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We’ve seen the Kansas City Royals’ act before with another team – and we liked it.
But the concept of relentless speed on the basepaths combined with rally-crushing outfield leather-flashing by a corps of fleet men was consigned so far in the past we’ve almost forgotten it. Or, the truth be known, we were too young to remember, if we were Millennials.
Observing the Royals dash their way into the ALCS against the Baltimore Orioles – with power simply the cherry atop the sundae – was a straight throwback to the “Whiteyball” St. Louis Cardinals of the 1980s.
The intervening decades with PEDs-fueled power production and “chicks dig the long ball” attitudes pushed aside the sure strategy that speed kills, and works in most game situations, in all climate conditions and in all ballparks big and small.
The Royals’ daring style reflects the glorious past of baseball. The timeline started with Jackie Robinson’s defiant baserunning in 1947, then was codified by Maury Wills’ 104-steal season in 1962, expanded upon by many teams – including the best-ever Royals teams — in the 1970s and really exemplified by Whiteyball, named after cagey manager Whitey Herzog.
And speed could be baseball’s future given the decline of homers and overall hitting, the toughest-to-master physical skill in all sports. Watching the Royals fans’ reaction to their blue-garbed track men’s feats show the appeal of the craft. Just a few weeks back, the Jackie Robinson West national Little League champs won over the country with their alertness and execution on the basepaths.
Royals fans deserved a good show and a playoff placement with a World Series just four victories distant thanks to a return to the franchise’s roots. They’ve literally been through a Cubs-like hell of franchise negativity with no postseason appearances in 29 seasons.
The good feeling engendered by the comeback victory over Oakland in the wild-card contest, then the startling sweep over the supposedly superior Angels, is just payback for endless wandering in the wilderness under the David Glass ownership.
Glass finally is getting it right in combo with GM Dayton Moore. Team followers wonder what took him so long.
The Royals often played the crying game of poverty, existing in one of the major leagues’ smallest markets. Like the Pittsburgh Pirates, finishing as a bottom feeder every season with access to top draft choices, never seemed to generate a turnaround until recently. And the giveaway of talent already on the roster was stunning.
The Royals sported a starting outfield of Carlos Beltran, Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye, all enjoying productive seasons, in 1999. The following year, all three were still present to complement team stalwart Mike Sweeney’s 144-RBI season. But by 2004, the trio of outfielders were dispatched by the Glass regime.
Glass could never live down his background as CEO of Wal-Mart, with its bargain philosophy and thrifty economic treatment of employees. Reports circulated Glass pocketed as much as $20 million a year off the Royals while starving the franchise for payroll. All the while, the uptick in home-grown talent never took place.
Low points were recorded in 2003 and 2006.
In the former season, the Royals gave KC fans the ultimate tease, starting out 17-4, holding a 7 ½-game AL Central lead on July 17 and still up by three as late as Aug. 17. The Royals simply were overwhelmed in the end, finishing 83-79. Statistically, that record was an anomaly breaking up a string of three 100-loss seasons in 2002, 2004 and 2005.
When Glass opted to replace GM Allard Baird with Dayton Moore in 2006, he showed he brooked no media dissent in his market. During the Moore-hiring press conference, two local radio reporters, Rhonda Moss and Bob Fescoe, kept hammering Glass with questions about Baird’s sacking rather than allowing him to extol Moore. Soon Moss and Fescoe had their media credentials yanked for the rest of the season, an uncommon action by any team. Glass apparently did not care about the potential blowback of this censorship action.
But Moore’s previous experience in a development-oriented organization like the Braves started to pay off as the present approached. That obviously had a positive effect on Glass. The Royals finally began drafting better. And the trade of top prospect Wil Myers to Tampa Bay for James Shields and Wade Davis late in 2012 was the final indication Glass had stopped cutting back, and was going in the other direction as the Eric Hosmers and Mike Moustakases were filtering up to the majors.
Hiring Ned Yost as manager was and still is questionable. Another Braves émigré, Yost gained renown for his “mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” Howard Beale “Network” attitude as Brewers manager back in 2007-08. You need to possess some serious flaws to be fired as manager with 12 games to go in September as your team is sniffing a playoff spot, as Milwaukee was in 2008. But give Yost credit now. He gave the green light for his runners to take off and intimidate the A’s and Angels.
Putting the mismanagement and penury in the past, the Royals have nothing but a bright future beckoning, thanks to a team makeup that provides excitement despite just 95 homers in the regular season.
Near-term – reaching just the third World Series in franchise history. Beyond – showing baseball is more fundamentally sound played one base, and one dazzling catch, at a time.
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