Two wonderful things happened to me in October of 1985. My daughter Stefanie was born, and the Kansas City Royals won the World Series. It might have been more serendipitous had it been my son Eric who was born during the Royals’ championship run—as it is he who has grown up to share his father’s frustrating passion for the Royals.
But Eric was about a year and a half old when his baby sister made her appearance and the Royals kept their appointment with destiny. Unfortunately, that means he was too young at the time to really be able to enjoy either memory today.
Since then, the long-term results of both blessed events have been remarkably different in their outcomes. Stefanie has gone on to earn a BS, an MS and a Specialist degree and become a school psychologist; gotten married; become a step-mom; and in general developed into a fine, productive citizen that her mom and dad couldn’t be any more proud of.
For the Royals, things have not followed that same upward trajectory. 1985 marked the Royals’ last appearance in the post-season—the longest such drought in Major League Baseball. No other team is even within 7 years of the Royals’ dubious standard of futility.
As the team embarked upon 2013 with a newly minted starting rotation, hope once again sprang eternal in the hearts of long-suffering fans. (Royals fans are always described as “long-suffering”, and for good reason, as the above paragraph shows.) There were whispered concerns about the Royals failure to upgrade their line-up, but it was hoped that the pitching would be able to overcome the lack of punch in the batting order.
With the team off to a good start in April, the faithful—who had become conditioned to pessimism over the years—began to allow themselves to hope that perhaps this was, in fact, going to be “the year.”
Now, with May in full swing, the Royals’ offensive shortcomings have become glaringly apparent as they find themselves mired in their first losing streak of the season. Although their record still remains over .500 as of this writing, it seems apparent to many observers that without a serious upgrade to the offense, the Royals are going to spend the rest of the season sliding back into mediocrity.
So what’s a fan to do? Well, to paraphrase my idol Bogart in Casablanca, “We’ll always have 1985.” No matter how bad things get this year, we can always recall those heady days back during the Reagan administration when the Boys in Blue got the better of the Boys in Red.
The 1985 World Series was known at the time as the I-70 Showdown Series or the Show-Me Series, as the fall classic that year featured the Royals against the St. Louis Cardinals from across the State of Missouri.
Page 2 of 3 - KC had reached the series by winning the AL West (only 2 divisions per league back in the day) and besting the Toronto Blue Jays 4-3 in the ALCS. St. Louis advanced by winning the NL East and then downing the LA Dodgers 4-2.
The Cards took game one at Royals Stadium 3-1 behind ace John Tudor, Danny Jackson taking the loss for KC. In game two, KC was ahead until the 9th, when manager Dick Howser inexplicably left Royals starter Charlie Leibrandt in the game, instead of inserting ace reliever Dan Quisenberry. The Cards posted a 4-spot in the 9th to claim game two as well, 4-2.
With St. Louis up two games to love, the series packed up and shifted east on I-70 to play the next three games at Busch Stadium. In game three, Bret Saberhagen beat 20-game winner Joaquin Andujar 6-1 to give KC its first series win. Ace John Tudor threw a shutout at the Royals in game four and the Cards were poised on the brink of a series victory, up three games to one.
This was in the days before I had learned to be pessimistic about the Royals, or perhaps I was still just in a good mood from the birth of my daughter. At any rate, I was just beginning my second year as a teacher at Pratt High School. I can still clearly remember telling my colleagues at lunch that all was not yet lost. If we could just get the series back to KC, we were going to win— because the Cardinals were out of good pitchers (Tudor having just pitched.)
Facing elimination, the Royals with Danny Jackson on the mound sent the series back to KC with a 6-1 triumph. Game 6 proved to be the turning point of the series, and one of the most memorable games in post-season history. It has fueled the Royals-Cardinals rivalry ever since.
Game 6 was the game in which “The Denkinger Call” played a vital role. With St. Louis up 1-0, Jorge Orta led off KC’s bottom of the 9th with a comebacker to Cards closer Todd Worrell. Orta hustled down the line, but every angle of replay showed he was clearly out. Yet 1B umpire Denkinger’s arms went out sideways in the classic ‘safe” call. Was it a “make-up call” for Frank White having been called out on the bases earlier in the game when he was clearly safe? Was it just a mess-up? We may never know.
What is known is that the game came unraveled for St. Louis after that call. Cardinal catcher Darrell Porter misplayed a routine foul pop by Steve Balboni, who responded to the reprieve by singling. Jim Sundberg’s sac bunt attempt was botched and Orta was gunned down at 3rd base, leaving runners at 1st and 2nd with one out.
Page 3 of 3 - An often overlooked, but absolutely critical, play came next. Darrell Porter committed his second blooper of the inning, a passed ball allowing the runners to advance to second and third. Porter and Worrell had a signal whereby if Porter touched his mask, it undid the previous sign. Porter called for a fastball, but then reached through his mask to adjust his eyeglasses. Worrell misinterpreted his catcher’s intent, and threw the slider. Expecting a fastball, Porter was not anticipating a slider in the dirt—and ended up having to chase the ball back to the screen.
Cards manager Whitey Herzog was forced to walk Royals pinch-hitter Hal McRae, loading up the bases. Dane Iorg followed with a pinch-hit single that plated two and KC won game six 2-1.
The climactic game seven was actually an anti-climax. With St. Louis obviously still stunned and fuming from the events of the previous evening, they were never really a part of the game. Cardinal ace John Tudor attempted to pitch again on only three days rest after having tossed two previous games in the series. The Royals roughed him up, chasing him in the 3rd inning with the Royals up 5-0.
Tudor was so distraught over the recent events that he went into the clubhouse and had a fistfight with a ventilation fan. The fan won, with Tudor having to throw in the towel after suffering a cut finger. Media reports that “Tudor punched a fan in the Cardinal clubhouse” were misinterpreted by many as indicating an altercation between the pitcher and a disgruntled team supporter.
Outside, things were going from bad to worse for the Cards. Joaquin Andujar relieved Tudor, and was eventually ejected. Feeling that Denkinger had cost them them the previous night’s game with his incorrect call, and NOW he was squeezing the strike zone, Andujar basically went insane and charged Denkinger not once, but twice. Cardinal manager Whitey Herzog was also tossed in the melee as St. Louis’ title hopes fell apart. KC took game seven 11-0. Darryl Motley caught a fly ball for the final out and Bret Saberhagen jumped into George Brett’s arms in two of the iconic scenes from the Royals’ triumph.
Yes, those were the days. Two blessed events in October 1985 in which the subsequent results were diametrically opposed. Regarding the Royals’ permanent residence in Frustration City ever since that point, we can say, “Well, at least we’ll always have 1985.” Regarding my daughter, I can borrow another Bogie line from Casablanca and say, “Here’s looking at you, kid!”