Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Kansas City Something or others...

                              As I write this, the Oakland A's have the best record in baseball, followed by their division mates, the Angels. Then there are the other division leaders around the league, and a number of teams vying for wild card spots.  One of those teams, the Kansas City Royals, have the longest playoff drought in baseball at twenty nine years...TWENTY NINE...even with all the wild cards and new divisions since their heyday, the Royals have somehow managed to remain fairly irrelevant in the pennant race...until now.

                       I could do a whole thing on the history of baseball, from the many minor league teams there, to the great Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues, ( who had such future Hall of famers as Satchel Paige, Buck Leonard, and should be Hall of famer, Buck O'Neil) but I'm just going to keep it to the so-called "major leagues." (cynical enough for ya?)

                             It all starts with the Philadelphia A's.  Owned and managed buy Connie Mack, the A's had two great runs in the first half of the twentieth century, where they won five world championships.  By the mid fifties, however, with a different owner, Arnold Johnson  and less and less cities being able to support two teams, the A's moved to Kansas City.  Their early years there, they  mostly seemed to serve as a sort of minor league team to the Yankees, giving them, among others, a power hitting right fielder named Roger Maris in exchange for a bag of magic beans and an autographed photo of Rin Tin Tin. After Johnson died, the notorious Charles Finley took over the team, and promptly refused to make deals with the Yankees, turning around the fortunes of the team.

               By the time Finley had moved the team to Oakland in 1968, their farm system had already built up the makings of a dynasty, with Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers, etc. starting to make an immediate impact.  The next year brought the second wave of baseball expansion-the first being in 61 and 62-that awarded another franchise to Kansas City in the Royals, a name that had previously been used by the Brooklyn Dodgers farm club in Montreal.  So even though both clubs in their respective cities began almost at the same time, their paths would be quite different.

       From 71-75, the A's won their division, with three championships sandwiched in the middle.  Meanwhile, the Royals were going through the usual expansion team learning pangs, mostly trying to keep fan interest going while their young stars like George Brett, Dennis Leonard, Paul Splittorf, and Frank White developed.  Finley didn't take to free agency well, selling off, or simply letting go, a lot of his players in the mid to late '70s.  The result would be a good five years of awful baseball in Oakland.  Right about the time this happened, however, the Royals went on a mini run of their own, winning four division titles in five years, capped off with an A.L. pennant in 1980.

             The strike year of 1981 would be the only year that both the Royals and A's would appear in a postseason together, where the A's beat the Royals in a bizarre postseason in which the best records of each half (before and after the strike) were to play the others.  The A's-briefly invigorated by Billy Martin's "Billy ball", which was basically a managing style that relied on speed and stretching your starting pitchers to the limit- had that one playoff year, but all the Rickey Henderson's in the world couldn't keep Martin from getting fired...and hired again, by the Yankees, where he would once again manage Henderson in a few years.

             The Royals returned to the playoffs in 1984, losing to a powerful Detroit team, but returned to the postseason the next year, winning it all.  1985 is the last season they made the playoffs to this date, but who knows this for the A's, they used their down years in the early, mid '80s to build the farm system and make some trades, winning three straight pennants (88-90) and a World Championship in '89. Other than a playoff appearance in '92, they spent most of the '90s in the doldrums.  They reappeared  a few times in the '00s and this decade, but haven't gotten over the hump...(that hump has usually been the Tigers), but this is their strongest team since the late '80s teams.

               So, in conclusion, the A's, barring a catastrophic collapse, are in, and the Royals are a gigantic "maybe." Then again, if the team in Kansas City and the team formerly known as Kansas City don't play in the post season together this year, there's always hope...If another strike happens, what with the new divisions and wild cards, and they use the same format from '81, pretty much every team will make the playoffs...Bud Selig, even when he's gone, is making his mediocre presence felt...

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