Beloved Royals: Is This The Year?

As I’ve written here many times before, I’m a long-suffering  Kansas City Royals fan. After decades of futility, my beloved Royals made it to Game Seven of the World Series last year, falling only at the final moment to one of the greatest post-season pitching performances in Major League history. Nicely done!

After years and years of feeling like anything better than a 100-loss season was a success, I could have happily nursed 2014’s excellent outcome for another 20 years or so, but danged if the Beloveds haven’t finished the regular season this year with the American League’s best record. Huttah! Kansas City heads into the post-season tomorrow against the National League expat Houston Astros, who kindly eliminated the Yankees  from the post-season last night. (For the record, I hate the one-game playoff, except when it allows the Yankees to be quickly dispatched and sent home. So it served its purpose this year).

Which leads me to the big question: is this the year that the Royals finally win their second major league title, 30 years after they improbably took advantage of rule changes (they would have lost the American League Championship Series had it not expanded to seven games that year) and horrific umpiring (they survived Game Six of the World Series on a blown running call at first base) to dispatch the St. Louis Cardinals in Game Seven of the 1985 World Series?

There are some similarities between 1985 and 2015 at play. The Royals beat the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS in ’85, and the Jays are conveniently positioned to meet them in the ALCS again this year, assuming they can dispatch the inferior Texas Rangers. The Beloveds beat the Cardinals in the World Series in ’85, and guess who sits atop the National League standings this year, with the clearest path to the final round? (Similarities aside, I’d rather see the Royals play the Mets or the Cubs in the World Series, the former being my favorite National League team, the latter giving me a chance to possibly catch a World Series game locally this year).

There are some differences, of course, too. The ’85 team dominated the American League’s individual awards, with Bret Saberhagen taking the Cy Young Award, George Brett capturing the league Most Valuable Player trophy, and Dan Quisenberry grabbing Relief Man of the Year honors. This year’s squad is more workmanlike, and I’d be surprised if any of its players feature in the top three of any of the major post-season individual awards. The ’85 Royals won the World Series after being disappointed by a Detroit Tiger sweep in the ALCS, while this year, they seek to build on the unexpected nearest of all possible misses on the Big Stage. Expectations matter.

All that being said, there’s one other intangible that I hesitate to mention, but feel compelled to put on the record, despite superstitious misgivings: The Curse of Joaquin Andujar. I’ve written about my theory surrounding this Curse in earlier posts, and I quote myself here:

After a pair of quick postseason eliminations in 1981 and 1984, the Royals finally ascended to baseball’s highest pinnacle in 1985, when they beat the Toronto Blue Jays 4-3 in the American League Championship Series, and then beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-3 in the World Series. Of course, the East Coast Sporting Elites wanted to sully my celebration even then, noting that the Royals were the beneficiaries of a series of ridiculously bad umpiring calls, not to mention Cardinal pitcher Joaquin Andujar‘s monumental on-mound psycho meltdown in Game Seven. But I didn’t (and don’t) care. The Royals were the champs in 1985, and I gloated like a champ, as the only known Royals fan within a 500 mile radius of Annapolis, where I lived at the time.

It’s a good thing I gloated so much then, because the Royals have never returned to the post-season, and I haven’t been able to do so again since. I don’t believe in the Red Sox’ Curse of the Bambino or the Cubs’ Curse of the Goat, but I do believe in the Curse of Joaquin Andujar, who most certainly directed so much antipathy towards the Royals and the Umps who shamed him that the Beloveds have never been able to get out from beneath the lingering cloud of bad karma that he tagged them with in that ominous, portentous seventh game in 1985. They won the biggest battle that year, but clearly the war turned against the Royals and their fans after that day. And I believe that the Curse of Joaquin Andujar is the reason why.

It’s worth noting that 1985 World Series aside, Joaquin Andujar was one of the greatest pitchers of his era, and one of the pioneering members of the Dominican Republic’s emergence as a baseball powerhouse. When Pedro Martinez was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this year, he cited Andujar as one of his major inspirations. Joaquin Andujar was great, no argument about that.

But Joaquin Andujar also sadly passed away earlier this year after a long battle with diabetes — and I’m not sure how this will impact his Curse on the Royals. Will it be more powerful as Joaquin glowers down on the Beloveds from Baseball Heaven? Or will its power be lifted now that the Mighty Andujar has ascended to his great reward? I never like to benefit from others’ misfortunes, or wish ill on people who disagree with me about things, but as a superstitious sports fan, I can’t help but think that Joaquin Andujar’s passing is meaningful in the long-cycle view of the Royals’ fortunes. I hope for a positive outcome, if it’s not churlish to do so.

And that now being said, and put on the permanent record, I’ll leave it with no further comment or analysis — except to hope that I’ve not created the Curse of J. Eric Smith by mentioning it.

Go Beloved Royals! Win!

The 1985 Royals celebrate the franchise's sole World Series Championship. For now.

The 1985 Royals celebrate the franchise’s sole World Series Championship. For now.

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