Just over 30 years ago the Kansas City Royals were embroiled in one of the best rivalries in baseball with the hated Yankees. It had everything a great rivalry needs; success on both sides, regular and postseason match ups, incredible stories, fights, and most importantly a general disdain for the other team. The Yankees got the better of the Royals during the rivalry, but you could never say the Royals did not put up a fight. Whether it was George Brett jumping up to punch Craig Nettles at third base, the 1980 ALCS when the Royals finally prevailed, or the Pine Tar Game, the Royals did their part to keep the rivalry interesting and relevant.
I bring this up because unlike that moment in time, today the Royals seem to be without a rival altogether. The Yankees have long since moved on, winning championship upon championship as the Royals dreamt of mediocrity. The division has not been much help, either, as it is harder to have a rival (at least one that takes you seriously) when you have been as bad as the Royals have been. Over the past 20 years the team has been competitive with no one and has really not given any team a chance to genuinely dislike them while every team in the AL Central has taken their turn at being good, and appeared in a World Series. With the infusion of young talent the team has seen over the past 18 months, we are expecting that part of the equation to change.
The other major impediment to forming a rivalry for the Royals has been the lack of consistency in their roster. Just three regulars from the Royals 2007 team figure to be on the Royals 2012 roster. That 2007 team featured only 1 significant part from the 2002 team 5 years before. It is hard to develop, and especially maintain, a rivalry when you are turning over 90-95% of your roster every 5 years. With a team full of talented players that the Royals mostly have several years of control over, that part of the equation should change, too.
So, with the Royals seemingly ripe for improvement, while at the same time developing some long term consistency in their lineup, it seems they are more than ready to develop a rivalry. Who should that rival be? Well, you would think anyone in the division would be a candidate, but it is hard to consider the Twins. For one, the Royals seem to be aspiring to be just like the Twins and seem more complimentary than anything. For two, with the health of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau figuring to be in question for the many years they have left on their contracts, it is hard to see them as a contender.
The only team you could even consider outside the division as a rival would be the cross-state St. Louis Cardinals. Ask Royals fans and they will probably tell you that the Cardinals are their biggest rival, but Cards fans are pretty clear that the Cubs, or even Brewers, are much more of concern for them. As much as KC may dislike the Cardinals and their fans, it is hard to have a rivalry with a team from another league that does not consider you a rival.
That basically leaves us with the Tigers, Indians and White Sox. The Sox are just beginning their rebuilding project, and just lost their most controversial part, Manager Ozzie Guillen. The chances of them being at the top of the division race, or even in the middle, seem pretty small right now. The Indians are right where the Royals are, if not a little ahead. That being said, there is just something about the Tigers that makes them the favorite to me.
The Royals and Tigers have quite a history of brawls, including the beating that Mike Sweeney laid on Jeff Weaver. Maybe that is shaping my opinion, but what had more to do with it is the Tigers position. They are much older than the Royals or the Tribe and they are the established favorite in the division right now. For either young upstart to take over the division, they will have to go through the Tigers and that could spark a rivalry more than any fight from a decade ago.
Honestly, I do not really care who it is, I would just like for the Royals to be relevant enough for someone to consider them a rival. Maybe if they start winning enough those Cardinals fans will change their mind. Maybe if I find a way to mention Don Denkinger every week that will help?