We’re a few short days away from 2016 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2015. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.
If baseball were 100% fair — if the league remained 30 teams strong and if we were to extend history out infinitely — eventually we’d reach a place where, on average, each team would win a World Series ever 30 years. Baseball is not fair, however, its past is uneven, its circumstances vary and its future unpredictable. As such, the Royals not winning a World Series for 30 years seemed pretty darn bad to fans who rooted for the men in royal blue.
It wasn’t just the lack of championships after 1985 which stuck in their craw. It was the lack of any reasonable claim to bare respectability. They only had five seasons in which they were above .500 between 1986 and 2012. In 2013 they took a step forward, winning 86 games and finishing seven back. In 2014 they shocked baseball by going on a tear after winning the wild card and pushing the Giants to Game 7 of the World Series before falling just short. Finally, at long last, the Royals were back on the map.
But they had unfinished business.
It was business that many pundits didn’t think the 2015 Royals could complete. Their 2014 was seen as a fluke by many. Lightning in a bottle. Victories on the back of some lucky bounces, some seeing-eye singles, some missteps from their opponents and some performances that, however great, were due to regress a year later. Many predicted they’d miss the playoffs. Hardly anyone thought they’d win the division. But win it they did. Quite easily, actually. They traded first and second place out a couple of times early but they took over the top spot in the AL Central on June 9 and would never relinquish it. For almost all of August and September their lead was double digits.
If that didn’t convince everyone, the Royals showed that 2014 was no fluke whatsoever once the playoffs started. It wasn’t a cakewalk. To win the World Series you have to win 11 playoff games. In eight of those 11 wins, the Royals spotted the opposition the lead. It didn’t seem to bother them too much, though. A joke started circulating sometime in October: “How do we defeat ISIS?” The answer: “Spot them a two-run lead to the Kansas City Royals and they’ll lose for sure.” The jokesters weren’t wrong.
Early in the postseason people settled on the word “relentless” to describe the Royals and their style of play. I understand that from a purely tactical point of view. They pressured defenses with their running game, fouled everything in the world off and never ceased throwing pure gas at opposing hitters. But I’m not sure “relentless” was the most apt word, however, as “relentless” implies a dominance the Royals didn’t always demonstrate. Indeed, they experienced more than a few moments when they themselves were on the ropes.
But it didn’t matter:
We never quit. Never put our head down. Never think about, ‘OK game is over.’
That was World Series MVP Salvador Perez after Game 5, accurately describing the approach he and his teammates took throughout the season and, especially, the playoffs. As I wrote the night the Royals won the Series, I don’t think what Perez was describing was a team that was “relentless,” as such. If you’re simply unbowed you’re relentless, sure, but if you’re bloodied and unbowed — as Perez noted that, at times, the Royals were — I think you’re more properly referred to as indefatigable. These Royals were definitely that. And I consider that to be higher praise than merely noting the Royals’ “relentlessness.”
All teams which win a World Series are talented and the 2015 Royals were, without question, a talented team. But there are different types of World Series winners. Some are thought to be damn nigh unbeatable teams. The late 1980s Athletics were talked about that way. As such, when they lost two of the three World Series in which they played they were seen as somehow disappointing. And, in the one they won, they seen to have merely met expectations. Even if there wasn’t an earthquake in 1989, that A’s club would not have elicited tons of excitement and praise outside of its own fan base.
A team which is not completely perfect, however, but which overcomes its imperfections through application of not only its talent but its determination and sheer force of will, well, that’s something special. And that was the 2015 Kansas City Royals. The best team in baseball. And the best story in baseball, all year long.
Hope you had a good 2015, folks. See you next year.