As you all likely know, this week was the anniversary of the greatest time to be a Royals fan – the 1985 World Series. While that wasn’t the best Royals team that’s existed, they achieved the highest of honors and did so in remarkable fashion. It was a great time to be a baseball fan in Kansas City and the bright light of George Brett kept things aglow into the early ’90s.
If only everyone had known what was about to come.
The Royals haven’t reached the playoffs since. They’ve had 7 winning seasons from 1986-2010. Five of those happened in 1993 or earlier and a sixth was during the strike-shortened 1994 season that had potential to be a great year for Kansas City. Things just haven’t been the same since then, and knowing that the Royals have gone 6-18 in winning seasons in my lifetime isn’t much fun to think about.
1655-2092. That’s the Royals’ record from the day I was born to now. That’s a 0.442 winning percentage. It doesn’t sound as bad as you’d think, right? Those first few years of my life were all right. The Royals were still winning and the adventures of George Brett, Frank White, Bret Saberhagen, and Dan Quisenberry were still playing out. Life as a Royals fan could have been much, much worse. It just would have been nice if I were old enough to remember it.
In June of 1991, my family relocated to the land of Brett Favre.* Maybe it was a good time to get out while I could. After that season, Bret Saberhagen would become a Met and things would truly start to crumble for the Royals. George Brett was heading into his “declining years” (relative to Yuni, he was still an MVP) and the amount of overturn had increased after GM John Schuerholz had left the year before. It could be said that the Royals fandom in my blood was sort of preserved in the wintry Wisconsin conditions as everything was slowly going toward an unforeseen hell.
*Maybe it’s bad to say that now. Bart Starr? Original Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? Reggie White? Robin Yount? Bob Uecker? I’ll have to think on that.
The closest thing I had to Royals baseball was the Milwaukee Brewers, who incidentally had their last winning season for 15 years in 1992. Baseball was not a hot commodity at the time . Even the University of Wisconsin-Madison didn’t have a baseball team (removed in 1991). For a baseball lover born to a family indifferent to the sport, times were tough.
The earliest games I remember were Brewers games in old Milwaukee County Stadium. I don’t know how old I was or even who we played, but just that it was the best feeling to simply see the game played by professionals. I quickly learned to love the little accomplishments of random players like Mark Loretta and Jeff Cirillo. I was too young to realize that this would be hugely important for the continuance of my Royals fandom.
The only game at the K that I remember was against the Yankees and was an interesting night. I was pretty young, probably 9 or 10, and don’t remember the players at all. Without the internet or newspapers to keep me updated about the Royals, it was hard to keep close track of them. The only thing I do remember well was having the feeling of belonging. Even though I was never able to see or watch games, that was my team and I knew it. Being at the K was the final piece of being hooked on Royals baseball forever.
*The game was back-and-forth and high-scoring, from what I remember, but I haven’t been able to track down the actual game from the full list at Baseball Reference.
You might say I’m a special case of a member of the lost generation. I was (un)fortunate enough to get out of KC before the really hard times hit. I spent years upon years in close proximity to the Brewers and Twins, and, while there were no championships to be had there, it was a form of distraction from the misadventures of the Royals. By the time I was actively using the internet to find news, the winning seasons were a thing of the past and the Allard Baird era was dawning on KC.
The unfortunate part of me beginning to actively use the internet was that it began at a time when things were about to go from bad to worse. The four seasons with 100 or more losses in the 2000s were about as bad as it gets, putting the upper bounds on an 11-year range (’00-’10) when the Royals averaged 95 losses a season. Yes, this is when I had the most exposure to the Royals.
And yes, I’m still here.
The question I get most is “Why?” It’s the easiest question to ask. When I explain that I’m a Royals fan, no one quite understands. But, as I go on to explain, they realize what happened to this generation. When we were born, the height of Royals’ love had just hit KC and there was a lot of passion for the team. Even though having a great team while we were growing up was a luxury we couldn’t afford, we were born into Royals fandom.
It hasn’t been so bad. While a Red Sox fan might get some true anger from Yankee fans, no one badgers around a Royals fan (unless they’re obnoxious). The Twins fans gave me some good-natured ribbing while I was in Minnesota, but nothing too terrible. The worst thing has truly been the bad team.
The best thing we have going for us as the lost generation is being at a prime age for a potential Royals emergence in the next few years. We’re old enough to really understand the game and statistics while having realistic expectations. After that, we have a lot of life left to love these Royals. So, while we were hooked at birth by a great team, we’ll be permanently hooked by a team that competes while we’re reaching our prime.
When you think about it that way, it’s perfect. The Royals and their young players will likely hit their peak while we as a generation of fans will be reaching our’s. A lost generation will be rescued from years of despair.
If things don’t work out as well as they could, well, it could be tough. For a group of fans that’s used to disappointment, though, it would just be the next step in a stream of saddening Royals undoings. I’m personally kind of numb to that feeling now. When we’re used to seeing failure, another 25 years without postseason appearances would be rough, but ultimately surmountable. Just like the last 25 years have been.
Why am I still a Royals fan? On the day I was born, the Royals pounded the Yankees 13-1 as Saberhagen threw a masterful 9-inning, 2-hit performance. Every player in the lineup reached base at least once. It was just meant to be.