MLB World Series Champions: Remembering the 1985 Kansas City Royals

FRANKCorrespondent IIJanuary 9, 2012

MLB World Series Champions: Remembering the 1985 Kansas City Royals

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    As the 2012 baseball season approaches, one question that will be answered will be how improved are the Kansas City Royals

    Will they improve to 81 wins from 71? Or jump all the way up to the 91 or more and compete for the divisional title?

    This excitement and optimism is led by their talented and young core players that showed the ability to succeed in the majors. Plus there are others who are knocking at the door to join them.

    These core players are hoping to have the Royals finish with a winning record, which will be the first since 2003 and may I say a division title. First since 1985.

    The World Series Champions of 1985 were a team that was assembled in the 70s, and like this year group, were called upon to form the Royals' foundation.

    From 1976 to 1985, the Royals won seven AL West titles. They just couldn't get past the mighty New York Yankees in their three consecutive postseason matches ('76-'78).

    They finally got the upper-hand and swept the Yankees in 1980 and made their first World Series.

    Unfortunately, they lost in six to the Philadelphia Phillies

    The following year they again won the division but lost to the Oakland Athletics in the playoffs.

    In '84, they were swept by the Detroit Tigers who went on to win the World Series.

    The next season the '85 Royals reached their goal.

    They defeated a very talented Toronto Blue Jays team in the ALCS in seven games and then met the speedy St. Louis Cardinals who were managed by their former skipper Whitey Herzog.

    Things didn't look to great after the first two games in Kansas City. The Cardinals received great pitching from John Tudor and Danny Cox to take the 2-0 lead.

    In a must win situation, Bret Saberhagen led the Royals to victory in Game 3 in St.Louis.

    After losing Game 4, the Royals bent but never broke, then won the next three games.

    This slideshow is to remember the starters and key players who made this goal obtainable.

First Base: Steve Balboni

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    Steve Balboni's 1985 Stats: .243 - 74 R - 36 HR - 88 RBI - 600 AB 

    How He Became A Royal

    Traded by the New York Yankees with Roger Erickson for Mike Armstrong and Duane Dewey

    Balboni was your typical 80s slugger, low batting average and high strike outs. In '85, Balboni set career highs in at-bats, home runs, runs batted in, runs scored, doubles and strike outs. This success led him to finish 19th in the MVP race.

    Nicknamed "Bye Bye" due to his power, Balboni continued to finish in the top of the home run race heading into the '88 season. 

    Steve was released in May of '88 after starting off the season with a .143 batting average and due to the emergence of Kevin Seitzer. He was signed by the Seattle Mariners days later and hit 21 home runs the rest of the season.

    As for the trade, Armstrong had some success for the Yankees in 1984 finishing with an ERA of 3.48 over 54 innings. He would pitch a total of 40 innings over the following three seasons.

Second Base: Frank White

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    Frank White's 1985 Stats: .249 - 62 R - 22 HR - 69 RBI - 10 SB

    How He Became A Royal

    Signed in 1970 as an amateur free agent

    White was one of the core players I mentioned in the introduction slide. He was part of the seven division titles and all the glory. White was a Royal until he retired in 1990.

    During his career, Frank won eight Gold Gloves and was selected to five All-Star games.

    It was a shame to hear that White was fired as the Royals color commentator this past December. This seems to be the last chapter of Frank White in the Royal's organization, which started in 1970.

    He apparently didn't take it well, stating, “They don’t have a passion for the fact that I grew up here, I played here, I stayed here and I did everything the club had asked me to do and then some. And then to have go out with someone saying, ‘He’s too negative.’ I’ve worked too long and too hard for someone to be able to say that about me.”

    Hopefully the wounds will heal quick enough for White to enjoy the Royals near-future success.

Shortstop: Onix Concepcion

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    Onix Concepion's 1985 Stats: .204 - 32 R - 2 HR - 20 RBI - 314 AB 

    How He Became A Royal

    Signed in 1976 as an amateur free agent

    Royals didn't get much offense production out of their shortstops. Concepcion finished around the "Mendoza line" and their back-up Buddy Biancalana finished well below that "line".

    Onix was release twice in 1986, which was his last season as a Royal. He reappeared with the Pittsburgh Pirates for his last season in 1987.

Third Base: George Brett

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    George Brett's 1985 Stats: .335 - 108 R - 30 HR - 112 RBI - .436 OBP 

    How He Became A Royal

    Drafted in the 2nd round of the 1971 amateur draft

    Brett was and still remains the "face" of the Royals organization, even after retiring two decades ago.

    My opinion, Brett was probably only second to Mike Schmidt as being the best player during the 80s.

    His 1980 season is legendary as he made a run to become the first .400 hitter in four decades. He won the AL MVP that year by batting .390 (175/449) with 24 home runs and 118 runs batted in.

    That year marked Brett's second batting title. He ended up winning three. He is the only player in history to win batting titles in three different decades (1976, '80, & '90)

    Not being known as a "true" power guy, Brett hit his career high in 1985 and only hit 25 or more in one other season.

    For his career, Brett finished with 317 round trippers and 1596 RBI. Only breaking the century mark four times in runs batted in.

    But hitting was natural for Brett. He finished with a career batting average of .305 with 3154 hits, which included 665 doubles (nine seasons of 35 or more).

    Brett was selected to 13 consecutive All-Star games ('76-'88).

Left Field: Lonnie Smith

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    Lonnie Smith's 1985 Stats: .257 - 77 R - 6 HR - 41 RBI - 40 SB 

    How He Became A Royal

    Traded by the St.Louis Cardinals in May of 1985 for John Morris

    Pretty amazing that Lonnie Smith was traded by the team the Royals would face in the World Series.

    Smith teamed up with Willie Wilson to bring that one-two punch of speed. They combined for 83 stolen bases. This tandem was only second to the St.Louis team of Vince Coleman and Willie McGee.

    Smith turned out to be the player they were missing to get them over the hump. He went on to bat .335 in World Series against his former team.

    He followed up the World Series with his best season in KC by batting .287 with 80 runs and 26 stolen bases in '86.

    Lonnie always seemed to be in the playoffs. Besides his time with the Royals, Smith played them in 1980 as a Phillie. He also played in the playoffs in '81, '82, '91 and '92. He finished with a .278 career postseason batting average.

    As for the counterpart in the trade, the Cardinals only received a pinch hitter in return. Morris highest at-bat total was 157 in 1987. 

Center Field: Willie Wilson

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    Willie Wilson's 1985 Stats: .278 - 87 R - 4 HR - 43 RBI - 43 SB - 21 triples 

    How He Became A Royal

    Drafted in the 1st round of the 1974 amateur draft

    Wilson was the third member of the "core", with White and Brett, who came up through the Royals' minor leagues and became the foundation for the Royals success.

    After major leagues tours in '76 through '78, Wilson stuck with the major league team in '79 due to his outstanding speed, nifty glove and his ability to succeed in the lead-off spot.

    His first full season was a success. Wilson finished 17th in the MVP race by batting .315 with 83 stolen bases. This was the only time he won the stolen base title.

    The next year turned out to be a career year. Wilson finished 4th, behind teammate George Brett, in the MVP race.

    In 1980, he led the league in runs (133), hits (230), triples (15), plate appearances (745) and at-bats (705). He also finished in the top 5 in stolen bases (79) and batting average (.326).

    Wilson continued to hit with good average throughout the 80s, including a batting title in 1982 (.332).

    He left Kansas City after the 1990 season to play for the Oakland Athletics for two seasons. 

    For his career, Wilson finished with 2207 hits, 668 stolen bases, 1169 runs scored and a batting average of .285. 

Right Field: Darryl Motley

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    Darryl Motley's 1985 Stats: .222 - 45 R - 17 HR - 49 RBI - 383 AB 

    How He Became A Royal

    Drafted in the 2nd round of the 1978 amateur draft

    Motley became a starter in 1984 after an aging Amos Otis left for Pittsburgh as a free agent.

    He had overall success by batting .284 with 15 home runs and 70 RBIs. He followed up the season with his best power numbers, but his batting average dipped.

    He was traded in '86 to Atlanta for Steve Shields.

Catcher: Jim Sundberg

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    Jim Sundberg's 1985 Stats: .245 - 38 R - 10 HR - 35 RBI

    How He Became A Royal

    Part of a four team trade in January of 1985. Royals gave up Don Slaught and Frank Wills

    Trading for Sundberg was a successful move by management. He was a big improvement over John Wathan and Don Slaught. 

    Royals received a veteran catcher who was a former All-Star, who won six Gold Gloves.

    He played for KC for two seasons and hit a total of 22 home runs.

    The trade worked out for all involved. Slaught put together a fine career that extended sixteen seasons of which three of them were with the Texas Rangers, who received him.

    Wills didn't have much success as a starter in '85 and finished his career as a long reliever.  

Designated Hitter: Hal McRae

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    Hal McRae's 1985 Stats: .259 - 41 R - 14 HR - 70 RBI - 320 AB 

    How He Became A Royal

    Traded by the Cincinnati Reds in 1972 with Wayne Simpson for Roger Nelson and Richie Scheinblum

    McRae may not have been brought up through the Royals minor league organization, but he still bleeds Royal Blue. 

    His achievements included being selected to the All Star game three times ('75, '76, & '82), finishing in the top 5 in the MVP ballots in two seasons ('76 & '82), and a RBI title in 1982.

    McRae was also a doubles machine. He hit 35 or more doubles in seven different seasons, twice leading the league ('77 & '82).

    Overall, the designated hitter spot was defined by guys like McRae. 

    He retired a Royal after the '87 season and became their manager in '91.

    The McRae legacy continued with the arrival of his son Brian in 1990. 

    So what did the Reds get in return, you ask.

    Nelson provided two years of success in the bullpen as a swing-man and Scheinblum played in only 29 games for them in 1973 before being traded to the California Angels.

Starting Pitcher 1: Bret Saberhagen

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    Bret Saberhagen's 1985 Stats: 20 W - 6 L - 2.87 ERA - 158 K - 235.1 IP  

    How He Became A Royal

    Drafted in the 19th round of the 1982 amateur draft

    Fortunately, the World Series was on an odd year, cause Saberhagen would regress on even years.

    At least that is what occurred in his first eight years.

    Brett won the Cy Young award in '85 & '89. In '87, he won 18 games and made the All Star team. As for the even years, Brett was 7-12 with an ERA over 4 in '86, lost 16 games in '88 and was 5-9 in '90.

    In the postseason, Saberhagen was selected the Series MVP after pitching two complete game wins and only giving up earned run.

    Bret was traded to the New York Mets after the 1991 season with Bill Pecota for Gregg Jeffires, Kevin McReynolds and Keith Miller.

    He continued to have his ups and downs the remainder of his career which ended in 2001.

Starting Pitcher 2: Charlie Leibrandt

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    Charlie Leibrandt's 1985 Stats: 17 W - 9 L - 2.69 ERA - 237.2 IP 

    How He Became A Royal

    Traded by the Cincinnati Reds for Bob Tufts in 1983

    Leibrandt was one of the three southpaws in the rotation in 1985.

    After 11 games in 1984, Charlie had his career year the next season. He finished 5th in the Cy Young race.

    Leibrandt followed up his career year with three solid seasons, which he totaled 43 wins and pitched over 230 innings each season.

    In 1989 his win total dropped to 5 and his ERA increased to over 5 runs, which made it easy for the Royals to let him walk.

    Charlie signed with the Atlanta Braves and pitched in the 1991 World Series.

    As for Bob Tufts, he never made it to the majors after being traded. 

Starting Pitcher 3: Danny Jackson

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    Danny Jackson's 1985 Stats: 14 W - 12 L - 3.42 ERA - 208 IP 

    How He Became A Royal

    Drafted in the 1st round of the 1982 amateur draft

    In his second full season, Jackson had his breakout season. 

    Besides the regular season, Danny excelled in the postseason in '85. 

    Against the Blue Jays, Jackson pitched a complete game shutout. He followed that up with a complete game and a win in the World Series. 

    Overall, he gave up three runs over sixteen innings and won two games with two complete games. Very nice for this young lefty.

    After losing 18 games in 1987 and in the need for a shortstop, Jackson was traded with Angel Salazar to the Cincinnati Reds for Kurt Stillwell and Ted Power.

    With his first year with the Reds, Danny was the runner-up to Orel Hershiser for the Cy Young Award in '88 with his 23 wins.

    He won his second ring in 1990 with the Reds. 

Starting Pitcher 4: Bud Black

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    Bud Black's 1985 Stats: 10 W - 15 L - 4.33 ERA - 205.2 IP 

    How He Became A Royal

    Traded by the Seattle Mariners for Manny Castillo in 1982

    Black broke out in 1984 by winning 17 games with an ERA of 3.12. 

    In the ALCS, Black only gave up two earned runs to the Toronto Blue Jays over 10.2 innings, which included one game start and two relief outings.

    With the need for offense in 1988, Bud was traded to the Cleveland Indians for Pat Tabler.

    He won 121 games over his 15 seasons.

Starting Pitcher 5: Mark Gubicza

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    Mark Gubicza's 1985 Stats: 14 W - 10 L - 4.06 ERA - 177.1 

    How He Became A Royal

    Drafted in the 2nd round of the 1981 amateur draft

    The future looked bright with the 21-year old Saberhagen winning Cy Young and 22-year old Gubicza winning 24 games in his first two seasons.

    Mark was looked upon as the future and he didn't disappoint.

    From '84 - '89, Mark totaled 84 wins, which included 20 wins in '88 and two All-Star appearances.

    Unfortunately, like the franchise, the 90s was not kind to Gubicza. From '90-'97 he only won 46 games, once winning double digits (12 in '95).

    He was traded to the Anaheim Angels in 1996 for Chili Davis.

Closer: Dan Quisenberry

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    Dan Quisenberry's 1985 Stats: 8 W - 9 L - 2.37 ERA - 37 Saves - 129 IP 

    How He Became A Royal

    Signed as an amateur free agent in 1975

    MLB show "Prime 9" identified this submariner as the 9th best closer in history. Well deserved placement for this closer who saved 244 games over his 12 seasons. 

    His best work was from 1980 through 1986, which he saved 221 saves and was selected to three All-Star games. Also during this period, Dan finished in the top five in the Cy Young race and the top twelve in the MVP race five times each. 

    During these same five seasons, Quisenberry led the league in saves and three times in appearances. 

    Unlike closers of today, Quisenberry would pitch two innings at a time. He surpassed 120 innings pitched five times.

    No closer was better during the first half of the 80s.

    Due to age (35 in '88) and the emergence of Steve Farr and Jeff Montgomery, Quisenberry was released in July. He signed with the St. Louis Cardinals a week later.

    He would only save six more games in the next two seasons and retired in 1990.

Years Later

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    The Royals suffered World Series hangover, winning only 76 games in 1986.

    With the core still in tact, the Royals won 83, 84 and 92 games the last three years of the 80s.

    The core of the team was changing due to age and there were some key young players who were able to step in.

    In 1987, the Royals youth movement included third baseman Kevin Seitzer and outfielders Bo Jackson and Danny Tartabull.

    Seitzer was the runner-up to Mark McGwire for the AL Rookie-of-the-Year award. With his arrival, the "icon" George Brett was able to move to first base which helped his knees.

    Jackson instantly became a hit and one of the most popular players in the game due to his outstanding defensive plays and his unbelievable power. Plus, he was one of the best NFL running backs ever as he played both sports with such dominance.

    Tartabull also brought power, hitting sixty home runs in 1987 and 1988 and driving in over 100 runs in each season.

    After finishing in second behind the '89 World Series champions the Oakland Athletics, the Royals made some large signings in the offseason with the hopes of dethroning the team who won the division the last three years.

    The signings included pitchers Richard Dotson, Mark Davis, and Storm Davis. They also made a trade with the New York Mets to bring in depth in the name of Terry Leach.

    They added relief help by trading for Larry McWilliams from the Philadelphia Phillies. 

    With the pitching additions, the Royals traded Charlie Leibrandt to the Atlanta Braves for Gerald Perry.

    With these transactions, the youth movement and the remaining players from the "core", the Royals were expecting to get back to the top and at least stay there for a couple of seasons.

    On paper the lineup looked balance and strong, the rotation looked solid with holdovers Bret Saberhagen, Mark Gubicza, youngster Tom Gordon, nineteen game winner Storm Davis from Oakland and crafty veteran Dotson.

    With the need for a top closer, the Royals played big bucks for the 1989 NL Cy Young Winner Mark Davis who saved 44 games for the San Diego Padres.

    Again everything looked good on paper to improve on the 92 wins or at least match it heading into the new decade, but you don't win games, divisions and titles in the winter.

    The Royals quickly found this out and it hamstrung the team's aggressive approach.

    The team regressed to 75 wins due to poor performances from their new arrivals.

    Storm Davis won only seven games and Mark Davis saved six games to go with his plus 5 ERA.

    Dotson and Leach were released during the year. McWilliams was traded in September.

    The team played .500 ball the next three season. The '93 season was the last time the Royals finished above .500 until '03.

    The end was here. 

    George Brett was 40 and no longer able to carry the team. Frank White, Willie Wilson, and Hal McRae were retired.

    The youngsters who made a big splash in the late 80s were not able to completely fulfill the shoes left by the "core" and were gone.

    Tartabull signed a big contract to play for the New York Yankees after the '91 season. Both Seitzer and Bo Jackson were released prior to the '92 season.

    Amazingly as they all made their marks together in 1987, they were gone together five years later.

    After the strike, the Royals were not able to sign big free agents or keep their players from leaving for bigger contracts.

    Times were tough, but now the Royals are forming a new foundation, a new "core" of players who like the mid-seventies, will be counted on to lead them to division titles, league pennants and perhaps a World Series championship like 1985. 


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