Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The World Series – Stories of Covering the Royals ’85 Championship

The World Series begins tonight and I won’t be there because, to be honest, I just have too much work to get done to go. I might make it to Philadelphia this weekend if I can get a hall pass.

I’m like everyone else of my generation: I still remember running home from school as a kid to turn on the TV and watch The World Series when it was played in the afternoon. I didn’t do that in 1969 because the first two games in Baltimore were played over the weekend and then I WENT to the three games at Shea Stadium. Sat in the upper deck, which cost $2.50 for the Series—up from $1.30 during the regular season. Seriously.

It was baseball that made me a “celebrity,” for the first time in my life. I went to a tennis camp in that summer of ’69 and we would all sit around the TV in the commons room at night and watch The Mets. That’s where I watched Tom Seaver’s imperfect game on, I think it was July 8th. The sight of Jimmy Qualls hit landing between Tommie Agee and Cleon Jones with one out in the ninth is still burned in my brain.

While we’d watch, we would talk baseball. I was not one of the better tennis players in the camp by any means so not that many of the kids other than the ones on my hall or who I was playing against on the so-called, “ladder,” (I remember starting out 24th and working my way up to 6th) knew me. Then we started talking baseball. Without thinking I’d bring up things like Johnny Podres shutting out the Yankees in game seven in 1955 or Jackie Robinson first coming to the majors in 1947 or Babe Ruth pitching for the Red Sox in 1918. It was routine to me, stuff I’d read or heard. No big deal.

One morning at breakfast one of the counselors said, “Hey John who won the 1951 World Series?”

I shrugged. “The Yankees.”

“Who’d they beat?” Jeez, everyone knew that was the year Bobby Thompson hit the shot-heard-round-the world for the Giants to beat the Dodgers.

“Who’d he hit the home run off?”

“Ralph Branca, why?”

The counselor turned to the other counselor and said, “See I told you.”

Apparently, listening to me talk during the games we watched he had decided I was some kind of baseball savant. After that “stump John,” became a game. There was stuff I didn’t know, but I knew more than anyone else in the camp. I also knew the Mets roster by heart and could tell you that Ron Taylor was studying to be a doctor and that Jerry Koosman’s wife’s name was Lavonne. Didn’t everyone know that?

Ten years later I covered The World Series. That was the year that Jim Palmer screamed at me when he thought I’d asked him, “how do you feel?” after he lost game six when I was actually trying to softball him by asking “how DID you feel (on the mound) since he had pitched well in spite of losing.

I covered The World Series for The Post every year (except 1982 when I was covering politics and George Solomon was mad at me for turning down covering The Redskins to go do that) until I left the paper fulltime in 1988. And while my memories of 1986 are quite fond, the team I enjoyed the most during that run was the 1985 Kansas City Royals.

I was actually assigned to cover the Royals during the last week of the regular season when they were fighting the Angels for the American League West title. Right from the start, they had what we call a good clubhouse, a great one in fact. Dick Howser, the manager, was as nice a man as you’ll ever meet, full of good stories. George Brett was funny and always available and guys like Hal McRae and Frank White and a young Bret Saberhagen were also terrific. The best guy though was Dan Quisenberry, the superb closer. He was one of those guys who remembered your name the first time he met you and would walk across the clubhouse to say something like, “hey, I have a funny story for you if you’ve got a minute.”

The Royals won The West, then came from 3-1 down to beat The Toronto Blue Jays (managed by Bobby Cox) to win The American League pennant and THEN came from 3-1 down to beat the Cardinals (with an assist from Don Denkinger in game 6) to win The World Series.

One of my favorite moments of that Series came after game three. In those days, the morning shows tried to convince someone from one of the teams to come on each morning. They’d send a limo to get them to the studio and back. They would also send an attractive woman into the clubhouse to convince whatever player they wanted on the show that this was something he needed to do.

After game three one of these attractive women waited out the deadline guys around Brett and launched into her little speech. “I’ll meet you with the limo outside the hotel. We’ll have breakfast for you at the studio. Won’t you PLEASE do it?”

I was standing there and I can tell you for sure that I would have done it in a millisecond. I was not, however, George Brett.

Brett looked at her and smiled and said, “And what EXACTLY is in this for me?”

I thought the woman was going to faint for a moment. Apparently so did Brett. He laughed and said, “it’s fine. I’ll do it. I’m just teasing you.”

By the final weekend of that Series, I was a complete out-and-out Royals fan. The Cardinals clubhouse was as snarly as the Royals were friendly. I still remember Reggie Jackson, who was working The Series for ABC, trying to start a conversation with Vince Coleman--who had been injured by the men-eating tarp and wasn't playing. "Hey man, can't you see I'm too busy to talk to you?" Coleman said when Jackson tried to open a casual conversation. One thing about Coleman: he was consistent--ALWAYS a bad guy.

After Cesar Cedeno got a key hit to help win game one, he told the story about how he had been traded late in the season to the Cardinals. My memory is it involved the pitching coaches of the Reds and Cardinals (one of whom I think was Jim Kaat) having breakfast one morning after Jack Clark had gotten hurt and Kaat bringing up Cedeno’s name

“Whitey can tell you all the details,” Cedeno said, referring to manager Whitey Herzog.

I walked into Herzog’s office with Dave Anderson, the great Pulitzer Prize winning columnist from The New York Times to ask Herzog the story. When Dave asked Whitey to tell it, Herzog exploded, screaming profanities at Anderson because someone else had asked him to tell the story earlier. That’s the way it works at The Series, reporters come in waves and sometimes you are asked to repeat stories. Herzog, of all people knew that and he knew Anderson—one of the nicest men in journalism—from his days in New York. And his team had WON. Dave didn’t say a word; just turned around and walked out of the office.

Then there was John Tudor. He had been a revelation all year, winning 21 games and pitching superbly in postseason. After he pitched a four hit shutout in game four to put the Cardinals up 3-1 a lot of writers—surprise—wanted to write about him. Tudor walked to his locker, looked around and said, “what’s it take to get in here, a driver’s license? I already talked in the interview room.”

Yes he had, tersely describing what he’d thrown and when he’d thrown it. When a guy pitches a World Series shutout, columnists and sidebar writers are looking for more than that. Gordon Edes, one of the best baseball writers going, tried to explain that to Tudor.

“Great and now I have to talk to schmoes like this guy,” was Tudor’s response, turning his back on Edes.

When Tudor got bombed in game seven the no cheering in the press box rule was almost abandoned. Later, word came upstairs that he’d been so upset that he had possibly broken his hand, smashing it into a fan that was in the dugout ceiling. Which is when Barry Blume of The San Diego Tribune delivered one of the great press box lines ever. “Now, “he said, “the s--- really has hit the fan.”

Both Howser and Quisenberry died very young—cancer in both cases. They’re the first two people I think about when I think of those Royals. I also think about Quiz in the midst of the celebration, waving me over to his locker. “I got something for you,” he said. He reached into his locker and handed me a bottle of champagne. “We had fun having you cover us the last month,” he said as he handed it to me.

I know I should have handed it back but I didn’t. And I’m damn glad I resisted my ethical instincts at that moment. In those days, you could get a bottle of champagne on an airplane. I still have it and truly fond memories of Quiz, Howser and that whole team.


Anonymous said...

Great story John.

dcsooner said...

Loved your pop-in to Tony's show today. With a mullet and tennis jorts, is anyone surprised Agassi tried crystal meth?

TomWalsh said...

I'm a Cardinal's fan, and that '85 team imploded after the Denkinger call in game 6. They had another chance in game 7 and lost what 10-0? Weird because they beat LA for the pennant with homers by Ozzie in one game and Jack Clark in another. An awesome series that. But, something was missing from that '85 team.

Anonymous said...


Hello from Overland Park, Kansas....yesterday (10.27) was the 24-year anniversary of the Royals winning the '85 Chanpionship, your writing is timley.

Sad to say -- that the Royals and teams of their ilk from our glory years (70's and 80"s) are no longer relavant.

Your stories however are not. Thank you for sharing, I'll make sure my kids read this as it may be as close as they come to reading about the Royals success.

Gunnar said...

I loved that KC team. It would be great to see another smaller market baseball team win the World Series.

Tom Carroll said...

Dear John,

I can relate to the start of your piece where you describe how sports stuff just sticks in your brain. Growing up in North Jersey in the 60's and 70's (I was born in 61) I was a die-hard fan of all sports (even the pitiful late 60's yankees), and if I didn't know the stats or history, I would look them up.

When we could buy books every month in elementary school at the book fair, I would always choose books like "Greatest NFL Quarterbacks", or "Great Moments in Pro Basketball". My parents still have boxes of those books in their attic on the Jersey Shore.

As I grew older, I transitioned into books like "I can't wait until tomorrow, because I get better looking every day" (full disclosure, my Dad had season tickets to the Jets from the their first year at Shea. He gave them up when they moved to GIANTS stadium) or "Hammerin' Hank of the Braves".

I still enjoy sports history, and, especially, good sports writing. I grew up with Sports Illustrated and as a kid I would pore over the articles by Dan Jenkins and the like. As I think about it, reading about sports was just as important to my development as a young sports fan as watching sports. After all, there wasn't all that much sports on TV. You had to imagine a lot of the action in your head as you read. And, of course, it is why I enjoy your books so much. I think it is because, you are, in your heart, just a die-hard fan, who also learned a lot about sports, at least initially, by reading great sports writing.

If I wasn't a High School Biology teacher (which I have been for 24 years) I think I would be a sports writer. Not that I can write!!


Tom Carroll
St Albans School

Bill Elliott said...

John -
As a KC native now living in Arlington, VA, thank you for bringing back memories of the '85 Royals. I grew up listening to the Royals teams of the '70s & '80s and Denny Matthews, a Ford Frick award winner, who should be in the Hall of Fame someday. Growing up around KC and meeting George Brett and a few other players from that team over the years, I can tell you, they treated their fans as great as they treated you during that month in 1985.
Thanks again for starting the blog.

Chris Hampshire said...

I attended Elrod Hendrick's Baseball Camp in Owings Mills, MD for a couple of summers in the late 80's. Part of the appeal of the camp was that Elrod could usually get a couple of Major League players to come over the course of the camp to talk baseball with us kids. I'll never forget the day that Willie Wilson came. Not only did he spend a good 20 minutes discussing the importance of baserunning and how to look for a pick off move but he brought his '85 World Series ring with him! We all got a chance to get in line and hold it for a moment. Great moment for a 7th greater and Wilson could not have been a better sport about the whole thing.

cd1515 said...

great stuff, as usual.