KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The deep thinkers searching for a way to summarize the 1985 baseball season need only have looked to the left-field upper deck in Royals Stadium, where this banner was displayed last weekend.
"The Series Ain't Over," the banner proclaimed, "Till the Fat Man Falls Out of the Stands."
The Kansas City Royals won the American League pennant on a night a fan tumbled out of the seats in Toronto. Then, the Royals won the World Series on a night the St. Louis Cardinals took a worse fall, losing not only a game but any semblance of grace.
Baseball, which already had lost considerable face because of a drug trial in Pittsburgh and a brief but acrimonious players' strike, played out its final act Sunday night in unequal parts of style and bile.
The style was provided by the Royals, overachievers all, who became the second expansion team since 1961 to win a World Series title, joining the 1969 Mets. And the Royals made it harder on themselves than any team in history by losing the first two games at home.
"I said we weren't a dominant team," said Kansas City Manager Dick Howser, mindful of how the Royals were in third place, 7 1/2 games behind the Angels, on July 22 and how they spotted both the Blue Jays and Cardinals leads of three games to one before winning three straight games each time.
"I have to take that back," Howser continued. "This year, we were a dominant team. . . . Other major league clubs are going to say, 'If our pitching staff can be as good as the Kansas City Royals . . .' "
Dominant is overstating the case for a team that has only one legitimate superstar, George Brett, a handful of second-rung players--Willie Wilson, Frank White, Hal McRae, perhaps Steve Balboni--and a closetful of Buddy Biancalanas, Darryl Motleys, Pat Sheridans and Dane Iorgs.
There is no overstating the caliber of the Kansas City pitching, however, which ran four deep in the Series--MVP Bret Saberhagen, Charlie Leibrandt, Danny Jackson and Bud Black--where the Cardinals could rely on only two--John Tudor and Danny Cox. And Cox had a sore elbow.
The bile came courtesy of the Cardinals, who did for manners what the killer tarpaulin did to St. Louis rookie Vince Coleman--they rolled right over them. In so doing, the Cardinals obscured--if not for themselves, at least for many in the national television audience--the splendor of a year in which they won 101 regular-season games, held off the heavily favored New York Mets in a tingling September stretch drive and then won the National League pennant when Jack (the Ripper) Clark cut the hearts out of the Dodgers with a ninth-inning home run.
Cardinal Manager Whitey Herzog, normally an agreeable sort, turned irascible in the final game of the playoffs, when he refused to send out his team for pregame introductions. He turned bitter last Saturday night, when his anger over a controversial call made by umpire Don Denkinger spilled over into an assault on the umpire's character. And he turned ugly on Sunday, when he became the first manager ever to be ejected from the seventh game of any World Series.
One pitch later, one-time ace Card Joaquin Andujar trumped Herzog in boorishness when he charged Denkinger, bumped the umpire and eventually needed to be restrained by teammates employing tactics taught in most police academies.
That made the Cardinals the first team in 50 years to have more than one uniformed member ejected in the same game. The last time it happened, in the 1935 World Series, baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis punished all parties involved--including Cub Manager Charlie Grimm and umpire George Moriarty--with $200 fines for using bad language. Peter Ueberroth, the present commissioner, has yet to be heard from.
"They were frustrated; they were losing," said Royals outfielder Wilson. "You get frustrated and do things that maybe you're a little ashamed of when you think about it later and maybe wish you hadn't done it."
Then there was Tudor, who gave the Cardinals more than 300 innings before finally faltering in his third start in eight days against Kansas City. Tudor, who had been so unbecoming in victory, became undone in defeat, slicing the index finger on his left (pitching) hand when he punched an electric fan.
"I feel sorry for the 10- and 12-year-old kids who were watching this," Cardinal outfielder Andy Van Slyke said Sunday night. "Adults, they can understand the emotions involved better. But those 10-year-old Little Leaguers, they don't understand."
Better that they don't. Better, too, that they take their cue from the Royals. Everyone loves a winner, to be sure. They love a winner with class even more.