The Sum of All Joys would be a good title of a book about Royals baseball. The sum would be the time from 1976 when the Kansas City Royals finally won the American League West until they beat the Cardinals in game seven of the 1985 World Series.
In 1976, the Royals won their first division championship. They had been getting close. Whitey Herzog had a team with lots of speed and an up and coming super star in George Brett. If you are truly invested in a major league baseball team, there’s nothing like a pennant race.
Pennant fever involves a lot of scoreboard watching. Maybe another team can help you out by beating the team you that is trying to steal the pennant from your team. It also includes a lot of schedule evaluating. When and where is the most likely for your team to clinch the pennant?
Of course, there is always the matter of the magic number. That’s a number of wins or combination of opponent losses until you can take that champagne bath. I usually start counting the magic number about September 1 or when the magic number is at about 30. We win the number goes down by one. We win and the hated rival loses, the number goes down by 2. Keep the champagne cold.
A pennant race is the most exciting thing you can experience without getting arrested. The Royals were brought to Kansas City in 1969. Before that, my pennant fever was for the most local teams I could find, St. Louis and Minnesota. It certainly wasn’t for the Kansas City A’s, although I followed them like a contender.
In 1964, the Cardinals beat the Mets the last game of the season to win the pennant. The Mets were horrible, but the Cardinals had to bring in Hall of Famer Bob Gibson for four innings of relief to win. They completed a comeback that had them 6 ½ games out of first place with 12 games to play.
I was sitting in a row boat fishing with my transistor blarring the game from Fenway Park as the Red Sox squeaked by the Twins 5 – 3 in the last game of the season. Red Sox nation was born that day, much to my dismay.
In the 10 years between 1976 and 1985, Royals fans were treated to nine great division races. The Royals won six titles and finished second three times. Only in 1983 when they finished 20 games out of first place did it not seem like a pennant race.
The Sum of All Joy occurred on October 27, 1985. I was recording the game on my VCR. Brett Saberhagen mowed down Cardinal after Cardinal on the cool fall evening. It wasn’t even close. The Cardinals imploded and lost 11 – 0.
The next 29 years could be called the Sum of All Fears. There would be no more pennant races for 29 years. Not all those years were total futility. Five times in the 1990’s, the Royals finished over .500.
The Royals tried valiantly to win for their popular, but aging and ill owner, Ewing Kauffman. It just wouldn’t happen again. When Mr. Kauffman died in 1995, the team fell into disarray. Some thought the team would move to Nashville. A viable owner was pursued and even when David Glass bought the team, his conservative check book meant the losing would continue in Kansas City.
I love baseball and hoped beyond hope that the team had put together just enough talent to challenge for a pennant each year. Tony Pena was hired to manage in 2013 and Jose Lima brought Lima Time to the ball park. In 2003, the team won more than they lost and actually had a five game lead at the All Star Break.
By 2005, the team had found an all-time low, losing 106 games and finishing 43 games out of first place. There certainly wasn’t any pennant fever as the losses piled up. I’m no fair weather fan. I very seldom missed a broadcast, radio or television when the Royals took the field.
I remember one Sunday in the middle of the summer when I turned on the game at 1:05. Sam was very little, but he saw it was bat day and wanted to go. He was too little to realize we wouldn’t get there until late into the game.
It was then I thought, “What the heck?” Sam and I took off arriving at the stadium just before the seventh inning stretch. We bought $9 tickets and Sam got a bat from the customer service office. Of course, the team lost that day.
Those Sum of All Fears moments are what make pennant races so much fun. It occupies your thoughts 24/7. Soon, magic numbers will appear for all division and wild card leaders. Publications have come out with percentage chances of winning a division. The Royals are listed at about a 26% chance to win their division, but a less than 1% chance of winning the World Series.
That’s why I’m so dumbfounded by a few vocal sports broadcasters, both locally and nationally, criticizing the Royals general manager, Dayton Moore, for not trying to restock his minor leagues with prospects. All he has to do is sell off his potential free agents.
That would restock the minor leagues, but it would destroy the 2017 season. You can never anticipate when a pennant race will occur. The Royals had an all-star outfield of Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran and Jermaine Dye in the late 1990’s. We couldn’t contend because our pitchers couldn’t get anyone out.
Forget about selling and restocking. Even if it takes years to recover from the free agency losses this winter, it’s worth it to see that magic number shrink this fall. It’s the Sum of All Joys.