Not long ago – just yesterday, in fact – baseball fans (and non-baseball fans, really) could easily tell you when the last time the Pirates were above .500. 1992! 1992! 1992! Now that this trivia answer will be used over the next few months at local pubs around the great state of Pennsylvania, it’s time to focus on the next great factoid that showcases ineptitude: the Kansas City Royals have not made the playoffs since 1985.
Now, 1992 was bad enough. Not being above .500 for 21 years is really bad. And to be able to reference Skinny Barry Bonds and Young Tim Wakefield from that 1992 Pirates team, that’s pretty cool. But 1985? Back To The Future came out that year. T-Pain and Carly Rae Jepsen were born. Calvin & Hobbes premiered. Pete Rose became the Hit King. Ozzie Guillen and Vince Coleman won Rookie of the Year. Do you see what we’re doing here? That was a really long time ago. That year, the Royals played the St. Louis Cardinals in the I-70 World Series, Don Denkinger made one of the worst calls of all time, and the Curse of the Baseball Abstract was born, in which Bill James famously wrote how the Royals obliterated the Cardinals in that Series and it had nothing to do with Denkinger’s call. Voodoo conspirators tend to disagree and will stay right until the Royals make the playoffs. See: Chicago Cubs and Curse of the Billy Goat.
Although the Royals have not made the playoffs since the mid-80s, they have had some relative success since then. During the late 80s, and led by players such as Bo Jackson, George Brett, and Brett Saberhagen, the Royals had several seasons in which they contended for a playoff spot – which, back then, was given only to the two divisional winners. But they still didn’t get in. Then, in the 1989 offseason, hell-bent on getting back to the playoffs, the Royals spent buku bucks on Mark Davis (the 1989 saves leader) en route to having the largest payroll in baseball. The Royals signed him to what was then the largest salary in baseball history at the time for (a now laughable) 4 years and $13 million. For Mark Davis. A closer. Has that sunk in yet? Davis, who saved only 9 games in three years for the Royals, was one of the reasons the Royals would eventually go back to their days of limited spending (22nd in 2013).
After the strike-shortened season of 1994, which stopped the Royals season short while 13 games above .500, Kansas City has recorded only one season of above-.500 ball since then (83-79, 2003) . Over that time, they have averaged 92 losses, recorded 100+ losses in four different seasons, and placed second only one time during that span (in 1995, finishing 30 games behind the Cleveland Indians). In other words, it’s been a long and difficult light beer and barbecue-fueled binge trip of losing season after losing season. But hey, at least they have a beautiful array of fountains to play in!
And then we have 2013. Hope has returned. And so has prodigal son, George Brett (wait, he left already?). Currently, the Royals are 72-66 and are 8.5 games behind the 1st-place Tigers. However, and maybe even more importantly, they are only 4.5 games out of the Wild Card play-in game. Is it possible to end two such terrible streaks in one season? The Astros can only hope! But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Kansas City is a place that loves its teams. The Chiefs are adored and the Royals are not far behind. Even though the days of Brett and Bo are history, those fans still attend the games – which is more than Rays “fans” can say. And to a greater degree, the fans honestly still believe after all of these years. That is a fanbase worth winning a championship for. Considering they have one of the youngest and most talent-laden teams in the league, we may see this playoff swoon come to an end soon. But, for the moment of time we find ourselves in currently, they’re just the next team with that long streak of ineptitude. It will be your day soon, KC. But, for now, Pittsburgh is at the bat.