Echoes of the '85 K.C. Royals

I was lookin up when it was a cool night in October
Darryl Motley caught
a lazy fly off Andy Van Slyke's bat
Kansas City delirious as champs
we poured champagne on sweat-soaked heads
it burned our eyes
we didn't care
we screamed we sang we laughed
drunk with victory

--"A Career," from On Days Like This, poems by Dan Quisenberry

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Long time, 29 years. The airport, a hub for TWA, is still there, but TWA isn't. The Huffington Post, which wasn't around in 1985, just declared Kansas City "the coolest city in America," which might have seemed laughable back then. The ballpark is the same but different -- the beautiful grass hill in center field fell to the scourge of revenue-producing seats.

The home clubhouse has been rearranged, with the pitchers now on the side of the room closest to the field. Dan Quisenberry, the Royals' submarining closer, has passed away, a victim of brain cancer at age 45 in 1998. So has the skipper, Dick Howser, who died of the same thing less than two years after he won the World Series. Ewing Kauffman, the owner who brought the Royals to Kansas City, is also gone.

The teams are different, too. This one is younger and less battle-tested than the 1985 Royals who gave the city its only baseball championship. Most of them were born after Oct. 27, 1985, and the rest have no memory of the wild weekend when the boys in blue shocked the boys in red from across the state. That doesn't mean they haven't seen the clips, though. "Hard to avoid," left fielder Alex Gordon says. "It was basically the only highlights for 29 years."

Yet there are still similarities that provide connective tissue between then and now, echoes of '85 that reverberate through the Truman Sports Complex, ghosts that happily haunt the maze beneath the park whose name was changed from Royals Stadium to Kauffman Stadium in 1993.

With that in mind, here are 29 ways -- one for each year in the desert -- that these Royals are like those Royals.

1. The Voice.

Here is Denny Matthews' summation of the ninth inning of Game 6 of the 1985 World Series:

"If you ever doubted that a team was destined to win, all you have to do is roll the tape back on this ninth inning. And you can see that someone was smiling down on these Kansas City Royals tonight."

He is the Vin Scully of Kansas City, now in his 46th year of broadcasting Royals games. Describing his gifts, Bill James once wrote: "One cannot learn these things at a microphone; they are given."

If you roll the tape back on his '85 call, you will be mesmerized by how clearly, eloquently and honestly he described that whole ninth inning. After the controversial call that started the rally, he said, "I must report to you in all honesty [that Jorge Orta was out]."

Since that call, Matthews has been inducted into the broadcasters' wing of the Hall of Fame and overtaken all but Scully and Jaime Jarrin, both of the Dodgers, for longest continuous service to a club. It's nice that he has another chance to conduct a World Series service for the faithful.

2.The Bottom Half.

Now two generations have an inning, or rather half-inning, to remember. For those of you too young (or unborn) to score at home, it was Oct. 26, 1985, Game 6 with the Royals trailing the St. Louis Cardinals 3-2 in games, and trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth inning. It went like this: Jorge Orta "singles" off Todd Worrell, Steve Balboni singles to left, Jim Sundberg bunts into a force at third, the runners move up on a passed ball, pinch hitter Hal McRae gets walked to load the bases and pinch hitter Dane Iorg singles to right to drive home the tying and winning runs.

We left out the part about first-base umpire Don Denkinger clearly blowing the call on Orta's hit, and the vociferous arguing by Worrell and Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog, and the flop sweat soaking every seat in the stands and the Royals dugout.

Gens X, Y and Z now have Sept. 30, 2014: Trailing the Oakland A's 8-7 with one out in the bottom of the 12th in the AL wild-card game, Eric Hosmer triples off Dan Otero, Christian Colon hits a Baltimore chop single to tie the score, Alex Gordon pops up for the second out off reliever Fernando Abad, Colon steals second and Salvador Perez lines a single down the left-field line to score Colon and win the game.

We left out the part about the flop sweat and A's outfielders Jonny Gomes and Sam Fuld colliding on Hosmer's ball. Which is another thing that links the two teams:

3. Good Luck.

But, as Branch Rickey famously said, "Luck is the residue of design." Which brings us to...

4. The Fool on the Hill.

Who decides to interrupt a road trip home to watch the seventh game of a World Series from a hilltop beside an interstate? Well, a 19-year-old Royals fan from Wichita named Dayton Moore did just that on Oct. 27, 1985. He and a friend were on their way back to Garden City Community College, some six hours west of Kansas City, when they parked their car along I-70 and tailgated with some people from Omaha. "Eleven to zero and we stayed for the whole thing," says Moore, the general manager of the Royals and the architect of the revival.

To make a long story short, Moore got into coaching, joined the Braves as a scout, became a protégé of John Schuerholz -- the Royals' GM in '85 -- and chose Kansas City over other, more promising clubs in 2006, in large part because of his sublimated love for the franchise.

And now he can stand on the field on the day before Game 1 of the 2014 Series, point to his old perch and say, "It's pretty cool that I'm here now."

For any college kids thinking of emulating Moore this time around, there is a problem: Because of stadium renovations, you can't see the field from the hill beyond left field any more.

5. The Skipper.

Ned Yost also has a connection to the '85 Royals via the Atlanta Braves, although his is a more circuitous route. The Royals manager coached under Bobby Cox for 12 seasons before getting his first managerial job, in Milwaukee. And Cox and Howser were very close -- they were Yankees infielders and coaches together, which provided an interesting subplot in the 1985 ALCS when Howser outsmarted Cox, then the manager of the Blue Jays. In fact, Cox was one of Howser's pallbearers.

Here's Quisenberry describing his former manager in "Ode to Dick Howser":

some of us will remember
our leader who said
who didn't over-manage
let us play
let veterans police the team
and always saved
that pat on the back

An ode to Ned Yost would not read quite that way, but over the course of his nearly five seasons with the Royals, fiery Yost has learned to relax the reins in sync with the added maturity of his players. And they respect him as much as the '85 Royals respected Howser. "He loves us like we were his own children, and you want to play hard for someone like that," catcher Salvador Perez says.

One other thing: Howser was often second-guessed on his decisions, too.

6. I's on the Prize.

There have been only 11 players whose last name begins with an I who have played in the World Series . Only four of them played in multiple World Series: Monte Irvin of the 1951 and '54 Giants; Dane Iorg of the '85 Royals; and -- curiously enough -- Omar Infante of these Royals and Travis Ishikawa of these Giants.

7. The Scout.

Art Stewart joined the Royals as a scout just after their inaugural season of 1969. He has scouted every prospect along the way: George Brett, McRae, Frank White, Willie Wilson, Bret Saberhagen, Danny Jackson, Bo Jackson, Carlos Beltran, Zack Greinke ... right on down to Alex Gordon, Hosmer and Perez. The Royals have always had a pattern for producing talent, and Stewart has been the tailor.

Still employed as a consultant to Moore, he's also a newly minted author of "The Art of Scouting," written with Kansas City Star columnist Sam Mellinger and published by Ascend Books.

"Different teams," he says in assessing the Royals of then and now. "The '85 team had been to the postseason every year, so winning was in their DNA. This team is the vision of Dayton Moore and the nurturing of Ned Yost. Me, I'm just an old scout who's happy as hell to be back in the Fall Classic."

8. The Other Scout.

That would be the familiar face, bald pate and Ruthian body of Giants advance scout Steve Balboni. Now 57, he is the former "Bye-Bye" Balboni, a gentle giant who was third in the American League in homers in the '85 season with 36. "I loved my time in Kansas City," Balboni said in the visitors dugout on the eve of the Series. "Great fans, great teammates, great city. And I can remember everything about the '85 Series. Unfortunately, it's 2014 and my loyalty is to the Giants."

Thinking back, Balboni would have been among the least likely Royals to become a scout because he was so quiet and unassuming -- when he reported for spring training, a security guard at the Royals complex in Florida did not believe he was a ballplayer. But included in that package was a keen baseball mind -- he didn't become an advance scout just because he played with Giants GM Brian Sabean in college.

"I can't tell you anything you don't already know about the Royals," Balboni says. "But I can tell you it's going to be great seeing this place host a World Series again."

9. The Eagle Scouts.

Starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie could become the second Eagle Scout to win a World Series for the Royals. The first? The owner of the team in '85, Ewing Kauffman.

10. The Buck O'Neil Legacy Seat.

In the scout section behind home plate, there is one red seat among the sea of blue. That's the seat that former Kansas City Monarch Buck O'Neil sat in when he was scouting for the Cubs and Royals. McRae called him "The Guiding Light," and his positive energy is still missed eight years after his death, on Oct. 6, 2006.

The Royals honor people of inspiration by giving them that seat for a game. But it has added significance because it represents Kansas City's commitment to the African-American ballplayer. This is where the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is, where Satchel Paige is buried, where Jackie Robinson and Ernie Banks got their starts.

The '85 Royals won because of their African-American contingent of six: McRae, White, Wilson, Lonnie "Skates" Smith, Motley and Lynn Jones. These Royals have outfielders Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson and Terrance Gore, but that's still as many as any other postseason team, which speaks volumes about baseball's losing battle for talent with basketball and football.

11. The Young Guns.

If there is a similarity between the old and new Royals, Art Stewart says it's the powerful, largely unknown pitchers: "We had Bret Saberhagen, Danny Jackson, Mark Gubicza, Buddy Black then. Now it's Yordano Ventura, Kelvin Herrera, Danny Duffy and Brandon Finnegan."

12. The 8s.

As for the clearest individual parallel between '85 and '14, Stewart votes for the center fielders, Wilson and Cain. "They have very similar frames, very similar talents. They were both tremendous flycatchers and offensive catalysts. Funny, but they both came to baseball late -- Willie was going to play football but we offered him more money, and Lorenzo turned to baseball after he got cut in basketball.

"In the long run -- don't tell this to Willie -- I think Lorenzo will be the better ballplayer."

Wanna hear something mind-boggling? Wilson had a career stolen-base percentage of 83.3 (668-for-802). Cain's percentage is 83.1 (59-for-71).

13. No. 5.

He was the face of the franchise then, and, to see the TV shots, he's the face of the franchise now. But George Brett would like nothing more than to have the cameras point away from him and focus more on the current players. That joy you saw on his face after the win against the A's and the sweeps of the Angels and Orioles, though, is genuine.

For one thing, he knows these Royals well because he took on a role few Hall of Famers have ever deigned to take: In May 2013, he agreed to be their hitting coach on a temporary basis. Although Brett eschews any notion that he helped, Hosmer has said his attitude rubbed off on them. "He's so competitive, and all he wants to do is win," Hosmer said. "When you're around a guy like George, and he's acting like that in the dugout, it gets you fired up."

For another, he's happy for his own three sons, who are on top of the world. After the Royals clinched a postseason berth, 21-year-old Jackson called his father to pass along his gratitude to Moore. "He wanted to thank him for the happiest day of his life," George said.

14. Double Dealing.

Trades helped make both teams. The two Schuerholz made to help the Royals seem like steals in retrospect: first baseman Balboni and pitcher Roger Erickson in December of '83 from the Yankees for reliever Mike Armstrong and catcher Duane Dewey; in May of '85, outfielder Lonnie Smith from the Cardinals, the team they would meet in the World Series, for another outfielder, John Morris. In that Series, Balboni would hit .320 with 3 RBIs and a key single in the ninth-inning rally of Game 6 and Smith would hit .333 with 4 RBIs.

Both trades Moore made required real guts. In December 2010, he traded ace Greinke, Yuniesky Betancourt and cash to the Brewers for Cain, shortstop Alcides Escobar, pitcher Jake Odorizzi and reliever Jeremy Jeffress. Two years later, he sent Wil Myers, Odorizzi and two minor leaguers to the Rays for James Shields and Wade Davis.

15. New Arrivals.

One of the great backstories of the '85 World Series was the birth of 21-year-old Bret Saberhagen's son Drew on the morning of Game 6, in between his complete-game victories over the Cardinals.

Well, the 2014 Royals have had not one but two bonus babies this postseason. The first arrived on the Wednesday in between the wild-card game and Game 1 of the ALDS with the Angels. Lacey Holland gave birth to Nash Gregory in Asheville, North Carolina. Husband Greg kissed them both goodbye, then flew by charter to Orange County, California. He arrived at the ballpark in the middle of the game, talking his way past security guards, then closed out the 11th inning for the Royals.

Jenny Cain gave birth to Cameron Loe in between the Angels and Orioles series, and Lorenzo brought him out onto the Kauffman Stadium warning track after he won the ALCS MVP. Veteran Guthrie chastised Holland and Cain: "The guys didn't plan for a playoff run. We had my kids during the offseason -- you need to plan better next time."

16. One Degree of Separation.

There is one player who was a teammate of a member of the '85 team, Bret Saberhagen, and a member of the '14 team, Alex Gordon. When Gordon was asked who that was, he guessed "Mike Sweeney?" (wrong), "Mike Macfarlane?" (wrong), "Raul Ibanez?" (wrong).

Told the answer was Ron Mahay, the lefty who played with Gordon on the '08 and '09 Royals and with Saberhagen on the '97 and '98 Red Sox, Gordon said, "Wait a minute, you said 'player,' not 'pitcher.'"

True, although some would argue that pitchers are players -- as did Mahay, who was drafted as an outfielder and now scouts for the Dodgers: "Oh, man, did he really say that?"

17. Small Ball.

Because they played on artificial turf, the '85 Royals were a team built on baserunning and bunting and taking the extra base.

Mahay sees the same thing in this year's Royals. "I love watching them play," he says, "It's basically an American League club playing a National League brand of baseball, stealing bases, hit-and-running. And now that they're starting to hit home runs, with their speed and pitching and bullpen, they are hitting on all cylinders."

18. Big Heart.

Both teams laughed at impossible odds. The '85 Royals were the first club in the 82-year history of the Fall Classic to lose their first two games at home and come back to win the title. After the bottom of the seventh of the AL wild-card game, the Royals trailed 7-3 and stood a 3 percent chance of winning.

Losing Game 1 of the Series at home? Piss on it.

19. The Bullpen.

Given that the '85 Royals had a reliever with 37 saves and backups such as Steve Farr and Joe Beckwith, you might presume that they were a lot like the lockdown guys the Royals now have: Herrera for the seventh, Davis for the eighth, Holland for the ninth.

But the bullpen back then was a lot more unsettled. After a shaky ALCS, Howser wasn't as trusting of Quisenberry as he might have been, so the Quiz was basically just an eighth-inning guy, which is why he appeared in all three losses and got the win in Game 6. As it turned out, Howser never needed a closer: Saberhagen had two complete-game victories, Jackson had one, and the Royals pulled the other out of the fire.

Perception counts for a lot, though, in strategy. The Cardinals must've been thinking that if Quisenberry wasn't the closer, the guy who was, Farr, had to be pretty good.

20. Roots.

When Darryl Motley caught that lazy fly on Oct. 27, 1985, the fans spilled over the walls and 2-year-old Ryan Toma shouted, "Get off my daddy's field."

Ryan is a Delta Airlines pilot now, and his daddy, 87-year-old George Toma, is raking the dirt around third base in preparation for the Royals' first World Series in 29 years. "I never thought I'd see the day," George says.

In some ways, this is still Toma's field -- there's a huge photo of him back in the left-field shed with his mantra under it: AND THEN SOME. But his office now belongs to head groundskeeper Trevor Vance, who was a high school football player and wrestler when George hired him part time in '85 for the tarp crew.

"When Motley caught that ball," Vance says, "my job was to run out to home plate, stand on it and make sure nobody tried to dig it up."

Back then, the Royals had artificial turf, which was a waste of Toma's talents -- he once made a grass toupee for bald trainer Mickey Cobb. Vance took over for him in 1995, the same year the Royals replaced the carpet with natural grass. "Trevor's like a son to me," George says. "You know how there are complete ballplayers? Well, Trevor's a complete groundskeeper -- great bluegrass that doesn't need to be resodded, great warning track, excellent infield."

"George is like a father to me," Trevor says. "A really demanding father. But I'm going to make him proud for this World Series."

That crown pattern in the outfield is a thing of beauty.

21. The Flack.

Once upon a time, Mike Swanson cut grass for George Toma at Arrowhead Stadium, where his mother Betty worked for the Chiefs. Now Swanson is the Royals' VP for communications and broadcasting and -- like Vance -- just about the best in the business.

On Oct. 27, 1985 "Swanee" was in PR for the San Diego Padres but also a part-time stats aide for Al Michaels on "Monday Night Football." "I watched Game 6 in Chicago, but after the game, I flew to Kansas City with Al's brother David, so I was here for Game 7.

"I've worked World Series before, for the Padres and Rockies, but to have one at home is special. And I get to share it with my 15-year-old daughter, Rachel. She's 12-0, by the way, this postseason."

Well, 12-1 now. But the Royals have lost the first game of a World Series at home before.

22. The Scribe.

Alan Eskew of The Associated Press has been a postgame fixture in the Royals manager's office since August of 1979, when Whitey Herzog was in the chair. Back in '85, Eskew was the beat writer for the Topeka Capital-Journal, and he was all ready to send in his Game 6 story when Orta led off the bottom of the ninth.

"Yeah, I had to rewrite it," he says in characteristic humility. "It probably wasn't very good. But I'm pretty sure I wrote that Orta was safe."

23. Comic Relief.

Quisenberry was the class clown in '85. When the Royals visited the White House after the World Series, President Ronald Reagan apologized to the reliever for calling him "Jim Quisenberry" in his congratulatory phone call to the victorious clubhouse.

The Quiz replied, "That's OK, Don."

This time around, the prankster comes from the other end of the battery. All season, Perez has delighted in pestering Cain and posting his reactions on Instagram. At the media session the day before the World Series, Perez, microphone in hand, joined the scrum of reporters around Cain, and they had this exchange:

Perez: How does it feel to be in the World Series?
Cain: It feels great to be in the World Series with you.
Perez: I love you, you know that?
Cain: Yeah, I know, you love me.
Perez: And you love me, too?
Cain: Next question.

24. The Song.

You probably know the story by now: New Zealand singer-songwriter Lorde wrote her 2014 Grammy Award-winning song "Royals" after seeing a 1976 National Geographic photograph of George Brett signing baseballs in his Royals uniform. San Francisco radio stations are banning the song from their airwaves.

They might also have to ban her cover of "Everybody Wants To Rule the World," which was a big hit for Tears for Fears in ... wait for it ... 1985.

25. The Uniform.

If you look at that old photo, you can see how Brett's jersey might have inspired Lorde. Although the Royals logo clearly owes a debt of gratitude to the Dodgers script, it has a beauty all its own.

It's probably just a coincidence, but when the Royals were foundering in the early 2000s, they experimented with a black drop shadow on the script and black alternate jerseys. Not a good look.

As for the powder blue of the road uniforms, well, it's nice to have it back as a Fall Classic color.

26. Steal Magnolias.

The Royals might have accidentally hit on a formula for winning the World Series: acquire 5-foot-10 players with speed from the state of Mississippi. In '85, it was Frank White. In '14, it's Jarrod Dyson.

27. The Noise.

In trying to explain why he blew the call back in '85, Denkinger said he was listening for the sounds of the ball hitting Todd Worrell's mitt and Orta's foot touching the bag to determine safe or out. "But it was just too loud to hear," Denkinger said.

When the stadium was renovated in 2007, the grass hill in left-center was replaced by seats and a luxury club, making the stadium even louder. Only nobody really knew that until the wild-card game. Shields said that when he took the rubber he could actually feel the earth shake.

28. The Fans.

It was a baseball town once, it's a baseball town again. And there's always been a positive vibe to the passion, a sense of gratitude rather than a sense of entitlement.

Face it. You wouldn't have been greeted at LaGuardia Airport by balloon sculptures in Yankee colors.

29. The Clubhouse.

By all accounts, the current atmosphere in the Royals' locker room is both cohesive and loose, diverse and single-minded.

It would be hard, though, to top the Royals of the '80s. "That was the best group of guys I ever played with," Balboni says.

The Royals were so nice that it was hard for a sports writer to be objective when he covered them. Or at least this one.

It was Game 3 of the '85 World Series at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, and the Royals already had dropped the first two at home. My wife and I were sitting in the first row of the upper deck in left field, above the Royals bullpen. In the middle of the game, we heard our names being called. We looked down, and there were Quiz and John Wathan and Jamie Quirk waving to us. Even the Cardinals fans around us were impressed -- not so much by our celebrity but by how loose a team about to be swept was.

The Royals won that night, 6-1 behind Saberhagen, lost Game 4 and won Game 5.

The rest is history. And that leaves the present, a World Series against another likable, entertaining wild-card team. But the Giants are not the Royals, and they don't play in a town that's long overdue for a visit to the White House. In this Series, '85 gets to meet '14.

So here's hoping the lines Dan Quisenberry used to end "A Career" ring true again:

It lasted so long
it went so fast
it seems like yesterday
it seems like never

By the way, Quisenberry 's number was 29.