This team.

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There are only so many ways to describe the impossible, so let me relate a personal anecdote. Minutes after the Kansas City Royals beat Baltimore and secured their first World Series berth since the first Nintendo game system was invented, my younger daughter, Katie, called on FaceTime. She was wearing a Royals sweatshirt.

“Mom’s crying,” she said.

My wife, Margo, is from a tiny town in Kansas called Cuba. Well, Cuba used to be a tiny town – it’s smaller than that now. Margo was valedictorian of her high school class of 12. That high school closed down a while ago.

In Cuba, when my wife was young, the years were marked by certain events. There was harvest, of course, and the Cuba Rock-a-Thon – which still proudly features delicious Czech food and more than 300 hours of people going back and forth in rocking chairs – and the Republic County Fair in Belleville. There was Kansas State football season and the college basketball season, Halloween and Christmas. As much as anything, there was Royals baseball.

Yes, the Royals were there, every night of summer on KSAL from Salina, Kan., (or, when the wind was right, the big station, 980 KMBZ out of Kansas City). Cuba folks would sit outside in the sweltering evenings and listen to Denny Matthews and Fred White call the action.

I know many people from tiny Midwestern towns – Minneapolis, Clay Center, Abilene, just in Kansas – and most of them seem powerfully impacted by Royals baseball on the radio. I’m not sure it’s an emotion I can fully explain, but I guess it had something to do with connecting to a bigger city, connecting to the country at large, reaching beyond the sometimes claustrophobic city limits and the often suffocating boredom of nothing new ever happening. The Royals of Margo’s youth were exciting and passionate. George Brett almost hit .400, Frank White made dazzling plays, Bret Saberhagen pitched games that were more like symphonies, and Dan Quisenberry closed the door.

Then, about the time Margo turned 16, the Royals just stopped. They didn’t just stop winning. They stopped being. The team of Brett and Leonard and Sabes and Quiz … well … what? Who could even say? One year they were a team of washed-up veterans. The next they were a team of overmatched kids. Then they were washed-up veterans again.

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The Royals never had any money, so the best players would dig holes in the walls behind posters to escape. They were never any good, so the only time SportsCenter or anyone else paid attention was when they went on 19-game losing streaks or when their first-base coach was attacked by a lunatic father-and-son fan duo in Chicago.

Margo never stopped caring. Our first date was a Royals game. Every summer, even after the kids were born, we went to plenty of Royals games. I don’t think Royals fans in general ever stopped caring, but I do think Margo stopped believing.

Every spring training, when I was writing columns for the Kansas City Star, I would write a column called, “Why the Royals are going to win the pennant.” She would read it, and ask doubtfully, “Do the Royals REALLY have a chance?” I would shrug and say something like, “It’s not impossible,” and she nodded and went on with her life.

When Kansas City made the playoffs this year, Margo was as excited as every other Royals fan. But I don’t think she believed, not yet. It’s hard to overcome a quarter-century of bloopers and busted prospects and failed plans. When the Royals trailed Oakland by four runs in the Wild Card game, she dozed off under her covers and was jolted awake by the sounds of a comeback.

When the Royals won, though, it was well past midnight, she called her mother Judy, who had instilled in her a love of the team, and for a half-hour, the two lobbed giddy versions of “Can you believe it?” back and forth at each other.

This team; these Royals were something. For one thing, they caught everything. Margo has always been partial to great defense; it was the defensive blunders through the years (like the time two Royals outfielders jogged toward the dugout to end an inning and forgot to actually catch the fly ball) that drove her mad.

But this team. Lorenzo Cain was supernatural in center field. How could he make hard catches look so easy? Alex Gordon seemed to have some kind of magnetic force in the way baseballs would bend to his will. Alcides Escobar made every kind of play at shortstop. No pitch – even ones that bounced angrily in the dirt – ever seemed to get behind that catcher Salvador Perez.

[ RELATED: Will too much rest before World Series ruin the Royals? ]

That whole defense was brilliant, and then there were those three relievers – the closing law firm of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland – and they threw so hard, they made hitters look so helpless. They seemed to make the act of swinging a bat pointless. The Royals beat the Angels in extra innings, then did it again, then came home to Kauffman Stadium and seemed electrified by all those fans – Margo found herself on the phone with her Mom nightly, and she found herself reconnecting with old friends she had not talked to in years, and old feelings returned.

Then came this Baltimore series, four heartbreaking games of staggering genius. There was no place in the outfield for Baltimore baseballs to drop. There was no opening to the left side of the infield with Escobar and Mike Moustakas. Baltimore won this year by hitting home runs, but those Royals relievers don’t give up home runs. So when the Orioles players got to Kansas City they found themselves lost in a cavernous place where home runs died before even reaching the warning track. It became very clear, very quickly that the only way the Orioles could win was if they somehow held the Royals scoreless.

This scenario – keeping the Royals scoreless – is not implausible. Scoring runs is the team’s one weakness. But they kept going. They scored their second run in Game 3 on a blooper, a ground ball and a fly ball. They scored their two runs in Game 4 by beating out an infield single, getting hit by a pitch, (the first sacrifice bunt of Cain’s Major League life) and hitting a ground ball to first that Escobar kicked out of the catcher’s glove. They had two runs, and that was enough. The law firm came in and made sure.

Buck O’Neil, the wonderful Negro Leagues player, manager, and spokesman, used to say, “I don’t like that word unbelievable. … Nothing is unbelievable.” Buck had a gift for suspending belief and expecting good things even when there was no reason at all to expect them. Most of us don’t have that gift, certainly not to his extent, and so when the Royals got the final out and won the Championship Series and clinched their place in the World Series, I think it all just hit Margo, suddenly; the way people’s kindness hit George Bailey at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the way a belief in magical things hit the farmer in “Babe,” the way it all finally made sense when the son asked his Dad for a game of a catch in “Field of Dreams.”

So Margo started crying. I know she wasn’t alone. The Royals are winners again. That word Buck loathed, that word “unbelievable,” lost some ground.

Lou Whitaker snubbed from the Hall of Fame again

Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
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Long time Tigers second baseman Lou Whitaker has long been one of baseball history’s most underrated players. He and Hall of Fame shortstop Alan Trammell formed one of the best up-the-middle combos ever, teammates since Whitaker’s debut in 1977 to his final year in 1995.

Trammell is actually a great jumping-off point to support Whitaker’s candidacy. Here are their career counting stats:

  • Whitaker: .276/.363/.426, 420 doubles, 65 triples, 244 homers, 1084 RBI, 1386 runs, 143 stolen bases, 1197 walks (9967 plate appearances)
  • Trammell: .285/.352/.415, 415 doubles, 55 triples, 185 homers, 1003 RBI, 1231 runs, 236 stolen bases, 850 walks (9376 plate appearances)

Whitaker also had slightly more Wins Above Replacement over his career according to Baseball Reference, besting Trammell 75.1 to 70.7. FanGraphs’ version of WAR puts both players slightly lower but with Whitaker still in the lead, 68.1 to 63.7.

Trammell, like Whitaker, did not make the Hall of Fame through initial eligibility on the ballot voted on by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, beginning five years after their retirement. Trammell was elected two years ago on the Modern Era ballot. Whitaker fell off the ballot in his only year of eligibility, earning just 2.9 percent of the vote in 2001. Whitaker was again snubbed on Sunday night, receiving just six of the 12 votes necessary for induction. Trammell became eligible on the BBWAA ballot in 2002 and had a 15-year run, with his support running as far down as 13.4 percent in 2007 and peaking at 40.9 percent in his final year in 2016.

Trammell and Whitaker critics cited things like never leading the league in any important categories and never winning an MVP Award as reasons why they shouldn’t be enshrined. That last reason, of course, ignores that both contributed to the Tigers winning the World Series in 1984, but I digress.

Trammell should have been elected to the Hall of Fame on the BBWAA ballot. And, since the distinction matters to so many people, he should have been inducted on the first ballot. Among Hall of Fame shortstops (at least 50 percent of their games at the position), Trammell has the eighth-highest WAR among 21 eligible players. He has ever so slightly more WAR than Barry Larkin (70.4), who made it into the Hall of Fame in his third year of eligibility with 86.4 percent of the vote.

Now, what about Whitaker? Among Hall of Fame second basemen (at least 50 percent of games at the position), Whitaker’s 75.1 WAR would rank sixth among 20 eligible second basemen. The only second basemen ahead of him are Rogers Hornsby (127.0), Eddie Collins (124.0), Nap Lajoie (107.4), Joe Morgan (100.6), and Charlie Gehringer (80.7). Whitaker outpaces such legendaries as Ryne Sandberg (68.0), Roberto Alomar (67.1), and Craig Biggio (65.5). Sandberg made it into the Hall in his third year on the ballot; Alomar his second; Biggio his third.

Among the players on the 2001 BBWAA ballot, the only player with more career WAR than Whitaker was Bert Blyleven (94.4), who eventually made it into the Hall of Fame. Dave Winfield (64.2) and Kirby Puckett (51.1) were elected that year. Also receiving hefty support that year were Gary Carter (70.1 WAR), Jim Rice (47.7), Bruce Sutter (24.1), and Goose Gossage (41.2) and each would eventually make the Hall of Fame.

WAR is not, by any means, a perfect stat, so the WAR argument may not resonate with everyone. Dating back to 1871, there have been only 66 players who hit at least 400 doubles and 200 home runs while stealing 100 bases. The only second basemen (same 50 percent stipulation) to do that are Whitaker, Hornsby, Morgan, Sandberg, Alomar, Biggio, Chase Utley, and Ian Kinsler. Additionally, Whitaker drew more walks than strikeouts over his career, 1197 to 1099. The only second basemen to do that while hitting at least 200 career homers are Whitaker, Morgan, Hornsby, Bobby Doerr, and Joe Gordon.

Whitaker was not without accolades: he won the 1978 AL Rookie of the Year Award. He was a five-time All-Star and took home four Silver Sluggers along with three Gold Gloves to boot. Trammell took home a similar amount of hardware: though he never won a Rookie of the Year Award, he did make the All-Star team six times. He went on to win four Gold Gloves and three Silver Sluggers.

In a just world, Whitaker would have been on the ballot for the then-maximum 15 years. In a sentimentally just world, he would have gone in side-by-side with Trammell in 2002. Whitaker’s candidacy certainly shouldn’t have fallen to the Modern Era ballot, and it shouldn’t have been further fumbled by a committee that gave him as many votes as Steve Garvey.