Fond (and scary) memories of Kansas City’ 1985 championship parade

3 11 2015
More than a decade ago, my middle son, Joe, made a display case for my newspaper collection. The plexiglass front slides out, so I can change the paper displayed frequently. This front page from 1985 is going to stay up all week, maybe longer.

More than a decade ago, my middle son, Joe, made a display case for my newspaper collection. The plexiglass front slides out, so I can change the paper displayed frequently. This front page from 1985 is going to stay up all week, maybe longer.

Kansas City’s ready to celebrate. Wish I could be there again, but without the fires this time.

No, Kansas City doesn’t riot to celebrate championships. It just doesn’t know how to do a parade. Or it didn’t in 1985. Here’s hoping in the past 30 years the town has figured this out. At least we don’t have those dangerous dot-matrix printers any more.

I was on Grand Avenue when the champions paraded past in 1985 and it was as exciting in its own way as the Series itself. The parade came down Grand Avenue right past the Kansas City Star building where I worked, roughly the same route as the parade planned for today.

October’s heroes rode through the heart of town, basking in the love of a city that hadn’t celebrated a championship since Super Bowl IV in 1970. George Brett, Bret Saberhagen, Dan Quisenberry, Frank White, Dick Howser and even celebrity weak-hitting shortstop Buddy Biancalana soaked it in, riding vintage convertibles slowly through a corridor of adoring fans.

Well-connected Royals fans with ragtop Thunderbirds and Corvettes from years gone by chauffeured Jorge Orta, Steve Balboni, Jim Sundberg and pinch-hitter Dane Iorg, the role-player heroes of the epic Game Six comeback, smiling and waving from the backs of barely moving cars.

And Willie Wilson. I remember Wilson best.

This was early in the computer age, and ticker tape was a thing of the past. Someone thought it would be a good idea to shower the champions with shredded printer paper (I’m not making this up). Well, shredded paper from dot-matrix printers isn’t quite ticker tape. Steve Paul, a colleague at the time, explained last year* in a piece for the Kansas City Star:

There was confetti. Lots of confetti. But it really wasn’t confetti. It was shredded, tractor-feed computer printouts that apparently came from city offices and banks and other institutions. One friend recalls seeing clods of paper the size of hay bales being tossed out downtown windows.

In my version of the story, all that paper was so much computer-age tumbleweed.

The paper wadded up, rather than drifting to the ground like confetti. Clumps of paper would pelt the players, like a brushback pitch from Joaquín Andújar.

The clumps of paper clogged under the slow-moving cars and started catching fire against hot manifolds (or whatever those sizzling parts under the car are). Three or four cars caught fire along the parade route.

Willie Wilson’s car caught fire as it crawled past the Star building. Paul was across the street from me and helped Wilson and his daughter “escape.” I recall Wilson leaving that car as swiftly as he ever rocketed out of the batter’s box.

My boss, Rick Tapscott, and I dashed into the side door of our building and found fire extinguishers. I think a cop (or perhaps another civilian who wanted to help) grabbed mine from me and I went to get another. By the time I found the next one, police and fire fighters surrounded the car.

I don’t remember what happened to Wilson and his family. They might have moved to another car (I wouldn’t have) or decided to walk the route.

The World Series was more memorable than the parade. When you don’t win often, you don’t have much practice at victory parades.

But I have a suggestion for 2015. Instead of ticker tape or shredded paper, let’s go digital in the parade: Celebrate with selfies, showing the cars and heroes parading behind you along a tidy street. Shower these Royals with pixels, not paper. #TookTheCrown

* What the hell was a Kansas City Star staffer doing writing about the 1985 parade before the 2014 Royals had even won? Do we really not have Madison Bumgarner to blame for having to wait another year for a parade? Do you also say “no-hitter” before the pitcher and catcher are embracing, Steve Paul? (I will be emailing him, offering an opportunity to respond.)

Update: Steve’s response:

Ha: I happened to catch Willie Wilson at the right time last year and knew writing the column, which at the time appeared on Saturdays, would only work that week. If I waited till Series end, who’d care?

I just reposted the column on FB and added this photo. We went to spring training last March for the first time, and who happened to be hanging around signing autographs?

Steve Paul's Willie Wilson autograph

Steve Paul’s Willie Wilson autograph

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2 responses

3 11 2015
Stephen Fehr

I have wanted to know this for 30 years: Who wrote that banner hed? Was it written in advance or on the fly?

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3 11 2015
Steve Buttry

If I knew then, I’ve long since forgotten. But I — wait for it — love it.

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