Twenty-nine years is a long time. A long time.
Life was different in September 1985. It changed on us mostly in bits. We may have hardly noticed the tweaks in the ways we spoke, spent days and turned our sights from one forgettable baseball season to the next.
But the sweep of change is easy to see when comparing one moment such as now, as the Kansas City Royals contend in the most exciting September in decades, with a time that far back — the last autumn they reached the American League playoffs.
For example, when the baseball club that September issued instructions for fans seeking playoff tickets, the front office specified:
Never miss a local story.
“Include a self-addressed standard No. 10 envelope for return with 22 cents postage in the upper right-hand corner.”
Kids, that’s what your folks called “the mail.” Just that, with no “e” before mail.
(Now, according to the Royals website, ticket seekers “are strongly encouraged to utilize your My Royals Tickets account using your current account number and password.”)
Another term you’ve not heard much lately is “nuclear talks,” which U.S. diplomats then were conducting with leaders of the old Soviet Union.
And “videocassettes.” In September 1985, two of the most popular were “The Karate Kid” and “The Breakfast Club.”
Three months would pass before the film premiere of “The Color Purple” sparked America’s decades-long romance with Oprah Winfrey.
Yes, Royals fans, it was that long ago. Before Oprah, even.
Think of your team’s fortunes tied in a weird way to the phonograph turntable, which was flying off retail shelves that year in summer closeouts. Imagine buyers’ regrets when the compact disc surged to ubiquity for the rest of the century.
But guess what? Turntables are hot again.
And out of nowhere a clever Volkswagen commercial recently jolted new life into the synth-pop hit “Take on Me” by a long-forgotten Norwegian band called A-ha.
“Take on Me” reigned atop the pop charts when the Royals grabbed that last pennant. You now can revisit the music video on YouTube.
In those days, downtown after 6 p.m. was mostly dead.
The loop’s tallest building was the 34-story Power & Light Building, built in 1931. By 1987, the new AT&T Town Pavilion would out-skyscrape it by 100 feet. Soon would come the tallest still today — One Kansas City Place with its 42 floors.
Four decades of suburban growth had put the central city in a desperate state.
The last movie house in the downtown loop, the Empire at 14th and Main streets, dropped its final curtain the weekend the Royals won the 1985 World Series.
They beat the Cardinals of St. Louis, a city that had just renovated its Union Station depot. Kansas City wouldn’t do the same for another decade and a half.
City leaders were hoping the new Vista International Hotel, now the Marriott, would begin a downtown revival. The Vista development cleaned out a row of booze haunts such as the Pink Door Tavern and the “It” Club.
“Not the most exciting times in Kansas City, unless you were a baseball fan,” said Eli Paul, manager of the Missouri Valley Special Collections at the public library.
“Downtown had Crown Center, but not a whole lot else going on. The suburbs really were king.”
Nationally, the Dow Jones industrial average hopped around 1,330. It wouldn’t hit 10,000 until halfway into the Royals’ playoff drought — that being 1999, when they finished 321/2 games behind the Cleveland Indians.
Most employers in 1985 hadn’t warmed to 401(k) plans. Individual investors could, however, sock cash away into savings accounts and certificates of deposit earning up to 10 percent annual interest.
From the depths of recession earlier in the ’80s, and despite despair on America’s farms, the overall economy was rising fast.
Power neckties, typically red, were part of the checklist of those graced with “upward mobility.” (Does anyone still say that?)
An issue of Kansas City Magazine heralded the area’s “power restaurants” drawing young urban professionals. (We’ve rightly retired “yuppies” from the lexicon.)
Power? Mobility? We had no idea of the possibilities. The Internet, social media, PayPal and smartphones were way off in the distance.
A Lenexa company in 1985 did rent out, for $30 a month, a cellular phone linked to a network called Ameritech. But the phones required 10 hours of charging to provide 30 minutes of service.
Sprint didn’t exist.
At home, cable TV options were limited to a smattering of local providers such as Platte County Cable offering two dozen channels.
Other eye-openers, looking back:
▪ Pete Rose became the all-time major-league hit leader late in that 1985 season. He would then be forever banned from baseball and excluded from the Hall of Fame for having bet on games.
▪ Missourians, speaking of bets, had not yet bought their first lottery tickets.
▪ Kansas bars were a year away from finally tearing up their club cards, per a voter-approved constitutional amendment, and legally serving liquor by the drink.
Sadly, there would be no Royals pennants to toast after the liquor laws took effect.
Good news? The old Empire Theatre would come back two decades later as the Mainstreet, offering first-run films, cocktails and lounge seating in the Power & Light District.
Just as local fans at the end of the season had the highest expectations for their ballclub’s future, similar hope sprung from other endeavors.
OK, New Coke was an instant bust.
And other hopes were dashed over many years.
In September 1985, the Kansas City school district reported a fall enrollment of 35,666 pupils — a slight but troubling drop from the year before.
Thinking a court-ordered desegregation plan and the prospects of magnet schools would foster public support, school officials had anticipated an influx of students. Surveys of suburban parents were indicating such.
Enrollment today is less than half what it was then.
Some indoor shopping malls, so crowded in 1985 — Bannister Mall in Kansas City, Blue Ridge Mall out by the ballpark, Indian Springs Mall in Kansas City, Kan. — would succumb to Wal-Mart and Best Buy even before online shopping threatened to render in-store sales obsolete.
President Ronald Reagan came to Independence on Labor Day weekend that year to pitch a simplified income tax code. The idea of a “flat tax” has stalled ever since.
The Kansas City Times newspaper disappeared in 1990 in a merger with the then-afternoon Star. But in the fall of 1985, The Times featured Carm Hakan, 43, among several inductees in “Baseball’s Hall of Fans.”
She and husband Bart had season tickets that put them four rows in back of the catcher. They chatted with scout Hank Bauer across the aisle. And even in the lean years of the 1990s and early 2000s, the games were a joy because Bauer’s old seat was filled by Buck O’Neil.
“I learned a lot about baseball and life from Buck,” said Hakan, now 72.
Royals Stadium became The K. The century turned, and the Hakans began to sell off some of their season tickets before surrendering them. Ultimately, their seats behind the plate were obliterated in the big renovation.
But they still don’t miss a Royals game on cable.
That wasn’t a nightly option in 1985.
Nor back then could Hakan punch up the Major League Baseball app on her iPad to live-stream the Royals or any of their Central Division contenders.
Credit her iPad to the vision of the late Steve Jobs.
Credit also his ability to reclaim a throne, as this year’s Royals aim to do. Jobs returned a floundering Apple to its former glory more than a decade after he resigned from the company.
He left in September 1985.
Look it up on the Web.