The next 10 moments on our tour through the suck-fest of Royals worst moments is sponsored! That’s right. Grant Richter of Richter Legal Services does estate planning, business and tax law, and is an all around awesome dude. He is on the Twitter @g_richter. Give him some business. Great dude.
Our scene opens on a modest, ranch home in Kansas City’s Northland. New home owners had just laid their two year old down in her crib, and were patiently trying to convince their one year old to go to sleep.
Sitting on brown shag carpeting too close to the television was a portly, young four-year old with a Royals cap turned around backwards. The voices of Keith Jackson and Howard Cosell rung in his ears. “You are looking liiiiiiiive, at the House that Ruth built,” Jackson would call out. The date is October 14, 1976.
The Kansas City Royals were literally everything to this young boy. From the moment his hand was big enough to wrap around a baseball, he had a baseball in his hand. At four, he had just completed his first season of tee ball in what would culminate in a failed attempt to make his freshman high school baseball team ten years later. But in the years in between, his baseball career was, obviously, all-star caliber. That career was inspired by his Kansas City Royals, and it started with the 1976 team, widely recognized as one of the best (or second best against 2014/15) team in franchise history. (1977 is usually at the top of that list.)
They were stacked with names that now fill the Royals Hall of Fame. McRae, Mayberry, Leonard, Gura, Fitzmorris, Busby, Patek, Otis, and Brett. The club featured four all-stars that year in Freddie Patek, a diminutive, fast as lightning shortstop; Amos Otis, a slashing center fielder with a strong bat; Hal McRae, a true designated hitter that ran out of fucks sometime in his teens; and George Brett, a person who played third base. Their pitching staff was also ridiculous led by Dennis Leonard and “Leftie” Paul Splittorff, but also featured names like Al Fitzmorris, one of the most underrated Royals pitchers of all time, Larry Gura, and Steve Busby. The pitching staff ranked third in the AL in hits allowed and second in opponent batting average.
General Manager Joe Burke and manager Whitey Herzog led the team to a 90-72 record and finished first in the AL West. Long before the Wild Card and the Divisional Series, this put them one step away from the franchise’s first world series in only their eight year of existence. Standing between them and an AL title, the New York Yankees.
The New York Times said this of the new Bronx Bombers, “a team that was a perennial champion until 12 years ago, and whose history is flooded with pennants (29) and World Series championships (20.)” If you ever need to know if you’re talking to a Yankees or Jayhawk fan, wait 30 seconds until they tell you how many championships they’ve won.
The Royals limped into the post season, losing nine of their final 12 and were in the midst of an offensive power outage, so Herzog decided to lead off Amos Otis to get the offense flowing again. But he injured his foot in the first game and would be gone for the series.
The young boy was glued to the brown shag carpeting for every up and down of the series. The Yankees dominated Game 1 with Catfish Hunter besting Larry Gura. Game 2 belonged to KC on the back of a masterful performance by Paul Splittorff and an ineffective Dick Tidrow allowing KC to score three in the eighth. If your Dick Tidrow is ineffective, please see a doctor.
Back and forth the next two games went with New York scoring three in the sixth of Game 3 to win and the Royals evening the series in New York in Game 4 beating Catfish Hunter.
The mood of the young boy the day after the game was decided the night before. If the Royals won, there would be frolicking and eating pudding. If the Royals lost there would be moping and eating pudding. No amount of pudding could prepare this young soul for what was about to happen.
Game 7 featured a rejuvenated and virulent Dick Tidrow and Dennis Leonard facing off. Both teams scored two in the first inning. Herzog was so panicked, that he pulled Leonard in the first inning, bringing in Splittorff. The game went back and forth standing at 6-3 heading into the 8th inning.
In the top frame, the Royals plated three runs thanks to a George Brett bomb. From the Wikipedia article, “After Al Cowens led off with a single, Billy Martin brought in lefty Grant Jackson. He allowed a single to pinch hitter Jim Wohlford. Brett then stunned the sell-out crowd of 56,821 by planting Jackson’s second pitch just over the short right-field wall, tying the game at six.”At 10:43 PM, the forever mood of this young boy’s fortunes as a Royals fan changed. That was the time that Cris Chambliss placed a baseball thrown by Royals reliever Mark Littell into the right field bleachers at Yankees Stadium. The Yankees would be the American League representatives in the 1976 World Series. The Royals would not.
The brown shag carpeting began to collect weepy tears. This boy had never faced dejection and sadness like this before, or, frankly, never would again. The dichotomy of the Brett homer placed against the Chambliss walk off. The saddest moment of a young person’s life mere moments after its highest high. My memories of that night fade from that point. I remember seeing police stream onto the field, people falling from walls to gain access to the field. A sea of people flooding Chambliss. But nothing was clear behind the flood of tears.
There are a ton of other fun notes about this game, but frankly, the crafting of this post has left me sad, depressed and wanting pudding.
Years later, that portly boy on the brown shag carpeting would have an opportunity to tell his story to George Brett at an I.T. conference in which Brett was talking about the security implications behind using SFTP rather than FTP. (Just kidding, he just stood up and told stories for 30 minutes then collected a check.) The now portly man poured out his story to the Hall of Famer and his response is something that will stay with me forever.
“Get over it.”
I then went home and had pudding.