1969 Kansas City Royals

1969 Kansas City Royals

Brent Martin, former Managing Editor here at Missourinet and current News Director of Nebraska Radio Network shared his lifelong love affair with the Kansas City Royals.

Whether you remember just a few of the lean years up until this season, or you can relive the Royals from the very beginning like Brent, you’ll enjoy his perspective.

Even if you’re just a baseball fan in general, you’ll appreciate a true fan’s insight.

In the summer of 1968, I listened to Minnesota Twins baseball on the radio.

Rod Carew, Harmon Killibrew; a good baseball team, just not my team.

My team would arrive a year later.

Major League Baseball awarded Kansas City an expansion franchise. The Royals began play in 1969. As a 10-year-old kid growing up in northwest Missouri, I was hopelessly hooked.

It was a proud expansion franchise that won from the beginning, quickly building into a team that might, just might, make it to the World Series. Imagine that. A team growing up right in front of me attempting to take Kansas City where it had never been before; taking me along for the ride.

In 1976, Kansas City had the audacity to win the Western Division and challenge baseball royalty, the New York Yankees. The gut-punch of Chris Chambliss’ home run off Mark Littell in the bottom of the 9th inning of the 5th game (MLB played five-game championship series at the time) still stings.

The Royals fought hard, yet came up short.

We waited until next year.

Next year would provide cruelty of its own as a team which won 102 games succumbed to the same fate. Only this time, it appeared the Royals had the American League pennant only to lose to the Yankees late in the deciding game five of the championship series at home.

I didn’t think it was possible to feel more pain than in the 1976 loss. I was wrong.

My brother Jeff and I got to see the only win of the 1978 series against the Yankees. It seemed the Royals were spent, could no longer challenge New York. We (yes, the Royal “we”) would lose in four.

It took 1980 to erase the pain of ’76, ’77, and ’78.

A friend once asked me what the greatest moment in Royals’ history was and without hesitation I answered:  George Brett’s home run off Goose Gossage at Yankee Stadium in the 1980 American League championship series. The answer caught him by surprise. He expected something from the 1985 World Series team. I told him that in one swing of the bat, Brett exorcised the demons of play-offs past. We finally beat the Yankees. We finally made it to the World Series.

How that team lost to the Phillies in six I still don’t understand.

By the early ‘80s, the Royals were getting older, their future unclear. That changed in 1984, when a trio of brash pitchers led by Bret Saberhagen emerged from the farm system. They would pitch well even though the Royals were swept in the American League Championship series against eventual World Series champs, the Detroit Tigers.

We knew we had something special.

I will concede to anyone that the 1985 Kansas City Royals weren’t the best team in baseball, with one exception. The 1985 Royals had the best rotation in baseball. Led by Saberhagen, Mark Gubicza, Danny Jackson, Charlie Leibrandt, and Bud Black made up the best rotation in Royals history. Saberhagen brought a swagger to the club it needed.

How the Royals fought back after losing the first two home games of each series to the Toronto Blue Jays and then the St. Louis Cardinals is hard to explain. In fact, had the American League Championship series not expanded to seven games that year, the Royals would have lost the series and the Blue Jays would have taken on the Cardinals.

A few Royals teams surfaced to challenge for the play-offs afterward, but no Royals team would return to the play-offs for 29 years.

At times, it appeared we would no longer truly be a Major League Baseball team. The 100-loss seasons hurt, but finishing last, something the Royals had NEVER done, pained me more.

I nearly gave up on my beloved team.

Then, 2014 came along.

I sweated out nearly every game in August and September, driving my dear wife Tami (who really doesn’t understand baseball or its fanatic fans very well) to despair. The emotional roller coaster ended with the Royals qualifying for the Wild Card.

We thought we lost that game, more than once.

Tami asked me why I continued to watch even after Oakland took what seemed an insurmountable lead. My daughter Mackenzie, away in college, called to commiserate. I told both I would watch to the bitter end, because it had been such a great season.

Only, the season wasn’t over.

The Royals rebounded. They took the Wild Card. I screamed. Mackenzie called and we screamed some more. Tami, by now hooked on this youthful, amazing team, screamed.

My dear mother, such a Royals fan that growing up on the farm we had radios strategically placed so that the game would never be out of earshot during the season, announced that she would buy Royals play-off t-shirts for everyone in the family!

When the Royals swept the series with the Angels, Mackenzie called her grandmother and asked if that meant another round of shirts. To my surprise, Mom said yes.

A sweep of the Orioles. Another set of t-shirts.

Then, the heartbreak of the 7th game of the World Series against San Francisco.

Would we be back?

My brother Jeff and I would talk long and hard about the Royals’ future. We then watched as Dayton Moore made moves to strengthen the ball club.

Many dismissed the 2014 team as a nice little story. Few expected the Royals to be back. We knew there was something special about that team. We knew they had a chance to win it all.

They did.

I love sports. I played as long as I possibly could. I get way too caught up in the games. I take the losses too hard. I cannot believe how much the wins boost my spirits.

Once, when I referred to the Royals as “we” someone tried to correct me. He said we really have nothing to do with the team. We’re just fans. But, what good is being a fan if you aren’t really part of the team, if you cannot refer to your team, your beloved team, as we?

I remember the players of my youth:  Mayberry, Rojas, White, Patek, Brett, Cowens, Otis, Wilson, Porter, Leonard, Splittorff, and so many others. I even remember Bob Oliver, likely the first really good Royals player. What joy they brought a farm kid; what fun, even through the pain.

Now, Hosmer, Escobar, Moustakas, Gordon, Cain, Dyson, Perez, Ventura, Herrera, Hochevar, Holland, Davis. Such a fun team.

In 2014, a tear ran down my eye when we won the American League pennant. I couldn’t help myself. Tami asked what was wrong. I stated simply that I never thought we would be back in the World Series and that thought was more painful than any loss.

When we moved to central Missouri, Mackenzie had opportunities to visit the new Busch Stadium in St. Louis. I briefly attempted to turn her into a Cardinals fan, reasoning it would be better for my daughter to cheer a proud, successful baseball franchise rather than experience the dreadful, numbing 100-loss seasons in which the Royals seemed permanently mired. It didn’t take. She knew my heart. I respected and admired the Cardinals, always have. I just didn’t love them.

I love the Royals; have from the beginning.

–Brent Martin