Through the Ages, the Different Meanings of Being a Royals Fan

The Royals have had one of the easiest to define historical archs of any Major League baseball team. While nearly every team has its wide swaths of good and bad years, the Royals are an especially extreme case. From expansion birth through the late 1980s, the Royals were consistently very good and considered to be one of baseball's model franchises. After a short period of mediocrity, the bottom fell out by the mid-1990s and the Royals have never made it back. Good, then bad. That's basically the franchise history. The team hasn't even had a "near-miss" season, really, since the 1980s.

As such, there's a stark generational divide amongst Royals fans when it comes to their experiences. The scary thing is this: now we're into the second generation of Royal rooters who have never seen a truly good team.

Let's work our way from past to present.

  • Royals fans age 60 & up: The older members of this demographic (65 & up) may remember the old Kansas City Monarchs, who left town in 1955. The Kansas City A's are also more than a mere reference point for these fans. A sixty-year-old fan would have spent his late childhood and early teenage years, always ripe baseball years, with the A's still in town. Considering their experiences rooting for the A's (who were a consistently horrible team in KC), they may actually have the best perspective on the current struggles of the Royals. Good times come and go.
  • Royals fans around age 55: These guys should also still remember the A's and may have been invested enough in them to take their move to Oakland hard. The Monarchs however, were ancient history by the time they were old enough to pay attention.
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  • Royals fans around age 50: Born in 1959, a fifty-year-old Royals fan is part of the first generation of pure Royals fans. They may have had a parent or an older sibling who liked the A's, but they were ten when the Royals were born, so I suspect they would have bought in all the way. This is also the last group of fans that may remember the old Municipal Stadium, where the Royals played until 1972. 
  • Royals fans around age 45: Possibly the most spoiled Royals fans out there. Born in 1964, these lucky guys spent basically their entire youth enjoying good Royals teams. They were 11 in 1975, when the Royals finished second in the AL West, and in 1989, these guys were 25 and the Royals were still good. Probably a little more loyal to the late '70s teams, these guys might also be the most intense Yankee haters amongst us. Amazingly, these same fans could now easily have 20-year-old children who have no memories of good Royals teams. Insane.
  • Royals fans around age 40: Equally spoiled, as the Royals' run coincided with their 5-20 years. When these lucky ducks were watching the Royals in their late teens, they had essentially never followed a bad Royals team. Of course Bo Jackson, arguably the biggest sports star in the world for a brief period, was a Royal. That was perfectly normal. These are the youngest fans that have a vivid memory of the '70s teams.
  • Royals fans around age 35: Here we start to see another demographic shift. A fan born in 1974 was 11 in 1985, old enough to really get the significance, as well as a bit of the context (the decade long buildup) of the Royals winning the World Series. Anyone younger (while accounting for individual variation of course) and 1985 is a much hazier point, probably only understood later on. I may be wrong, but I see two camps amongst fans this age: half gave up on the Royals by the late 1990s, disgusted by the downfall of the team, while half were hooked enough by that touch of glory that they lived to become lifelong fans.
  • Royals fans around age 30: No matter what they might say, their memories of 1985 are pretty fuzzy. The kind of memories that you reinforce years later, through talking about them and patching together details from your parents. These fans grew up in a context still dripping in Royals glory, and as 9-10 year olds in 1989, Bo Jackson was pretty much the coolest person alive. These are also the youngest fans who should have solid memories of Brett as a player and of Saberhagen as a Royal. May have strong feelings towards Danny Tartabull and not quite understand why their older brother raved so much about Frank White.
  • Royals fans around 25: The sadness begins. Some members in this demographic may have a few scattered memories of George Brett as a player, and they certainly grew up with him as an established famous person on the playground, but Brett retired in 1993, when these guys were nine. Personally, my really good sports memories as a spectator and fan go back to about the age seven range, so we're definitely shaky here. Unless they were really really with it, no one under 23 has anything other than a postcard's memory of the Greatest Royal of All-Time. Twenty-five year old fans were vulnerable 10-year-olds during the strike year of 1994, and spent their preteen years in a stretch of real bitterness and negativity towards the game. As teenagers in the late 1990s, I'm not sure how many of these guys stuck with the Royals.
  • Royals fans 20 and under: Here's their Royals experience: the Royals have had one ok season and that's it. As ten-year-olds in 1999, they watched the Dye and Damon get traded away. They grew up with Tony Muser. They've listened to their Dad talk about the glory days, which can be a positive and negative in terms of making you actually care. They do not remember artificial turf at the K, and frankly find the entire concept pretty amazing. The Royals have been a punchline for essentially their entire lives.
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