Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Statue - Kauffman Stadium

Cursed


The Fateful Call - 1985 (SI)


You hear a lot about curses when it comes to some of the most storied franchises in baseball. For 86 years, the Boston Red Sox were tormented by the Curse of the Bambino. The Hapless Cubs blame The Curse of the Billy Goat for their 103 year championship drought. Even the Cleveland Indians lay claim to the Curse of Rocky Colavito for being the reason that they haven’t won a World Series since 1948.

Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that The Royals are under the Curse of Don Denkinger.

The revelation came to me recently after I watched a documentary about the Cubs. They spent two hours dissecting Steve Bartman’s impact on Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS and how it’s just another example of how they are cursed. They made comparisons to Bill Buckner’s error back in 1986, saying that during the long championship droughts, these two individuals were major speedbumps.

The Royals have not had any such speedbumps since 1985 because they have not made the playoffs since that celebratory moment.

At the time, there was no reason to think that the Kansas City Royals would fade into mediocrity, let alone desolation. After coming together as a franchise in 1969, the team struggled for their first two years, but then won 85 games in ’71 and 88 games in ’73 – both good enough for 2nd place finishes in the AL West. The Royals won 91 games in 1975 but finished seven games behind the A’s and missed the playoffs once again.

Finally (“finally”), the boys in blue broke through in 1976 as George Brett hit .333 and the Royals made the playoffs for the first time. They battled the mighty New York Yankees but lost that year, and again in 1977 and 1978. In 1979, they took a step back but still finished 2nd in the AL West. In 1980, they came back with a vengeance and finally beat the Yankees to advance to their first World Series.

The Phillies proved to be too much for the Royals in 1980, but the team stayed hot and made the playoffs again in a strike shortened 1981. In ’82 & ’83, the Royals missed the playoffs, but still finished 2nd in the West. They made it back to the Playoffs in 1984, but lost to the eventual Champs (Detroit). We all know what happened in 1985.

It’s a great ascension to respectability that took place between 1969 and 1985. In 17 years, the team went from expansion franchise to World Series Champions. They had to knock on doors before breaking them down – from climbing over .500, to making the playoffs, to beating the Yankees, to winning a World Series. They first had to fail before they tasted success every step along the way.

In a period of 10 years, from 1976 to 1985, the Royals either won or finished 2nd in the AL West every single season (1981 is tricky, but they still made the playoffs). In the 26 seasons since, and the division breakdown that has occurred, the Royals have not made the playoffs once. They have finished in 2nd place just three times.

So what happened?

Some would say that the pool of talent dried up. Others would say that Dick Howser’s tragic death had an impact. Different owners and philosophies took the team in another direction. The business of baseball and emergence of free agency shifted the balance of power unfairly against small market clubs.

All of these could be true to an extent, but I have more of a conspiracy theory on my mind.

I think that Ewing Kauffman, with all the best intentions, sold the soul of the franchise’s future to win one World Series before he died. He was frustrated that the team, with all of their talent, could not do it alone. He knew that it would all be for not if he didn’t get the city that ring. Sealing this deal took the help of one umpire, and one really big blown call. That call almost exposed the fix for what it was. However, it worked. The Royals won the World Series and then fell into obscurity like a thousand pound curveball.

Kauffman passed away and is a hero in Kansas City. His name is on the stadium, and his statue greets the fans at every game. Don Denkinger went on to work another World Series, more playoff games, all-star games, no-hitters, and perfect games. They all walked away unscathed, but I fear that because of that, the Royals have been doomed to fail. The only question that I have now is, how long will the curse last?

At this point, only the Washington Nationals have a longer playoff drought, and that takes into account their time as the Montreal Expos. They last made the postseason in 1981 and have never played in a World Series. So are they cursed?

I can’t speak to the Expos – one, because they no longer exist, and two, because they’re Canadian. There is a theory floating around that the Washington Nationals ARE cursed. In 2010, writers at the Baltimore Sun offered a theory that the team will be cursed forever because of the location of their new stadium. It turns out that Abraham Lincoln’s assassination conspirators were tried and hanged next door in 1865.

The Seattle Mariners are struggling through the same kind of futility and are also throwing out curse theories. None of them were that impressive, and felt a little contrived to me. Remember that this is a team that won 116 games in 2001 but failed to make their first World Series. The 116 wins tied the 1906 Cubs for the most ever during a regular season. See the connection?

I know, it’s a stretch.

Just put yourself in the mindset that the Denkinger curse a possibility & see how you feel. Try it on for size.

The Famed Billy Goat - Drinking Away His Sorrows

Why do people come up with curses? To lay blame on one single act or scapegoat rather than simply accept the fact that they have stunk for a long, long time? The reality is that crazy things happen in sports that affect outcomes of games, directions of franchises, and futures of players. Those things are unpredictable. It’s nice to have something to lean on, however tongue-in-cheek it might be, when those things continue to go wrong. It might seem ridiculous that the Cubs blame their yearly collapse on a billy goat that was not allowed entrance to the 1945 World Series, but it’s something permanent and tangible for them to reference. No matter what happens (Steve Bartman) it all ties back to that stupid goat. Throughout the years, fans do whatever they can to break the curse, and it’s usually to no avail. When (if) the Cubs ever win another World Series, all will be forgiven. All of the losing seasons will be washed away. Steve Bartman might even be invited back to throw out the first pitch on opening day. Just look at the Red Sox. Fenway Park gave Bill Buckner one of the most emotional standing ovations that I’ve ever seen in 2008. Winning is the best medicine.

The bottom line is, the Royals have their World Series Trophy. They always will. However, it was a tainted win and will forever be unclean because of one bang-bang play at first base in the 9th inning of Game Six. Royals fans know it deep down. Cardinals fans know it, but don’t care. What has St. Louis done since then? Played in four World Series and won two of them. That will help you forget about a cheap loss in 1985 pretty quickly.

Like I said, the only question now is how long this dreadful curse will last.

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Tags: AL Central Baseball Curse Don Denkinger Kansas City Royals KC MLB Royals