LADY AT THE BAT: After A KC Series, Memories Of An Old Yankees-Royals Rivalry

Friday, May 19, 2017

After A KC Series, Memories Of An Old Yankees-Royals Rivalry

The Red Sox were the Yankees greatest rival in the late 70's, some forty years ago, correct? You have the one game playoff in 1978 between the two teams that resulted in a Yankees win at Fenway, October 2, 1978 that sent the Yankees on their way to a second consecutive championship. No other team comes close for the Yankees than the Red Sox, right?

I give you the Kansas City Royals of 1976-1980. George Brett was as despised in the Bronx as Carl Yastrzemski or Jim Rice. In that five year span, the Royals were the Yankees' opponent in four league championship series, with the Yankees winning the first three of those series before getting swept in 1980. And if you were around in 1980, that loss really hurt. You probably despised the Royals much more than any other team when that series ended, Red Sox included.

So, on Thursday night in Kansas City, the Yankees were going for the sweep of a three game series. The Royals have recently become relevant again, taking the Giants to the final out of Game Seven of the 2014 World Series, before returning the championship in 2015 to Kansas City, for the first time in 30 years, beating that other New York team, the Metropolitans.  For that recent period, the Royals were the team from the American League everybody envied, and the Yankees always want to be that team.

So the Yankees of yesteryear (40 years or so ago) and the Yankees of recent vintage all have stories of this Midwestern franchise that always battled the Yankees tooth and nail to the finish. And, all of a sudden, the Royals haven't looked too good this year while the Yankees have flourished. And if you want older history, the Royals were born in 1969, but the prior Kansas City team, the Athletics, now residing in Oakland, were the supplier of talent for the Yankees through much of the 1950s. Roger Maris, Clete Boyer and Ralph Terry were all Kansas City Athletics before coming to New York. Terry was sent to Kansas City from the Yankees but returned to the Bronx when the Yankees needed him.

That's how it worked back then between the two teams. In 1950, the Yankees signed a player from another Kansas City team, the Monarchs, named Elston Howard, who arrived in the Bronx in 1955. And when Kansas City was a minor league city, the Yankees were the parent club for many years.

There is a lot of history with the Royals and the city of Kansas City, even  before the Royals came into the league. And this week the Yankees won two of the three games, losing Thursday night, 5-1, but avoiding getting shut out for the first time in the 2017 season with a ninth inning run. Jordan Montgomery pitched five rough innings and the Yankees managed just seven hits. The Yankees remain in first place in the AL East as the road trip continues this weekend.
The Yankees return to Tampa Bay tonight to play another series. The two teams met in St Petersburg for the season opening series with the Rays taking two of three games. Masahiro Tanaka will pitch against the Rays, who knocked him out in his opening day start, and Tanaka was equally as bad in his last start against Houston at the Stadium. Getting Tanaka back on track, even close to what he was in Boston a few weeks ago, may be what keeps the Yankees in the race this year. So every start these days is a crucial start for Tanaka.

More KC Memories 
Happy (recent) Birthday to two Yankees whose numbers have been retired: the late Billy Martin (Number 1) on May 16 and seventy one year old Reggie Jackson (Number 44) on May 18. There are lots of memories of these two, not all of them great. You probably remember these men didn't always get along.

How about another Kansas City memory? Remember when Billy benched Reggie for a game five, winner take all game in Kansas City in 1977?  Billy put his job on the line. Some have speculated Billy didn't care and that he found a way to stick it to Reggie one more time. But Billy had a point: Reggie didn't hit Royals starter, lefty Paul Splittorff very well. So he inserted right handed hitting (and better defender) Paul Blair in Reggie's place. You might remember, the Yankees trailed 3-1 in the 8th inning when Reggie brought home the Yankees second run of the night with a pinch hit single. Then Blair got the 3 run 9th inning started with a lead-off single. Billy was hailed as a genius and a man with guts following that game, won by the Yanks 5-3. But it was Reggie who had much to do with bringing home the Yankees first championship in fifteen years. The Yankees don't win without Reggie.

The following season, Bob Lemon took over for Billy in July and the Yankees rallied for Lemon to win another championship. Billy left us Christmas Day back in 1989 and there are lots of memories of Billy. Reggie still makes appearances around the Yankees and has mentored several young players.

Reggie and Billy were always at odds, or so it seemed, with one notable exception. Together Billy and Reggie shared a moment of Yankees glory in 1977.


Uncle Mike said...

A good reminder for those whose fandom begins with Jeter -- or Mattingly. 1980 still sticks in my craw.

Also still sticking there is Hal McRae kicking Willie Randolph halfway to Connecticut in the '77 ALCS, and Brett picking a fight with Graig Nettles early in the deciding Game 5. I guess Bill Lee forgot to tell him that Nettles was not the guy you wanted to tangle with.

No mention of the Pine Tar Game? And I don't remember Yaz being hated. Rice, yes. Carlton Fisk, definitely. Lee, tremendously. But not Yaz.

Peter Colgan said...

Probably true that Yaz was not as hated as many of the Sox.(definitely not like Fisk). I actually hate the Pine Tar Game mess. Remember, that was in 1983 and the Yankees weren't as good then, so less of a rivalry. But since you brought it up, I'll go on record to say it was a dumb rule and Brett hit a legit home run. But give the Yankees credit for catching the violation as it was stated in the rule book (Nettles, I've read first brought it to Billy Martin's attention) But the rest was a farce. The dumb rule was in the books and the protest was upheld, so the Royals had to come back to New York to play ONE INNING. Not that it mattered in the pennant race but playing that inning was silly. Then they should have corrected the rule in the off season. I don't remember but think they actually did. And I thought Brett got away with contact with the umpires which usually results in a suspension. Nothing was ever said about Brett's behavior that day, other than to say "man, was he mad!" I thought McPhail should have denied the protest because that was the rule, silly as it was. Then Brett's behavior should have been addressed because of the contact he made with the umpire.