|1985 ALCS with George Brett at the Plate|
Photo Courtesy of Michael R. Finley
Tonight, this Kansas City Royals team, the team that ended the longest playoff drought in the history of the four major North American sports, returns to the American League Championship Series for the first time since 1985.
Much has written about the Royals ending its 29 year playoff drought. And rightly so. Twenty-nine years is a long time. Young men, like me in 1985 are, well, now no longer young. Those barely able to remember 1985 are now rapidly approaching middle age. Many of those who were old already in 1985 are no longer with us. So it is no small feat.
My oldest son, Davis, and I were talking about the two eras (1985 and 2014) the other day. And as an aside, this is perhaps the most exciting thing about this year for me. This younger generation no longer has to hear the old stories from “back in the day.” They are now living and writing their own stories, ones they can put their own indelible marks upon. Now my sons and daughters have a story they can tell their children. These stories, like that of last week’s Wildcard game, will outlast me. And that is a good thing.
But back to earlier this week, and my son Davis. He asked me how 2014 was similar to 1985. Is it better? Is it not as good? I had to think about this a bit.
This playoff run, like the Wildcard game which still defines it in my mind, is so sweet because of the range of emotions which it has provided. We were down three times in that WC game, and a couple of more times against the Angels, and still came back to win the ALDS Series.
As such, the 2014 is a microcosm of 1985.This year has been sweet because it ended a 29 year era of ineptitude and futility. 1985 was great because it ended almost a decade of near misses, close calls, and what-might-have-beens.
I'm convinced that our emotions in baseball, and perhaps in all of life, are often governed by expectations, especially un-met expectations. They are further accented by how close we get to the promised land. If we've never gotten a sniff of it, then the disappointment of not crossing over to it might not be as painful
The Kansas City Royals were a successful franchise almost from the get-go. The team had a winning record in its third year (1971) of existence. In its eighth year (1976), the team claimed its first of three consecutive A.L. West crowns. In 1980 the team won 4th A.L. West Championship and its first A.L. Pennant and made its first World Series appearance. The team remained competitive in the early 1980's before claiming its second A.L. Pennant and first World Series crown in 1985.
|Yankee Manage Billy Martin-the Royals' nemesis|
Photo Courtesy Mike Finley
These early dreams were extinguished three consecutive years by the New York Yankees. In 1976, the Royals tied the 5th and deciding game 6-6 with three runs in the top of the 8th. If you were alive during that game, you can't quite shake the image of Chris Chambliss trying to touch all the bases amidst a throng of Yankee fans who had stormed the field after Chambliss had sent Royals' reliever Mark Littell's first offering over the right field wall for a walk-off home run.
In 1977 the Royals had the best record in baseball at 102-60. The Royals went up 2-1 in the series with home field advantage but lost the 4th game then blew a 3-2 lead in the top of the ninth to lose the 5th game and deciding game of the series. The image of Freddie Patek hunche over in the dugout after the game, immovable for what seemed to be all night, sticks with me.
The next year, 1978, was painful but the Royals were spared losing in the 5th and decisive game, losing the series four games. None of us held much hope of winning game 4 after watching the Royals lose game 3 despite George Brett hitting three home runs in a losing cause.
As the Royals entered the 1980's, things turned around and they finally beat the Yankees in the 1980 ALCS, sweeping New York in three games. It was fitting that George Brett's home run off of Goose Gossage had made the difference. The Royals had their first A.L. Pennant.
Despite the momentum gained by sweeping the Yankees, it seem for many of us fans that this was almost enough, after having endured the three consecutive losses to them in 1976-78. It is unknown whether or not the players felt the same way, but the Royals lost the 1980 World Series in six games to the Philadelphia Phillies.
And we know that it would take five more years before the Royals would finally win the World Series, defeating the St. Louis Cardinals in 7 games. After that 7th game in 1985, the post season drought would begin, only to end last week when the Royals took the field against the Oakland A's in the A.L. Wildcard game.
And so the discussion is really what is worse? Three decades of futility that were mostly devoid of any success whatsoever and where you were never really in the mix? Or, a decade of high expectations and perennial playoff contention marked primarily by heartbreaking losses to the New York Yankees?
Answering this question is like choosing between a sharp stick in the eye or a root canal? Neither options are very much fun.
The two breakthroughs--1985 and 2014--are both sweet. It's nice to once again be in the conversation, but hopefully we won't be content for it all to end there.
I just want to enjoy the ride a bit longer. At least a week. Maybe two. Maybe more.
|The St. Louis Cardinals' Willie McGee in 1985 World Series|
Photo Courtesy Mike Finley