By Jason Keidel
Before we saw baseball as a business, before cable deals and big markets bogarting the bold ink and the best players, there was a sense of a free-wheeling meritocracy to our pastime.
Back in 1985, when some of us were in high school, we didn’t make the connection between well-played and well-heeled teams, between fun and funds. We assumed all teams were of equal means.
The Milwaukee Brewers, Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Cardinals, and Kansas City Royals had played in the World Series during the young decade. Random, dispersed dots on the American map.
So while New Yorkers under 30 and over 60 think October baseball in the Bronx is a birthright, buried in the bylaws of the sport, some of us find a certain comfort in seeing Kansas City make their first trip to the Fall Classic since high hair and Cindy Lauper.
More than any sport, baseball trades on the romance of its deep past, as a hybrid of two summer essentials – warm weather and fresh grass. They don’t want us to be bothered with the fine print of finance or the haunting memories of obscenely muscular men shooting equine potions into their tush.
Baseball is trying to be pure again. And when you consider the final four teams in the MLB postseason, they did a good job. The Giants, Cardinals, Orioles and Royals aren’t considered members of the monetary aristocracy, at least not at the level of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers. No one is accusing the Royals of purchasing a pennant.
With TV deals sprouting up like weeds we are seeing the Mike Trouts and Buster Poseys stay local, rather than migrate to the old money of the major markets. That’s not to say the Royals are the new blue bloods of baseball. The business model of spending your way to the title has long been debunked, especially with the recent, small-market success of Tampa and Oakland.
This is Kansas City’s first foray deep into the fall since they trotted out baseball monoliths like George Brett, Dan Quisenberry, and Brett Saberhagen. Maybe the Royals plunge down the rungs of relevance after their revelation in 2014.
But this isn’t about Kansas City, at least not entirely. This is about parity being more than a parody. And the idea that we highbrow fools from the East Coast needing a baseball thesaurus to identify newfound autumn heroes, like Cain and Hosmer and Holland.
This is about New Yorkers seeing their world much like The New Yorker magazine – New York City, New Jersey, then China. We ignore the world west of the Hudson, regard the rest of America as flyover country, an endless strip of farmland that keeps us from getting to the other coast in less than five hours. So this is as much about rebooting our pretentious mores as the newfound glory of middle-America.
We now know that the Royals are playing the Giants in the World Series. San Francisco, which Hitchcock called the Paris of the West, needs no promotional bump. Playing up to their handle, The Giants have now reached three of the last five Fall Classics. And no doubt they will be favored to beat the lowly Royals, much like every team that has fallen under Kansas City’s magic carpet ride.
Forgive some of us if we openly root for the Royals. If only for the underdog narrative. If only for nostalgia. If only out of guilt. If only because we know there is something resoundingly right about it. Watch out, Giants. Kansas City has yet to lose a playoff game. David has done this before to Goliath.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden.
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