Sam Mellinger

Not so fast, George: Are the 2015 Royals really better than the 1985 champs?

Salvador Perez, MVP of the 2015 World Series, gets the nod over 1985 Royals catcher Jim Sundberg.
Salvador Perez, MVP of the 2015 World Series, gets the nod over 1985 Royals catcher Jim Sundberg. jsleezer@kcstar.com

It took, roughly, 30 minutes after the Royals’ second World Series championship for someone to ask the man who might know better than anyone else how this team compares to the first.

That was George Brett, of course, and he gave an enthusiastic endorsement of the 2015 team over the 1985 team, one he went back to at the parade in saying this was the best team in franchise history (vaguely addressing enthusiasts of the 1977 team that won 102 games).

A look back in photos and video as the Kansas City Royals clinched the ALCS title, and defeated the New York Mets in five games to win their first World Series Championship since 1985.

But, you know, that won’t stop us from double-checking Brett’s math here. This is entirely subjective, obviously, and with the help of a few who are positioned to speak on both teams, we are judging position groups and awarding the winners on a scale of one to five parades.

So come with us, as we go through another fun and entirely pointless sports discussion.

Starting pitchers

1985: Bret Saberhagen, Danny Jackson, Charlie Leibrandt, Bud Black and Mark Gubicza formed baseball’s best rotation, and Saberhagen won the Cy Young Award as the AL’s best starter. Together, they pitched all but 6  1/3 innings of the World Series, with three complete games and a cumulative 1.94 ERA.

2015: Yordano Ventura was the opening day and Game 1 playoff starter, and he might’ve been the No. 4 or even No. 5 starter in 1985. This group had some big moments, particularly Johnny Cueto in the ALDS clincher and Game 2 of the World Series, but mostly they were asked not to lose the game before the bullpen could take over.

Verdict: The handling of pitching staffs, particularly in the playoffs, is the biggest difference between 1985 and 2015. Even so, with the notable exception of George Brett, this is the old-timers’ greatest strength. 1985 by 5 parades.

Bullpen

1985: Dan Quisenberry is one of the better relievers in baseball history, and has an interesting if overlooked Hall of Fame case. This was the last of Quiz’s dominant seasons. He led the league with 37 saves, pitched in 84 games, and threw eight fewer innings than Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera combined in 2015.

2015: It is no exaggeration to say that baseball has never seen a two-year stretch like Wade Davis put together in 2014 and 2015. His ERA was 0.94 over that period, and he has allowed just one earned run in 25 postseason innings with the Royals. Even without Greg Holland, the bullpen was among the 2015 champs’ greatest strengths, and an enormous reason they were able to come back so often in the late innings.

Verdict: Just as the different eras made the rotation more important in 1985, the bullpen is emphasized today. Quisenberry makes this slightly closer than the rotations. 2015 by 3 parades.

Catcher

1985: Jim Sundberg was the team’s top catcher, and a very good player. He was very good behind the plate, hit with occasional pop, and his bases-loaded triple essentially sealed Game 7 of the ALCS.

2015: Salvador Perez is the World Series MVP and, in many ways, the soul of this team. He doesn’t get on base enough, and he’s probably not quite as terrific defensively as a year or two ago, but up and down the organization they stress the importance of his presence and energy. His bat can be an important strength, too. He hit four home runs this postseason and batted .364 in the Series.

Verdict: No offense to Sundberg, who was one of baseball’s better catchers in his prime. 2015 by 2 parades.

First base

1985: Steve Balboni earned his “Bye Bye” nickname with 36 home runs and 166 strikeouts. The home runs are still a single-season franchise record, and the strikeouts would be if not for Bo Jackson.

2015: Eric Hosmer had his best major-league season, hitting .297 with 18 homers and an .822 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. He has won the last two Gold Gloves, but he did have a few defensive mistakes in the playoffs. He drove in 17 runs this postseason, and is the Royals’ career postseason RBI leader with 29 (in 12 fewer games than George Brett).

Verdict: If Hosmer played in the 1980s, it is entirely likely that he would’ve sported an epic mustache. 2015 by 2 parades.

Second base

1985: Frank White won eight Gold Gloves, made five All-Star teams and is the Royals’ only player besides Brett to have his number retired. He hit a career-high 22 homers in 1985, and batted cleanup in the World Series. His home run helped the Royals win a crucial Game 3 in St. Louis.

2015: Ben Zobrist was a revelation for the Royals, providing versatility, depth, and a professional presence in the lineup after a deadline trade. He had an .816 OPS in 59 regular-season games, and was among the Royals’ best hitters in the playoffs.

Verdict: Zobrist was involved in virtually every big moment of this postseason, and his acquisition was vital to the Royals’ success. But White was an all-time defender, and held a disproportionate chunk of the offensive responsibility for a run-challenged team. Perhaps the closest matchup on the board, but … . 1985 by 1 parade.

Shortstop

1985: Probably the team’s biggest weakness. Onix Concepcion was the regular shortstop during the season, and his .204/.255/.245 line essentially turned it into a National League lineup. Buddy Biancalana had an unforgettable star turn in the playoffs, particularly in helping win Games 3 and 5 of the World Series. He went on TV with David Letterman. Take that, Esky.

2015: Alcides Escobar is a good defensive shortstop who had a mostly terrible regular season at the plate, which is entirely meaningless because he was probably the team’s best offensive force in the first two rounds of the playoffs. He was the ALCS MVP, and his first-pitch-swinging routine was so effective that Noah Syndergaard threw up and in from the same mound on which the Royals ended up celebrating a few nights later.

Verdict: When Escobar hits, he is one of the best shortstops in baseball. 2015 by 2 parades.

Third base

1985: George Brett is one of the 30 or so best players of all-time and had what might’ve been his best season other than hitting .390 in 1980. He hit .335 with a .436 on-base percentage, leading the league in slugging (.585) and OPS (1.022) and, tellingly, intentional walks (31). His ALCS Game 3 is one of the greatest playoff performances in baseball history. He hit .360 with a .475 on-base and a .600 slugging percentage in the playoffs, an all-time great at the height of his powers.

2015: Mike Moustakas had a very good season, finally breaking through and showing the talent the Royals have seen in him for so long. He hit 22 home runs and 34 doubles, and was good defensively. Other than Lorenzo Cain, he was probably the Royals’ best position player.

Verdict: Moustakas is a good player, but c’mon. 1985 by 4 parades.

Left field

1985: Lonnie Smith was a fine player with very good speed, whose nickname of “Skates” would not cost a team in the playoffs for a few more years.

2015: Alex Gordon’s home run in the bottom of the ninth in Game 1 changed the entire World Series. It erased the damage from Hosmer’s error, and made it a competition of bullpens, which of course the Royals ended up winning. In the days following, more than one player would remark about how much different the Series would’ve been without the greatest moment of a career that will put Gordon in the team’s Hall of Fame someday.

Verdict: Gordon is a free agent and likely to be playing somewhere else next year, but he will be forever remembered as one of the best players in Royals history. 2015 by 4 parades.

Center field

1985: Willie Wilson’s best seasons were behind him by 1985. It’s easy to forget, but he actually hit second, not leadoff, in the playoffs. Still, his speed made him a dynamic player, with 43 stolen bases and a league-high 21 triples. His best playoff moment was a two-run triple that put the Royals up for good in Game 5 of the World Series.

2015: Lorenzo Cain should finish in the top five of MVP voting after hitting .307 with 34 doubles, six triples, 16 homers, 28 stolen bases and 101 runs scored while playing some of the game’s best center field. He scored from first on a single twice, and his sprint around the bases in Game 6 of the ALCS is one of the franchise’s all-time highlights.

Verdict: This is probably the most interesting matchup on the board, two elite athletes who could do several things well. But Cain is at the peak of his career, while Wilson was sliding down, even just a bit. 2015 by 2 parades.

Right field

1985: Darryl Motley and Pat Sheridan shared a mostly unproductive platoon, though Motley did hit 17 home runs, and his homer down the left-field line in Game 7 (after narrowly missing one on the previous pitch) is one of the franchise’s iconic moments.

2015: Alex Rios had a bad regular season, but got his strength in time for the playoffs, hitting .271. His single led off that epic eighth inning in Game 4 in Houston.

Verdict: Probably the least interesting matchup on the board, honestly. 1985 by 1 parade.

Designated hitter

1985: Hal McRae turned 40 in the summer of 1985, but only Brett got on base more often, and only Brett and Balboni hit for more power. McRae was also a forceful presence in the clubhouse and on the field, and an undeniable leader who everyone could see would make a good major-league manager someday. In the World Series, however, there was no DH and McRae was hurt.

2015: Kendrys Morales was the Royals’ best hitter, leading the team in home runs (tied with Moustakas, actually), doubles, RBIs and OPS. His switch-hitting and consistent approach made the lineup more versatile and dangerous. His grounder up the middle turned into the defining moment of that Game 4 comeback in Houston.

Verdict: Morales is an underrated presence in the clubhouse, particularly with fellow Latin players, but also with the way he dissects and shares insights on opposing pitchers. 2015 by 1 parade.

Bench

1985: Dane Iorg will forever have a prominent place in Royals history with his game-winning single in Game 6 of the World Series. If he has ever paid for a drink in Kansas City, the bartender and people around him should be ashamed. The Royals also got important contributions from Jorge Orta, John Wathan, Biancalana and others.

2015: Christian Colon is this year’s Dane Iorg, his sharp single to left providing the winning run and breaking open Game 5 of the World Series in the 12th inning. If he ever buys a drink in Kansas City, the bartender and people around him should be ashamed. Also, it has to be mentioned that Jonny Gomes came off the bench to provide one of the better parade speeches in recent baseball history.

Verdict: Could go either way, but 1985 used its bench slightly more, probably, soooo … . 1985 by 1 parade.

Manager

1985: George Brett, Frank White and Jim Sundberg (who played for 16 managers) and more have cited Dick Howser as the best manager they ever played for. He won with inferior talent — five teams won more regular-season games than the Royals in 1985, including both of their playoff opponents — and was universally respected by his players.

2015: Even for those of us who believe a manager’s importance is usually overstated, Ned Yost has been an irreplaceable piece of the Royals’ rise. His influence was all over this championship, too, from his patience and faith in players such as Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas to his willingness to let a group of high-energy players perform with enthusiasm and showmanship.

Verdict: Yost will certainly join Howser in the team’s Hall of Fame, and could have his number retired and a statue erected someday, too. More than any other matchup on the board, this one depends on how you view it. In the long term, Yost has been more important. In the championship season, Howser had more to do. 1985 by 1 parade.

Final tally: 2015 by 3 parades.

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