The Kansas City Royals are arguably the most exciting team in baseball today. Currently engaged in a back-and-forth World Series with the San Francisco Giants, they are helping to show the rest of MLB that a team can win without depending on the long ball.
Personally, I’m rooting for the Royals. They’ve been down for so long, and I believe it is good for my favorite sport (or for any sport) that a “Cinderella story” get written every once in a while. Kansas City certainly qualifies as “Cinderella”.
While the current Royals team is making some great memories for all of us that follow baseball, my favorite memories of that franchise might not be considered as being at the top of the list for fans of the team. No, I have to admit that the Royals memories which make me smile most go back to the 1970’s when some of the most classic post season battles resulted in a KC loss.
In the mid-70’s when the Yankees were experiencing a long-awaited rebirth under new owner George Steinbrenner, the Bombers and the Royals met for the American League Championship in three consecutive seasons (1976-1978). All three were exciting series, with two of them going the full five games (back then, the ALCS was best-of-five). Outside of the Boston Red Sox, the Royals were a hated opponent for the team from the Bronx – they always seemed to have our number during the regular season – and featured guys like Freddie Patek and pitcher Paul Splittorff who seemed to rise to the occasion every time they saw the Yankees in the other dugout.
I’ll never forget Chris Chambliss walk-off home run to win the 1976 AL Pennant or the Yankees come-from-behind win the following year. That series ended with shortstop Patek grounding into a double play in the bottom of the ninth, preserving a 5-3 game five victory for the Bombers. New York had trailed 3-1 going into the eighth inning, but with key hits from stars like Reggie Jackson and Thurman Munson, clawed their way to a lead entering the last half-frame of the game. NBC cameras focused on Patek as he dejectedly sat alone in the Royal’s dugout following the game. At the time I was a 13-year-old die hard Yankees fan that lived-and-died with every pitch (OK, I still do), I savored that moment and it remains etched in my memory.
(In Photo: Freddie Patek)
Looking back, while as a loyal Yankees fan I was sworn to hate anyone that challenged my team’s path to glory, I still had a profound respect for the Royals.
That 1970’s version seems rather similar to the one we watch play for a title today. They were scrappy, and even though the team had a few recognizable stars (George Brett, Darrell Porter, John Mayberry, Dennis Leonard…), they weren’t considered truly great and certainly weren’t locks to win anything. Still, they were able to raise the level of their game to push themselves to the brink of a title. What that team lacked was a good bullpen, and today’s Royals don’t have that burden. It’s the reason I think the 2014 team will win.
Whether they do hoist the trophy or not, the Kansas City Royals have made some great baseball memories in 2014. They just won’t be the ones for their franchise that I’ll remember.