KANSAS CITY, Mo. — An unprecedented playoff run has Kansas City baseball fans declaring it’s time to party like it’s 1985, the year the Royals beat St. Louis for their only World Series title.
Given what was happening in Kansas City 29 years ago, would they really want to?
Times were tight in 1985 as the farm crisis raged on, with skyrocketing interest rates and plummeting land values putting many farmers out of business while their banks struggled to stay afloat. The NBA’s Kansas City Kings packed up their bags and moved to California that year, while Union Station closed its doors following decades of neglect.
And in the heart of the city, empty buildings lined a downtown area that was only a shadow of the glitzy, nightlife-driven entertainment area much of it has become.
"1985 in some ways was Kansas City’s low point — redeemed by George Brett and the guys who did a tremendous job," said Crosby Kemper III, director of the Kansas City Public Library. "It was the middle of the decline of downtown."
Unlike this season, when the Royals finally broke the longest playoff drought of any team in any major professional sport, Kansas City baseball fans in 1985 were only five years removed from the team’s first World Series appearance, a six-game loss to Philadelphia in 1980.
Second baseman Frank White, whose statue now stands in the concourse beyond right field alongside those of third baseman George Brett, manager Dick Howser and owner Ewing Kauffman and his wife — all of whom were involved with the 1985 championship team — said much more than the old AstroTurf has changed since his Gold Glove career.
"It’s a different game," White said. "These players are more free-spirited, while we were more on the professional side. This Royals team reminds me of a college team with a lot of things they do."
For instance, players from the 1985 team probably wouldn’t have headed to a bar in the Power & Light District — if there had been one back then — and picked up the tab for an hour of free drinks like first baseman Eric Hosmer did after the team’s sweep of the Anaheim Angels in the American League Divisional Series.
"That was frowned upon," White said. "You didn’t want the guys at the bar at times like this. Things happen at bars, and we wanted to be more careful."
White, who was 35, married and had children at home in 1985, said he usually just went home to his family after games to get rested up for the next game.
Meanwhile, the new generation of Royals fans is much different from the crowds who cheered the team to its only championship, White said.
"They treat it more like a football game than baseball," he said, noting that today’s fans stand up and yell from the first pitch, while in his era they waited until after things happened to react.
Today, a shiny round Sprint Center has replaced Kemper Arena as the city’s primary entertainment venue, casino gambling is legal and Sporting Kansas City has replaced the indoor Kansas City Comets as the top area soccer team.
The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum now helps anchor a revived 18th and Vine jazz district, the new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts is drawing world-class performers and a new streetcar line is being built that eventually will ferry passengers from one end of downtown to the other.
While the city is eager to show off those new landmarks during the World Series coverage that will heat up with Game 1 on Tuesday night, the image of a classy, energetic fan base also is making a big impression, said Derek Klaus, a spokesman for the city’s tourism organization, Visit KC.
"The greatest reward for Kansas City is the unprecedented national exposure," he said. "We’re going to take advantage of that as much as we can."