Monday, October 26, 2015

The Final Chapter: The Kansas City Royals, the New York Mets, and the Expansion-Era World Series

Imagine taking a full year of classes, only for your grade to be determined by how well you do on a nine question exam on the last day of the school year. You may have been a perfect student- never missed a day, always participated, et cetera -but you crumble under the weight of the final test. For the eight teams eliminated from the playoffs to this point, that is the footnote that will remain beside their respective seasons in the coming years. The New York Mets and Kansas City Royals have a different chance at fate. Each team has won their league's pennant, standing four wins from immortality. A full season of games, followed by two series against top-flight opponents have led us here, to the Fall Classic, the reason the game is played. To win the season's final game.


In truth, the devil was always in the design. The juxtaposition of joy beside sadness only nurtures the strength of one another. So let's get this out of the way. The Cubs were swept. My Cubs were swept. I can't really describe how it felt. A week later and I'm still just kind of numb. But that is baseball. Every fan base has their own personalized version of heartbreak. For myself and my kind, it is the feeling of rarely being a bridesmaid, never being the bride. Twice in my lifetime have the Cubs made the National League Championship Series. Twice they have fallen, each in its own way gut-wrenching. For teams like the Cardinals or Yankees, or even modern versions like the Giants and Red Sox, failure might be simply not winning the World Series every year. Of course, that is the ultimate goal of all thirty teams, but most are realistic to know that it's just not a possibility every year.

The team that can now claim itself the current undisputed premiere American League franchise is the Kansas City Royals. On my life I never thought that would be a sentence I would have to write. To me, the Royals were always a filler team. They were there to fatten up a schedule so that real teams could play for keeps. I guess I've always had this thought that all sports championships are predetermined to maximize market profit, only allowing popular teams to really have a chance so that the league has a sell-able champion. Kansas City throws that conspiracy theory out the window. Here they are, back-to-back American League Champions with another shot at their first World Series title since 1985.

A few months before I was born, the most famous error in baseball history helped lengthen the Red Sox' title drought and give the Mets the boost they needed to come back and win the World Series. The year was 1986 and the bad guys had won, or so says the title of the Jeff Pearlman book about the team. That was the last time the younger New York team would win a championship. Its strange, because I always say how I only care about the Cubs' title drought during my lifetime, but in that vein the Royals and Mets are equals. The first baseball season of my life, my then hometown Minnesota Twins beat the St. Louis Cardinals. In my mind, the suffering of a twenty-eight year old Mets or Royals fan is something to which I can relate.

Last year, when the Royals made their debut on the national stage, they were the best team in baseball. Kansas City was clicking at the right time, winning every game on their way to the American League pennant. Then they were chopped down by Madison Bumgarner, who had perhaps the greatest run of postseason performances the game has ever witnessed. A lot of teams would retreat after losing game seven of the World Series at home. The Royals did just the opposite- they got better, winning ninety-five games in the regular season and clinching the best record in the junior circuit. By defeating the Blue Jays in six games, KC set up a dance with the New York Mets.

Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, and Steven Matz make up the most fearsome young rotation in baseball. The potential within this group is near limitless, and having reached the promised land this soon is cause to believe success is going to be a regular thing in Queens. The New York Four dissected the offensive powerhouse Chicago Cubs in a manner that made them appear more worthy of a sandlot than a big league ball field. I should feel some kind of ill will toward the Mets, but I do not. I have no reason to feel any resentment. New York was the far superior team. They played near perfect baseball and deserve to be where they are. Yoenis Cespedes and the attitude or even swagger that this team exudes is palpable through a television screen.

The New York Mets began play in 1962. The Kansas City Royals joined the party in 1969. Since the league decided to expand in the 1960s, every World Series has still included at least one of the original sixteen teams in Major League Baseball. This will be the first time two expansion-era teams have met in the Series. The Mets rank as one of the most successful expansion franchises in all of American sports, owning two world championships and now five pennants. The Royals are not far behind, having been a postseason staple in the early 1980s and now living as a perennial power in the American League. The national market will not be over-excited about a World Series without the Yankees, Cardinals, Red Sox, or Giants, but it is sure to be a classic nonetheless.

The next four to seven games will be a match of wits between a team at its peak and a team still on the rise. This year, Kansas City is the former not the latter. Either way, one team is winning the World Series for the first time in my life, and that is pretty neat.

2 comments:

  1. Sorry for the pedantry, but if you were born in 1986-87, then you've actually seen three Cubs NLCS appearances (and losses) in your lifetime: 1989, 2003, and 2015. Of course 1989 wouldn't be too memorable for you, but as an eight year-old Cubs fanatic it made a huge impression on me. I thought they'd be competing for a championship every year...

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  2. Yeah you're correct. 1989 slips from me often. I was 2 during that series and still living in Minnesota. And that's how I felt about 2003. That they were going to compete for a few years. Well they DID win more in 2004, but so did a few other teams.

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