The 5 best managers in Yankee history

15 04 2016

This concludes a series on the best Yankees at different rolesToday: manager.

1, Casey Stengel

Casey Stengel's autograph on a ball my wife's uncle used to take to Yankee Stadium in the 1950s. The ball now belongs to my son Mike.

Casey Stengel’s autograph on a ball belonging to my son Mike.

You can’t place anyone else at the top of this list. Casey Stengel managed the Yankees for 12 seasons, 1949-60. They won seven World Series (more than any manager has ever won) and lost three (each in seven games). He never got out of last place with the Mets and never made the post-season (which back then was just the World Series) for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves. But for the 12 years he was the Yankees’ skipper, he was simply the best manager ever.

Stengel was a master of juggling his lineup and his pitching staff (rotation and bullpen, including pitchers who played both roles).

You can’t even credit Stengel’s success to the Yankees’ talent. During that 12-year stretch, the Yankees had five Hall of Famers in their primes: Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle (overlapping just a year), Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Phil Rizzuto.

The Cleveland Indians of that era had six Hall of Famers in their primes: Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, Lou Boudreau, Larry Doby and Joe Gordon, a former Yankee. And this doesn’t count Satchel Paige, who’s in the Hall of Fame for his pitching for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League, but could still bring it when he joined the Indians at age 41.

The Dodgers of the same era matched the Yankees with five Hall of Famers in their primes: Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese and Don Drysdale.

The Braves (Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn and Red Schoendienst) and Giants (Willie Mays, Monte Irvin, Orlando Cepeda and Hoyt Wilhelm) were just behind Stengel’s Yankees with four Hall of Famers each in their primes from 1949 to ’60.

The Yankees gave Stengel good players to work with, but other teams had similar talent. The Yankees had the Old Perfessor, though. With platoons at multiple positions, moving Gil McDougald around the infield, pitching Ford irregularly against the American League’s best teams and moving Allie Reynolds back and forth between the starting rotation and the bullpen, Stengel truly reached the greatest sustained success of any manager ever. Read the rest of this entry »





The Royals’ greatest moments of championship seasons

3 04 2016

My Royals-fan sons and I exchanged some emails heading into Opening Day, spurred by two excellent pieces on the Royals:

  • A New York Times interactive package that tracked down the people (mostly Met fans) in a photo reacting to Eric Hosmer’s slide into home with the tying run in Game Five of last year’s World Series, with audio clips recalling their reactions to the play. Making the piece especially enjoyable for Royal fans was the fact that the two non-Met fans interviewed were George and Leslie Brett. I highly recommend reading and listening to it (unless you’re a Met fan).
  • Rany Jazayerli‘s post on the best five moments of the 2014-15 Royals. This is the detailed, emotional conclusion of an excessively long series (I think it was about the 150 best moments or something like that). I recommend it for Royal fans, but no one else would read it all. We all did, though.

(If you missed my World Series posts last year, I am a lifelong Yankee fan who took my sons to Royals games in the 1980s when they were young. I failed to make Yankee fans of them, but they all grew up to be passionate Royal fans. While my loyalties remain with the Yankees, I developed a strong secondary fondness for the Royals and enjoyed the past two Octobers along with my sons, especially last year’s World Series victory. We went to Game Two together in 2014.)

Each of the boys weighed in by email, after reading the two pieces, on their own favorite 2014-15 moments. With their permission, I am using their emails here, adding some links and videos. I’ve done a little editing to use full names on first references and such, and adding some context in parentheses for non-Royal fans who don’t recall them all as vividly as we do, though I tried to keep that to a minimum. I doubt you’re going to read this if you don’t get most of the context.

Mike’s favorite 2014-15 Royal moments

This section comes from my oldest son Mike, whom I promised in 1985 to take to the World Series the next time the Royals made it:

My personal top 5 is:

5. Hosmer scoring (the World Series Game 5 tying run that prompted the Times story).

4. Omar Infante home run (Game Two in 2014, the game the four of us attended together).

3. Lorenzo Cain scoring from first on a single (scoring the winning run in Game Six, clinching the 2015 American League Championship Series over Toronto).

2. Wade Davis striking out Wilmer Flores (final out of the 2015 World Series).

1. Salvy’s walk-off (Salvador Pérez winning the 2014 wild-card game in the 12th inning, the Royals’ first post-season win in 29 years)

Tom’s favorite 2014-15 Royal moments

Tom Buttry

Tom Buttry

Tom had just turned 3 when the Royals won the 1985 World Series, but went to lots of Royals games with me the next six years, before we moved away, and became a lifelong fan. Tom made lots more choices than Mike:

Honorable mentions, in roughly chronological order (I didn’t embed videos of the honorable mentions, but the links below take you to videos):

The first time we tied the A’s in the 2014 wild-card game, the parade of stolen bases against Oakland, the second time we tied the A’s, Mike Moustakas’ and Eric Hosmer’s home runs in Anaheim, Jarrod Dyson gunning down an Anaheim baserunner, Billy Butler stealing a base, Alcides Escobar hitting a traditional home run to my delighted surprise, Wade Davis mowing down the heart of the Orioles’ lineup in the bottom of the eighth, Alex Gordon and Moose hitting homers in extra innings against the Orioles, Cain’s amazing catches in Baltimore, Escobar’s double against Baltimore, Salvy’s double against Hunter Strickland, Kelvin Herrera getting an at-bat in the World Series, Yordano Ventura destroying the Giants in Game six, Hosmer’s game-icing home run in Houston, Johnny Cueto destroying the Astros in Game five, the comeback on David Price, the lineup destroying R.A. Dickey, Cueto mauling the Mets in Game 2, running Jacob deGrom from Game 2, buying a round for a bar full of people (only doesn’t make the list because it didn’t directly involve a Royals player).

And here are Tom’s 15 most memorable Royal moments of 2014-15:

15. Moose’s railing catch (if we’re stripping plays of their context, this play is one of the top two, but the series was already fairly well in hand, so it appears at the end of the list).

14. Kendrys Morales’ ground ball getting past Carlos Correa. This should probably be higher, but I was still in the afterglow of the wedding and not quite back into full-on baseball mode.  The comeback against the Astros is one of the two most remarkable team-wide feats the Royals pulled off in a single game, and this was definitely the payoff moment.

13. Escobar’s inside-the-park homer (Esky. Magic.)

12. Gordon’s triple (this is a tough one… the what-ifs and having our hopes crushed on the next play can’t be totally removed, but while the play was happening, I was elated.  If we had pulled it off last year, this moment would combine with the winning play to create the no-doubt greatest moment in Royals history, surpassing Game 6 in 1985.)

11. Wade Davis allowing the tying and winning runs to get into scoring position, just to see what it’s like. I’ll admit that for a moment I thought it was possible that Wade Davis was mortal.  That an hour’s rest was too much even for him.  Then he struck out Ben Revere and got Josh Donaldson to ground out and all was right with the world. (In our email exchange, Joe shared a Kansas City Star story by Rustin Dodd about Wade’s “escape” in that game.)

10. Christian Colón tying the game against Oakland, the third time we tied that game and got the winning run on base. (Included in the video with No. 9.)

9. Hosmer’s triple. One could argue this was the moment the identity of the team was defined.  We had already come back to tie the A’s twice, only to fall behind yet again, and again showed everyone that this team refuses to die.

8. Cain scoring from first. Stripped of context, this probably tied Moose’s catch as the most impressive single play with smart, aggressive base-running coupled with Cain’s amazing speed.  I don’t want to diminish the context, but the plays above it were either in the World Series, or the walk-off of the most exciting game in the history of baseball, so this is only #8.

7. Gordon’s home run. I remember actually being terrified of the Mets before Gordon tied the game.  Earlier in the game, they had managed to come back on us, despite Esky Magic.  We had made the dumb mistake that put the other team ahead.  Gordo’s homer reminded me that we’re the Royals and we’re the team that comes back to win, not someone else.

6. The final out: Great, amazing moment when it became official, but we all knew Davis wasn’t blowing a five-run lead … which is an odd feeling after years of being a KC sports fan.

5. The top of the 12th: Colón go-ahead, Cain clearing the bases. In my memory, these plays are really linked. Colón put us three outs away, Cain put the game out of reach and started the celebration.

4. Daniel Murphy error/Moustakas go-ahead run. Combining multiple plays in the same half-inning again. Early in the game, I noticed that the bulk of the Mets’ fans around me couldn’t tell the difference between me saying MOOOOOSE! and their booing him — though the guys right next to me could tell and were friendly enough to find it funny.  So not only were these two plays together really important, I actually got to loudly celebrate without getting crap thrown at me.

3. Infante home run. Good call, Mike.  The company we were in gave this moment its importance.  The payoff moment of going to Royals’ and Chiefs’ games since together since we were children.

2. Hosmer’s dash. I agree with Dad, this was the championship moment.  As awesome as the actual final out was, this is the defining play of the Royals’ championship.

1. Salvy’s walk-off. I know logically the wild card game of the season they didn’t win shouldn’t be #1, but after a lifetime as a beaten-down KC sports fan, winning that game was honestly the most joy I ever felt as a sports fan. This is just an instance where the moment that really kicked off this run meant more than the climax.

Joe’s moments

Joe didn’t compile a list of great memories, but weighed in with three observations in separate emails. On a memory his brothers didn’t mention:

I feel like the 2014 Game Two go-ahead Billy Butler single makes the list for me. When they went to the pen I ran to the bathroom and watched the play from the entryway, then charged up the stairs to our seats high-fiving the entire way.

What I did not recall until I watched the inning again was that the Giants used five pitchers that inning. Big play in the game. Great base-running from Cain. Not the double or the homer, but the go-ahead run, a good play and a good memory.

Also, I had not listened to Reynolds’ commentary. Solid gold. Strickland throws two pitches (a foul and a strike to Salvi) and he says “I think they have figured out the problem with Strickland.” He then talks up his ability against right handlers.

Strickland’s next four pitches:

  • Wild pitch
  • Double in the gap
  • Ball
  • Homer in the bullpen.

Nailed it, Harold.

When Joe sent that, I looked for a YouTube clip of the broadcast of the inning. Couldn’t find it, but here’s the full game:

Joe also weighed in on two plays from the 2015 World Series:

And the scouting report told them to make Lucas Duda throw the ball and to make Murphy field it. Both spot on. I don’t know that the scouting report said either would be in such a big spot.

Joe’s reaction to Rany’s list of the top five moments:

I have always thought that Cain scoring from first should be up there. Rany had it close, but MLB network had a list of this years playoff that it didn’t make. (As I recall 40 clips). Probably not top 5, but 6 or 7.

My response:

If it’s top 5 plays, Cain’s dash makes the top 5 (and Wade’s strikeout of Flores doesn’t). But if you’re ranking moments, not plays, the championship moment has to be up there (I might have put Hos No. 1, because that was the championship). Either way, Cain’s dash was fabulous, pushed down the list only because there were so many great ones.

Update: Joe sent along a link from the Star’s Sam Mellinger, on the players recalling some of their favorite moments.

Dad’s moments

Mike, Tom, Joe and me, Game Two of the 2014 World Series, back in our old seats

Mike, Tom, Joe and me, Game Two of the 2014 World Series, back in our old seats

While I started the discussion by sharing the New York Times story, I didn’t weigh in nearly as much on the ranking of great Royal moments of the past two years. The best for me dealt with my sons more than they dealt with the Royals. And my joy focused on experiences that were too extended to call “moments”:

  1. Attending World Series Game Two in 2014 with the boys (all of whom are in their 30s now, so I should stop calling them “boys,” but, you know, I’m their dad), but I already wrote about that.
  2. Texting like crazy with the boys through all the other games, especially last year’s clincher.
  3. Enjoying Game Two and Game Four in 2015 vicariously through Mike, who went to Kauffman Stadium for one and Tom, who wore his Moustakas jersey in Citi Field for the other.
  4. Enjoying how the joy from the last two falls has endured, as in this email exchange months later as another season approaches. If the Royals have to wait another 29 years for post-season play or another 30 years for their third World Series crown, they will savor this the whole time. And I don’t think it will be that long (though I didn’t think so in 1985 either). Even if these Royals turn into a dynasty with multiple championships, these first two years will always be the most special.

To me, the moment of the last two seasons (outside the family context) was Hosmer’s dash home. As I said in our email string about the Met fans’ reactions:

I like how they all blame it on Duda, and he did make a bad throw, but Hosmer forced him to make a good throw. And a good throw wouldn’t have been enough. Catchers can’t block the plate any more, so it doesn’t just take a good throw, it takes a good throw, a good catch, a sweep tag of a guy who’s behind the catcher and hanging onto the ball when a guy’s sliding into your glove. Hos made it happen, and the Mets didn’t execute the first thing they needed to do to nail him, but even with a good throw, they don’t necessarily get the out.

I especially loved the contrast to last year, when the Royals didn’t force the Giants to make a play and stopped Gordon at third with the tying run. I don’t disagree with everyone who said it was probably the right call for third base coach Mike Jirschele to hold Gordon. But it also would have been the right call by the same reasoning for Hosmer to hold at third. Sometimes champions make a play by forcing the other team to make a play when they’re not expecting it. Sometimes surprise, hustle and pressure make a good player make a bad throw (or drop a good throw or miss a tag). If Hosmer’s hustle hadn’t erased the pain of losing with the tying run at third base, the what-if of holding Gordon would have taunted and haunted Royal fans forever. Now we can just laugh at the what-ifs of Hosmer’s dash for home. There’s no what-if, just what happened: Hosmer made a great play.

The boys covered the other Royals’ post-season moments well, but I had to remind them of the Pete Rose photobomb during the rain delay.

The Royals’ best 1985 moments

The boys covered 2014-15 well enough (except for the Pete Rose omission) that I decided to add some 1985 moments. I’ll confess I didn’t work as hard as Tom (or Rany) in analyzing each and deciding their order. But here are some special moments from the 1985 championship run.

Since the memories from 30-plus years ago aren’t as fresh, I’ll provide more detail and context than my sons did. First we’ll review some moments from the first 12-plus games of the post-season, then review Game Seven and Game Six’s fabulous ninth-inning comeback.

Before Game Six’s ninth inning

Frank White’s homer

Frank White’s fifth-inning, two-run homer (following a Brett single) gave the Royals a 4-0 lead with Bret Saberhagen on the mound in Game Three of the World Series. After losing the first two games of the Series in Kansas City, the Royals desperately needed this game. Lonnie Smith’s two-run double in the fourth gave the Yankees the lead, but White’s homer felt bigger. Back then the designated hitter was used in alternating years, rather than in American League parks, so Hal McRae had been reduced to a pinch-hitter the whole series, a huge disadvantage for the Royals. Manager Dick Howser used White, who had 22 regular-season homers, in McRae’s clean-up spot. When he gave the Royals a 4-0 lead, that felt insurmountable with Sabes pitching. And it was. The Royals won, 6-1, with Sabes going the distance, and the Series was suddenly competitive.

Buddy Biancalana


Buddy Biancalana put the Royals ahead early in Game Five of the World Series with a single off Bob Forsch. The Royals were trailing 3-1 in the Series and tied 1-1 after the first inning. Biancalana, whose hitting was so weak David Letterman lampooned him with a “Buddy Biancalana Hit Counter,” singled home Jim Sundberg and later scored on Willie Wilson’s triple. That 3-1 lead was all Danny Jackson needed, pitching a five-hit complete game and winning 6-1. The other key moment in that game was when Jackson got Tito Landrum to pop up to Brett in foul territory to end the third inning with the bases loaded.

Jim Sundberg’s triple

Jim Sundberg’s bases-loaded triple off Dave Stieb in the sixth inning of Game Seven of the American League Championship Series put the Royals in control. The Royals were leading 2-1, and Dick Howser had lost confidence in his closer, Dan Quisenberry.

For the second day in a row, Howser had outmaneuvered Toronto manager Bobby Cox, starting a righthander (Mark Gubicza in Game Six, Bret Saberhagen in Game Seven) so that Cox, who rigidly platooned his designated hitters, would start Al Oliver, who had punished Quiz in the ninth and 10th innings of Games Two and Four with two hits and three RBI, beating the Royals in both games. The Royals had no left-handed relievers in the post-season, but Howser used lefty starters Bud Black and Charlie Leibrandt out of the bullpen, prompting Cox to pinch-hit right-handed DH Cliff Johnson for Oliver.

Even with Oliver out of the game, the 2-1 lead didn’t feel comfortable. But Sundberg’s triple scored Hal McRae, Pat Sheridan and Steve Balboni. That 5-1 lead suddenly felt safe. And it became 6-1 after Frank White singled in Sundberg. Quiz entered the ninth inning with a 6-1 lead and two men on base, and Oliver not available to hit. Quiz induced groundouts from Damaso Garcia (that one scored a run) and Lloyd Moseby, and the Royals were headed to the World Series.

Charlie Leibrandt

Charlie Leibrandt’s five perfect innings to start Game Six were a pretty amazing string of moments. He had lost a heart-breaker in Game Two (I was in the stands, chanting “Char-lie!” as we waited for a final strike that never came). To start Game Six so strong meant a lot, even if Danny Cox was matching Leibrandt scoreless inning for scoreless inning.

The perfection didn’t last. Leibrandt gave up two singles in the sixth inning, but induced a double-play ground ball from Ozzie Smith to get out of the inning. After a perfect seventh, Leibrandt finally gave up a run in the eighth and left the game, trailing 1-0. We’ll have more on Game Six later, but Leibrandt’s stellar start deserves mention here.

George Brett

Every time Brett came to the plate in Game Three vs. the Blue Jays was a special moment. He kept the Royals in the American League Championship Series. They started the series with two losses, so they needed to win this game. Brett hit a solo homer in the first inning and scored the Royals’ second run in the fourth, doubling and then scoring on a Frank White sacrifice fly.

The Royals fell behind 5-2 when Toronto chased Bret Saberhagen from the game in the fifth inning. A Sundberg homer in the bottom of the fifth closed the gap to 5-3, but Cox stayed with starter Doyle Alexander. After Willie Wilson opened the sixth inning with a single, Cox inexplicably stuck with Alexander. Brett homered again, tying the game. Brett also scored the winning run in the bottom of the eighth. He singled, moved to second on a bunt and scored on a Steve Balboni single.

Brett was 4-for-4 with two homers, 11 total bases, four runs scored and three RBI. He scored or drove in five of six runs in a 6-5 victory that kept the Royals in the series. If it wasn’t the best post-season game any player had in Royals’ history, it’s a contender.

In Game Six, Brett faced Alexander in the fifth inning, tied 2-2 with no one on. Again, Cox left Alexander in the game and again Brett took him deep. Alexander was a good pitcher, who won 194 regular-season games. Two years later, the Tigers traded a young prospect named John Smoltz to Atlanta to pick up the veteran Alexander for the stretch run. He went 9-0 for the Tigers, but again melted down in the post-season. He was 0-5 for his career in the post-season, but no one owned him like Brett did.

Game Seven

Three Game-Seven moments from the 1985 World Series deserve mention here:

Darryl Motley’s second-inning homer with Steve Balboni on base gave the Royals a 2-0 lead, and, with Saberhagen pitching, you thought that might be enough (and it was).

Whitey Herzog and Joaquín Andújar got ejected in the fifth inning, as the Royals were taking command, running up their lead to 11-0 before the inning ended. The Cardinals played the worst Game Seven in history, still fussing about the ninth-inning call the night before.

With an 11-0 lead still with two outs in the ninth inning, Brett halted play briefly to confer with Saberhagen. The Royals’ longtime star told the young pitching star that he’d better turn toward third base after the final out. And moments later, Brett and Bret embraced after Motley squeezed the final out on a fly ball to right.

Ninth inning, Game Six

This was a string of magical moments, each linked to the others. It started, of course, with one bit of luck. But champions take advantage of breaks, and the Royals relentlessly took advantage of two breaks in their amazing ninth-inning comeback. I’ll replay the moments in order:

Bad call

Motley was announced as a pinch-hitter for Pat Sheridan, opening the inning against left-handed reliever Ken Dayley, who pitched the eighth after seven strong innings from starter Danny Cox. Cardinals Manager Whitey Herzog countered with right-hander Todd Worrell, a rookie who had emerged late in the season as the Cardinals’ closer. Howser then sent in Jorge Orta, a left-handed platoon DH during the regular season, to pinch-hit for Motlety. Orta singled to first baseman Jack Clark, beating out the throw to Worrell covering first. Well, he didn’t actually beat it out. Umpire Don Denkinger blew the call. But bad calls are part of baseball. As I noted in a post last year, the call didn’t cost the Cardinals the World Series. The plays that followed — good plays by the Royals, bad plays by the Cardinals — moved that tying run around the base paths, with the winning run moving along behind.

Bonesy

The next hitter was Balboni, a feast-or-famine hitter who homered a Royals record (still) 36 times in the regular season, but struck out a league-leading 166 times. Bonesy popped up in front of the Royals’ dugout. Clark misjudged the ball, and Bonesy got another chance. The power hitter sent a single between third base and shortstop to advance Orta to second base. Backup shortstop Onix Concepcion, representing the winning run, pinch-ran for the lumbering Balboni.

Blown bunt

This next moment wasn’t so good, but it continues the narrative and puts the man who scored the winning run on base: Jim Sundberg went up to bunt, which would have put the tying run on third and the winning run in scoring position. But Worrell fielded the bunt quickly and fired to third, where umpire Jim McKean finally called Orta out on another close play.

Hal McRae

I don’t know whether Howser was planning to let Biancalana hit and try a squeeze bunt to bring home the tying run if Sundberg’s bunt had succeeded. Or maybe he would have pinch hit Dane Iorg, knowing the Cardinals would walk him to keep an inning-ending double play in order. But I can’t imagine Howser would have sent one of the Royals’ most dangerous hitters ever, Hal McRae, up to take an intentional walk, not even late in Mac’s career. With runners at first and second and one out, the man who led the league in RBI just three years earlier was the logical pinch hitter. But Porter allowed a passed ball on a 1-0 count, accomplishing what Sundberg’s bunt didn’t, and Mac got the intentional walk anyway, loading the bases.

John Wathan, a catcher but the holder of the all-time record for stolen bases by a catcher (36 in 1982), went in to pinch run for McRae. That would give the Royals more speed to break up a double play at second (but Mac was pretty good at breaking up double plays). Oddly, Howser didn’t pinch hit for his slow catcher who represented the winning run. Sundberg, who was 34, had not stolen a base all season. He stole only 20 in 16 seasons. But he stayed at second base, representing the winning run.

If you’re keeping track, the Royals by this time have used three pinch hitters (only one of whom actually swung the bat) and two pinch runners. With one more pinch hitter to come.

Dane Iorg

Iorg, whose brother Garth was on the Blue Jays team the Royals beat to reach the World Series, was a former Cardinal who joined the Royals in 1984. In 10 major league seasons, he never played full-time, topping 100 games just twice, peaking at 105 games with the 1980 Cardinals.

Iorg hit just .148, 4-for-29, as a pinch hitter for the Royals in ’85, just .223 in 64 games for the full season. He wasn’t Howser’s go-to pinch hitter. Or anyone’s. For his career, he was just .245 as a pinch hitter.

But he was one of the best post-season hitters ever. He got nine hits in 17 at-bats for the Cardinals in the 1982 World Series. He didn’t play at all in the National League Championship Series, but he platooned at DH in the World Series, sizzling against the Brewers’ right-handed pitchers.

In fact, in his three previous post-season series, Iorg had never hit below .500. He was 1-for-2 for the Royals against the Tigers in 1984 and against the Blue Jays in ’85. His only previous plate appearance in the ’85 World Series was a pinch-hit fly-ball out to end Game One.

Howser needed someone to pinch hit for Quisenberry, so Iorg grabbed a bat. And on a 1-0 pitch, he lined a single to right field, bringing Concepcion home easily to score the tying run, with Sundberg sliding in safely just ahead of the tag for the winner. And in four career post-season series, Iorg always hit .500 or better.

For all of Brett’s many heroics over the years, Iorg and Sundberg together delivered the greatest moment in Royals’ history. Until 2015. Now I put Iorg/Sundberg dead even with Eric Hosmer, each moment with a Royal belly-sliding into home plate.

And a 1980 moment

As a Yankee fan and blogger, I hesitate to add this, but since we included some moments from an American League championship year, I’ll include one from 1980, the other year the Royals made the World Series but lost:

And one from 1976

This is a Yankee blog, after all, so maybe we need to end with a Royals’ post-season moment before any of my sons were born:

Starting tomorrow, I’ll shift my attention back to the Yankees, starting a series on the best five Yankees ever at each position.

I hear the Royals and Mets play again tonight. Play ball!





What current Royals will crash the all-time KC team (or have already)?

28 11 2015

A while back on Facebook, my Kansas City cousin, Doug Worgul, asked me if any current Royals have already made my all-time Royals team.

I gave him a quick assessment, off the top of my head, before this year’s team reached the post-season. After the Royals won their first World Series in 30 years, here’s my updated, detailed assessment early in the careers of some current Royals and their chances for being Kansas City’s best ever at their positions:

Catcher


The Royals have had some good catchers, but no great ones. You could have argued for three or four different catchers here before Salvador Pérez arrived. I give Pérez the nod here already. At age 25, he has only three full seasons behind the plate. But they have been three All-Star and Gold Glove seasons. And now he has a World Series MVP trophy.

No Royal catcher ever could match Pérez’s collection of hardware.

You can argue over whether Darrell PorterJim SundbergBob BooneJohn Wathan or Mike Macfarlane is second. But none of them has come close to matching  Pérez’s achievements.

It says something about the Royals’ catching history that a three-year starter is their best ever already. But Pérez is.

First base


Mike Sweeney, the best hitter on some bad Royals teams, made five All-Star teams in six years from 2000 to 2005. He is the only position player from what my son Tom called the “lost years” between the early 1990s and 2014 who makes this team.

But Sweeney gave Kansas City 11 strong years. It will take a while for 2015 first baseman Eric Hosmer to catch him, but I think he’s in reach.

Before Hosmer came along, two-time All-Star John Mayberry  was probably No. 2 at first base, ahead of Steve Balboni and Willie Aikens.

George Brett might be No. 2 or 3 here, ahead or behind Mayberry, even though he played only four seasons (1987-90) primarily at first base. Brett was an All-Star in 1987 and ’88 after moving to first base, and won his third batting championship in 1990. And, after all, he’s George Brett. So he doesn’t go at first base on a Royals’ all-time team. More on him shortly.

Hosmer, like Pérez, is finishing his fifth year, and he’s been a starter all along. He hasn’t made an All-Star team yet, and hasn’t approached any of Sweeney’s best single-season numbers, but I like where he’s heading. With three Gold Gloves already, he’s a better fielder than hitter, but he’s solid offensively, too. His 14th-inning game-winning sacrifice fly in Game One and his dash home with the tying run to send Game Five into extra innings this year push Hosmer into second place, in my view, but if you want to say Mayberry’s still a shade ahead, I won’t argue.

Another few years, and I think Hosmer will pass Sweeney, but he’s not there yet.

Second base


This position is a one-man race for the Royals: Frank White. No one is within 10 years of reaching him. I sat with White at a Royals’ banquet many years ago. A pleasant man, a great fielder, a good hitter.

Shortstop


Freddie Patek is the gold standard for Royals shortstops, with three All-Star games in nine seasons and a .306 batting average against the Yankees in three post-season series in the 1970s.

Angel Berroa was a Rookie of the Year and gave the Royals a good seven-year run. Based on regular-season play, you could argue that he’s No. 2.

But I give Alcides Escobar the edge over Berroa in his five years in Kansas City. He was closing on Berroa before this post-season, his MVP performance against the Blue Jays, followed by an inside-the-park homer on his first swing of this World Series. He needs another two or three years to pass Patek, but he’s on his way.

Third base


MooseI love Mike Moustakas. My cell phone is loaded with “Mooooose!!!!” messages among my sons and me, celebrating his post-season heroics the past two years (and some regular-season ones as well. But I don’t expect the Royals to have a third baseman better than Brett in the next century. Seriously, major league baseball is well over a century old, and the only team that can claim a better third baseman is the Philadelphia Phillies. Maybe two or three can argue that they have had a third baseman as good as Brett.

I think and hope Moose will be a longtime star, hopefully a career Royal. But I can’t see him ever passing Brett as No. 1 at third base for Kansas City.

Left field

Among the people you think of as Royals left fielders, Alex Gordon appeared a likely winner initially. He’s spent nine years in Kansas City, moving to left from third base five years ago. Bo Jackson was spectacular, and watching him was a real treat of our time in Kansas City. But Bo played only four full seasons for the Royals before getting injured on the football field. His most memorable homer was in an All-Star Game. Gordon’s center-field shot tying Game One of this World Series in the ninth inning wasn’t as amazing as Bo’s, but it was bigger. With five straight Gold Gloves and three All-Star appearances, Gordon beats Jackson out.

But I’ll tell you this: Bo would have scored on that error in Game Seven last year.

And I’ll tell you this: I have to go with Willie Wilson in left field over either Jackson or Gordon. I think of him as a center fielder, and he covered ground amazingly and gracefully once he moved over there. But with 676 games in left, Wilson has more than Jackson and just 100 fewer than Gordon. And he’s one of the Royals’ best ever, having led the American League in batting, hits, runs, stolen bases and triples (five times), most of that when he was playing left. He had more hits and runs than Jackson and Gordon combined.

Johnny Damon had a nice five-year start with the Royals, but played more than 100 games in left only one of those years.

Center field


Amos Otis gets the nod here. If Gordon sticks around and passes Wilson in left, I might move Willie to center ahead of AO, but that would be a tough call. Otis was as important to the 1970s Royals as Brett was. This has been a strong position for the Royals. The current team’s Lorenzo Cain has been awesome, especially with the dash home to beat the Blue Jays and get into he World Series, but also with some spectacular fielding in last year’s post-season. But I think he ranks behind Otis, Wilson and Carlos Beltrán.

Cain has a strong start, but only three years. He can pass Beltrán soon, but he’s several years from catching Otis and Wilson.

Right field

Right is tougher. AO and Wilson played just a few games each in right, so I couldn’t move either over here to ease the traffic jams in center or left. Right field was a platoon position on the ’85 championship team and the weakest spot on the ’15 champions. Al Cowens finished second in the 1977 MVP race and  played six years in right field, including the 1970s division championship seasons. Jermaine Dye was an All-Star but played only two full seasons in right for Kansas City. Both won Gold Gloves. Danny Tartabull made an All-Star appearance and had three 100-RBI seasons as the Royals’ right fielder from ’87 to ’91. I’d probably rank Cowens, Tartabull and Dye as the best right fielders, in that order. But I wouldn’t quarrel if  you wanted to place Tartabull first.

Designated hitter


Kendrys Morales had a great year for the Royals this year, but Hal McRae was the first successful DH and played more than 1,400 games at the position for the Royals, leading the league in slugging and RBI in separate seasons. Morales is easily a decade from becoming the Royals’ best DH. Billy Butler, who left after the 2014 World Series, has four seasons as the Royals’ primary DH and certainly ranks ahead of Morales, too.

Starting pitchers


None of the current Royals is near joining the all-time starting rotation, however you might choose such a rotation. Bret Saberhagen is easily the best KC starter ever and would lead any all-time Royal rotation.

I tend to value peak performance over longevity (though I value both), so I would follow Sabes in the rotation by two more Cy Young winners, David Cone and Zack Greinke; a three-time 20-game winner from the ’70s, Dennis Leonard, and Paul Splittorff, the franchise leader with 166 career wins.

If you prefer longevity to a single or a few spectacular seasons, Kevin Appier and/or Mark Gubicza might edge out Cone and/or Greinke. I’d guess that unless the Royals can sign Johnny Cueto as a free agent, Yordano Ventura has the best shot to cracking this rotation. But he’s several years or a Cy Young season away from joining this discussion.

Relief pitching


Usually when I’m picking an all-time team, I pick a closer rather than a full bullpen (I also don’t pick a full bench of position players and didn’t here).

Dan Quisenberry is clearly the Royals’ best all-time closer. Wade Davis has less than a full year as a closer. But his two years as an eighth-inning reliever who moved into the closer role have been dominant, maybe better than Quisenberry at his best.

I’d say that Davis’ excellence here justifies naming Quiz as the all-time Royals closer, and Davis as the all-time Royals set-up man, with a shot at unseating Quiz from the closer role in a few years.

Jeff Montgomery, with 304 career saves for the Royals, merits mention.

Manager


Four managers have led the Royals to the post-season: Whitey Herzog, Jim Frey, Dick Howser and Ned Yost. A manager’s job is to win championships. Only Yost and Howser have won World Series. Only Yost has led his team to two World Series. I think Yost tops the list of Royal managers, much as I loved Howser.

How did the ’15 Royals do?

Pérez is the only position player from 2015 I would put on the all-time Royals team. Escobar and Gordon, if they stay with the team and continue to play as they have, are probably the closest to crashing the team. Hosmer is farther away, but appears on track to become the Royals’ best first baseman.

Davis is the only pitcher from 2015 yet who belongs on the team, but not as closer.

Yost would manage, but at this point, his lineup card would be heavy with Royals from the 1970s and ’80s.

Source note: Unless noted otherwise, statistics cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.

 





Comparing the 1985 and 2015 Kansas City Royals

9 11 2015

How do the 2015 World Series champions stack up with the 1985 Kansas City Royals?

During the World Series, I compared these Royals to the 1986 Red Sox, who also took a 2-0 Series lead but eventually lost to the Mets in seven games. The Royals won most comparisons to the ’86 Red Sox. Then, after Game Four, I compared this year’s Mets to the 1985 Royals, who fell behind St. Louis 3-1 before roaring back to win. Royals won that comparison, too.

The Royals will win this one as well, but which Royals?

I didn’t do the other comparisons in identical ways, and I won’t do this one either. The first comparison was based on some research because I truly didn’t know (and had a travel day and some insomnia induced by drugs used in my stem-cell harvest to give me a little time for that research). The second comparison was shorter (but still long), based on less research. Each of those started with a position-by-position comparison, but my son Mike covered that well in yesterday’s guest post.

This comparison will be based mostly on memory, supplemented by quick research.

Superstars: ’85


Advantage ’85 (for now). This year’s team doesn’t have a superstar of George Brett‘s caliber. Brett had one of the best years of his Hall of Fame career, leading the league in slugging and OPS and finishing second (to Don Mattingly) in the MVP award. Brett won the award in 1980 and is still the only Royal to win it.

Returning to ’85, Brett was the MVP of the Royals’ comeback win over the Blue Jays in the ’85 ALCS and hit .370 in the World Series with just 1 RBI because the Cardinals (like most of the American League) refused to pitch to Brett with men on base (he drew four World Series walks).

No one on the ’15 Royals will finish second or even very high in this season’s MVP race. But as the current players blossom (and if the best stick around), I expect Royals’ fans 30 years from now to include at least one of this year’s players in their best-Royal-ever debates. But Brett wins all those debates now and for at least the next decade. It would take a run of multiple MVP awards for one of the current Royals to catch Brett faster than that.

Depth of quality: ’15

The 2015 Royals blow ’85 away with the depth of their greatness. Brett will be the only ’85 Royal ever to make the Hall of Fame. I’ll write later about the chances of these Royals to reach the Hall of Fame. Just within the seasons in question, maybe six or seven of the ’15 Royals had better seasons than whoever was the second-best position player for the ’85 Royals. The quality depth of this team is illustrated in the next comparison.

Batting lineup: ’15

Comparing the Game One World Series lineup for the ’15 Royals to the Game Seven ALCS lineup for the ’85 Royals (since they couldn’t use DH’s in the World Series):

  1.  Alcides Escobar had a great post-season and somehow worked in the leadoff spot, despite a low on-base percentage (.293). But Lonnie Smith of ’85 gets the advantage, with more runs and stolen bases (despite playing only 120 games for the Royals) and getting a .321 OBP. ’85 wins.
  2. Hard to compare their regular-season performances, since Willie Wilson played the whole year for the Royals and Ben Zobrist was a late-July trade. But Wilson’s 21 regular season triples and 43 stolen bases give him the advantage, plus he hit better in the World Series. ’85 wins.
  3. Lorenzo Cain had a good season and post-season, but George Brett wins most comparisons, including this one. ’85 wins.
  4. Eric Hosmer is at the top of his game (or rising). Hal McRae was on the decline. ’15 wins.
  5. Kendrys Morales drove in 106 regular-season runs, including 46 RBI with two outs, and added four homers and 10 RBI in the post-season. Pat Sheridan, the ALCS Game Seven starter, platooned with Darryl Motley, and together they didn’t approach Morales’ offensive production. ’15 wins.
  6. Steve Balboni had his best season in ’85 with 36 homers and 88 RBI, but he also led the league with 166 strikeouts. Mike Moustakas gets the edge on better overall hitting and better post-season hitting. ’15 wins.
  7. Salvador Pérez is a feared hitter in the 7 spot, better in every offensive aspect than Jim Sundberg, except for drawing walks. ’15 wins.
  8. Frank White moved up to the clean-up slot for the World Series, because he had more power than the right fielders and catcher and didn’t strike out as much as Bonesy. He wouldn’t even be close in this matchup at clean-up, and he’s only close at No. 8 because an injury limited Alex Gordon to 104 regular-season games. Gordon had better season offensive averages across the board and a game-tying ninth-inning homer in the World Series. ’15 wins.
  9. Even with Buddy Biancalana‘s strong World Series performance, Álex Ríos was a far superior hitter, though this wasn’t his best season. Here’s a comparison: That Buddy Biancalana Hit Counter that David Letterman had fun with the year Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb’s career hits record stopped at 113 hits in Buddy’s six-year career. Ríos has had 11 seasons with more hits than Biancalana’s whole career. ’15 wins.

The batting lineup comparison really illustrates the strength of the ’15 Royals. The ’85 Royals win the top of the order (where the ’15 Royals were solid), but the ’15 Royals were just relentless and far superior 4-9. “Keep the line moving” was not just a slogan. It was the offense that resulted in all the comebacks.

The ’85 Royals had a huge offensive weakness (Biancalana), a platoon combos that was average at best (Motley/Sheridan), a declining DH (McRae) and a feast-or-famine player (Balboni). The ’15 Royals didn’t have anyone as dangerous as Brett, but were dangerous whoever was hitting.

Starting pitching: ’85


This isn’t even close, either in context of the full season or the World Series. The ’15 Royals didn’t have that year’s Cy Young Award winner and the ’15 Series MVP didn’t come from the pitching staff. Bret Saberhagen won both and went on to the best pitching career of any Royal starter ever.

Add a Danny Jackson complete-game win and two strong outings (but no wins) from Charlie Leibrandt, and this was a dominant starting rotation. Bud Black pitched well, losing in his only start. Mark Gubicza, won more games in the regular season than any of this year’s Royals, 14, added a key Game Six win in the ALCS over Toronto and didn’t even pitch in the World Series. He could have been a Game One starter for the 2015 Royals.

Johnny Cueto‘s Game Three gem was the only win by a ’15 starting pitcher (and he was inconsistent during the regular and post-season). No other Royal starter pitched in the seventh inning. The ’85 Royals pitched three complete games (Sabes twice and Jackson once). And Charlie Leibrandt took a scoreless game into the eighth inning before losing the lead in Game Six and came within a strike of a 2-0 shutout in Game Two before losing in the ninth, 4-2. Jackson also pitched seven innings of two-run ball in a Game One loss. With the exception of Game Four, when Black gave up three runs in five innings, every ’85 start was better than the non-Cueto starts of ’15.

I’m not saying the ’15 Royals didn’t have good starting pitching. They kept teams in the game and pitched the six strong innings (sometimes five) that the Royals needed. But the comparison of starting pitchers was not even close.

Bullpen: ’15


Here’s how good the ’15 Royals’ bullpen was: The ’85 Royals had a guy who outpitched three Hall of Fame relievers in their overlapping primes. And the ’15 bullpen was even better.

Dan Quisenberry‘s dominance as a closer from 1980 to ’85 was one of the best stretches ever from any reliever in baseball history. In fact, Hall of Fame relievers Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage were in their primes for some or all of that stretch and Quiz was the very best of that time. And I’m not counting Dennis Eckersley, who hadn’t moved to the bullpen yet.

But Quiz was nearly at the end of his run, and Manager Dick Howser was losing confidence in his bullpen ace against left-handers. He didn’t turn to Quiz in the ninth inning of Game Two because left-handed hitter Andy Van Slyke was on the Cardinals’ bench and Howser had lost confidence in Quiz against left-handers. As I recounted earlier, Howser outmanaged Bobby Cox in ALCS Games Six and Seven, starting right-handers Gubicza and Saberhagen, then relieving with left-handed starters (the ’85 Royals had no left-handed relievers), so that Cox would pinch-hit his right-handed DH Cliff Johnson, removing left-handed Al Oliver from the games, so he couldn’t bat late against Quiz.

Ned Yost had full confidence in his bullpen in any situation. Wade Davis hasn’t had a full season as closer yet, but his two seasons and post-seasons in the eighth inning role before moving to closer late this season were as dominant as Quiz at his best.

Greg Holland was a dominant closer last year and good this year before an injury ended his season (he had Tommy John surgery). And without him, this bullpen continued to close out games strong, with Kelvin Herrera, Luke Hochevar and Ryan Madson pitching strong. And Game Four starter Chris Young split time between starting and relieving, and won the 14-inning Game One marathon.

Even with Quiz, the bullpen comparison isn’t close, and the ’85 bullpen was otherwise forgettable: Joe Beckwith was the only other regular-season reliever other than Quiz who even pitched in the World Series. I already mentioned how the lack of a left-hander forced Howser to use starters in relief in the ALCS..

I haven’t done the research to prove that the ’15 Royals had the best bullpen ever. I fondly remember many bullpens with Mariano Rivera in the closer role and even the season he set up for John Wetteland. But I doubt any other bullpen was as dominant in a World Series. The Mets outscored the Royals 18-12 in the first seven innings, but the Royals prevailed 9-0 in the eighth and ninth innings and 6-0 in extra innings.

Offense has to do the coming back, but bullpens make comebacks possible, and the ’15 Royals’ bullpen didn’t allow comebacks.

Comebacks: even

Both Royal teams refused to die (sometimes you use a cliché because it just applies better than an original phrase). The Blue Jays and Cardinals both had the ’85 Royals down 2-0 and 3-1, and they just kept coming back. The Astros, Blue Jays and Mets all had the ’15 Royals down by multiple runs in multiple games, and they just kept coming back. Need a run in the ninth to keep Game One going? Gordon obliges. Need two in the ninth to keep Game Five going? Cain and Hosmer deliver. Think you have the Series wrapped up? Watch out for Balboni and Dane Iorg.

Call this a push: Two of the best comeback teams ever.

Power: ’15

Brett and Balboni gave the ’85 Royals two guys how hit more than 30 homers playing their home games in a big ballpark, and their team had more homers, 154-139. But the ’15 Royals slugged better (.412 to .401) and drove in more runs, (689 to 657). In the post-season, the ’15 Royals had 17 homers in 16 games, compared to nine in 14 games for ’85. Slight power advantage for ’15.

Defense: ’15

White may have been better than any 2015 Royal defensively. But I think six of the current Royals are better than the second-best ’85 defender. Sundberg was past his Gold Glove prime. Brett won his only Gold Glove that year and Wilson won only one, before moving from left field to center. I think Perez, Gordon, Hosmer (already multiple Gold Glove winners), Escobar, Cain and Moustakas were all better defenders in ’15 than anyone but White in ’85. Since Sundberg won his Gold Gloves for the Rangers, I think the ’15 version will surpass ’85 in career Gold Gloves for the Royals this year, with many more in their future. Clear edge for ’15.

Speed: ’15

I think Escobar and Cain were probably as fast as Wilson and Smith, but the ’15 team doesn’t steal bases as much (perhaps because Ned Yost bunts too much). I loved Mike’s line yesterday about Jorge Orta‘s speed from home to first. But I have to give the edge to ’15 here for multiple reasons:

  • Cain’s race home from first on a single to win the ALCS.
  • Escobar’s lead-off inside-the-park homer to get the World Series rolling.
  • The ’85 team didn’t have a pinch-runner as good as Jarrod Dyson.
  • Hosmer’s ninth-inning dash home on a ground ball to send Game Five of the World Series into extra innings.

The ’85 team might have a slight edge on actual speed, but the ’15 team used base-running more to win the World Series.

Memorable moments: ’15

Each of these World Series will be remembered and savored by Royal fans until death or dementia. For ’85 fans, the memory of the ninth-inning comeback in Game Six is the memory fans will always cherish. (I’m not counting memories of opponents, such as the ugly Game Seven meltdowns of the Cardinal pitchers and manager.)

We remember the celebration, too: Brett heading to the mound with two outs in the ninth inning of an 11-0 blowout to tell young Saberhagen that he’d better run toward third base after the last out, then Brett embracing Bret after Motley squeezed the final out.

As vivid as the Game Six comeback remains, the ’15 Royals provided more moments (in the World Series alone) with potential to last as long in Kansas City memories:

  • Gordon’s game-tying ninth-inning homer to send Game One into extra innings.
  • Hosmer’s 14-inning sacrifice fly to end that game.
  • The eighth-inning comeback, two-inning save and game-ending double play to win Game Four.
  • Hosmer’s dash home to tie Game Five.
  • Maybe the five-run 11th inning to win Game Five had too many highlights for any of them to stand out as iconically.

Of course, ’15 has a huge advantage over ’85 where memories are concerned. Those memories are all fresh and we don’t know which will endure. But I can’t imagine memories of Gordon’s homer or Hosmer’s dash home fading.

Managing: ’15

Mike covered this well. Both are excellent managers, but sometimes frustrating (what manager isn’t frustrating?). I give Yost the edge here for bringing his team back from last year’s Game Seven heartbreak to a dominant regular season and an 11-5 post-season against tough competition.

Front office: ’15

I agree with Mike that Dayton Moore‘s achievement in putting this team together through player development, trades and free agent signings has been masterful. John Schuerholz was good, but not this good.

Context: ’15

The ’85 championship capped a decade of disappointments and improvements: three ALCS losses to the Yankees in the 1970s, then finally beating the Yankees in 1980 only to lose to the Phillies in the World Series, then post-season sweeps by the A’s in ’81 and Tigers in ’84 before the championship season in ’85.

We don’t know the context of the ’15 championship. If the Royals return to years of mediocrity (which I doubt), I’ll amend this someday. But back-to-back World Series (and losing in seven games) are achievements the Royals of the 1970s and ’80s didn’t match. I give ’15 the edge here.

Overview

The ’85 team was great and fun to watch. But I have to say this year’s team is even better. I hope we don’t have to wait until 2045 to make this a three-way comparison.

Goggles: Who wins?

Final comparison: I don’t know whether this reflects toughness or preparation, but the 1985 Royals didn’t need (toughness) or use (prep) goggles to protect their eyes from champagne:

Bottom line: Both teams celebrated. They share a spot in Royals’ fans’ hearts, and this is only a fun argument. Whichever team you favor, you love the other.

Sam Mellinger’s comparison

Sam Mellinger also compared the 1985 and 2015 Royals for the Kansas City Star.





Mike Buttry compares the 2015 and 1985 Kansas City Royals

8 11 2015
Mike Buttry and Susie Burke at Kauffman Stadium for Game Two

Mike Buttry and Susie Burke at Kauffman Stadium for Game Two

This continues my family’s posts on the Kansas City Royals and their 2015 World Series victory. Because I had a busy week last week and wouldn’t have time to share all my observations on this year’s Royals as quickly as I wanted to, I invited my sons to write guest posts.

I told them I was working on a comparison of the 1985 and 2015  Royals. I will publish that shortly. I wasn’t planning on including a position-by-position breakdown, since I did that in comparing the 2015 Royals with the 1986 Red Sox (both got 2-0 leads on the Mets) and the 1985 Royals with the 2015 Mets (both fell behind 3-1 in World Series).

Mike, who watched Game Two this year in Kauffman Stadium (we watched Game Two there last year with his brothers), took the position-by-position approach to a comparison, so that’s today’s guest post (with editing links, visuals, editing and occasional commentary in italics from Dad):

Manager: Dick Howser vs. Ned Yost

Both had great runs, but I’d go with Howser because of how he played Bobby Cox in the ALCS. He won games for them. He might have lost Game Two of the ’85 World Series by leaving Charlie Leibrandt in too long.

Ned is fun to kick around but he really did almost cost them Game 6 against Toronto and the Wild Card game last year. Ned has to get a lot of credit for:

  1. The stuff you can’t see on the field. He has to be central to this team’s resilience and ability to show up to play every day.
  2. Making changes to the way he managed in the playoffs (e.g. Davis for two innings, he was tremendous in Game 7 last year).

Dad comments: I may address managing in my own comparison of the teams. Both were outstanding, and I echo Mike’s analysis here. For details on how Howser outmanaged Cox, click the Bobby Cox link above, where I explained in detail.   Read the rest of this entry »





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. Read the rest of this entry »





A team of the best who played for Yankees and Royals

28 10 2014

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

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

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

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





Game Two was worth the wait for my sons and me

25 10 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike, Tom, Joe and me.

Mike, Tom, Joe and me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

George Brett's Royals Hall of Fame sculpture.

George Brett’s Royals Hall of Fame sculpture.

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

Brett poised to swing for hit number 3,155.

Brett poised to swing for hit number 3,155.

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

The view of Kauffman Stadium from behind the fountains.

The view of Kauffman Stadium from behind the fountains.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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.





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.