It is Rivalry Week at SB Nation, a time to remember that what unites us as a nation, is that we like to be divided. While that can be pernicious in most respects, sports at least allows us an outlet to enjoy our in-groups and feel superior to other groups of fans in a mostly safe manner. I cheer for a group of guys that play their games near my house, which makes me a superior sports-watcher than you!
Rivalries are a big deal in college athletics, soccer, and the NFL, but to be honest, they’re not quite as big a deal in baseball. There are four long-standing rivalries in baseball - Yankees vs. Red Sox, Cubs vs. Cardinals, Giants vs. Dodgers, and Joe West vs. common sense. Other rivalries tend to evolve over time, depending on who is good, and what players comprise each team.
For the Royals, this has meant different rivals in different eras. Let’s take a look at how Royals rivalries have evolved over time.
1972-1976 - Royals vs. Athletics
It’s a good thing the Royals were rather successful early on in club history, otherwise it would have been extremely painful to see the franchise that left town go on to build a dynasty in Oakland. The pitiful Athletics, who never had a winning season in Kansas City, won 82 games in their first season in Oakland, then won three straight World Championships from 1972 to 1974. The Royals finished in second place behind the A’s in 1971, 1973, and 1975, but once the A’s dynasty was dismantled, the Royals were able to take three straight division titles.
The two faced off in the weird 1981 playoffs, with Oakland coming out on top, then battled for the division again in the late 80s. The Royals bested them in the 2014 Wild Card in dramatic fashion, but the rivalry really died out like disco in the 70s.
1976-1983 - Royals vs. Yankees
This is perhaps one of the more underrated rivalries in baseball, as the Royals and Yankees stood as two titans in the game in the late 70s. The storylines could have been written by Hollywood. The Royals had speed, pitching, defense, homegrown talent, Midwestern values, and were led by a superstar who seemingly got a clutch hit every time he was called upon named George Brett. The Yankees had star power, home runs, clubhouse dysfunction, tabloid fodder, and the straw that stirred that seemingly toxic elixir was Mr. October himself, Reggie Jackson.
“There was real hatred between us.”
The Yankees bested the Royals in the ALCS for three consecutive years with series that featured epic contests that included Chris Chambliss’ series-ending walk-off home run, George Brett’s three-home night, and a brawl between Brett and Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles that capped off a series full of hard slides and near-fights. The Royals finally topped the Yankees for the pennant in 1980 when Brett silenced Yankees fans with a third-deck blast off Goose Gossage.
As Yankees second baseman Willie Randolph put it, “Everybody forgets now about that rivalry, but if those games had been in the World Series, they’d be some of the most famous games in baseball history.”
Even though their last playoff matchup was in 1980, the rivalry continued for years. In 1983, Yankees skipper Billy Martin would try to one-up the Royals by claiming a potential game-winning home run by George Brett should be disqualified because he had too much pine tar on his bat. After one of the most insane dugout outbursts in baseball history, a successful protest filed by the Royals, and a threat of litigation, umpire Tim McClelland was overruled and Brett’s home run was allowed to stand in the infamous “Pine Tar Game.”
1976-1986 - Royals vs. Angels
From 1976-1986, the Royals and Angels combined for nine division titles in eleven seasons. Five times over that period, the two clubs finished first and second together, all of them within five games of each other. The Royals edged the Angels by five games in 1978, but the Angels took the division by three games in 1979. The Angels were supposedly motivated by an interview Royals owner Ewing Kauffman had given where he said he hoped anyone would win the division but the Angels, since they were a high-priced team of mercenaries who played in front of no fans.
The two teams battled again for the division in 1982, with some intense games down the stretch that included quotes in the press from Angels pitcher Geoff Zahn who complained about the Royals’ “cockiness” and All-Star hitter Rod Carew, who called the Royals “crybabies.” Reggie Jackson would bowl into Frank White in a close play at second, causing a bench-clearing brawl. A week later in Kansas City, Jackson would confront a Royals fan for throwing a beer cup at him. The Angels would take the division by three games.
“We have a rivalry because of our head-to-head confrontations...It always seems to come down to us two.”
-Angels infielder Doug DeCinces
A young Royals unexpectedly got hot and stole the division from the Angels in 1984, setting up a terrific division race in 1985. The Western Division title that year came to a thrilling conclusion in the final week of the season, with the Royals taking three out of four from the Halos to take over first place for good on their way to their first championship.
1985, 1997-present - Royals vs. Cardinals
The Royals faced off against the Cardinals in the cross-state I-70 World Series, in a terrific series that was marked by controversy in Game 6 when Jorge Orta was correctly called safe at first by umpire Don Denkinger on an infield ground ball. The Cardinals could have simply retired .243 hitter Steve Balboni or light-hitting Dane Iorg to win the game, but instead they wet their drawers and blew it, then imploded in a huge hissy fit in Game Seven, and the seeds of a rivalry were born.
But the rivalry has really only been between the two cities, not the two teams. They didn’t play again until interleague play was implemented in 1997, and even then, it is not like the two teams hated each other. It was also pretty one-sided, with the Cardinals winning 60 percent of the head-to-head matchups and competing for championships each season while the Royals were in baseball hell for much of the 2000s. I enjoy taking digs at St. Louis as much as the next guy (St. Louis-style pizza is, and always be an abomination), but the rivalry between the two baseball teams is pretty weak.
1995-2012 - Royals vs. apathy
In 1994, Muriel Kauffman died, baseball players went on strike, and the Royals became irrelevant for the next 18 years. The team was laughably bad at times, and it is amazing anyone at all showed up to games. Luckily, they finally snapped out of it with a late pennant run in 2013, followed by back-to-back pennant in 2014 and 2015, culminating in a championship. Take that, apathy!
2014 - Royals vs. Tigers
The Royals made a late run in 2014, but the Tigers stood as a Goliath in their way. The Royals trailed them by as many as eight games in late July, but won 16 of 19 to take over first place by mid-August. The Royals traveled to Detroit in September with a slim lead, but dropped the first two games of the series to fall out of first. Big Game James Shields showed why the Royals acquired him by giving the team seven shutout innings in a 3-0 win to put the Royals back in first.
However the Tigers would take two of three in Kansas City a few weeks later and would edge out the Royals for the division title by one game. Luckily, the Royals would still get in as the Wild Card and make a remarkable run through the post-season.
2014 - Royals vs. Orioles
You wouldn’t think a series that ended up in a four-game sweep would be a rivalry, but the 2014 American League Championship Series was unusually chippy. Orioles fans took offense to Jarrod Dyson’s confident assertion that the series would not return to Baltimore after Game Two (a prognostication that turned out to be correct). There was more pearl-clutching when former Orioles pitcher Jeremy Guthrie showed up to a press conference in a t-shirt that read “These O’s Ain’t Royal.” The bitterness even carried over after the series, with Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph tweeting “Welcome back to earth boys” after the Royals dropped Game One of the World Series.
Perhaps this isn’t even really a rivalry, just a one-sided grievance from Orioles fans for getting their butts whipped. Even NFL writer Jason La Canfora still can’t let it go.
2015 - Royals vs. Blue Jays
The Royals and Blue Jays had some tensions well before they ever faced each other in the ALCS. In August, benches cleared after Aaron Sanchez plunked Alcides Escobar. Royals pitcher Edinson Volquez accused Blue Jays slugger Josh Donaldson, who was plunked earlier in the game of “crying like a baby.” Jose Bautista took to Twitter to retort, saying he lost respect for manager Ned Yost, which led to an online beef with Yordano Ventura.
But that October the two teams would face off for the pennant in what would be a contentious series. Jose Bautista drew further ire from Royals fans by pretending to toss a ball into the stands at a fan. Royals fans later got their revenge when Bautista was confused on a pop up and allowed it to drop. In Game Three, the Royals accused the Blue Jays of sign-stealing against Johnny Cueto, an accusation the Blue Jays had long been rumored to be guilty of. Royals players even had to guard themselves against Blue Jays fans tossing debris on the field. The Royals eventually prevailed for the pennant, but it was a testy series.
2015-present - Royals vs. White Sox
The Royals and White Sox have been in the same division since the inception of the Royals, but have rarely had anything meaning to play for. The Royals chased the White Sox in 1993, with a crucial series down the stretch, but a Frank Thomas home run off Jeff Montgomery and a September slide for the Royals ended any thought of a pennant run for Kansas City.
In the 2000s, Mike Sweeney terrorized White Sox pitching, and Paul Konerko terrorized Royals pitching, but the Royals were never good enough to seriously challenge the White Sox, and the only reason to hate the Sox were Hawk Harrelson and the fact that two of their fans assaulted Royals first base coach Tom Gamboa.
But once the Royals got good again, things got a bit chippier. Early in the 2015 season, Yordano Ventura had words with Chicago outfielder Adam Eaton, leading to a bench-clearing brawl that led to the ejection of five players. White Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija tried to go after Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain, and Chris Sale even waited outside the Royals’ clubhouse to exact some revenge. Even years later, there were some tensions when Salvador Perez called out White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson for his verbal outburst upon hitting a home run. With both teams rebuilding, perhaps they will one day battle over the division, and it will be easy to root against the men in black.
What team do you love to hate the most?
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Chicago White Sox
Los Angeles Angels
New York Yankees
St. Louis Cardinals
Toronto Blue Jays