The season following a World Series championship is normally a victory lap for the winning team. Sadly, the 1986 KC Royals were dealt a life blow.
The script is typically set. You win the World Series, you have a parade a few days later, a ring ceremony at the home opener next year, and then you play ball as the defending champs until someone unseats you. The KC Royals had a more important issue to deal with.
After winning the I-70 series from the St. Louis Cardinals after coming from behind three games to one in both playoff matchups, the Royals were riding high. It was the second major championship for the city (The Chiefs won the Super Bowl in 1970) and the first time it had been captured on home turf.
The team struggled out of the gate though in 1986 and found themselves with a 37-35 record and two and a half games out of first on June 26th. The wheels fell off as the team went on a highly usual double-digit losing streak. By the All-Star break, they were 40-48 and now eight and a half back.
As customary, the managers of the previous two teams in the World Series would manage their respected leagues in the All-Star game. This would be the last time Dick Howser would manage any team from the dugout. Two days after the mid-summer classic a golf ball-sized tumor was found on his brain.
Prior to the diagnosis, Howser was exhibiting usual behavior in front of the team. He was forgetting names, schedules and his normally cool demeanor was gone.
The Royals limped to a 76-86 finish but their thoughts and hearts were with their skipper who had led them to the top of the baseball world less than a year before. Instead of enjoying their summer as defending champions, the team valiantly played out the schedule with Howser always on their minds.
One endearing moment in his time with the team was the first win against the Toronto Blue Jay in the ’85 American League Championship Series. After eleven straight postseason defeats to begin his career, George Brett made sure Howser received the game ball from his first victory.
Howser bravely tried to return to manage the Royals in the spring of 1987 but the toll cancer took on his body left him without the stamina to do it. By June of that year, he lost his battle to the disease.
"Baseball lost a brilliant manager and a wonderful human being. And the Royals stumbled. – mlb.com"
Easily one of the top managers in KC Royals history – if not the best – Howser’s passing at the young age of 50 was a dark moment for the franchise. His legacy lives on through his former players, fans, and having his number retired by the team. A fitting tribute for an extraordinary human being.