The last time the Kansas City Royals made it to the World Series 29 years ago, baseball dominated the sports scene. Now, football and college football overshadow American's former favorite pastime
Excuse me for a moment while I mourn for the World Series. Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s not terminal.
The two-team mini tournament to decide baseball’s grand-prize winner isn’t being canceled like a poorly written sitcom. It has a guaranteed prime-time spot on national TV every October.
Still, the World Series isn’t as important to most of America anymore, not like it was 29 years ago, the last time the Kansas City Royals were there. That was back before pro football and college football and fantasy football got together in a back room of an abandoned warehouse sometime several years ago and plotted and planned their domination of the sports world.
Baseball? Who follows baseball anymore? I do.
Baseball was my first sports love, capturing my young attention when the Oakland A’s, flashy and dashing in their garish green and gold uniforms and mustaches of various shapes and sizes, won three straight World Series in the early 1970s.
The nation tuned to the series back then, just as it had for decades for an annual event that began in 1903. Players such as Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax and Reggie Jackson dominated October throughout the ensuing generations.
They were our heroes. Their names were in the lights, in the headlines, in America’s mind on a daily basis.
The Super Bowl was only a few years old when the Oakland A’s and baseball won my heart. College football was just something some alumni did on a few fall Saturdays. The World Series had the history, the tradition, the lore, the allure. So what happened?
It must’ve been 1994.
That’s the year when Major League Baseball players went on strike, prematurely ending the season and canceling the World Series.Thinking back, I’m still amazed it wasn’t played that year.
Perhaps that’s when the NFL and college football finally outmuscled baseball in October.
Baseball fans all over, including many of my friends and co-workers, were so disgusted by the cancellation of the series, they waved goodbye to America’s pastime. Baseball was blackballed.
Faster, ferocious and furious, football had already gained a tenacious fall toehold.
Now, football practically owns October.
Don’t believe me? Game 1 of the World Series was played on Tuesday night. A college football game between two mediocre teams from a smaller conference was being shown on one of the 1,384 ESPN networks beamed into our home.
My son was more excited to watch the college football game than the World Series, a near blasphemous decision that resulted in him being made to watch the Royals and Giants.
Before he fell asleep.
When I think back to the last time the Kansas City Royals made it to the World Series, I’m shocked. Was it really 29 years ago? That would have been 1985 and I would have been a sophomore in college, young and carefree and not concerned at all about what eating a burrito at 2 in the morning would do to me.
What happened to the Kansas City Royals? Why haven’t they made it to the World Series in nearly 30 years? In short, they were basically terrible for the better part of three decades. Thirty years of floundering, filled with lousy losing and more tearing down and rebuilding than my son does with his Lego sets.
Then, this year, something miraculous happened. Somehow, someway, they figured it out this surprising season. They played their way back to the World Series, where they’re facing the San Francisco Giants, a fantastic franchise that has won two of the past four championships.
But the Royals are the story here, and thank goodness, because they’re breathing life into the World Series, a still proud fall occurrence that, sadly, doesn’t matter as much as it once did.
The World Series will never regain the luster that it once had, like when Willie Mays outran a mammoth fly ball to catch it with his back to the infield in Game 1 of the 1954 series. Or when Carlton Fisk willed and waved a fly ball into a home run to win Game 6 in 1975.
During the next week, I know I’ll continue to watch the Royals and Giants with the love of the game that I had as a kid.
Sadly, the same can’t be said for most of the nation. Football is in full force.
I know there’s a part of our generation that still loves baseball. They remember the last time the Royals played in the World Series. I’ve seen them at stadiums across the country, have chatted with them, have read their posts on Twitter and Facebook, which reminds me of one fan I saw after Kansas City won Game 2.