From the day we moved to Kansas City from St. Louis two years ago this weekend, I’ve been reminded frequently and emphatically that the two cities have virtually nothing in common — least of all a sense of connection to each other.
But there is at least one prominent common denominator, a treasure to two fan bases:
Whitey Herzog, who breathed life into the Royals in the mid-1970s and resuscitated the Cardinals in the early ‘80s, will be honored Friday at Kauffman Stadium before the series opener of an intriguing weekend between the teams.
Not since the 1985 World Series have both teams been playing this well when they’ve met, and Herzog, 83, seems riveted by the Royals.
In one burst shortly after he answered the phone on Wednesday, he gushed about “one of the greatest damned bullpens I’ve seen,” a lineup in which, “hell, everybody’s hitting .300” and “what about the turnaround for (Mike) Moustakas?”
Herzog no doubt has similarly favorable observations about the Cardinals, in whose name he entered the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2010.
If he’d known more at the time, though, he’d have done what Greg Maddux and Tony La Russa did in 2014: ask for no logo on the hat of his Hall of Fame plaque as a nod to his multiple team allegiances.
“Hell, if I had known that you could go in with more than one club, I could have gone in as a Missouri candidate,” said Herzog, who still holds the club record for managerial victories (410) with Ned Yost (399) rapidly closing in.
As it is, though …
“I guess I’ll dress in blue, but I’d better go down to the Cardinal clubhouse and tell them I’m not a traitor or anything,” he said, laughing. “I’m going to have to sit there rooting for both teams, you know?”
Despite some cross-pollination of fans across the state, despite the fact a lot of St. Louisans were rooting for the Royals in the 2014 World Series, there can’t be many who’ll feel similarly conflicted this weekend — and not just because of baseball.
From what I can tell, anyway, the disconnect seems rooted in a popular perception that St. Louis is the western-most city that looks east for its personality and that Kansas City is the eastern-most city that identifies with the west.
It’s easy to see some truth in that dynamic, which should mean that neither really faces each other.
Some friends and others I’ve heard from here, though, resent St. Louis and see it as aloof or entitled.
Meanwhile, sorry, but St. Louis to me always seemed largely indifferent to Kansas City and cast its own envious eye towards Chicago.
In this cycle, each is missing something in the other.
Which is only further affirmation to the aggrieved here.
Where this chicken-and-egg began, why it’s thrived and escalated is beyond me.
But it’s easy to see its embodiment in baseball.
For one thing, the Cardinals have a tradition almost like no other, and that was flexed mightily in the years spanning World Series berths for the Royals.
In between the Royals’ triumph over the Cardinals in 1985 and their return to the playoffs last year, the Cardinals appeared in 12 postseasons, five World Series (winning two) and 137 playoff games (winning 74).
As if 137 postseason games to zero wasn’t enough to stoke frustration, St. Louis’ self-image as the “best fans in baseball” rubbed it in more.
Especially because of the accompanying insinuation that it reflects something unique to St. Louis … as if Kansas City wouldn’t similarly support a team that wins that way.
Now, there is something uniquely St. Louis about the relationship between the fans and their team, something singular about the franchise.
But the Royals’ romp to the World Series last year illustrated something unique, too, a living, breathing relationship you had to see to believe — something appreciated in a different sort of way than modern St. Louis fans could since the Cardinals never have gone longer than 17 years between their 19 World Series appearances since that began in 1926.
So with the Royals based on one playoff season in 29 years averaging more than 30,000 a game now, likely to sell out all three games this weekend and on trajectory to breaking the club season attendance record of 2,477,700 set in 1989, it’s reasonable to wonder how different attendance figures might look in each city since 1985 if the team’s records simply had been reversed?
Which is where Herzog comes in again.
Flash back to his tenure with the Royals, who he guided to the best record in club history (102-60) in 1977 after taking over for Jack McKeon in 1975.
The Royals drew about 1.7 million in 1976, the first of three straight playoff berths, and crowds swelled to 1.85 million, 2.25 million and 2.26 million in his four full seasons.
During those same seasons, the Cardinals were 72-90 in 1976 and drew 1.2 million to Busch Stadium, were 83-79 in 1977 and drew 1.7, 69-93 in 1978 and drew 1.278 and 86-76 in 1979 and drew 1.6.
For that matter, the Cardinals drew only 1.3 in 1980.
Then for the first time since they played in the 1968 World Series, they drew 2 million again in 1982 … when they returned to the World Series for the first time in 14 years.
With Herzog managing them.
And only because he’d been fired by the Royals after a second-place finish in 1979 after philosophical conflicts with owner Ewing Kauffman and general manager Joe Burke.
Oddly enough, Herzog pointed to an attendance bonus in his contract as an issue in his demise.
“They were worried about drawing a million, and I asked for a $50,000 clause in my contract if we drew two million,” Herzog said. “And within (three) years, we were drawing two million.
“They never thought they could draw two million at that time, so they put that clause in there thinking they’ll never get it.”
That was just part of a complicated dynamic with Kauffman.
“He didn’t like me, and I wasn’t very fond of him,” Herzog said. “And a lot of it was my fault, but it was a two-way street.”
Just the same, Herzog remained attached to the Kansas City area, where his daughter, Debbie, still lives.
He had settled in Independence after an eight-year playing career that included a stint with the Athletics, who often were plundered by the Yankees.
When he was inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame in 2010, Herzog referred to the “Yankee shuttle-bus phase” and said, “I’d seen how the fans in Kansas City were never given a fair shake.
“For us to come with the Royals and win the division and almost get to the World Series, that was my biggest thrill in baseball. I really feel that.”
His time in St. Louis wasn’t shabby, either, including three National League pennants and winning the 1982 World Series
Kansas City and St. Louis might not have much in common, but Herzog is proof that both can value some of the same things — and maybe have more in common than they realize.
Even if Herzog went into the Hall of Fame as a Cardinal.
“I hope they don’t boo me, fer chrissakes,” he said.