Love a place like Kansas and you can be content in a garden of raked sand,
-- Earl Thompson, A Garden of Sand
For the first time in three decades people are jumping on the Kansas bandwagon – or more precisely the Kansas City Royals bandwagon. My relationship with the Royals goes back a few years. In this photo circa 1983 shows my daughter Cynthia (age 14 months) wearing a mini-Royals Jersey waiting for a push from my mother. You cannot tell from this photo, but my toddler is wearing the number 5 – the uniform number of Baseball Hall of Famer George Brett. (Later, I purchased a George Brett Christmas ornament.)
It's refreshing to see the Royals and Orioles advancing in the playoffs and even though I have some affections for the Royals, I am hardly a fan (this is a long suffering Chicago Cubs-centric blog). On the other hand, I did live Wichita for several years and in orbit of Kansas City Royal fandom. Kansas City had some fine teams in the 1980s.
Solidfying the connection was my reading of the writer and baseball sabrematician Bill James who wrote prolifically about the Kansas City baseball, reminiscing back to the Kansas Athletics before they moved to Oakland in 1965. Kansas City was awarded a new franchise in the 1969 expansion. James, now 65, is best known for his annual Baseball Abstracts, which began self publishing in late 70s. James is largely responsible how baseball statistics have become a centerpiece of personnel and strategy decisions. (He was has three World Series rings for being an advisor to recent Boston Red Sox championship teams). I even wrote an essay about James that was published 22 years ago, making the argument that James belongs in the writer's wing of the Hall of Fame. (EFQ: Winter, 1992)
I still keep his Historical Abstracts, which look at players from past eras, on my shelf along with an autographed copy of his “best of” collection, This Time Let's Not Eat the Bones: The Best of the Bill James Baseball Abstract (1989). If the Royals end up playing the Cardinals in a repeat of the 1985 World Series, I will be sure to reread his 45 page recap and analysis of the series. The Bones book is a great refresher on those Royals teams of the 1980s, especially Brett who you can bet, cameras will undoubtedly follow for reactions shots to events on the diamond.
There were other very good players on those teams, Amos Otis, Willie Wilson, Brett Saberhagen, Frank White, and later Bo Jackson. People don't remember that Jackson was reviled for trying to play two professional sports, but James defended Jackson's "hobby" (Jackson's reference to baseball). There was also the relief pitcher with the submarine delivery, the 6'2”, 170 pound (the perfect body type for those stretch uniforms), Dan Quisenberry, who was known for his quips as much as his unusual pitching motion. Later Quisenberry published a book of verse called On Days Like This published shortly before his premature death from brain cancer in 1998. Here's one of the poems from that collection.
i miss pitching so much
don't miss it at all, sick of it
i'll miss baseball forever, an old high school flame
burnt out, want nothing to do with it
it's part of me, like an extra limb or another ear
cut it off, numbed, like it happened to someone else
gave all of me to the game: head, heart, body, soul
gave nothing to it: zero
baseball was clear, focused, true
baseball was confusion, a roller coaster, a lie
learned so much
i yearn for the attention, the dance of the big game
it was p.r. events that were meaningless, roars with no passion
i want a hat that tells me who I belong to
the logos were from cities I wasn't from
the game sings its siren song for my soul
i'm a mercenary who wants peace
i don't need another word of it
i'm synonymous with it
i've seen enough, heard enough
wonder who they're playing tonight?