That Championship Season

Kauffman Stadium scoreboard at end of game 6. Credit Joe Bonello

Kauffman Stadium scoreboard at end of game 6. Credit Joe Bonello

Aerial view of Royals Stadium during All-Star game, 1973

Aerial view of Royals Stadium during All-Star game, 1973

When Ewing Marion Kauffman offered $10 million in 1968 for an American League expansion team in Kansas City, he had high hopes; but nobody could have imagined how successful the Royals would become in such a short period of time.

A string of successes that included division championships and a World Series appearance in 1980 was capped in 1985 when the Royals defeated their cross-state rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals, in seven games to secure the organization's first World Series title.

Starting in the mid-1970s, the Royals followed the example of their founder—who started a pharmaceutical business in his mother's basement in 1950 that grew into a multi-million dollar company—by quickly establishing a record of success. They won five American League Western Division titles after 1976. The first three of these playoffs appearances ended in frustrating losses to the New York Yankees. In 1980, the Royals finally defeated the Yankees and made it to the World Series, but lost to Philadelphia. After two more seasons in which the Royals reached the playoffs but failed to get to the World Series—in 1981 and 1984—they made the World Series again in 1985 and faced the St. Louis Cardinals.

At the outset of the 1985 World Series, it appeared that a championship would remain elusive for the Royals. They had struggled in the American League Championship series against the Toronto Blue Jays. Toronto rolled to a 3-1 series lead, forcing the Royals to claw back to a 4-3 series win.

Many pundits predicted St. Louis would win in just four or five games. On cue, the Cardinals jumped out to a 3-1 series lead, including two victories in Kansas City. No team had ever come back from losing the first two games at home, but the Royals were not deterred. They won game five, forcing the series back to Kansas City with the Cardinals leading three games to two.

In the sixth game, the Cardinals led 1-0 at the start of the ninth inning. A controversial call by umpire Don Denkinger ruled Royals' hitter Jorge Orta safe at first base, when replays showed that he should have been out. Orta was later thrown out at third base, so that the call didn't directly influence the outcome of the game. In the Royals' next at bat, Steve Balboni hit a routine pop fly in foul territory that the Cardinals failed to field. That would ultimately represent the tying run.

"The call" remains etched in the minds of St. Louis fans who believed the umpiring was unfair throughout the series. In any case, the Cardinals seemed to lose their poise after Denkinger's first base call, and the Royals scored twice to win game six and tie the series at 3-3. In the 24 years since the game was played, many fans have forgotten another call—one that benefited the Cardinals. In the fourth inning of game six, the Royals' Frank White appeared to have stolen second base, but was called out. The next batter, Pat Sheridan, hit a single to right field that would have allowed White to score the go-ahead run for the Royals.

Compared to the drama of game six, the seventh game of the series on October 27, 1985 was a cakewalk for the Royals. Playing at home in Royals Stadium, the Royals won by an astounding 11-0 to finish off the improbable upset bid against their rivals and claim the World Series title. The victory and subsequent celebration was perhaps the greatest sports moment in Kansas City history.

Such moments are often fleeting, however. The Royals remained competitive into the 1990s, but eventually the balance of power shifted back to larger-market teams like the New York Yankees, that could spend more aggressively on player trades. The Royals would not return to the World Series until 2014. They won the Series again in 2015. *

Kansas Citians will always have the memories of the 1985 underdog champs.

* This post was updated on October 27, 2014 to reflect the 2014 Major League Baseball post-season, and again on November 3, 2015 to reflect the 2015 Major League Baseball post-season.

Read full biographical sketches of players and others involved in the 1985 World Series victory, prepared for the Missouri Valley Special Collections, the Kansas City Public Library:

View images of the Royals that are a part of the Missouri Valley Special Collections:

Check out the following books and videos about the Royals, held by the Kansas City Public Library:

Continue researching the Royals using archival material held by the Missouri Valley Special Collections:

References:

Randy Covitz, "Day for a Parade - Series Title Remains Kansas City's Greatest Moment as a Sports Town," Kansas City Star, April 3, 2005.

Dory DeAngelo, What About Kansas City!: A Historical Handbook (Kansas City, MO: Two Lane Press, 1995), 104-106.

Brenn Jones, "The Year the Royals Reigned," Kansas City Star, April 17, 2005.

Rick Montgomery & Shirl Kasper, Kansas City: An American Story (Kansas City, MO: Kansas City Star Books, 1999), 341.

Jeff Passan, "Glory Shines, Undimmed by Years," Kansas City Star, August 13, 2005.

Sherry Lamb Schirmer, At the River's Bend: An Illustrated History of Kansas City: Independence and Jackson County (Woodland Hills, CA: Windsor Publications, 1982), 148-151.

Jeffrey Spivak, "KC to SL: Get Over It!," Kansas City Star, May 22, 2005.

Jeffrey Spivak, "The Top 5 Reasons Why St. Louisans Can't Get Over the 1985 World Series," Kansas City Star, May 22, 2005.

Jason Roe
Historical date: 
Sunday, October 27, 1985

About the Author

Jason Roe is a digital history specialist at the Kansas City Public Library, content manager and editor for the Civil War on the Western Border website, and the author of the Library's popular "This Week in Kansas City History" column. Prior to joining the Library, he earned his Ph.D. in American history from the University of Kansas in May 2012. While at KU, he was named the 2011-2012 Richard and Jeanette Sias Graduate Fellow at the Hall Center for the Humanities, and he received the History Department's 2012 George L. Anderson Award for Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation for his work, "From the Impoverished to the Entitled: The Experience and Meaning of Old Age in America since the 1950s." He enjoys tackling a wide variety of projects relating to U.S. and local history.

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