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.





The Kansas City Royals’ amazing 9-game post-season winning streak

12 10 2014

Update: It’s an 11-game winning streak now. While I blogged about making it to the World Series, I won’t be updating this one further. But I’m glad no one has reason to think I jinxed the winning streak by writing about it.

 Time for another post on the Royals (maybe not the last of this post-season).

The Kansas City Royals are on an incredible nine-game, 29-year post-season winning streak. Let’s take a look at those games:

1985 World Series

Game Five

The Royals trailed 3-1 and Game 5 was supposed to be the Cardinals’ chance to celebrate their World Series championship on their home field. But this Royals team has also trailed 3-1 to the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series. It was a scrappy team that didn’t give up when it fell behind.

Danny Jackson, a 23-year-old lefthander who won 14 games for the Royals, faced off against 35-year-old Cardinal veteran Bob Forsch, who would win 163 career games for the Cardinals, but only nine that year.

Each pitcher gave up a run in the first. That was the last run Jackson would give up, and the last full inning Forsch would pitch. An RBI single by Buddy Biancalana and a two-run triple by Willie Wilson chased Forsch in the second inning. Jackson scattered five hits and three walks in pitching a complete game for the 6-1 victory. The Royals got a chance to play again back home in Kansas City.

Game 6

Ah, Game Six.

This game should not be remembered for a bad call, though it had a couple of them, neither of which had a significant impact on the outcome of the game.

In the bottom of the 4th inning, Frank White got a one-out bunt single for the Royals. He then stole second, possibly on a busted hit-and-run play. The throw beat White easily, but Ozzie Smith tagged White high on his chest, after his foot was safely on the base. But White was called out. You can see it at about the 57-minute mark of the game video below. The replay clearly showed he was safe, and announcer Tim McCarver, a former Cardinal whose St. Louis favoritism always showed, noted casually that Smith had tagged White high, after his foot reached the bag. But Royals manager Dick Howser didn’t argue and TV showed only one replay. Pat Sheridan, who was at the plate, hit a groundball single to right field that almost certainly would have scored the speedy White, who stole 10 bases that year and 178 in his career (a guy who can bunt for a single can score from second on an outfield single). Tough luck. Bad calls are part of baseball. Play on.

Instead of being tied 1-1, the Royals trailed 1-0 when they came to bat in the bottom of the 9th inning. Charlie Leibrandt of the Royals (the hard-luck loser of Game Two, which I watched) matched zeroes for seven innings with the Cardinals’ Danny Cox, an 18-game winner. The Cardinals scratched out a run in the eighth on a single and a walk, followed by Brian Harper’s RBI single, pinch-hitting for Cox. Lefthander Ken Dayley pitched a scoreless eighth inning for the Cardinals.

The bottom of the ninth started innocently enough, with Jorge Orta hitting a ground ball to first baseman Jack Clark. Cardinals reliever Todd Worrell (more on him later) covered first base and the throw clearly beat Orta in a bang-bang play. But umpire Don Denkinger blew the call. Herzog, Worrell and Clark argued vehemently, but with no replay, they couldn’t change the call any more than Howser would have been able to change the fourth-inning call if he’d argued. The calls were examples of two of the most-blown calls in baseball: throw beats runner so he’s called out even though the tag was high and ball beats runner to the bag by an instant (or vice versa) and umpire misses it because it’s almost impossible to watch a ball hitting a glove and a foot hitting a bag at the same time when they are about eight feet apart.

A USA Today review of this year’s replays midway through the season showed that 318 calls had been reversed on review after being challenged by managers. So bad calls happened a lot before replay. Good teams played on and won games.

It’s also worth noting that, as bad calls go, this one was about as inconsequential as you can get on multiple accounts:

  • It was the lead-off hitter, rather than the potential third out. A potential third out means you should have gotten out of the inning. Whether the lead-off hitter gets on or out, you still need to get more outs to end the game.
  • The winning run scored with one out, so if you replay the inning without Orta’s bogus single, the Royals have still scored the tying run, with Lonnie Smith coming up. He hit .333 in the series.
  • The bad call was at first base, rather than at home plate, where it costs you a run, or at second base (as the bad call on White was), where it costs you a runner in scoring position. When you’re screwed on a bad call at first base, you have to give up an extra-base hit, a huge error or multiple little things (singles, walks, hit batters, errors, wild pitches, sacrifices, etc.) for the bad call to result in a run. And by the time those other things happen, the bad call is never the main reason the run scored.

And those little things that happened after the bad call were an amazing, exhilarating (for a Royals fan or neutral baseball fan) mix of good and bad plays by the Royals’ role players. The Royals had a stellar, if young, pitching staff that year, but no pitchers hit in the inning. Their offensive superstar, having one of his best seasons, was George Brett, who didn’t come to bat in the ninth inning. White, Smith and Wilson were all All-Stars in multiple seasons and none of them hit in the ninth either. Hal McRae was another multi-year All-Star, and perhaps the best designated hitter of the 1970s and ’80s, and he would come to the plate, but he drew an intentional walk, playing a minimal role. The only All-Star who would play an important role in the Royals’ ninth-inning comeback was a defensive star, Jim Sundberg, a six-time Gold Glover and three-time All-Star who hit only .245 for the 1985 Royals. And he botched his assignment in the ninth. As did some Cardinals All-Stars. Both managers tried different maneuvers, some that worked, some that didn’t.

Let’s go through that inning, play by scrappy play:

Orta was not scheduled to lead off the ninth. Sheridan, who platooned in right field with Darryl Motley, was the scheduled hitter. Sheridan, who hit lefthanded, had started against the righthanded Cox. So Howser sent the righthanded Motley in to hit against Dayley. But Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog countered with Worrell, a righthanded rookie.

The Cardinals had no single closer that year. Jeff Lahti saved 19 games and had an ERA under 2.00. He had already saved Game Two and warmed up in the ninth inning of Game Six, but never came in. Dayley had 11 saves and a 2.76 ERA and two saves against the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series. Herzog had become enamored with Worrell, a late-August call-up who would still be eligible for (and win) Rookie of the Year in 1986. Worrell saved five games in September of 1985 and had saved Game One and pitched briefly in Game Five. So Herzog brought him in with an opportunity to be on the mound when the Cardinals won the World Series. Howser countered with Orta, a left-handed batter who had platooned at designated hitter with veteran McRae for much of the year. Orta got his only hit of the series on the bad call.

The next batter, Steve Balboni, had led the Royals with 36 homers, but he was also a likely strikeout candidate, leading the American League with 166 strikeouts. Worrell got Bonesy to loft a high pop foul over by the Royals’ dugout. Clark should have caught the ball, but misjudged it, then was distracted by Porter, who also came over to see if he had a play. The ball bounced harmlessly on the top step of the Royals’ dugout.

Both the Denkinger and Clark mistakes gave the Royals extra chances, but the Clark mistake, which was not scored an error, was more costly. Denkinger’s mistake put the potential tying run on first base. When Balboni used his second chance to send a ground-ball single to left, Clark’s error allowed the potential tying run to move into scoring position and put the winning run at first. Instead of bases empty and two outs, the two mistakes combined left the Royals with no outs and runners at first and second. Backup shortstop Onix Concepcion pinch-ran for Bonesy.

McRae was on deck to pinch-hit for Sundberg, but Howser decided he wanted a bunt to advance the runners. McRae had only two sacrifice bunts all season. Sundberg had only four. Howser sent Sundberg up to bunt. I’m not a big fan of the sacrifice bunt. Outs are precious and I prefer to make the defense work for them. My preference would have been to take three shots at getting the tying run home from second. But Howser stayed with the bunt, even with two strikes. Sundberg laid down the bunt, but Worrell fired to third to force Orta. This time he was correctly called out.

Sundberg was not a fast runner. He had been thrown out stealing on his only two attempts in 1985 (no doubt on busted hit-and-run plays). For his career, he had 20 stolen bases and 621 runs in 16 seasons, less than 40 runs a year (and 38, in fact, in 1985). The Royals’ backup catcher, John Wathan, had three years earlier set the single-season stolen-base record for catchers, with 36, a record that still stands. I fully expected Howser to send Duke in to pinch run, but he didn’t. Yet.

The next scheduled batter was shortstop Biancalana, whose name and weak hitting had been mocked by David Letterman in his Buddy Biancalana Hit Counter (a take-off on the hit counters used to track Pete Rose’s chase of Ty Cobb’s all-time hit record). Biancalana, who split time with Concepcion during the season, reached the peak of his career in the 1985, getting most of the time at shortstop in the post-season, with 43 plate appearances to only one for Concepcion. His .278 World Series batting average was nothing special, but it was 90 points higher than his regular-season average.

Even with his meager batting average, Biancalana had only five sacrifice bunts during the 1985 season and only 15 in his major-league career. I don’t think Howser would have used him even for a squeeze play if Sundberg’s bunt had worked. Which makes the bunt even more puzzling: If it had succeeded, first base would have been open for the Cardinals to walk Hal McRae (maybe Howser would have pinch-hit someone else).

But McRae came up with the tying run on second, with 1,000-plus career RBI, 70 in a platoon role in 1985 and an RBI crown just three years earlier. From 1976 to 1985, baseball followed a ridiculous practice of alternating years with and without the DH in the World Series. Pitchers hit in the odd years, so McRae had come to the plate only twice in the World Series, grounding out with the bases loaded in Game Four and being hit by a pitch in Game One. As a Royals fan, I was ready for him to jump on the opportunity and bring Concepcion home.

But Porter and Worrell apparently got crossed up on a pitch. The ball got away from Porter and the runners advanced, giving Kansas City the same result as they had sought with Sundberg’s bunt: runners at second and third, one out. The umpire’s mistake had just put the potential tying run on first base. Porter’s passed ball put the winning run in scoring position and advanced the tying run to third. Again, a much bigger part of the inning than the bad call.

Herzog chose to walk McRae intentionally, which set up a possible series-clinching double play. McRae’s run wouldn’t matter, though loading the bases raised the risk of walking in the tying run. Still, Herzog preferred to take his chances with the next pinch-hitter.

The next scheduled hitter was Royals closer Dan Quisenberry, who had relieved in the eighth inning, after Leibrandt gave up the Cardinals’ only run. Dane Iorg came to the plate as the Royals’ fourth pinch-hitter of the inning, including Motley, who didn’t actually hit.

And now Wathan went in to pinch-run, but for McRae, instead of Sundberg. If the thinking in using Wathan to run for McRae was because he could break up the double play, that certainly overlooked McRae’s famous 1977 slide into Willie Randolph in a Yankees-Royals post-season showdown. But this McRae was eight years older, and maybe Howser thought Wathan could get down to second base faster. Fine, run for McRae. Lynn Jones and Greg Pryor also were available to pinch-run, both undoubtedly faster than Sundberg. Jones had a triple and a double in his three World Series at-bats and undoubtedly would have hit if Howser needed another pinch-hitter. Howser left his catcher at second base with the potential winning run.

At the plate, Iorg was familiar to the Cardinals. He had played for the Cardinals from 1977 until being sold to the Royals in May 1984. He’d never played more than 105 games in a season and never had more than 80 hits in a season. But he was a respected role player. He’d hit 9 for 17 in five games of the 1982 World Series for the Cardinals.

Iorg wasn’t a great pinch hitter, but he pinch-hit a lot, 69 hits in 282 career pinch-hit at-bats. In 1985, he was only 4 for 27 as a pinch-hitter for the Royals, a worse batting average than Biancalana, the guy he probably hit for most often, since pitchers never hit then in the American League. But he’d hit respectably as a spare outfielder, with a couple games each at DH and first base. With a .255 average, 60 hits and 30 RBI for the year, he was the logical pinch-hitter against a righthander.

Iorg won a special place in Royal lore forever with his single to rightfield against Worrell. Concepcion raced home easily with the tying run and third-base coach Mike Ferraro waved Sundberg home, too. Andy Van Slyke had a gun in right, and I thought he’d nail Sundberg at the plate. But he got a good jump from second, chugged home hard and slid home head-first, ahead of Porter’s tag.

In just five plate appearances, 11 Royals were scheduled to hit, announced as pinch-hitters, actually hit or pinch-ran in the ninth inning. The bad call was not as important to the outcome of the inning as the two legitimate singles Worrell gave up, the pop foul Clark misplayed or Porter’s passed ball. But the Cardinals and their fans whined loud and long about the call, exaggerating it in baseball legend way beyond its importance to the outcome of the game or the series.

The call most certainly didn’t cost the Cardinals the World Series. However big the bad call was to Game Six, the Cardinals had a chance to come back. The Big Red Machine was devastated by a Game Six loss a decade earlier, when Bernie Carbo’s three-run pinch-hit homer tied the game for the Boston Red Sox and Carlton Fisk’s extra-inning homer stayed fair to win it. And the Reds regrouped to win the next night.

Watch the ninth inning here:

Watch all of Game Six here:

Game Seven

The Cardinals were set up perfectly for Game Seven. Herzog had his choice of 21-game winners. John Tudor had held the Royals to one run in Game One and shut them out in Game Four. Tudor was 21-8 in the regular season, with a 1.93 ERA and a league-high 10 shutouts. He’d have won the Cy Young Award, if not for the historic season Dwight Gooden had for the Mets. Joaquín Andújar was 21-12 in the regular season, his second consecutive 20-win season, but had not been effective in the post-season. He had lost to the Royals’ Bret Saberhagen in Game Three. Though Tudor would be pitching on short rest, Herzog went with his ace, who was on a roll.

Game Seven should have been, and appeared likely to be, a pitching duel for the ages. Saberhagen also was a 20-game winner and would win the A.L. Cy Young Award (Ron Guidry probably should have won, but Sabes had a great year and was the exciting 21-year-old breakthrough star). Saberhagen had given up just one run on six hits and a walk in the Royals’ Game Three win in St. Louis, getting the Royals back into the series after two losses in Kansas City. His wife gave birth to their first child, a son named Drew, the night of Game Six.

The umpires’ clockwise World Series rotation moved Denkinger behind home plate.

Through the first inning and a half, both pitchers looked sharp, Tudor just giving up a single to Brett, Saberhagen giving up a single to Clark. Balboni walked in the bottom of the second. Then Motley, whose only involvement in Game Six was to be announced as a pinch-hitter, blasted a homer to give the Royals a 2-0 lead.

In the third inning, Tudor began to unravel. He walked Smith, gave up another single to Brett, then gave up a double steal. After Frank White walked, the bases were loaded. Then Tudor walked Sundberg to give up the third run. In the regular season, Herzog might have given Tudor time to work through his wildness, but with Saberhagen looking dominant, he had to use a quick hook. He brought in Bill Campbell, and Tudor took his frustration out on an electric fan in the clubhouse, cutting his finger. Campbell gave up a single to Balboni and the Royals led 5-0. Biancalana got the only intentional walk of his career, bringing up Saberhagen with the bases loaded and two outs. Sabes struck out swinging, about the only thing that went wrong for the Royals.

Saberhagen put two more zeroes up on the scoreboard and Lahti came in to replace Campbell after Sundberg singled leading off the fifth. After singles to Balboni and Motley, the Royals led 6-0 and Saberhagen was batting. He tried to advance the runners with a bunt, but Clark threw to Ozzie Smith to force out Motley. Lonnie Smith followed with a double, scoring Balboni and Saberhagen. Then Wilson drove Smith home and the Royals led 9-0.

Ricky Horton replaced Lahti and gave up a single to Brett, his fourth hit of the game already. After Horton threw two balls to White, Herzog turned to Andújar. I was puzzled by the move at the time, but I guess he thought he couldn’t keep burning through his bullpen in the fifth inning. He needed his best remaining pitcher, someone to stop the bleeding for a few innings, just in case the Cardinals could mount some sort of offense against Saberhagen.

It didn’t quite work out that way. After fouling off several Andújar pitches, White singled home a run. The Royals led 10-0. If it were a softball game, they would have won by the 10-run rule. But the Cardinals had to keep playing.

Denkinger called ball three on a pitch that was clearly inside, with Sundberg checking his swing. Andújar angrily charged toward the umpire to protest. Herzog charged out of the dugout to take the lead in the argument, while teammates restrained Andújar. Pretty quickly, Herzog turned the argument to the night before. He had seen enough and dropped f-bombs in an obvious intentional move to get thrown out of the game. Even after leaving the field, Herzog returned to continue the argument. Surprisingly, Andújar was not ejected for his initial reaction to the call.

When order was finally restored, Andújar threw ball four, also inside, and again immediately reacted angrily. His Wikipedia entry says Denkinger “misread a gesture by Andújar” to Porter. But that’s BS. The video shows Andújar reacting immediately to the call, the same way he did after ball three. He was furious, perhaps more at Herzog than Denkinger, and didn’t have any intention of sticking around any longer in this blowout. Teammates and coaches restrained him and it took about three of them to pull him off the field.

Forsch came in to pitch, and his wild pitch allowed Brett to score the 11th run. Finally Forsch and Dayley shut down the Royals’ offense, but the Cardinals could muster only five singles off Saberhagen. Van Slyke was the only Cardinal to reach second base, when he and Terry Pendleton singled back-to-back in the seventh.

With two out and an 11-0 lead in the ninth, Brett came over to the mound to talk to his pitcher. He wasn’t talking strategy or trying to settle the young pitcher down. He instructed Sabes to come his way after the final out. Brett wanted to be the first to embrace the winning pitcher. And he was. The Kansas City Times front page with that photo hangs in my office wall this month, until the Royals’ season ends.

You gotta love it

Here’s a short video of Saberhagen’s pitching and the celebration:

Watch all of Game Seven here (Jim Sundberg’s at-bat in the fifth inning starts at the 1:37:55 mark):

1986-2013

The 29 years between post-season games were mostly miserable for Royals fans. Saberhagen had another Cy Young season in 1989 and Brett won another batting title in 1990. The Royals were good and still exciting in the Bo Jackson years, but then wasted good years by Kevin Appier and Mike Sweeney. David Cone, Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltrán and Zack Greinke teased Royals fans with their talent before moving to better teams. Wathan and McRae (and a lot of others) took their turns as managers, without success. McRae’s son, Brian, played five years for the Royals.

Baseball expanded the playoffs, from two teams in each league to four and then five. But the Royals were never good enough to make the cut. Twenty-eight seasons passed without a post-season game. Then came …

2014

OK, I won’t go into as much detail on the 2014 games, because anyone who’s made it this far has fresh memories of all the games. Just a quick comment on each:

Wild-card game

I feared I would bitterly blame Ned Yost for losing the one-game wild-card playoff with the A’s for wasting too many outs on bunts (when his base runners were perfectly capable of stealing their way into scoring position). But the Royals prevailed. My oldest son, Mike, flew down from the Twin Cities to watch the game in person. My youngest son, Tom, wrote a guest post on what it meant to finally watch the Royals play and win a post-season game.

The A’s led this game 2-1 after one inning and the Royals came back to take the lead. The A’s led 7-3 after six innings and the Royals came back with three runs in the eighth and one in the ninth to tie. The A’s led 8-7 after the top of the 12th. And the Royals got two runs in the bottom of the 12th to win, with a Salvador Pérez base hit bringing home the winner.

I wonder how many teams have come from behind three different times in a post-season, including in the ninth and extra innings. As incredible as this post-season run has been, that might have been the best game. Mike says it’s the best game he’s ever attended, and I took him to a lot of good ones.

For Kansas City fans, which my sons are (I’m a Chiefs fan and cheer for the Royals if they’re not playing the Yankees), this was the first post-season win in any pro sport since 1994.

Angels series

Game one

Because the Royals are the wild-card team, both of their American League playoff series this year have started on the road. Game One of the Division Series in Anaheim was a well-pitched game, with starters Jason Vargas of the Royals and Jered Weaver of the Angels each giving up a run in the third and fifth innings and the bullpens pitching scoreless ball until Mike Moustakas, batting ninth in the Royals’ lineup, started his incredible post-season run with his 11th-inning homer.

Game Two

Starters Matt Shoemaker of the Angels and Yordano Ventura of the Royals were even better in this game, each giving up just one run. Game Two also went to extra innings, tied 1-1. Eric Hosmer delivered another extra-inning homer, following a Lorenzo Cain single. Pérez continued his extra-inning success with an RBI single and the Royals won, 4-1.

Game Three

This game was, on a smaller scale and with no ejections, a counterpart to Game Seven in 1985: an easy win following a nail-biter. The Royals led Game Three 3-1 after one inning, 5-1 after three and 7-2 after four. They cruised to an easy 8-3 win in front of the home fans. Hosmer and Moustakas homered again and Alex Gordon had a three-run double. Cain made back-to-back amazing catches.

2104 A.L. Championship Series

Game One

OK, it was back to extra innings: Both starters, James Shields for the Royals and Chris Tillman for the Orioles, were ineffective and neither made it to the sixth inning. The Royals blew a 4-0 lead and a 5-1 lead. But again the bullpens were strong, each pitching scoreless seventh, eighth and ninth innings to go to the 10th with a 5-5 tie.

Gordon opened the 10th with a homer, the third different Royal to homer in extra innings this post-season. After a walk to Perez, Moustakas added his second extra-inning homer. Closer Greg Holland, who’s been stellar this post-season, finally allowed a run, but still nailed down an 8-6 win. (Like Saberhagen in 1985, Holland and Cain have welcomed new babies during the 2014 post-season.)

Game Two

The Game Two win took only nine innings, but it took the full nine. The teams were tied 4-4 going into the ninth. Moustakas had homered in the fourth, so I was miffed that Yost had him bunting after Omar Infante led off with a single (Terrance Gore pinch-ran; as in 1985, pinch-runners have played a role for the Royals). Moustakas successfully advanced the runner, though. Then Alcides Escobar doubled Gore home. Lorenzo Cain, who’s made brilliant plays in the outfield throughout the playoffs, added an RBI single. Holland nailed down the win and the Royals go home with a 2-0 lead in the series.

Tom has made it to both Baltimore games. Tom, Mike and their brother, Joe, and I have been texting like crazy during this incredible run (just the last six games; none of us had mobile phones in 1985, of course).

What’s next?

Of course, the Blue Jays and Cardinals each had two-game leads in 1985, so any Royals fan knows it’s not over. But I like the Royals’ chances. This scrappy team reminds me of the 1985 Royals. Each had lots of heroes, rather than just riding the back of a dominant player. And, whatever happens, this nine-game winning streak has been a delight: four extra-inning wins, two ninth-inning wins and a ton of memories for two generations of deserving fans.

Source note: Statistics and some game details for this post came from Baseball-Reference.com.





Guest post: Tom Buttry reflects on his life (and last night) as a Royals fan

1 10 2014
Tom Buttry, right, with his brothers, Joe, left, and Mike, visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989.

Tom Buttry, right, with his brothers, Joe, left, and Mike, visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989.

I’m enjoying this year’s post-season as much as if the Yankees were playing. The reason: All three of my sons are Kansas City Royals fans, dating to my days at the Kansas City Star and Times, when I would take the boys to ballgames. I tried to turn them into Yankee fans, but utterly failed. They fell hopelessly in love with the team they kept seeing on the field. Well, the past quarter-century-plus has been kinder to Yankee fans than Royal fans, but the boys remained loyal KC fans, even though we all moved away.

So I am celebrating with them as the Royals get their first taste of post-season play since 1985, our first season in Kansas City. The boys and I exchanged multiple messages — text messages, tweets, Facebook messages — through last night’s incredible game.(They’re all grown men now, but still my boys, especially when we’re watching baseball.) Mike was at the game the best he’s ever seen. Tom sent me a guest blog post today. Below is Tom’s explanation of why last night’s game was so special, with minimal editing from me (I even left his excessive use of asterisk footnotes in place). I’ll add a comment or two at the end. But first, here’s Tom Buttry:

I’ve been wondering all day today why something as trivial as one game of baseball can make me so so gleeful for so long. Why I stayed so excited last night that I had a hard time falling asleep, but am still be able to walk around with a grin on my face and a spring in my step all day today. Why I am being so self-indulgent in sharing these thoughts and why I’m willing to rub salt in the very fresh wounds of any A’s fans who might read this. But here goes nothing.

As a kid I’d regularly go to Kansas City Royals games with my dad.  Despite his being a Yankees fan*, he loves baseball too much to pass up the opportunity to regularly watch games, and in the days before he could follow the Yankees on the MLB package, he went in with some co-workers on Royals season tickets. From there, my two older brothers, my mom and I took turns going to games with him. In other words, I got to see a lot of Royals games from a very young age.

Sometimes the whole family would go, but most of the games I saw, it was just me and my dad.  I know it’s cliche, but it was really a formative bonding experience with him.  I’d be excited because I’d get to stay up late, spend time with him, get a cheap plastic mini-baseball helmet full of soft serve and sprinkles and see this team and these players I was absolutely falling in love with on a regular basis. I’m sure my dad was also thrilled to spend time with his kids in a way he could really have fun with, rather than seeing the same cartoon or reading the same book for the 100th time, even if I made him take me on too many runs for snacks or to the bathroom.

It was at these games that dad taught me to groan every time the Royals bunted the ball** and shout “HE STRUCK HIM OUT!” when the Royals got a big K***.   He also snagged a foul ball for me after the guy behind us dropped his cup of beer trying to get it, and would tell me all about the great players I was seeing.

One game I distinctly remember happened April 7, 1989**** against the Boston Red Sox. An exciting, fireballing rookie named Tom “Flash” Gordon blew a lead for the Royals, and in the bottom of the ninth we were down three with Lee Smith coming in to close the game. My dad explained to me that Smith was one of the best closers in the game and it would be tough for the Royals to come back from such a big margin against him.  A few minutes later, the Royals loaded the bases and George Brett rocketed a line drive that cleared the bases, tying the game and forever cementing his status as my favorite Royal. A few batters later we scored the final run,***** and I celebrated with my Dad, letting him know that I knew they were going to win. That season the Royals won 92 games, but before the Wild Card existed, a loaded Oakland A’s team kept them out of the playoffs.

On July 6, 1991, my heart got broken in a game against the Oakland A’s when Danny Tartabull hit three home runs, but the Royals still had somehow fallen behind before the ninth inning and had the heart of their lineup coming up against Dennis Eckersley. I reminded dad about the Lee Smith game, and perhaps hoping I was a good luck charm, he seemed slightly more optimistic about my predictions of an upcoming Royals comeback, even though we were up against an even better closer. Down two, with one runner aboard and two outs, Brett stood at the plate as the tying run with Tartabull in the on deck circle as the winning run.  With a thunderous crack, Brett lined another rocket into the outfield, but this time right at the center fielder, ending the game without giving Tartabull the chance to make baseball history and win the game.

From the time I remember living in Kansas City, the Royals were always good, but never good enough to make the playoffs.****** We had legends like George Brett, superstars like Bo Jackson, and were truly relevant. The two games I just described represent particularly noteworthy episodes from a huge series of childhood memories that I will always cherish.# The only thing I really missed as a kid was the chance to see the Royals in the playoffs.

In the intervening years my family moved away from Kansas City, the Royals have stunk and have been next to impossible to see on television, which further complicated following them over the course of 162 games a year. While I never gave up on the Royals and put up with a lot of trash talk for continuing to support such a lousy team when it would have been so easy to bolt for better teams at nearly any point, it is safe to say that the Royals had slipped behind my favorite football and basketball teams in terms of my attention.

Then came last night.

Seeing the excitement and energy at Kauffman Stadium brought back powerful memories. Crunching peanut shells under my feet (something I still do almost every time I go to a ballpark). The helmet bowls of soft serve. Kauffman’s gorgeous fountains. The giant Midwestern insects buzzing around the light towers. The smell of cheap beer. And something new: the roar of a crowd that has finally seen their support of this team validated.

I’ve always been an intense sports fan, but watching the game last night was something different. Instead of the caveman-like bellowing I do for a Kansas City Chiefs game, or alternating fast rhythm and cavalcade of timeouts of a Marquette basketball game, I was standing on my feet nervously shuffling back and forth, turning my cap inside out for good luck, pouting on the couch when things were bad, jumping, yelping and laughing with joy every time the Royals did something good. I never even thought to grab a beer until my fiancée asked me if I wanted one.  In short, for one night, I was a kid again. For 29 years I had been waiting for this very moment, and I managed to turn back time to enjoy it. And oh my goodness, what a game to turn back time for.*******

I don’t know if the Royals have a magical run in them.  For one night, Eric Hosmer did a passable George Brett impersonation.  However, the incompetence of Ned Yost will probably catch up to us at some point.********  But this one game created that childhood memory that I had always been missing.  And that is why I am still so deliriously happy.

Let’s go Royals!

* While under almost all circumstances being the progeny of a Yankees fan should be a great source of shame for the entire family, it is semi-mitigated by the fact that my dad was an Air Force brat and the Yankees were the only team he could follow no matter where in the world he was living.  He also taught my brothers and me the #1 lesson of being a real sports fan: that you always stick with your team no matter what (no amount of cajoling from his three sons ever got him to nudge the Royals past the Yankees).

** Something that happened a lot last night.

*** Also something that happened a lot last night.

**** The dates and a few specific facts come from Baseball-Reference.com, but the bulk of the next two paragraphs are my actual recollections. In fact, I was really shocked by how accurate my memories were the first time I dug around on Baseball-Reference trying to find particular Royals games I went to, with these two being the standouts.

***** Baseball-Reference says it was Bob Boone who drove in the winning run. Somehow he doesn’t stick out as much as George Brett.

****** My family moved to Kansas City in time for their World Series run in the fall of 85, but I was barely three years old and don’t remember a thing of the Royals from back then.

******* Oh, and getting back at the A’s for keeping what had previously been the best Royals team I can remember out of the playoffs and ruining Danny Tartabull’s big game also felt pretty good.

******** Seriously, Ned? A double steal with Billy “The Slowest Man in Professional Sports” Butler and Hosmer?  Four sacrifice bunts? Bringing a rookie starter on one day’s rest out of the bullpen with two on and nobody out?

# Since this is an extra self-indulgent aside, I’ll put it at the very bottom. I also really enjoyed singing along to Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher” which the Royals would regularly play between innings when I was a kid and dancing to Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” when the Royals would win.

Dad comments: 

    • Tom loved “Minnie the Moocher,” running around our family room chanting “Hodie, Hodie.”
    • How is Lee Smith not in the Hall of Fame? He was a Yankee only eight games, but might deserve a post here someday.
    • I missed a Steve Balboni grand-slam homerun once while in the restroom with Tom.
    • Watching George Brett play for parts of seven seasons was an absolute treat.
    • I ranted quite a bit myself last night in our living room and on Twitter about Yost wasting outs on bunts, prompting someone to tweet me a link to this tweet:
  • At the time, it seemed like a lot of money we spent on tickets, parking, and all those peanuts and helmet sundaes. But the experiences I gave my sons were priceless.




Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera: best teammate tandem ever

28 09 2014

As Derek Jeter takes his final curtain call today (in Fenway Park), one more observation about a way in which he leaves as one of baseball’s best ever: He was half of baseball’s longest-running greatest-ever teammate tandem.

Jeter, baseball’s greatest-ever post-season hitter, and Mariano Rivera, baseball’s greatest-ever reliever and post-season pitcher, played together for an incredible 19 seasons, both coming up in the 1995 season and playing together as Yankees until Rivera’s retirement last year.

Their results were unmatched since the Yankee dynasty of 1949-64: They won five World Series together, two more American League championships and missed the post-season together only in 2008 and 2013, Rivera’s last season. Thursday night, Jeter played only the second game in which his team was eliminated from post-season play. Neither man ever played on a team with a losing record.

Who are the other longest-running teammate pairs who were the very best ever (not just among the best ever) at something (or at least the best ever when they retired)?

Some of their closest competitors would be Yankee tandems: Read the rest of this entry »





Derek Jeter’s legacy: Post-season excellence against the best pitchers

25 09 2014

As Derek Jeter prepares to play his last home game for the Yankees tonight, let’s appreciate one more time just how great he has been.

It’s a shame that his career will end in the regular season, because his legacy in the game will be as the greatest post-season player ever.

I can argue that he’s the best shortstop ever, though most would give that nod to Honus Wagner.

But Jeter’s post-season achievements are unmatched. He holds — in most cases by large margins — the all-time records for post-season, games, at-bats, hits, runs, total bases, doubles and triples. He’s third in homers and fourth in runs batted in. And it’s not just because he played in an era when you got extra rounds of playoffs. The extra rounds helped, of course, but they also gave him enough post-season play to blow away the arguments of statisticians who like to claim there’s not such thing as clutch hitting.

You can’t say, as the numbers crunchers like to, that we don’t have enough data to evaluate clutch hitting, that a hot post-season series could just be random. As I’ve noted before, Jeter has a full season of post-season action, 158 games spread over 16 of his 19 seasons. He topped 158 games in a season only three times. This is definitely a full season and it was one of his best, an MVP-type season.

And when you take a closer look at his post-season play, you see that Jeter racked up his impressive numbers hitting against baseball’s best pitching staffs again and again.

One of the most unanimous pieces of baseball wisdom is that, especially in the post-season, great pitching beats great hitting. But not Jeter.

In the “season” of his 158 post-season games, Jeter faced seven pitchers who won their league’s Cy Young that season: John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Johan Santana, Bartolo Colón, C.C. Sabathia and Justin Verlander. And, of course, those are pitchers you’re likely to face twice (or more) in a series. One-tenth of Jeter’s post-season at-bats (64 of 650) came in his 23 appearances against those seven pitchers (not all in their Cy Young seasons, but always as stars of their staffs).

Most of those pitchers also led their leagues in their Cy Young seasons in some combination of wins, ERA and strikeouts. Jeter also faced three other pitchers who led their leagues in wins that season (Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Rick Helling) and one who led in ERA (Freddy Garcia). Add those pitchers’ appearances against Jeter to the Cy Young winners’ and we’re up to 91 at-bats in 32 starts, more than a month’s worth of games against pitchers who were somehow the best in their leagues when they faced Jeter. Nobody has a month like that in the regular season.

And we haven’t counted Curt Schilling yet, who won 22 and 21 wins the years that he faced Jeter in the post-season but didn’t lead the league in anything or win the Cy Young either year. Add him and one more 20-game winner in the year he faced Jeter in October, Jamie Moyer, and we’re up to 107 at-bats and 38 starts.

Of course, no one could match Jeter’s experience of facing seven guys who would win Cy Young Awards that season, since there are only two in any season, barring a tie (which hasn’t happened since 1969). But he also faced 12 pitchers who won 20 games that year (counting Schilling twice). The major leagues never got close to a dozen 20-game winners any season during Jeter’s career.

A lot of pitchers have great seasons and fall short of 20 wins. Let’s add the 19-game winners (Greg Maddux, Mike Mussina, Aaron Sele and Roberto Hernandez) and 18-game winners (Kevin Brown, Kevin Millwood and Jarrod Washburn) in the seasons that Jeter faced in October. That brings us to 147 at-bats and 53 starts.

And we haven’t mentioned Tom Glavine yet. Jeter faced Glavine in the World Series in 1996 and ’99, missing his Cy Young seasons of 1991 and ’98. Glavine was solid the years he faced Jeter, though, winning 15 (with an ERA under 3.00) and 14. Other Cy Young winners who faced Jeter after years other than their award-winning seasons were Bret Saberhagen, Dwight Gooden, Orel Hershiser, Cliff Lee, Barry Zito and Max Scherzer. Altogether, Jeter faced 15 pitchers in October who won a total of 26 Cy Young Awards. Six of the 17 multiple Cy Young winners in baseball history faced Jeter in the post-season.

Adding all the Cy Young pitchers pushes Jeter’s total against high-quality pitchers to 183 at-bats and 67 starts.

Of course, we’ve already mentioned all of the 300-game winners Jeter faced in the post-season (Maddux, Glavine and Johnson), and most of the 200-game winners, but let’s add David Wells, Kenny Rogers and Tim Wakefield, all 200-game winners, to the list of quality pitchers. Jeter faced 15 pitchers in the post-season who won 200 or more games. This takes us to 201 at-bats in 71 starts.

And we haven’t even reached Josh Beckett yet. So let’s add him and the other pitchers Jeter faced in the post-season with 100 or more career wins and at least one 20-win season. That would add Derek Lowe, John Burkett, Mike Hampton, Scott Erickson, Ramon Martinez, Jered Weaver, Brad Radke, Esteban Loaiza and Denny Neagle. That brings us to 85 starts, more than half the season, and 252 at-bats.

And we’re still not down to mediocre starters yet. The numbers above don’t include Cole Hamels, who has 108 career wins but no 20-win seasons. But the post-season before he faced Jeter, Hamels was the MVP of both the World Series and the National League Championship Series.

We could detail more quality starters Jeter faced, but let’s move on to the bullpen. Of course, he couldn’t face the best closer of all-time, since he spent nearly his whole career building leads for Mariano Rivera to save. But still, he faced six of the top 11 career saves leaders in the post-season: Trevor Hoffman, John Franco, Joe Nathan, Troy Percival, Randy Myers and Francisco Rodriguez. Hoffman, Rodriguez, Jose Valverde and Jim Johnson led their leagues in saves the years that they faced Jeter in the post-season. Other relievers he faced in October who led their leagues at some time in saves were Jeff Russell, Jose Mesa, Myers (three times), Tom Gordon, Lowe, Todd Jones, Eddie Guardado, Keith Foulke, Rodriguez (three times), Valverde (three times), Franco (twice), Smoltz, Hoffman (twice) and Armando Benitez.

Jeter faced 11 relievers in the post-season with 200 or more career saves and another 15 with more than 100 and 13 with more than 30 saves in at least one of the years that they faced him.

Jeter’s post-season excellence consistently came against All-Star quality pitchers: 89 of the 186 pitchers he faced were All-Stars at some point in their careers. They accounted for 125 of his 158 post-season starts and 401 of his 650 at-bats.

It’s not just the excellence required to make the post-season and advance to championship play that resulted in this amazing succession of pitchers Jeter faced, but the pauses in post-season play for travel days. You almost never face a No. 5 starter in the post-season and you’re unlikely to see a No. 4 starter more than once in a series (usually never in a three-game series). If a team has a really strong fourth or fifth starter, though, you might face him in middle relief or extra innings, rather than a team’s weakest relievers. Starters Jeter faced in relief in the post-season included Scott Kazmir, Dave Burba, Glendon Rusch and Doug Fister, all double-figure winners in the years they came out of the bullpen in October.

So how did Jeter do against these formidable pitchers? You could certainly understand a performance below his regular-season numbers, where it would be impossible to face this many great pitchers night after night. His 135 strikeouts, more than in any regular season, underscored the quality of the pitching he faced. His 66 walks were about average for a Jeter season. But when he put the ball in play, magical things happened. Jeter’s batting average was just one point lower than his career regular-season average, .308 vs. .309. His slugging average was 26 points higher against the awesome pitchers he faced in the post-season than it was against his regular-season diet with so many 4th and 5th starters on losing teams. He had a 200-hit season, scoring 111 runs. Jeter had only three 20-homer seasons against regular-season pitching, and he reached 20 in the post-season, too. His 61 RBI were low for a Jeter regular season, but that’s probably because he followed pitchers more often in the post-season and because those standout pitchers he faced kept more of his teammates off the bases.

Post-season after post-season, against the best pitchers of his generation and the best pitchers of each season, Jeter racked up numbers that matched up with the best seasons of a career that will take him straight to the Hall of Fame. No one ever faced better pitching in October.

Update: Even in just the second game of his career with his team out of playoff contention, Jeter proved his clutch-hitting prowess, with a walk-off win over the division-champion Orioles.

Facts in this post came from the career statistics and post-season game logs on Baseball-Reference.com. The analysis is mine (as are any errors in the analysis).








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