Here we are, at the end of our 10-day-long look back at the 1985 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals – the only time the two teams have met in postseason play. Over the course of the past week and a half, I-70 Baseball has reminisced, rehashed, recapped and replayed that series game for game.
By now, you know the story: The Cardinals, the clear favorites in the series, won the first two games and split the next two, claiming a seemingly-insurmountable 3-1 series lead. No baseball team had ever come back from 3-1 to win the World Series. The Royals won Game 5 at Busch Stadium, pushing the series back to Kansas City, and forcing a Game 6.
Everyone remembers Game 6 for “The Call,” a controversial but, ultimately, not that critical bad call in the bottom of the ninth (it was quantified by Royals writer Aaron Stilley here, and yesterday, on the 25th anniversary of Game 6, by Bill Ivie here and Adam Shupe here). Few fans still remember that the Royals were hosed on a call earlier in Game 6 when Frank White was called out on a stolen base attempt. But here was the difference: Royals manager Dick Howser moved on and focused on the rest of the series, while Cardinals skipper Whitey Herzog chose to focus on the bad call and hang the Cardinals’ ultimate loss on it. I’m not saying Whitey Herzog is a bad manager – he’s a former Royal, and a Hall of Famer, for crying out loud. But in that seven-game stretch in 1985, Whitey succumbed to the pressure and was out-managed by Dick Howser.
The Royals, of course, won Game 6, and forced a Game 7.
Many fans say the Cardinals simply rolled over and gave up in Game 7, while others claim the Cards lost because infamous umpire Don Denkinger was behind the plate that game. It’s hard to argue, though, with two facts: first, the Royals’ offense put up 11 runs against Cardinal pitching, led by Hall of Famer George Brett, and second, Royals ace Bret Saberhagen pitched a brilliant complete-game shutout to secure a victory by the score of 11-0.
To this day, the end of Game 7 – Saberhagen and Brett embracing on the pitcher’s mound – is undoubtedly the greatest moment in Kansas City Royals history.
And Royals fans should be proud of that. Some franchises haven’t won a single World Series title, while others won their last long before 1985.
While we should be able to look back with pride at 1985, fans should also be asking: When will we win another one?
(Even fans of the Yankees, a franchise that has won an astounding 27 World Series titles, or more than a fifth of all the World Series trophies ever awarded, ask that question.)
Since 1985, the Royals have taken a long and often heartbreaking journey to rock bottom.
In the late ‘80s, the Royals were a good, and often great, baseball team. They contended for a title every year, and posted a winning record every season except 1986. Then, in the early 1990s, five events occurred, which I believe helped lead to the Royals’ downfall:
1990: Eight-time Gold Glove winner Frank White retires
1990: General manager John Scheurholz leaves, taking his winning tradition to the Atlanta Braves
1991: The team trades two-time Cy Young Award winner Bret Saberhagen to the New York Mets
1993: Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett retires
1993: Team owner Ewing Kauffman dies
The Brett and White retirements are not, in themselves, bad things – both players were at the end of great careers, and keeping them on the roster would have made the team worse. But losing the two most recognizable players in team history weas detrimental to the Royals’ culture. The Royals should have tried to do more to hang on to Scheurholz, and his departure was a major blow to the team. Perhaps Scheurholz doesn’t trade away their best pitcher in a feeble attempt to improve the offense.
The biggest blow of all was Kauffman’s death. Ewing Kauffman wasn’t a perfect owner (he allowed Scheurholz to leave, after all), but he was the heart and soul of the Royals, and the lifeblood of Kansas City. The effect of his death, and the team’s subsequent sale, is immeasurable.
The Royals produced mixed results in the early 1990s, posting winning records in ’91, ’93 and strike-shortened 1994. But after the strike, the Royals completely fell apart.
Since 1994, the Royals have had fifteen (!) losing seasons, including four seasons with 100 or more losses. And since 1994, the Royals have had one winning season.
And that season, 2003, under manager Tony Pena, is largely considered a fluke.
I was born in 1979. Some of my earliest memories are the Royals winning the 1985 World Series, including Saberhagen’s Game 7 gem. By the time I was really old enough to understand what baseball meant, the Royals were on the downhill slide.
For two-thirds of my life, my favorite baseball team has been terrible.
But I still remember fondly the title we won in 1985.
And am I hopeful for the future?
You bet I am.
By many accounts, and not just in Kansas City, the Royals have the best minor league system in all of baseball. We also have a general manager in Dayton Moore who has not had success at the major league level yet, but he is largely responsible for building that farm system.
And under whom did Dayton Moore learn the game? John Scheurholz.
You bet I’m hopeful.
The Royals have some impressive young bats and arms coming up through the system, bats and arms that could make an impact on the big league level as soon as next year, bats and arms that will be in Kansas City in full force by 2012 and 2013, and bats and arms that will continue to come up beyond that.
The Royals are in a position to be the strongest team in the AL Central in a few years.
My team won the World Series in 1985, twenty-five years ago, and since then they have appeared in the postseason a grand total of zero times.
But I have hope. I have all the hope a fan needs. This team is going to be good. In a few years, this team could even be great.
And until then, we’ll always have 1985.
Matt Kelsey is a Royals writer and the content editor for I-70 Baseball. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.