October 2009

This Date In Royals History – October 9, 1980

1980 Season (Leonard & Aikens).jpgFor a 42 year-old life long Royals fan it is too much for me not to return to the 1980 American League Championship Series for another look back on today’s date. This one is extra special because of the reaction shot of George Steinbrenner captured on the TV broadcast following a key eighth inning play at the plate (if you saw it then you know exactly what I’m taking about).


Game 2 of the 1980 ALCS took place on Thursday, October 9 at Royals Stadium and was the final game to be played in Kansas City. It seemed imperative that the Royals get the Yankees down two games and go to New York only needing to capture one of a possible three to finally get to the World Series. The scoring was confined to two innings with the Royals getting on the board first.


With one out in the third Darrell Porter and Frank White singled and Willie Wilson followed with a triple to score them both. UL Washington then drove Wilson in with an RBI Double and the Royals were out front 3-0.  The Yankees plated two runs in the top of the fifth including an inside-the-park HR off the bat of Graig Nettles. The play of the game came in the eighth when Willie Randolph was thrown out at home to end the inning on a great relay from Willie Wilson (LF) to George Brett (3B) to Darrell Porter (C) on a Bob Watson double. This is the play that got Steinbrenner’s goat, but it wasn’t the Yankees last scoring chance.


Manager Jim Frey sent Dennis Leonard to the mound to start the ninth inning. After a lead-off Reggie Jackson single he called to the bullpen for Dan Quisenberry. With one out Rick Cerone singled and the tying run was in scoring position.  Then Quiz induced a groundball double play from Graig Nettles – game over. The Royals had a 3-2 win and more importantly, as Denny Matthews said on the radio broadcast, they had pushed the Yankees to the end.



Just A Bit More: It actually pushed the Yankees owner over the edge. The eighth inning play at the plate in Game 2 of the 1980 ALCS was important in Royals history for even more than saving that game itself. Steinbrenner was furious with the play and placed the blame squarely on third base coach Mike Ferraro. In fact you can read his lips in the reaction shot shown on TV…”Ferraro!”


Despite the 103 win season, the series loss to the Royals (and the play in Game 2 particularly) stuck in Steinbrenner’s craw so much that he insisted Ferraro be replaced (some say he asked that Ferraro be relieved before ALCS Game 3 was to be played). Howser refused and weeks later left the Yankees in order to ‘pursue other business opportunities’ – which is Steinbrennerese for your fired. One of those unspecified opportunities came in late August of 1981 when Howser became the manager of the Kansas City Royals.


Our eternal thanks to George Steinbrenner for his petulance…


(Curt Nelson, Director – Royals Hall of Fame)

This Date In Royals History – October 8, 1980

Thumbnail image for 1980 ALCS Game 1.jpgBack to the playoffs we go, and in this instance the 1980 American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees. For longtime Royals fans this series still ranks just a notch below winning the 1985 World Series, that’s how monumental it is the history of the franchise.


On Wednesday, October 8, 1980, the ALCS got underway with Game One at Royals Stadium in Kansas City. Having the heartache of the three previous battles with the Yankees still fresh in their minds, Royals fans and perhaps even the players themselves were anxious but excited about getting another shot at New York.


The Yankees scored first with back-to-back HRs by Rick Cerone and Lou Piniella in the second inning. But whatever doubt that inauspicious start had let creep in was quickly dispatched with a Frank White two-RBI double in the bottom of the inning and another by Willie Aikens in the third. Kansas City then took charge with a solo HR from George Brett in the seventh and Frank White capped it off with his second two-RBI double of the game in the eighth.


Larry Gura weathered the storm of the early HRs and went on to throw a complete game scattering 10 hits to capture the 7-2 win. The Royals were off and running. But they had won Game One in 1978 by the same score only to lose the series in gut wrenching fashion. Everyone had high hopes that 1980 was just bound to different. Would the third time be the charm? You know the story by now – of course it would…


Just A Bit More: This was also Dick Howser’s first playoff game as a major league manager. Although in 1980, the Royals Hall of Famer was in the other dugout. In fact Game One of the 1980 ALCS was the first of eleven straight playoffs losses for Dick Howser. That 0-11 record would weigh on Howser until another significant game in Royals history – Game 3 of the 1985 ALCS against Toronto.


(Curt Nelson, Director – Royals Hall of Fame) 

This Date In Royals History – October 7, 1981

Royals Scouting Department - 1970.jpgThis date marks another significant moment in Royals history on the same day the ballclub lost a tough playoff game. The 1981 players strike resulted in the season being separated in two-halves, the first saw the Royals finish ten games under .500 and 12 games behind the first place Oakland A’s. But in the second-half Kansas City rebounded to finish 30-23 edging Oakland by a single game. The resurgence started with the hiring of Manager Dick Howser on August 31st after which the Royals went 20-13.

On Wednesday, October 7, 1981 in Game 2 of the first-ever AL West Divisional Series the Royals would lose a tough 2-1 decision at Royals Stadium sending Kansas City  to Oakland down two games to none in the best of five. The A’s completed the three-game sweep two days later.

But October 7, 1981 also marked the promotion of John Schuerholz to become the third General Manager in club history. Schuerholz had been a key member of the Royals front office from the start having joined the club as an administrative assistant in 1968. He was taking the reins from Joe Burke who stepped aside to become Club President. The move was anticipated but happened a year earlier than expected as Burke had began treatment for cancer – though he clearly stated his health was not the deciding factor.

His career started with the Orioles in 1967-68, but Schuerholz was almost completely groomed for the job within the Royals system. As Royals GM he would continue the club’s winning ways leading them to two more division titles, the 1985 American League Pennant and World Series Championship. It was just the start of one of the most successful GM careers in the history of the game. Schuerholz would take the Royals Way to Atlanta where he would win thirteen more division titles and another World Series crown.

Just A Bit More: John Schuerholz was in Kansas City a couple of weeks ago and stopped by Kauffman Stadium during the Royals final homestand. It was a real pleasure to take him through the Royals Hall of Fame and hear his remembrances and stories about the founding of the ballclub. He was part of a really innovative group of baseball executives that made the Royals one of the most successful expansion franchises in the game.

The picture above is a group photo of the Royals first front office and scouting staff. John Schuerholz is right in the middle of it all, second row center…

(Curt Nelson, Director – Royals Hall of Fame)

This Date In Royals History – October 6, 1978

1978 ALCS Game 3.jpgLosses are not memorable for the reasons you wish, but some of them are memorable nonetheless. Thirty-one years ago was a perfect example in Royals history when George Brett put on a virtuoso performance at Yankee Stadium in New York.

It was Friday, October 6, 1978 in the Bronx with the Royals and Yankees facing-off for Game 3 of the 1978 American League Championship Series.  The best of five was tied at a game apiece following the first two games in Kansas City. George Brett was hitting lead-off for the Royals and started the game with a HR off Catfish Hunter. He came to the plate again in the third inning with the scored tied 1-1 and launched another HR off Hunter. Leading off the fifth with the Royals trailing 3-2 he blasted a third HR. Classic match-up of Hall of Famer against Hall of Famer and George came away with three HRs in three at-bats against Catfish.

Just A Bit More: The Royals would score two runs in the top of the eighth to take a 5-4 lead only to see the Yankees answer with two in the bottom of the inning. With one out and nobody on in the ninth George hit a deep drive that appeared it might be HR number four – instead it was caught by left-fielder Gary Thomasson at the wall. New York won the game 6-5 and then the series the next day. Who was that pitcher George almost tied the game off of in the ninth? Of course it was Goose Gossage. Sweet revenge would come two years later…

(Curt Nelson, Director – Royals Hall of Fame)

This Date In Royals History – October 5, 1985

1985 AL West Celebration.jpgToday marks another championship clinching date for the Royals, this one for the magical 1985 season. Both by date on the calendar and game of the season, this clinching date was the latest in Royals history.


Saturday, October 5, 1985, was the next to the last game of the 1985 season and the Royals were home against the Oakland A’s. The Angels started the day two games behind with two to play but had already defeated the Rangers in Arlington early that afternoon; the Royals needed to win or California could still catch Kansas City for a tie at the wire. Willie Wilson made sure game 162 was irrelevant.


The A’s jumped in front 4-0 through six innings, but George Brett got the Royals going with a two-run HR in the sixth. The next inning Frank White tied the score with a two-RBI single that drove home Lonnie Smith and George Brett. The game went into extra innings and in the bottom of the 10th Willie Wilson lashed a two-out single into centerfield to score Pat Sheridan. The Royals had a 5-4 win and another American League Western Division Title. Oh the drama to come…


Just A Bit More: The starting pitcher in the clinching game was none other than Bret Saberhagen who tossed the first six innings followed by one scoreless inning from Joe Beckwith and three scoreless from winning pitcher Dan Quisenberry (that is Quiz and Charlie Leibrandt celebrating in the above picture).  Saberhagen would also start Game Seven of the ALCS but left in the third inning with an injury. And of course, he was the starter in Game Seven of the World Series when he shutout the Cardinals for the title. Three clinching games, three starts for Saberhagen and he definitely saved his best for last.


(Curt Nelson, Director – Royals Hall of Fame)

This Date In Royals History – October 4, 1972

Municipal Stadium.jpgThough we thought the Royals might be closing out the Metrodome, it looks like the old homer haven has been given at least one last MLB reprieve. Tuesday’s game for the AL Central Championship should be intense and interesting – maybe indoor baseball in Minnesota has a few more weeks. We’ll soon find out.


However on Wednesday, October 4, 1972, the Royals did indeed close out the history of a historic ballpark right here at home. Though Royals Stadium was intended to debut in 1972, a construction strike had made another season at Municipal Stadium necessary instead. Professional baseball in Kansas City was ending a run at 22nd and Brooklyn that had begun in 1923 with the opening of Muehlebach Field which in turn had been known as Ruppert Stadium, Blues Stadium and finally Municipal Stadium.


The last game would be memorable for Royals pitcher Roger Nelson who fired a complete game two-hit shutout helping Kansas City defeat the Texas Rangers 4-0.


Just A Bit More: Roger Nelson was Kansas City’s first choice in the 1968 Expansion Draft and was a key member of those initial Royals clubs. This was his final appearance in his first stint with the Royals as he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds during the off-season with Richie Scheinblum in exchange for Wayne Simpson and Hal McRae. Nelson returned to the Royals in 1976 when he made three September relief appearances which were the last of his major league career.


(Curt Nelson, Director – Royals Hall of Fame)

This Date In Royals History – October 3, 1976 1990

Brett Three Titles (John Martin).jpgWhen you enter the month of October in Royals history it is inevitable that the name of George Brett will come up every so often. Though George’s career includes chapters of October post-season heroics, there were also several regular season highlights including a Major League Baseball first on this date 19 years ago.

On October 3, 1990 the Royals were playing the final game of the season against the Indians at old Cleveland Stadium. When the day began Brett led Oakland’s Rickey Henderson in the batting race .3278 to .3251. George was not in Manager John Wathan’s starting line-up that day, but entered the game as a pinch-hitter for third baseman Sean Berry in the fifth inning and drove in Kansas City’s first run with a sacrifice fly. He batting again in the seventh inning and dropped a single into rightfield moving his average to .329.

Henderson was removed from the A’s game in the fifth inning with one hit in three at-bats leaving his average at .325. Knowing the title was clinched, Bo Jackson actually pinch-hit for Brett in the ninth inning of the 5-2 Cleveland win. But George Brett had collected his third American League batting title while also becoming the first Major League Player to win batting crowns in three different decades (1976, 1980, 1990).

 Just A Bit More: Both George’s first and third batting titles were clinched with hits in his final at-bat in the last game of the season – and BOTH ocurred on the date of October 3. In 1976 George was credited with an inside the park HR in his last at-bat to edge Hal McRae on a controversial play (or no play) by Twins leftfielder Steve Brye. Some thought Brye misplayed Brett’s ball intentionally, to deny the title to McRae – though no one but Brye could ever really know.

What we know for sure is that George finished ahead of his good friend and teammate by the slightest of margins (.3333 to .33206) for his first batting title 33 years ago on this date.

(Curt Nelson, Director – Royals Hall of Fame) 

This Date In Royals History – October 2, 2001

MLB 9-11 Logo.jpgThe Royals home schedule should have come to a close on Sunday, September 30, 2001, but in response to the events of September 11th Major League Baseball had paused for a week with no games played earlier in the month.

On that fateful day the Royals were set to begin a short three-game homestand against Cleveland. By late that morning everyone here at the ballpark and around the game knew baseball was not going to be a priority. Like many other pursuits athletics took a back seat while the nation mourned. But when it was time for America to get back to work, the games resumed and baseball tried to play whatever role it could in returning the country back to the normal flow of daily life – though that seemed impossible at the time.

Those cancelled games from the lost week of September 11th were added to the end of the regular season schedule and the Royals played the first of the make-up dates exactly three weeks later on Tuesday, October 2, 2001. In that game the Royals would break a 1-1 tie with four runs in the eighth inning, highlighted by a three-run HR off the bat of Mike Sweeney to post a 5-1 win against the Cleveland Indians.


Just A Bit More: The Royals ended 2001 with a road game on Sunday, October 7 in Detroit. On that day the Royals defeated the Tigers 10-3 backed by a two home run, six RBI game performance from Carlos Beltran which got him over the 100 RBI total (finishing with 101). By the calendar it still remains the latest regular season game ever played by the Royals.
(Curt Nelson, Director – Royals Hall of Fame)

This Date In Royals History – October 1, 1976

76 Celebration.jpgThis was one of the best days in Royals history – the day on which the Kansas City Royals became champions for the very first time – e
ven though they lost the game of the field. Let me explain.


The 1976 Royals American League Western Division title was made even more sweet as they dethroned Charley Finley’s Oakland A’s. But it was tough down the stretch as a seven game lead on September 21 had fallen to just 2.5 games before the Royals avoided a sweep in Oakland with a 4-0 Larry Gura shutout on September 29. With that win the Royals had clinched no worse than a tie and another Kansas City win or Oakland loss would give them the title.


On Friday, October 1, 1976 the Twins scored a ninth inning run to beat Kansas City 4-3 at Royals Stadium. But many in the crowd of 38,482 stay after the game, as did the entire Royals team to see how the A’s would fare at home against the Angels. That game went scoreless into the 12th inning before Rusty Torres homered and the Angels pushed across another run for a 2-0 win. The Royals were champions!


The same Rusty Torres would play 51 games (his last as a big leaguer) for the 1980 American League Champion Royals. Signed on May 5, 1980, he wouldn’t be around for the clinching date that year as he was released on August 28.



Just A Bit More: The following afternoon* was the famous Cookie Rojas and Fred Patek leap into the rightfield fountains. It was a fool’s errand, not to mention a bit dangerous, as Freddy acknowledged later, “We jumped in there with our cleats and everything on. If he (Royals PR Director Dean Vogelaar) hadn’t had the electricity in the fountains turned off, we could’ve been swimming out there like a couple of dead goldfish.”


* Corrected from original post as the Rojas/Patek plunge followed the Saturday, October 2, 1976 afternoon game at Royals Stadium which was broadcast as the NBC ‘Game of the Week”. The Royals fell to the Twins 3-2, but after a long night of celebration that was understandable.


Whitey Herzog said it best, “Pretty tough to get going this morning, We partied until about 4:30.” Needless to say all of Kansas City was a party zone… 


Fred Patek 1976.jpg(Curt Nelson, Director – Royals Hall of Fame)


09 Opening Day.jpgSpurred by Kauffman Stadium’s spectacular renovation, (with a tip of the cap to our fellow Jackson County citizens), Royals fans helped the club lead all of Major League Baseball with a nearly 14% increase in attendance this season. With one weekend of baseball left to go, MLB is projected to have its fourth highest total attendance ever at 75.2 millions fans.


But baseball has not been immune to the tough economy of the last year or so throughout the country. While 75.2 million remains strong it was still the largest single season percentage decrease (6.5%) since 1952. While a new ballpark is almost always a strong factor in increasing attendance, it may not tell the entire story – especially here in Kansas City. Both New York teams debuted brand new stadiums in 2009 and by season’s end each had seen a double digit percentage loss in attendance.


What factors allowed Kansas City to buck that trend? There are several to be sure, but no doubt some of the credit goes to the continuing love for this beautiful ballpark. It was state of the art when it opened in 1973 and now it is again – while maintaining the key iconic elements that have captivated fans from the start.  I’ve been coming here since it opened – when I was just five years old (thanks mom and dad) – and it has always felt like home to me, now more than ever.


Having a pitcher post a Cy Young-type season for the ages and a young hitter blossom into a 20+ HR/50+ Double force was exciting too. Opening Day is just 186 days away…


Just A Bit More: The Royals Hall of Fame as extends a huge THANK YOU to fans for their strong support since our opening on July 17. At the last home game Zack Greinke was the star on the mound, but out at the RHOF our stars where the DeMeyer family of Kansas City. Stopping by the RHOF with his father Ron, along with brothers Justin and Brett, Mitch DeMeyer (first from right in picture below) became our 50,000th guest. 


RHOF 50,000th Fan.JPG(Curt Nelson, Director – Royals Hall of Fame)