If They Don’t Win It’s a Shame
Mizzou alumni have been covering the Royals and Cardinals for generations.
On a map, the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals appear as feuding families maintaining maximum distance within state borders. Now, nearly 30 seasons removed from an all-Missouri World Series, that sentiment rings particularly true to fans of the Redbirds, who lost in seven games.
After 1985, the franchises’ fates veered far apart until 2014, a season that reminded both cities that their love for the national pastime connects them as surely as Interstate 70.
Squarely between the two sits Mizzou, training ground for thousands of journalists through the years who have covered the clubs’ whiffs, WHIPs and walk-offs. In 2014, during the resilient Royals’ return to the World Series and the consistent Cardinals’ fourth consecutive trip to the National League (NL) Championship Series, talented Tigers documented and delivered the sights and sounds. It’s a job fraught with cantankerous skippers, bleary-eyed deadlines, moody ballplayers and the general pressure of a reporter’s civic duty.
It’s also a childhood dream come true.
Black, White, Red and Blue All Over
Since the late 1980s, the moniker “Royals” seemed a cruel joke to Kansas City baseball fans. Named in 1968 after the town’s annual American Royal Livestock Show, the franchise entered the 2014 season wearing a dubious crown: The Royals had endured 28 consecutive years of postseason drought, the longest of any North American sports franchise.
That changed Sept. 26, when catcher Salvador Perez squeezed the final out in the Royals’ 3-1 victory against the Chicago White Sox, clinching an American League Wild Card spot and ending the streak.
Four days later, Perez ascended to the throne with a game-winning single to end a 12-inning, one-game playoff with the Oakland Athletics at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium.
“There are times in this business when things get so loud you can’t even hear the noise, and the Wild Card game was certainly one of those times,” says Vahe Gregorian, MA ’88, sports columnist for the Kansas City Star. “If the Royals were to win the 2015 World Series, I’m not sure it would be any better story [than the 2014 season]. It was such a leap.”
The boys in blue wouldn’t lose until the World Series, posting a Major League Baseball-record eight consecutive wins to start a postseason before falling in seven games to the San Francisco Giants. Despite coming short of the ultimate goal, the Royals had revived a loyal but understandably dormant fan base.
Gregorian doesn’t have a comprehensive perspective of the team’s era of futility; he arrived at the Star in 2013 after 25 years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. But as a reporter in both cities, he is qualified to compare and contrast the diehard fans.
“In St. Louis, things have come to be expected, just as things came to never be expected in Kansas City,” Gregorian says. “Fans need time to trust again after a period of blight. There’s a willingness to trust the Royals now — but maybe still a bit of worry.”
Across the state, the 2014 St. Louis Cardinals capped another successful season by winning the NL Central Division and advancing to the league championship series where they, too, would lose to the Giants. It was the Cards’ 13th postseason birth since the 1985 World Series, a span that netted the club five NL pennants and two World Championships.
Derrick Goold, BA, BJ ’97, Cardinals beat reporter for the Post-Dispatch, grew up near Boulder, Colorado, in “the time zone that baseball forgot.” Before the expansion Colorado Rockies arrived in 1993, Goold got his baseball fix by clipping the Rocky Mountain News for his beloved New York Yankees’ box scores.
“One year, we didn’t get credentialed [for a Cards game], so I bought a ticket, sat in the crowd with a computer and reported from there,” says Goold, who has covered every Cardinals World Series of the current millennium. “The story was about grass and the reconfigured field at Busch Stadium II. I made phone calls from a hotel lobby earlier in the day, and I quoted some fans sitting around me.”
For Goold, author of 100 Things Cardinals Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die (Triumph Books, 2012), Cardinals history is what makes the job special.
“The championships have been staggered. They haven’t been all in one big gulp,” says Goold of the franchise’s 11 titles dating back to 1926. “[St. Louis broadcaster and MU alumnus] Mike Shannon once told me the Cardinals have never been without a Hall of Fame player. Every fan’s generation has had a great player as a touchstone, and most have a World Series team they can love.”
Legend of the Fall
Like the state in which his career started and finished, Dick Kaegel’s sports-journalist timeline is bookended by baseball classics. The now-retired MLB.com Royals writer started as a 24-year-old with the Granite City (Illinois) Press-Record reporting on and photographing the 1964 World Series between the Cardinals and Yankees. After 50 years, Kaegel, BJ ’61, retired following the 2014 Royals’ magical run.
Kaegel has always been versatile, beginning with his Missourian column “Bowling News and Views” in the early ’60s when he once wrote about the evolution of the automatic pinsetter. During his career, he took a turn as editor of The Sporting News (“The Baseball Bible”) and covered the Cardinals for the Post-Dispatch and the Royals for the Star leading up to the MLB website gig.
Kaegel credits his career longevity in part to a knack for getting along with players.
“Over the years, access has diminished. We used to wander in and out of the clubhouse, hang out with the manager in his office,” he says. “I was always kidded by the KC media. They would say, ‘Kaegel never asks a question,’ which isn’t quite true, of course. I would usually start by making a comment to a player or manager, then just have a conversation rather than interrogate the guy.”
Every once in a great while, those conversations got feisty. In 1975, Cardinals Hall of Famer Bob Gibson confronted Kaegel for “stirring things up” in an article about the notoriously intense pitcher’s impending retirement. A grouchy Gibson stonewalled Kaegel for the remainder of the year, and when the reporter wrote a Gibson-career retrospective at season’s end, he had to do so without quotes. (The two are on friendly terms today.)
In 1992, Kaegel and a colleague went so far as to stake out a Los Angeles doctor’s office where Hall of Famer George Brett — just four career hits shy of 3,000 — was getting the OK to play with an injury. The reporters overestimated their stealth as a cackling Brett thrust his head into the waiting room shouting, “What are you guys doing here?”
That night, Brett collected the hits, as well as 154 more before retiring the following season.
“You want to retire before someone suggests it’s time to retire,” says Kaegel, referring to his own 50-year milestone. “I’m sure when pitchers and catchers report for spring training, I’ll say, ‘Oh, gosh, I could be in Surprise, Arizona, soaking up sun and talking to ballplayers.’ ”
To earn the nickname “The Commissioner,” Rick Hummel, BJ ’68, had to garner the respect of his press box colleagues during 41 seasons covering Cardinals baseball and other sports. The National Baseball Hall of Fame’s J.G. Taylor Spink Award, a Jack Buck Award and four Missouri Sportswriter of the Year honors merely intensified his aura. Perhaps that’s why the Busch Stadium press box is co-named for Hummel — along with the late Bob Broeg, BJ ’41, Hummel’s former boss at the Post-Dispatch.
Hummel’s career has been serendipitous. At Mizzou, he covered the basketball debut of an excitable young coach named Norm Stewart, BS Ed ’56, M Ed ’60, and the inaugural 1967 season of the St. Louis Blues hockey franchise. Later, with the Post-Dispatch, he covered all three title fights during St. Louisian heavyweight Leon Spinks’ high-profile career, which included an upset of Muhammad Ali.
Hummel has witnessed every significant moment in four decades of Cardinals history, including the controversial call by umpire Don Denkinger in game six of the 1985 Cardinals-Royals World Series. With no outs and St. Louis clinging to a 1–0 lead in the ninth inning, Cardinals first baseman Jack Clark fielded a grounder from Royals hitter Jorge Orta and underhanded it to pitcher Todd Worrell who was covering first base. Denkinger called Orta safe, but multiple TV replays showed he was out. The Royals rallied to win game six 2-1 and crush the Cardinals 11-0 in game seven to win the series.
“Whitey [Herzog, Cardinals manager] told us in essence before game seven that he didn’t think his players would be able to shake off having the World Series stolen from them the night before,” Hummel says. “[Cardinals ace pitcher] John Tudor had punched a fan — a ceiling fan — and game seven was one of the few bad games he pitched that season. He had won 20 of his last 21 decisions.”
Hummel was also up close for a much happier and historic Cardinals World Series game six. In 2011, St. Louis staged a comeback for the ages against the Texas Rangers, who were twice one out away from winning it all.
“The game was lasting well into deadline time, so I thought I’d watch the end of it downstairs and talk to the Rangers because they were about to win,” Hummel says. “I had to plow through the players’ wives and family lined up past the clubhouse and along the wall so that they could run out onto the field after they won, only to find out the Cards had tied it. I was back upstairs in time for [St. Louis third baseman and MU alumnus David] Freese’s game-winning home run.”
First Draft of History
Cardinals and Royals fans extend well beyond the metropolitan areas of Kansas City and St. Louis to all corners of the earth. Sung Woo Lee, a 38-year-old lifelong Royals supporter in South Korea who follows the team on the Internet, made the transglobal trek to his first Major League game in August 2014 at Kauffman Stadium. The Cardinals, once MLB’s southernmost and westernmost franchise, attribute part of their massive regional appeal to KMOX-AM, the team’s powerful radio carrier since the 1930s.
MU alumni have been cultivating these connections for generations. Fans in red and blue devour newspapers, blogs, broadcasts, podcasts and print for 162 games and beyond, hoping their team reaches the pinnacle in October.
It is a responsibility that isn’t lost on Mizzou’s best sports journalists.
“Our stories, if everything goes well, will be read and reread for a long time,” Goold says. “If the team wins the whole thing — or if a 12-year-old clips all the stories and instead of pitching them because the team lost, he keeps them and 40 years down the road gives them to his grandkid — those stories better rise to the occasion.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story inaccurately recounted details from game six of the 1985 World Series.