Going into the 1985 World Series, the Kansas City Royals knew they were the underdogs. Their pitching staff, although successful, was much less established than their opponent, the 101-game winning St. Louis Cardinals. And their offense seemed to be several notches below. In fact, the Royals finished second-to-last in batting in the American League in 1985.
And since this series was the last where the designated hitter was not used, even in American League parks, one of the team’s most powerful hitters, Hal McRae, was rendered a bench player.
But they did have a few potent weapons left, most noticeably a ballplayer who many already acknowledged as one of the greatest of his generation: third baseman George Brett.
Here’s a look at the starting lineup for the Kansas City Royals in Game 1 of the 1985 World Series – 25 years ago today:
1. Lonnie Smith, LF
A former Cardinal, Lonnie Smith was an effective leadoff hitter for KC, batting .257 over 120 games in 1985 and picking up 40 stolen bases. His speed at the top of the lineup, though, was overshadowed by the Royals’ No. 2 hitter…
2. Willie Wilson, CF
Many debates have been held over who was the faster Willie in the 1985 World Series: Cardinals center fielder Willie McGee or Royals center fielder Willie Wilson. For his part, Wilson played 141 games for the Royals in ’85 and batted .278, although he had scant power numbers for a No. 2 hitter with only four home runs. He made up for it with his wheels, though, collecting 43 stolen bases and a league-leading 21 triples.
3. George Brett, 3B
For nearly two decades, Brett was the most feared hitter in the Royals’ lineup, and 1985 was no exception. His .335 batting average was best on the team, and he blasted 30 home runs – a career high. He also led the majors with a .585 slugging percentage.
4. Frank White, 2B
Manager Dick Howser made the bold decision to bat Frank White in the cleanup spot in the ’85 Series, a decision that would pay off. During the regular season, White, a perennial Gold Glove second baseman, hit 22 home runs – like Brett, a career high – but batted only .249. Although not as fast, White was an asset on the basepaths, stealing 10 in the regular season.
5. Jim Sundberg, C
The Royals signed this veteran catcher to mentor a young pitching staff prior to the ’85 season, and it paid off. Sundberg proved to be a reliable backstop, and batted .245 with 10 home runs in the regular season. He was also a critical offensive and defensive force in the playoffs.
6. Darryl Motley, RF
Motley became most well-known for his World Series heroics in Game 7, but he held down a corner outfield spot for the Royals in 122 regular season games despite a measly .222 batting average. He did contribute 17 home runs, though.
7. Steve Balboni, 1B
The guy who hit more home runs in a single season for the Royals than anybody else in the history of the team, before or since, was batting aaaaaaaaall the way down in the seven-hole for the ’85 Royals. Balboni blasted 36 round-trippers for Kansas City in ’85, and his batting average of .243 was well above his career average. Balboni played in 160 games for KC in 1985, more than any player on the team – even George Brett.
8. Buddy Biancalana, SS
The Royals’ starting shortstop in the 1985 World Series was quite literally a joke – late-night host David Letterman frequently quipped about Buddy Biancalana’s light-hitting ways in 1985. Although Onix Concepcion played 131 games at shortstop during the regular season, Biancalana got the call to start at shortstop in the World Series. During the regular season, he batted a mere .188 over 81 games, mostly as a defensive replacement and utility player.
9. Danny Jackson, P
We’ll delve into the pitching staff tomorrow on I-70 Baseball.
Bench: Pat Sheridan, Lynn Jones, Jorge Orta, Hal McRae, Onix Concepcion, Dane Iorg, John Wathan, Greg Prior
Orta’s role in the 1985 World Series has become legendary, and we’ll explore it more later. In the regular season, he managed to play in 100 games, but was relegated to the bench for the playoffs. McRae batted .259 with 14 home runs out of the DH role. Wathan, later the Royals’ manager, was the primary backup catcher behind Sundberg.
Tomorrow: A look at the Royals’ pitching staff in 1985.
Matt Kelsey is a Royals writer and the content editor for I-70 Baseball. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matt Wilson of BaseballDigest.com contributed to this report.