“I had been conditioned to believe that for a losing team to right itself and become a winning team was an immortal task, and certainly would not be accomplished in less than seven years.”
For that decade between 1976 and 1985 when the Royals were winning, the Royals were always in the top five in attendance, the Royals talk consumed the city and, even more, the region. The Royals were Oklahoma’s team and Nebraska’s team and parts of Iowa and Arkansas, too. Of course, the Cardinals had owned the Midwest for a half century, and largely still do, but the Royals meant something. They wore blue, and they turned singles into doubles, and they broke up double plays, and they caught everything, and they didn’t need the home run to win but when they hit one the fountains in the outfield would dance. This was the spirit of Kansas City baseball, the spirit that the last 25 years has stepped on and kicked and stabbed.
But that spirit is still around. The forecasters are calling for it to be 106 degrees today, and the grass has yellowed, and the Royals are 8 1/2 back already, and the Royals still have unhelpful veterans like Jeff Francoeur and Yuni Betancourt in their everyday lineup, and Jonathan Sanchez wrecks things every fifth day while the guy he was traded for, Melky Cabrera, is hitting like .789 in San Francisco. But people still care. They still care enough to want GM Dayton Moore to be pushed out and owner David Glass to sell. They still care enough to check Wil Myers’ amazing numbers in the minors (.327/.403/.676 with 20 doubles, five triples and 27 homers in 83 games between Class AA and Class AAA), they still care enough to notice [Eric] Hosmer’s coming on, and [Mike] Moustakas is playing a nice third base and to check in on how the surgeries for Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino are going.
Kansas City is probably the smallest market in baseball. There are numerous ways to judge such things—population in the city, population in the metro area, population going out 100 miles, television market size, radio reach—and in all of those, Kansas City and Milwaukee scrape bottom. If Major League Baseball was starting a 30-team league right now, Kansas City almost certainly would not get a team. The Royals are here for the effort and obsessive believe of a few people who loved this town—mainly owner Ewing Kauffman and sportswriters Ernie Mehl and Joe McGuff—and stayed here because people cared, and have kept caring. It isn’t easy. There are some inside Kansas City who think the city would be better off without the Royals, and many, many more outside the city limits who think baseball would be better off without Kansas City.
But enough people still love the Royals, and every summer the Royals play, and people keep hoping for the best.