke had the 89 Royals backing him up, he would have equaled or surpassed Bret Saberhagen‘s win total from that season).  He single-handedly kept the Royals under 100 losses in 09.

Starting pitcher: David Cone (R) — He won the Cy Young as a Royal in the strike-shortened 1994 season, and had two excellent seasons as a starter with the team.  Given the dearth of quality starting pitching outside the members of the 1985 / 2014 staffs, that’s enough to qualify Cone for this team. Dad’s note, admitting Yankee bias: I think of an all-star team like this in terms of who I’d want playing in a World Series. I agree with Tom that service on other teams shouldn’t count for selection to the team. But since Cone qualifies for the team, he would be my No. 1 starter, given his 8-3 post-season record.

Starting pitcher: Jose Rosado (L) — His career was cut short by throwing too many pitches at too young an age, but he put in two all-star seasons as a starter with two average ones.  That qualifies Rosado as the best lefty starter of the lost years.

Starting pitcher: Gil Meche (R) — Another Royals career cut short by treating an above average starter as a rubber-armed ace.  Era-adjusted numbers actually indicate Paul Byrd as having been better than Meche and Tim Belcher put up comparable era-adjusted numbers, but I’ve gotta give the nod to Meche.

Closer: Jeff Montgomery (R) — Soria had a higher peak, but Monty has service time and also a helluva peak.  Both Monty and Soria had roughly a season in non-closer roles, so I feel fine having both of them in my bullpen.

Setup man: Joakim Soria (R) — From 07-10, Soria was the most dominant reliever the Royals had seen to that point in their history (before three separate relievers did better this season).  Some of that is specialization and limiting of innings (Quiz is still the best overall reliever in Royals history), but it needs to be recognized. Dad note: Dan Quisenberry was more dominant than Soria, but Tom is too young to remember him. Quiz had five seasons with more than 100 innings pitched and led the league in saves all five years. He had five straight seasons with more than 100 innings pitched and 16 or fewer walks. Soria had 16 walks twice, but he did it in half as many innings. Tom response: I think we’re defining dominant differently.  It’s clear through difference in usage and innings pitched that Quisenberry was a better pitcher for a longer period of time for the Royals than Soria, but in Soria’s much shorter time with the Royals he put up more seasons with an ERA+ above 200 (3 to 2), fewer losses and blown saves (along with a higher save percentage), had a much higher strikeout rate, a lower hit rate, and a comparable home run rate.  I’ll be first to admit that it’s easier to be what I consider dominant when only throwing half as many innings in a season, but Soria dominated opposing hitters in a way that Quiz didn’t.

Setup man: Jason Grimsley (R) — Grimsley put up respectable numbers in an era of extremely inflated offense, with three solidly above average seasons with the Royals.  Not a bad option as the third guy out of the bullpen.

Middle relief: Jose Santiago (R) — Outside of closer, the Royals didn’t have a ton of very good relievers who put up more than one good season.  Santiago’s numbers don’t look great, but they were solidly above average during the height of the steroid era.

Middle relief: Mike Magnante (L) — This is a service-time related one.  Magnante was up and down as a Royal, but had some good seasons out of the pen.  Also, while I’m not being slavish about roster construction in the interest of honoring the best Royals, a bullpen does need at least one lefty.

Swing Reliever / Spot Starter: Luis Aquino (R) — The consummate swing guy for a number of years.  He put up a ton of innings for a reliever / spot starter and consistently had above average numbers.

Swing Reliever / Spot Starter: Tom Gordon (R) — Gordon gives the roster a lot of flexibility, he was talented enough to be a good middle reliever if one of the other guys ahead of him struggled, but could easily fill in as a full-time starter if one of the starting rotation got injured. Dad note: Flash should be in the rotation on this team. Neither Rosado nor Meche had a season as great as Gordon’s amazing 17-9 rookie season, and they combined for two seasons with double-digit wins for the Royals. Flash had five seasons with double-digit wins for the Royals. After his amazing one-year rise from Class A to the Royals in 1988 and his stellar rookie season in 1989, he was mostly a disappointment to Royals fans, but he had several seasons as a decent starter. I also think Tom (Buttry, not Gordon) might have violated his respect-the-role rule here. Flash was strictly a starter for four of his seven full seasons with the Royals. Technically this works, because he did spend some time in the bullpen for three seasons (and became an excellent closer with the Red Sox. But for the Royals he was primarily a starter and if you consider him there, he makes the rotation. Tom response: Even in his ’89 rookie campaign that you rightly laud, Gordon only had 16 starts.  In seven full seasons with the Royals, Gordon was a full-time starter for three of them, made about as many appearances as a reliever as he did as a starter, and only came close to cracking 200 innings in ’90 and ’95.  I gave Gordon very serious consideration as a starter, but Meche was clearly a starter only, and Gordon does indeed fit this role, as it was how he was used during four of his seasons in Kansas City.

Position Players

Catcher: Mike Macfarlane (R) — About the only above average hitter at catcher for the Royals before the arrival of Salvador Perez, with four seasons of an OPS above .800.  While he wasn’t exceptional on defense, he did the job and wasn’t a liability like many offense-first catchers.

First Base: Wally Joyner (L) — Before you kill me, scroll down to DH.  First base was one of the positions without many options for the Royals. Part of this was the first several years of this stretch being occupied by Steve Balboni and George Brett, who are disqualified by 85, and wrapping up with several years of Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler.  Joyner had some above average seasons as an offensive player, but wasn’t much in the field.  In the end, he’d probably split time at 1B and DH with Mike Sweeney.

Second Base: Jose Offerman (S) — One of the weaker positions for the Royals throughout their time without the playoffs.  While I’m sure there are better gloves out there, Offerman was far and away the best bat at 2nd base during this time, being roughly league average by OPS for three years with the Royals and putting up very good OBP throughout his time with the Royals.

Shortstop: Rey Sanchez (R) — Shortstop was definitely the weakest offensive position for the Royals over these years, so I decided to go with Rey Sanchez who put together a stellar three year run as perhaps the best defensive shortstop in the game (which was overshadowed by Omar Vizquel‘s much longer run of defensive excellence). For three straight seasons, he put up over 2 defensive WAR and all three are among the top ten seasons in Royals history at any position by dWAR. His bat was never good, but he wasn’t a complete liability in those seasons, and if this team got down, he could always get pinch hit for. Dad note: Tom has more faith in WAR than I do. Kurt Stillwell wasn’t very good, so I’m not going to argue for him here, just point out how weak the case for Sanchez (or perhaps any Royal shortstop of this era) is: Sanchez actually got traded in his third season with the Royals, and Stillwell played four years. And Stillwell was an All-Star with the Royals and Sanchez never was.  Tom response: Stillwell’s competition at shortstop when he was an all-star was Cal Ripken and whoever was the AL backup.  Sanchez was going against Jeter, Nomar and Omar Vizquel.  A light-hitting small-market player didn’t have a chance unless he could sustain his run of defensive excellence as long as Vizquel did.

Third Base: Kevin Seitzer (R) — Seitzer was a fairly easy choice.  His run as both a batting average and OBP machine in the late-80′s make up for replacement-level fielding and separate him from his closest competition in Joe Randa (who was also nothing special in the field). Dad note: I saw Seitzer’s debut, possibly with Tom. His rookie year was his best season, and he was mostly a disappointment after that. Tom exaggerates how good Seitzer was, but definitely better than Randa.  Tom response: Pretty sure Joe was the one who saw Seitzer’s debut. Seitzer had a .380 OBP for his entire time with the Royals.  Whatever disappointment people had in him after ’87, it was more related to a lack of understanding the value of getting on base than reality. One more Dad note: Seitzer’s OBP dropped to .350 and below his last two seasons. With no power. Following Brett and his rookie season were two tough orders, but his first season was your best and his fourth and fifth were his worst. The disappointment was rooted in reality. 

Left Field: Bo Jackson (R) — Bo knows baseball.  Despite his prodigious speed and fantastic arm, he was always raw in the outfield and defensive metrics frown upon his performance.  He was also a strikeout machine, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that he was a special player, would have almost certainly set the franchise records for home runs if he played more than 135 games in a season (and didn’t have his career cut short).  Bo could also steal bases and certainly has one of the best career isolated power (ISO) numbers in Royals history at .229. Dad note: Bo was awesome, even in the field. Yeah, he would misplay some fly balls, but he also could reach some balls no one else could. And he had an amazing arm. Defensive metrics don’t show that people pretty much stopped running on him, especially after the Harold Reynolds throw.  Tom response: Defensive metrics (especially from back then) are shaky, but I don’t have enough memory of how often Bo would misplay things to have any chance of judging them compared to his memorable plays (Yoenis Cespedes made a throw that people compared to Bo’s earlier this season and nobody is seriously arguing that he should get a Gold Glove).  I definitely disagree with the defensive metrics from time to time, though, and the next player is probably the biggest illustration of that.

Center Field: Carlos Beltrán (S) — One of the most obvious choices on the roster.  He combined one of the best bats in the lost years with above average fielding (I’m disagreeing with the defensive metrics on this one, which say he didn’t become an elite fielder until he got to New York), and incredibly effective baserunning.  A true five-tool player.

Right Field: Danny Tartabull (R) — Defensive metrics frown upon Tartabull, but he probably had the best overall bat of qualified players with an .894 OPS during his time with the Royals that leads the field, even though he played with the fences back at Kauffman for his entire time with the team and didn’t benefit from the late 90′s – early 00′s combined power surge and expansion dilution of talent.  His ISO about the same as Bo’s (.228 as a Royal), giving the lineup great pop. Dad note: I know you can’t count baseball played with other teams, but I think if someone else was close to Tartabull, you’d have to break a tie in his favor based on the Seinfeld appearance during his Yankee years. And Tom would certainly pick him on the basis of having been in the park for his amazing three-homer game:

Tom response: I was still fond enough of Tartabull to consider eating a donut with a knife and fork after his Seinfeld appearance. Dad note: Sadly, that clip is not on YouTube. We’ll have to settle for this one:

DH: Mike Sweeney (R) — It was very difficult to decide which position to put Sweeney.  His best years were at first base, but he played as many games for the Royals as a DH (where he still put up good numbers), he was always a subpar defensive player, and the field at DH was far worse than at first base (the only alternatives were one-year wonders like Hamelin and Davis or disqualified players like Brett, Butler or Ibanez).  In the end, I needed a DH more than a 1B, but Sweeney and Joyner could easily share pretty much the same role.

Backup Catcher: Brent Mayne (L) — Between time served and defensive value, he earned a spot on this team. While he was the #1 catcher for several seasons, he also put in a number of seasons as the Royals #2 backstop, making this an appropriate role.  Terrible offensive player, but had noticeable lefty/righty splits, so he could start against a righty without losing too much offensively.

Fourth Outfielder: Jim Eisenreich (L) — Put in six quality seasons as a Royal, with nearly full-time numbers due to ordinary use plus filling in for frequently injured players like Bo Jackson. Dad note: Eisenreich also autographed a ball for one of our sons (maybe more) when they saw him in a sporting goods store. But he was a good player and got a lot of attention for playing with Tourette syndrome.

Utility Player: Pat Tabler (R) — He wasn’t a good defensive player, but still played enough positions to be valuable coming off the bench.  Also, if the bases were ever loaded …

Utility Player: Bill Pecota (R) — This is another nod towards roster construction.  It was tempting to go with Gary Thurman as a pinch runner, but this team already has decent speed and there’s a more glaring need in defense.  This team desperately needs another glove coming off the bench, and Pecota fills that role. Dad note: Pecota’s nickname among teammates was “I-29″ because of how many times he’d made the drive between Kansas City and Omaha, where the Royals’ Triple-A team plays. Tom response: And he was the namesake for Nate Silver’s initial claim to fame.

Typical Lineup

I’m putting OBP with low power up top with Offerman and Seitzer.  Power down the middle with Tartabull through Jackson, and Joyner and MacFarlane were good enough to make the bottom of the lineup still a concern.  I also managed to break up the parade of righties by evenly distributing the switch hitters and lefty.  It was extremely tempting to slide Jackson up in the order, but Tartabull clearly should be 3 or 4, and I wanted to avoid a parade of strikeouts between the two by moving up hitters who more consistently put the ball in play (and still had good pop) working to drive in runs after Offerman and Seitzer set the table.
1. Offerman (S)
2. Seitzer (R)
3. Tartabull (R)
4. Beltran (S)
5. Sweeney (R)
6. Jackson (R)
7. Joyner (L)
8. MacFarlane (R)
9. Sanchez (R)

Dad note: I might hit Bo higher. I’d at least flop him ahead of Sweeney. Tom Response: This is quibbling, but Sweeney had a remarkably low strikeout rate for a player with his power (albeit much less power than Bo).  With the OBP’s ahead of that spot, the ability to put the ball in play at a very high rate with good power eventually becomes more important than an excellent power bat that strikes out almost a third of the time.

Honorable Mentions: Anyone with a rule named after them, Mike MacDougal, Joe Randa, Mark Teahen, Mark Grudzielanek, Angel Berroa, Darrell May, Carlos Febles, Paul Byrd, Jeff Suppan, Jeff King, Jay Bell, Gary Gaetti, Brian McRae, Billy Brewer (almost put him in as the lefty out of the pen ahead of Magnante), Hipolitio Pichardo, Kurt Stillwell, Gary Thurman, Bob Boone.

Observations: While this is one hell of a lineup, and has great top-line talent in the rotation, I’m not sure this team would be much better than the current Royals team.  It would be much worse defensively, which is very important in Kauffman Stadium (Rey Sanchez is the only everyday player with a better glove than his 2014 counterpart).  I’d also take our current bullpen over this one (Monty’s and Soria’s best seasons by ERA+ are about at the same level to Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland‘s 2014′s, and well behind Wade Davis, and Grimlsey would probably the fifth or sixth guy if he were plopped into the current bullpen).  There’s good speed, but not like 2014.  Overall, the lineup and top of the rotation is intimidating enough to be considered a better team than the 2014 Royals on paper, but we’ve already witnessed this Royals team take apart teams that are considered better on paper this postseason. …





Decades of Royals (Kauffman) Stadium memories

20 10 2014

The only place I’ve ever attended a post-season baseball game has been Royals Stadium. Tonight I’ll attend my fourth, scattered over 37 years, with a 29-year gap.

I call the ballpark Royals Stadium, not Kauffman, because that was its name when I saw my first three post-season games in 1977 and 1985. I respect the contributions of Ewing Kauffman, the pharmaceuticals tycoon who brought baseball back to Kansas City in 1969, and I’ll try to remember to call it Kauffman Stadium or the K in referring to tonight’s World Series game. But for most of the games I’ve watched, it was Royals Stadium.

The only place I watched baseball in my childhood and youth was Wrigley Field. Mom was a Cub fan who grew up in Chicago. When we visited Grandma and Aunt Helen in Oak Park, Ill., during the summer, Mom would take us out for an afternoon (of course) game. In a possible foreshadowing, she utterly failed at making me a Cub fan. We lived in Utah, so I had no local team when I first started following baseball during the 1960 World Series. I was fascinated with geography and knew I was born in New York (Sampson Air Force Base in the Finger Lakes). That was a long way from the Bronx, but they were on the same 50-states flash card, so they Yankees were my team before Mom ever took me to Wrigley. I quickly fell in love with Mickey Mantle, Bobby Richardson, Whitey Ford and the other Yankees. Bill Mazeroski broke my heart that year, but the next year was a great season to be a young Yankee fan, as Mantle and Roger Maris chased and Maris eventually broke Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record. I was hooked for life, even for the Horace Clarke years.

But in those days before inter-league play, the Yankees never came to Wrigley, so I’d only ever seen them play on TV (or in my imagination when I played for them in our back yard).

When we moved to Shenandoah, Iowa, in the 1970s, I was close enough to drive down to Kansas City to watch my Yankees play. But life was busy with school and summer jobs, and I didn’t make it to Kansas City during baseball season for a few years.

When I was managing editor at the Evening Sentinel in Shen the summer of 1977, my daily stack of mail invariably included press releases about the Royals. We were an all-local paper, so we never published them. But, as a Yankee fan (whose team beat the Royals in a five-game playoff in 1976 to make our first World Series since the glory years of the ’60s), I was keenly interested in the Royals, who were even better in ’77. So I always glanced through the Royals’ press releases.

The Royals thought of us as Royals country. Radio KMA in Shen carried their games, helping my Mom become a fan (second place, after her beloved Cubs).

Well, one day in late September, the press release had instructions for ordering press credentials to cover the post-season games in Royals Stadium. I showed it to our sports editor, Mike Williams, and we agreed we should go. We applied for credentials for both of us. And we got them. (I’ve lost track of Mike over the years and his name is common, making Internet searches difficult. If you know Mike, please send him a link and invite him to get in touch.)

League championships were decided in five games or fewer then, and the teams had split the first two games in New York. The Royals won Game One, 7-2. In Game Two, Ron Guidry, who had become the Yankees’ pitching star in his first full season in the majors, pitched a complete game, winning 6-2. One of the Royals’ runs had scored on a Hal McRae slide at second base where he took out Willie Randolph and ended up about 15 feet beyond the bag. I can’t embed the video here, but 35 years later, CBS’ Daryn Perry called it the “mother of all takeout slides.” Click that link and watch the slide. It set the tone for what followed then and follows here.

A few players with good or great careers are still remembered for single plays that stood out because of their importance, their timing or just because they were amazing: Willie Mays for a catch, Mazeroski, Kirk Gibson and Bucky Dent for homers. McRae’s takeout slide may not be quite as famous as those, or as Pete Rose taking out Ray Fosse at home, but Royals fans and baseball fans from the 1970s probably remember Mac for that slide more than anything else.

Game Three, 1977 playoffs

The game was on a Friday afternoon. Mike and I finished our work for Friday evening’s paper early and headed down to Kansas City. We got there too late to get down on the field for photos during warmups. Our seats in the “auxiliary press box” behind home plate and below the actual press box were great for watching the action. But they sucked for shooting photos. The screen that protected us from foul balls also protected us from shooting any decent photos. What we needed (but didn’t have) were on-field credentials for the photographers’ boxes just past the dugouts.

But we were in the park. We settled in to enjoy the game.

The Yankees came to Kansas City tied, having split the first two games at Yankee Stadium. They needed to win two of three in Kansas City. It didn’t start well for a Yankee fan, but the crowd at Royals Stadium loved it.

Dennis Leonard, who tied for the American League with 20 wins that year, held the Yankees to four hits and two runs. Mike Torrez, who would take a special place in Yankee lore the next year when he pitched for the Red Sox and served up the Bucky Dent homer, gave up five runs in less than six innings. Sparky Lyle, who would win the Cy Young Award that year, replaced Torrez in the sixth and finished the last two and a third innings.

We didn’t have money for a hotel and hotels were outrageously expensive because of the playoffs, so Mike and I drove back to Shen after the game. I worried that I’d see the Yankees eliminated the next day.

Game Four, 1977 playoffs

Mike and I got down to KC earlier for Saturday’s Game Four. We encountered a phenomenon that was new to me: a pre-game press buffet. This was a few years before journalists began to consider such “freebies” unethical (or perhaps before Mike and I became aware that journalists viewed them as unethical). Anyway, we chowed down on the buffet with a lot of other journalists, noticing Joe Garagiola and Tony Kubek (shortstop on my beloved ’61 Yankees) in the buffet line as well. They would be calling the game for NBC.

Mike and I spent a little too long eating free food. As we made our way down to the field to shoot some photos during warmups, we could see that photographers were being cleared from the field. We hurried through the gate between home plate and the Royals’ dugout, hoping for a few photos before they could throw us out. But we had barely entered the field when a security guard told us no media were allowed on the field now.

“You need to go up there,” he said, pointing toward the seats behind home plate where we had sat the night before, “or over there.” He pointed to the photographers’ pen on the field, just past the Yankees’ dugout. Mike and I headed toward the Yankees’ dugout, knowing full well that our small-paper credential did not entitle us to access.

As we passed the dugout to the photographers’ pen, we saw chairs behind the waist-high wall, each with a sign identifying the media photographer assigned to the seat: Kansas City Star, New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Kansas City Times, Newsday … Past all the chairs was a stool, with no media sign. Mike and I looked at each other and said in unison, “Shenandoah Sentinel.” We laughed and hopped over the wall into the photographers’ pen.

We shot a few photos of third basemen in infield practice right away, certain we’d be caught and tossed out before the game started. Sure enough, before long a security guard came along. We prepared to get scolded and sent back to our seats, but the guard just asked for the stool. He lifted it over the wall and set it down outside the wall at the end of the pen. We chatted him up. We presume that at some point he realized we didn’t belong there, but decided to let us stay.

We had basic 35mm cameras with no special lenses. Everyone else in the pen had lenses. Soon we saw a Yankee walking past all those cameras in our direction.

“That’s Ron Guidry,” I told Mike. As a Yankee fan, I had followed Guidry’s breakout season that year. After two brief stints with the Yankees in 1975 and ’76, he made the team in 1977. After six relief appearances, including a save, he made the starting rotation, winning 16 games and finishing fourth in the American league in ERA (2.82) and second in shutouts (5). I had read enough stories and seen enough Yankee games to recognize him, and of course, I’d watched the Game Two victory on TV.

Ron Guidry, photo I took in 1977 with his daughter

Ron Guidry with his daughter

Guidry walked past all these professional photographers with their huge cameras and came down to the two guys with cameras that looked like they were made for snapshots. He extended his hand to introduce himself and I said I knew who he was. I introduced Mike and myself, and he asked a favor: This was the first time his daughter, Jamie, had been to a Yankee game, and he wanted a photo of him in his uniform. He made a self-deprecating joke about not being sure how long he’d be around. (Over a nine-year stretch, he was the American League’s best, a career that should have landed him in the Hall of Fame.) I said sure, I’d shoot a photo. I’m sure Mike would have, too, but I was all over this and he let me shoot it.

Guidry’s wife brought Jamie down from the stands. She looked about the same age as my son, Mike, who was 10 months old. I snapped a few shots of Guidry and his daughter, then he wrote his address in my notebook and asked me to send him a couple prints and a bill. I would send him three extra prints to autograph, one each for Mike Williams and Mike Buttry and one for me. No charge. I wish I’d anticipated having a couple more sons. I’d have sent him two more photos.

The game was memorable, too. We had a great view of the Yankees’ Graig Nettles charging hard into Frank White at second base, breaking up a double play, allowing the Yankees’ first run to score and giving a bit of payback for the McRae slide, though Nettles ended up much closer to the bag.

The Yankees jumped out to a 4-0 lead, then a 5-2 lead, scoring in each of the first four innings. But starter Ed Figueroa and reliever Dick Tidrow struggled. Yankees Manager Billy Martin surprised everyone by turning to Lyle with a 5-4 lead and two outs in the fourth inning. And Lyle finished the game, winning 6-4. Since the starter didn’t go five innings, Lyle was the winning pitcher. He went 5 1/3 innings, giving up only two hits and no walks. Closers weren’t one-inning pitchers back then, but that was still an amazing outing, maybe the best post-season relief outing ever, especially by a closer. It’s certainly the best relief outing I ever saw. With 137 innings in a league-leading 72 games, he averaged less than two innings per appearance. And with the Yankees’ season on the line, he went more than five innings, the day after going more than two.

In the post-season press conference, which Mike and I had access to (we didn’t get access to the locker room), Lyle explained that his slider was sometimes better when he was tired because he wasn’t “overthrowing” it. I don’t know what that means or if it was true, but the Royals couldn’t hit him. Fred Patek singled in the sixth and Lyle left him on base. George Brett singled in the seventh but Lyle got Al Cowens to hit into a double play to end the inning.

Another notable play happened in the seventh. Reggie Jackson loafed going down to first base on a ground ball. Martin had pulled Jackson from a game during the season for loafing on a ball in the outfield, replacing him with Paul Blair (as I recounted in a post last year when Blair died). The move triggered a televised dougout scuffle where coaches had to restrain Jackson and Martin from going at each other. In this game, Martin sent Blair into the outfield for Jackson in the bottom of the seventh. Blair was the ultimate late-inning defensive replacement, an eight-time Gold Glover who could protect the lead better than Jackson, a defensive liability even when he hustled. But, given the history, I wanted to ask Martin about it at the press conference. (Sure, I was a Martin fan and a Yankee fan, but I was there as a reporter, so I acted like one.)

“Why did you take Reggie Jackson out?” I asked.

“To put Paul Blair in,” Martin snapped. “Next question!”

Blair did come up to bat in Jackson’s spot in the ninth, following a Thurman Munson sacrifice fly that made the score 6-4. Blair singled but was left on base. Lyle retired the side in order and the Yankees pushed the series to Game Five.

Mike and I had credentials for Game Five as well. Back then the team with the better record didn’t have home-field advantage, hosting the first two games and the deciding game, as is the practice for five-game series today. Divisions just alternated hosting the first two games or the last three of a five-game series. So Game Five was in KC. But I had recently launched an entertainment page for which I wrote a weekly column. And something lame (I can’t remember what) was going on Sunday that I wanted to cover for the entertainment page.

Guidry would be starting on two days’ rest, and I desperately wanted to go, especially now that I was his personal family photographer. But I had promised reporter Gary Plummer that he could go if the series went to five games. I kept my promise, and Gary and Mike had a great time at the game. (Gary’s Chamber of Commerce exec in Wichita. I’ll be emailing him a link and invite him to expand on Game Five.)

They saw, and I missed, Act Three of the series’ hard-slides drama, Brett’s slide into Nettles at third, and the ensuing brawl:

Guidry didn’t last long, and the Yankees trailed 3-1 after seven innings (I watched on TV after my entertainment event ended). Blair started the game in right, but Jackson delivered a pinch-hit single in the eighth. With two outs in the bottom of the eighth, Martin turned to Lyle again.

The Yankees rallied for three runs in the top of the ninth off three Royal relievers, two of whom were usually starters: Leonard, Larry Gura and Mark Littell. Lyle gave up a single in the ninth inning but got Patek to hit into a game-ending double play. It was Lyle’s second win on consecutive elimination games. He set a post-season record with his third straight post-season win in Game One of the World Series, pitching the last 3 2/3 innings of a 12-inning game. In four appearances over five days, Lyle pitched 12 2/3 innings with the game on the line, giving up only one run (though he allowed an inherited runner to score in the World Series game, sending the game to extra innings).

Game Two, 1985 World Series

I left Shenandoah about a month after the 1977 World Series, so I was unable to use Sentinel credentials to attend the 1978 playoffs, the third straight season the Yankees and Royals played for the American League championship. But in 1985, my first year at the Kansas City Times, Editor Mike Waller sold me two of his extra tickets for Game Two. As I explained in a previous post, I took Mimi, my wife of 11 years at the time (40 now).

The Cardinals had won Game One, held to one run by John Tudor (similar to Madison Bumgarner‘s Game One performance last night). But in Game Two lefthander Charlie Leibrandt, who was 17-9 in the regular season, looked dominant for eight innings, shutting out the Cardinals on two hits and a walk.

I expected Dan Quisenberry to pitch the ninth. Quiz was baseball’s best reliever at that time, having led the American League in saves for four straight seasons and five of the last six. His sidearm motion was daunting for righthanded batters, who hit only .236 off him that year and struck out 37 times, walking only twice. Lefthanders, on the other hand, hit .317 against Quiz in 1985, walking 14 times and striking out 17.

Lefthanded designated hitter Al Oliver, a masterful hitter concluding a career of more than 2,700 hits, had helped the Blue Jays take a 3-1 lead in the American League Championship Series (which was seven games long for the first time in 1985) with his late-inning heroics against Quiz. Royals Manager Dick Howser, who had no left-handed relievers, outmaneuvered Jays Manager Bobby Cox in Games Six and Seven, starting righthanders, then pitching lefthanded starters Leibrandt and Bud Black (now managing the Padres) in the middle innings. Cox, who platooned his DH’s, started Oliver both games, then pinch hit righthander Cliff Johnson, leaving Oliver out of the game and unavailable for pinch hitting when Quiz came in to close.

But in the World Series, the Cardinals had switch-hitters Willie McGee and Ozzie Smith due up, so both would bat lefthanded against Quiz. Leibrandt had retired 13 straight batters, so Howser left him in.

McGee led off with a double. Leibrandt got Smith to ground out. OK, four straight righthanded hitters coming up: Tommy Herr, Jack Clark, Tito Landrum and Cedar Cedeño. Time for Quiz, right? Howser, apparently fearing Andy Van Slyke as a lefthanded pinch hitter, stuck with Leibrandt.

Herr flew out to right. Two outs. Shutout still preserved. Still no Quiz. This was Leibrandt’s game to finish. We were on our feet, with everyone else in the stands, cheering every pitch. Until Clark singled to left, scoring McGee. Still, the Royals led 2-1. Time to bring in Quiz to close. But Howser stuck with Leibrandt to face Landrum, apparently sure that Cardinals Manager Whitey Herzog would counter with Van Slyke. (Landrum was a backup outfielder himself, starting because speedster Vince Coleman was injured by an automatic tarp roller in St. Louis.)

Landrum worked the count to 2-2. Leibrandt was one strike from a complete-game victory. The Royals fans cheered and stomped, trying to will one more strike from our weary pitcher. Or a ground ball or a popup. Landrum doubled, advancing Clark to third. Still the Royals had the lead and the chance to close out the game.

Now we had to see Quiz. But Howser left Leibrandt in, issuing an intentional walk to Cedeño to load the bases for another switch-hitter, Terry Pendleton. OK, I know Pendleton would hit left-handed against Quiz, but Leibrandt was clearly gassed. Howser had to get him out of there. Nope. Pendleton doubled down the left-field line. Three runs scored. Cardinals led 4-2. Finally Howser came out to get Leibrandt.

Quiz walked Darrell Porter intentionally to load the bases. Then up came Van Slyke, pinch-hitting for the pitcher. Quiz got him to fly out to center. I would have loved to see that in Landrum’s spot.

Steve Balboni singled with one out to bring the tying run up in the bottom of the ninth for the Royals. But Jorge Orta hit into the double play. Game over.

The Royals appeared headed for a possible sweep. But Bret Saberhagen pitched a complete game to win Game Three 6-1. After a 3-0 loss to Tudor in Game Four, the Royals were on the brink of elimination. But then they started the incredible 11-game post-season winning streak that ended last night.

Game Two, 2014 World Series

My sons and I will be attending Game Two tonight. More on that tomorrow.

Regular season memories

You can tell your sons about the glories of the New York Yankees, but if you take them to Royals’ games year after year, they become Royals fans. We lived in Kansas City from 1985 to 1991, watching 25-30 games a year. I was content to be a Royals fan unless the Yankees were visiting, but the boys were Royals fans, period. Most of my memories of Royals Stadium (and a few of Kauffman) are regular-season memories. They are too numerous to recount in full here, but I’ll share a few:

Once some friends visited and we took their son to a game with our kids. It was a great game, with a couple homers, a couple plays at the plate and some future Hall of Famers playing (it was Royals-Angels, so they saw Jackson, Brett and Rod Carew). When we got home, the boy excitedly told his mother, “Mom, we got to do The Wave.” I never did The Wave. And never will.

I saw Brett get thrown out of a game for arguing with an umpire. I don’t know what he said, but the umpire had a quick trigger. Brett wasn’t in his face, and he got a standing ovation after being tossed.

Bo Jackson was just incredible to watch. When I watched a batter hit the ball, my eye would follow the ball briefly, then to back to the batter as he ran. Bo was always ahead of where my eyes thought he should be. I never saw a faster or more powerful baseball player. I wonder what that talent could have done with some polish and experience if he’d stayed in baseball and not played football. But I don’t blame him (even though he played with the Raiders). I think if I had all that ability, I’d try to see what and how much I could do.

Saberhagen was a Hall of Fame talent who didn’t stay at his peak long enough to make it to Cooperstown. But his 1989 season was better than most of the pitchers in the Hall. And his 1985 and ’87 seasons (and ’85 World Series) were pretty awesome, too. I loved watching him pitch when he was on his game. But he was bad in even years and lost his magic after being traded to the Mets in 1991. He had one decent season for the Mets and Red Sox. But for those three wonderful seasons, he was a joy to watch.

We lost Quiz (in 1998) and Howser (in 1987) too early, both of them to brain cancer. Game Two of the World Series aside, they were the greatest relief pitcher and manager in Royals history, and I enjoyed watching them both.

I saw Tommy John‘s last major league win against the Royals on April 27, 1989. He was 46 and held the Royals to two runs over eight strong innings and looked like he might have another year left in him. That win raised his record to 2-3 for a bad Yankees team that would finish in fifth place. But that was all he had. After losing four more games, he retired.

We’ve returned to the stadium several times since leaving, sometimes on family road trips, sometimes while visiting my mother, who moved to Lee’s Summit, Mo., in the 1990s, once on a road trip with friends from work.

On one of those trips, in 1993, we missed another epic fight by just a day. We saw the bullpens empty for an argument in a game with the Rangers. The next day the Rangers hit Royals batter Brian McRae (yep, Hal’s son). Instead of charging the mound, McRae headed straight for the Rangers’ dugout to take on Manager Kevin Kennedy.

At a game with Tom, I caught a foul ball (picked up a rebound really) and gave the ball to Tom.

On a July 4 game, I took all three boys. Mike was maybe 10 or 11, the oldest. We had our regular two seats together and bought two more tickets together. I let Mike and Joe sit a few sections away by themselves, not my best moment as a parent. But the boys cherish the memory and enjoyed the fireworks. We’ll sit together tonight.

Opening Day was the second-toughest ticket in town on April 4, 1988. The University of Kansas’ “Danny and the Miracles” team played for the NCAA basketball championship in Kemper Arena that night (and won). I did not have tickets to the basketball game, but took in the baseball game. George Bell homered three times off Saberhagen for the Blue Jays and the Royals lost, 5-3 (it was an even-numbered year). As Tom has noted, we also saw Danny Tartabull homer three times in a game.

A few days later, I got to attend an appreciation luncheon for the Royals. Our company bought a table for the luncheon for our sports staff. But breaking news (Larry Brown‘s departure from the Jayhawks) demanded the attention of the sports staff, so I attended with some other news side editors. Frank White sat at our table, but when they served lunch, he declined. Someone encouraged him to have lunch. He smiled and said he wouldn’t have time. Soon people started coming by our table asking for autographs. Of course, none of the journalists asked for autographs. But an autographed Saberhagen ball sat in the middle of the table. At the end of the luncheon, we were told to look for a sticker under the tablecloth. The person with the sticker got the ball. So I got a Saberhagen-autographed ball. That went to Mike after our 1991 July move caused him to miss Saberhagen’s no-hitter, the day he already had “dibs” to go to the game with me. White was kind of shy, but a real gentleman. I’m glad to see his estrangement from the Royals ended this year. I’d like to see him throw out the first pitch tonight.

As long as I’ve ventured away from the stadium, one more memory from 1985: The World Series parade went down Grand Avenue right past the Kansas City Star building where I worked. So of course we went outside to join the throngs cheering our champions. It wasn’t quite a ticker-tape parade, though. Ticker tape had been replaced in the communication world by dot-matrix printers. So the crowds in downtown Kansas City threw shredded printer paper. And the paper clumped up, thumping the players as it fell on them from buildings. The celebratory paper wadded up under the vintage sports cars in which the Royals rode down Grand. And, you know, mufflers get kinda hot. So some of the paper and five of the cars caught fire. The car bearing Willie Wilson caught fire right by the Star building. I never saw him take off for second base any faster than he fled that burning car. I ran into the building to get a fire extinguisher. You’ll see lots of the paper in the video clip below, and at one point you’ll see smoke coming from the parade.

Hall of Famers I saw play in Royals Stadium (in addition to Brett, Jackson, Smith and Carew): Nolan Ryan (sadly, I didn’t see a no-hitter), Rickey Henderson (I did see him steal bases), Steve Carlton (on his last legs, playing for American League teams with nothing left), Tom Seaver (also toward his end), Cal Ripken (I probably saw a half-dozen or more games in his streak), Don Sutton (as I’ve noted before, he was nowhere near as great a pitcher as Guidry), Carlton FiskDennis Eckersley, Frank Thomas, Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven, Wade Boggs, Paul Molitor, Eddie Murray, Phil Niekro, Kirby Puckett, Jim Rice, Dave Winfield, Robin Yount. Managers I saw manage in Royals Stadium, in additon to Cox and Herzog: Sparky Anderson, Tony La Russa, Joe Torre, Earl Weaver, Dick Williams.

In an early-2000s visit to Kansas City, I saw Derek Jeter, a certain Hall of Famer, and Roger Clemens, who’ll make it to Cooperstown if they ever start admitting players tainted by suspicion of using performance-enhancing drugs.

I’ve been to 28 ballparks, but I’ve had more fun at Royals/Kauffman Stadium than the other 27 combined. And tonight might be the best night of all. You can be sure I’ll blog about it.

Source note: Stats for this post come from Baseball-Reference.com. Game accounts come from my memories, supplemented by Baseball-Reference game logs.





Keeping a 29-year-old promise, I’m headed to the World Series

15 10 2014

A promise is a promise.

My editor at the Kansas City Times, Mike Waller, had two extra tickets to Game Two of the 1985 World Series and sold them to me at face value. My oldest son, Mike, desperately wanted to go. Mike was 8, the age when sports loyalties start forming and cementing. His brothers, Joe, 4, and Tom, 2, probably wanted to go, too, but they were not as engaged or as fiercely persistent in expressing their interest in the game as Mike.

Mimi wanted to go, too. We had taken all the kids to games that year, our first in Kansas City, sometimes going as a family and sometimes just one of the boys and me. And occasionally, Mom and Dad went to the ballpark for a date night. She thought the World Series would make a good date night. She had moved to Kansas City with me earlier in the year from her beloved native Iowa, leaving her friends and a home she loved for my career opportunity. For two months in the spring, while we tried to sell the house, I’d drive down to Kansas City on a Monday morning, leaving her alone with the three boys until the weekend. An October date night seemed in order.

So I broke Mike’s heart, explaining that I was taking Mom with the second ticket. As a fairly lame consolation, I promised to take him the next time the Royals were in the World Series. Seemed fair. The Royals had an amazing young pitching staff and superstar George Brett had just finished one of the best seasons of his career. Dan Quisenberry was the best reliever in baseball. The Royals were making their second trip to the World Series in six years. This was the seventh season in the past 10 that the Royals played in the post-season. Be patient, son, your turn will come.

Well, it’s come. Twenty-nine years later.

For the next six seasons, I would buy one-fourth of a season-ticket package, giving us two seats in the lower deck, a few dozen rows behind the home dugout, for about 20 games a year. I’d also get some bonus seats in the upper deck occasionally for weekday home games. I’d probably attend 25-30 games a year and each of the boys would get six to eight games. They became fierce Royals fans and Chiefs fans (we’d make at least one Chiefs game a year, too).

Ron Guidry, photo I took in 1977 with his daughter

Ron Guidry, photo I took in 1977 with his daughter

If turning your children into Royals and Chiefs fans sounds like a form of child abuse, I should say in my own defense that I tried to make them Yankee fans. I told them about the Yankees’ glorious history and about growing up watching Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford and Bobby Richardson. I told them about meeting Ron Guidry in 1976. Mike was a baby at the time and I got him an autographed photo of Guidry.

But a dad can only do so much. Sometimes your kids just don’t listen to you. Especially if you take them out to the ballpark again and again to watch George Brett. And Bret Saberhagen. And Frank White, Willie Wilson, Bo Jackson, Kevin Seitzer, Dannys Jackson and Tartabull, Mark Gubicza, Steve Balboni … The boys became Royals fans. Though the years we watched regularly from the stands were exciting and respectable years, they weren’t years when second-place teams got to play in an extra round of playoffs. So the second-place Royals teams of 1987 and 1989 did not get the chance to catch fire in the post-season, as these Royals have done. By the time we left Kansas City in 1991, the Royals were on their way to their second consecutive sixth-place finish. Though they actually had a winning 82-80 record that year, the Royals were heading into a generation of losing baseball.

Through the years, my 1985 promise became a running joke between Mike (who’s been a wonderfully good sport about this) and me. Each spring training, I tell him that if the Royals make the World Series this year, I’ll hook him up. We both kinda laughed, and as Mike became a dad, I suspect he’s been more careful than I was about making someday promises.

As the Royals started making their run late in the season, we talked back and forth a lot by phone, text and email. This was getting serious. The younger boys were as excited as Mike (Tom already blogged his excitement) and I said I’d cover them with the promise, too. I made the promise to Mike just because he was old enough to beg to go. I’d turned all three of the boys into Royals fans, and I need to take them all to the World Series now.

Throughout the Royals’ amazing eight-game post-season winning streak (11 games including their final three of 1985), the boys and I have exchanged countless text messages and emails with running commentary on the games.

And making plans for the possibility of the World Series. We all (and our wives and Tom’s fiancée) registered for the lottery for a chance to buy World Series tickets from the Royals at face value. None of us were selected. So I guess I’ll have to pay more than face value this time (if you can hook me up, let me know). I’ll be tweeting at fellow TCU alum Brandon Finnegan, you can be sure. Update: We have tickets. I paid more than face value of course. But the experience will be priceless.

As for Game Two back in 1985: Charlie Leibrandt lost a heartbreaker in the ninth inning, starting the inning leading 2-0. Manager Dick Howser was losing confidence in Quiz against lefthanders and stayed with his starter too long (and when Quiz came trailing 4-2, he retired Andy Van Slyke, the most dangerous lefthanded hitter on the Cardinals’ bench).

The boys and I are thinking Game Two will come out better this time.








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