Another September, another duel between the California Angels and Kansas City Royals.
It is a Monday evening in Anaheim. Hal McRae, the Royals’ designated hitter, gets things started with a first-inning double. He pulls into second base, where he is greeted by a grin and a shake of the head by Bobby Grich, the Angel second baseman.
“Are we going at it again ?” Grich recalled saying.
Yup, sports fans. For the third time in four years, and the fourth time in seven, the Angels and Royals are at it again--knocking heads and bashing baseballs in late September for supremacy in the American League West.
The teams open a four-game series tonight in Kansas City that will, in all probability, determine the 1985 division championship.
Just as the Angels and Royals did in 1979.
Grich has been through them all. “It seems like I’ve been going up against (George) Brett and McRae and (Willie) Wilson my entire career,” he said.
It is not a pure rivalry in the traditional baseball sense. Not quite, not yet.
First, it lacks history. Both teams were born from expansion--the Angels in 1961, the Royals in 1969--and their meetings were devoid of much consequence until 1979, when the Angels finally convinced themselves that yes, we can be contenders.
Second--and this is another product of expansion--the Angels and Royals meet only four times a season, two series in June and two series in September. That’s barely enough time to renew acquaintances, let alone get the blood boiling.
And third, the players on both sides seem to like one another. Or at least respect one another. “I have friends on that team,” Grich said. “I respect them as players and competitors and I hope they feel the same way about us. You can play hard-nosed, competitive baseball and not be enemies.”
Rather, the Angels and the Royals have a rivalry created out of necessity, because of competition. When you’re fighting the same team so often with so much at stake, you’re bound to remember their names.
“We have a rivalry because of our head-to-head confrontations,” Angel third baseman Doug DeCinces said. “It always seems to come down to us two. In ’83, the White Sox took off fast and it was a different situation, but in every other year, I’ve had that feeling from spring training--that the team to watch is the Royals.”
So, we’re not talking about the Dodgers and Giants here. Or even the Yankees and Red Sox.
The Angels and the Royals never had a Bobby Thomson home run in a playoff. But they did have Reggie Jackson’s 500th homer.
This rivalry had no Juan Marichal taking a bat to the head of John Roseboro. But it did have Jackson plowing into Frank White on a brutal slide into second base, transforming Jackson into the most hated man in Kansas City for a while.
This rivalry had no “The Dodgers is dead” proclamations. But it did have Royal owner Ewing Kauffman saying he didn’t care who won the division, as long as it wasn’t the Angels--and Angel owner, Gene Autry, getting it all on tape for the listening pleasure of his team.
This rivalry had no pine tar controversy, but it did have accusations and cross-accusations of illegally corked bats.
This rivalry had no catches by Al Gionfriddo at the bullpen gate, but it did have a spectacular backhanded dive by Grich that paved the way for a divisional title.
“It’s a good one,” Jackson said. “They’ve had some fights. I think they had some fights before I got here. We went at it in ’82 and again in ’84. Anytime you’re battling for a pennant, it lends itself for a natural.”
Or put it this way: The Angels and the Royals may not break out in hives at the mention of one another’s name, but Septembers and now Octobers in the American League West are far more interesting when these teams are among the final contenders for first place.
A look back at the best Septembers the Angels and Royals have spent together:
1979: Tales of Adhesive Tape, Recording Tape and Angel Ticker Tape
The pay-now-win-later Angels were finally winning, their free agent purchases of the past three years having begun to pay dividends. With Don Baylor on the way to the league’s most-valuable-player award and with both Grich and Dan Ford driving in 101 runs, the Angels led the West for most of the summer, hoping to hold off the Royals’ September surge.
And by September, the Royals were surging. On July 19, the three-time defending division champions had been 10 1/2 games out of first and four below .500. But on Sept. 17, Kansas City began a four-game home series against the Angels with just three games separating the teams.
At Kansas City: The Angels began the most important series of their 19-year history in a tailspin. They were hurting on the field--they got the trip off to a 1-4 start--and off it, with outfielder Joe Rudi sidelined with an injured foot and others soon to join him.
First baseman Willie Aikens tore up a knee sliding into second during Game 2, ending his season. A day later, Ford pulled a muscle in his rib cage while running out a grounder, putting him out of action for a week.
As the injuries mounted for the Angels, so did the losses. They were routed in Game 1, 16-4, and their lead was sliced to two games.
The Angels momentarily regained their balance by winning the second game, but the walls seemed close to collapse by Game 3. Rookie shortstop Jimmy Anderson--filling in for another injured Angel, Bert Campaneris--let a two-out ground ball skip through his legs. That led to a three-run fourth inning for the Royals--and an eventual 6-4 Kansas City victory.
Meanwhile, back in Anaheim, Autry tried to rally the troops. He sent Manager Jim Fregosi a pair of tapes. One was an interview with Kansas City owner Ewing Kauffman, in which Kauffman said some nasty things about the Angels. The other was Autry’s response.
Fregosi played the tapes only for his players, who then went out and tied the series with an 11-6 victory.
Reportedly, Kauffman had said that he didn’t care who won the West, as long as it wasn’t the Angels; that the Angels had no fans coming to their home games; that the Angels were mercenaries and that the Kansas City players were home-grown, dyed-in-the-wool, loyal Royals.
Fregosi looked down the Royals’ roster and commented: “I guess he fails to realize Porter came in a trade, LaCock came in a trade, Otis came in a trade, McRae came in a trade, Gura, Pattin, Hrabosky . . . “
At Anaheim: What most of the ’79 Angels and their fans remember about this home stand was Tuesday, Sept. 25. They remember Rod Carew fielding Darrell Porter’s ground ball, his underhand toss to pitcher Frank Tanana covering at first base, the conclusion of a 4-1 Angel victory--and the end of nearly two-decades’ worth of frustration for the franchise.
But what Grich remembers is a play on Monday that made Tuesday’s champagne celebration possible--perhaps the finest defensive play the Angel-Royal rivalry has produced.
It happened in the eighth inning of Game 1, with Angel pitcher Nolan Ryan working on a 4-3 lead. Pete LaCock was the Royal batter, with a runner on first, no outs.
Let Grich tell it:
“LaCock drove the baseball past Ryan on the left-hand slope of the mound. Just a shot. I dove to my right, backhanded the ball and flipped to Jimmy Anderson, who started a double play. That play sealed the victory and assured a tie. We clinched it the next night.”
Grich’s saving dive earned him a standing ovation, a curtain call from the fans after the game, even a tip of the cap from the usually undemonstrative Ryan.
“It made me feel like all the groundballs I’ve taken for 12 years were worth it,” Grich said afterward. “I hope it’s not the last moment like this. But if it is, I’ll have had one.”
The next night, the Angels indulged in the ultimate moment of their history. They were winners at last. And a rivalry had been born.
1982: White Gets Rolled . . . Carew Gets Mad . . . Angels Get Even
The trouble with being good, as the Angels discovered, is that once you’ve won it once, people expect you to do it all the time. Expectations went up in flames in 1980 and 1981, as the Angels followed up their championship season with sixth- and fifth-place finishes. In the process, Fregosi was finished as manager.
The Angels brought in Gene Mauch in mid-1981 and then gave him a new right fielder, Jackson; a new catcher, Bob Boone; a new third baseman, DeCinces, and a new shortstop, Tim Foli, for 1982. The Angels needed the newness. By early September, they had tracked down the Royals, 1980 league champions, and began their first of six confrontations Sept. 20 tied for first place.
At Anaheim: The rivalry kicked into overdrive here. Angel fans were psyched, showing up at Anaheim Stadium in record numbers, 141,010 for a three-game series. The Angels were psyched.
By series’ end, the Royals were hopping mad--arguing that a game-winning home run by Foli hadn’t really been a home run and that Jackson had made a much too violent slide into second baseman Frank White.
Emotions were high from the outset. Geoff Zahn beat Kansas City, 3-2, in Game 1 for his 17th victory and afterward loudly proclaimed how sweet it was.
“They’ve always had an attitude of extreme cockiness that’s irked me some,” Zahn said. “I don’t like to see it on my club and I don’t like to see it on others. I simply get more excited when I beat the Royals, and more disappointed when I lose.”
Cockiness was not the word to describe the Royals’ mood after this one. Livid was more like it.
They refused to believe that Foli had hit his third home run of the season in the fifth inning--a hit that eventually proved the difference in the game.
There was reason for dispute. Foli’s drive had hooked just inside the left-field foul pole, headed for the front rows. Royal left fielder Willie Wilson gave chase, crashed into the low fence and reached up for the ball. So did a fan, who deflected the ball away from Wilson’s grasp.
Wilson screamed for interference, but third-base umpire Jim Evans signaled home run. Wilson jumped, stomped and fumed.
“I’d have caught the damn thing if a fan hadn’t hit the back of my glove,” Wilson said. “He hit it the minute the ball hit my glove.
“Then I got really upset when I went out to argue with the umpire and the umpire said he didn’t even see me hit the ball at all--he just saw the fan hit it. What are you going to say to a guy after he says something like that?”
The home run went in the books, as did the Angel victory. The division lead changed hands for the 14th time, and the Angels had a one-game edge.
It grew to two games the next day when Dan Quisenberry, in a rare lapse, yielded ninth-inning singles to Grich, Boone and Daryl Sconiers, enabling the Angels to break a 1-1 tie.
Then came Game 3 and Reggie Jackson’s official introduction to the Angel-Royal wars.
In the seventh inning of an 8-5 Angel victory, Jackson barreled into second base on a force play. White, the Kansas City second baseman, had no chance at a double play--taking the throw from shortstop U.L. Washington deep in the hole behind the base.
Jackson plowed into him, though, rolling into the back of White’s legs with an aggressive body block. White came up limping with a leg injury that sidelined him for a week, and third baseman Greg Pryor came over, angrily pointing a finger at Jackson.
Jackson pointed back and both benches quickly emptied. No punches were thrown, but a spark had certainly been struck.
After the game, Jackson walked into the Royal clubhouse to tell White that he had intended no harm, that the collision was a product of hustle.
Manager Dick Howser wasn’t buying that. He called Jackson’s slide a cheap shot, adding: “A player of Jackson’s experience should have more poise than to try and break up what was only a force play in that manner.”
There would be a harsher response when the Angels visited Kansas City Sept. 27.
At Kansas City: White was still out of the lineup as the three-game series began, which made Jackson public enemy No. 1 in Royals Stadium. Bothered by back spasms, Jackson appeared only as a pinch-hitter during the first two games, where he was treated like a tennis umpire in a stadium filled with 40,000 John McEnroes.
After striking out in Game 1, Jackson nearly received a beer shampoo when a fan behind the Angels’ dugout threw a cup at him. That brought Baylor, who had been on first base, running to the dugout, steaming, and pointing threateningly at the guilty party.
In Game 2, Jackson beat out an infield single in the ninth inning, which caused the Royals to wonder about the condition of Jackson’s back. “I thought he ran down the line pretty good for a guy with bad back spasms,” Quisenberry said. “I wish I could run like that when my back hurt. I wish I could run like that anytime.”
The implication was that Mauch was holding Jackson out of the lineup to preserve Jackson’s health, which wasn’t a bad assumption, considering the treatment Jackson’s teammates had been receiving from the Kansas City fans.
Juan Beniquez had to dodge a whiskey bottle aimed at his head. Right-fielder Bobby Clark was pelted with debris by the occupants of the cheap seats.
When Carew wound up in a garbage storm while walking off the field after Game 2, he decided he’d seen enough.
“It’s bush,” Carew said to reporters. “I’m tired of it. Somebody is going to have an eye put out. The price of a ticket doesn’t entitle them to act this way.
“Reggie was upset enough and man enough to go to their clubhouse to apologize . . . and still they (Royals players) popped off about it. None of this would’ve happened if they hadn’t popped off.
“They’re crybabies,” Carew added. “That’s why they won’t win it again. I hope we wrap it up right here. I’m so tired of all this that I’ll get on the loudspeaker before the game tomorrow and let them know how I feel.”
Carew never got a chance at that public-speaking engagement, but he did get a chance to wrap up the division title. After trading one-run victories with the Royals, the Angels entered Game 3 one win away from the championship. All stops would be removed for this one, the Angels vowed.
“The fans will get five shots at (Jackson) tomorrow,” said Mauch after Game 2.
“And I’ll get five shots at the Royals,” Jackson said.
It would have been a poetic climax, the Angels eliminating the Royals on Autry’s 75th birthday. But even with Jackson back in the lineup--wearing a batting helmet in the field as a precaution against fan abuse--and even with Mike Witt protecting a 5-2 lead in the seventh inning, the Angels managed to botch their attempt at classic theater.
Instead they lost, 6-5, as Kansas City rallied for four runs in the seventh, slicing the Angels’ first-place lead to 2 1/2 games.
The Angels had to wait until Texas to get it done. On Oct. 1, they clinched a tie for the title. On Oct. 2, courtesy of a 6-4 Angel victory, the West, at last, was won.
1984: Reggie Uncorks 500 . . . The Great Cork Controversy . . . Royals Pop Corks
This was the year of the American League Worst, when the term mediocrity took on new meaning and when .500 baseball spelled pennant contention. Even the Minnesota Twins stayed in the running until the final week.
The Angels and the Royals wound up doing their September tango again, despite fierce determination on either side to be wallflowers.
The Royals, who started the year with Brett on the disabled list and Wilson on drug suspension, were 40-51 on July 18. But the Angels, displaying a season-long lack of hitting, matched only by a season-long lack of spirit, failed to put it to Kansas City early.
So, the Royals, revved to a lukewarm pitch, came to Anaheim Sept. 17 with a half-game lead in the standings.
At Anaheim: Reggie tried to stir things up as only Reggie can, picking this, the first of eight critical games with the Royals, as the spot for his 500th home run. He hit it off Bud Black during the seventh inning of Game 1, exactly 17 years to the day after his first major league homer.
Once the historic baseball had landed beyond the right-field fence, the game was interrupted for a brief ceremony alongside the Angel dugout.
Jackson took the microphone and thanked a lot of people--his father, Autry, Buzzie Bavasi--even the Royals, for agreeing to delay the game. It was a short moment of good will before Reggie, finally collecting his wits, turned again to the microphone and shouted, “Let’s win this thing!”
But on the evening of Jackson’s 500th, three Royals who will need tickets to enter the Hall of Fame--Pat Sheridan, Jorge Orta and Don Slaught--encroached on Reggie’s big moment with home runs of their own. They were a part of a 12-hit attack that powered Kansas City to a 10-1 triumph.
“We won the game and Reggie hit a solo home run,” Howser said. “It couldn’t be better.”
For the Angels, things couldn’t get worse. Not only did they lose starting pitcher Bruce Kison, victim of a bad back, for the rest of the season, but they were obliterated again in Game 2, 10-0. After two games, the Angels had been outscored, 20-1, and outhit, 27-7, while dropping 2 1/2 games behind the Royals.
Even though the Angels won Game 3--on an 11th-inning bad-hop single by Grich, 4-3--they began to look suspiciously upon the Royals’ weaponry. In particular, Orta’s bat caught their interest.
In the second inning of Game 4, after Orta had lofted a shallow fly to right field, Angel catcher Boone asked for Orta’s bat to be inspected and confiscated. Boone said he didn’t want to create a fuss, but he suspected the bat of harboring an illegal substance--cork.
“There’s too much riding on it and there are too many questions about that bat,” Boone said.
The Royals weren’t about to take that in silence. Howser, noting that the Angels had recently taken the bat out of the hands of another player, Tom Brunansky, on another contender, the Twins, wondered if the Angels had hired “an Inspector Clouseau” for the stretch drive.
He also decided to fight back in kind, asking that Beniquez’s bat be removed from the game after Beniquez had hit a third-inning single. Beniquez later scored the decisive run in a 2-0 Angel victory.
“They said Orta’s bat sounded funny on a 150-foot fly,” Howser said. “Well, Beniquez’s bat sounded funnier.”
Beniquez didn’t think it was funny, calling the Royals’ ploy, “just a payback. . . . They had to play the game.”
Neither did Carew, who had given one of his bats to Beniquez. “What do they think I’m doing?” Carew asked. “Corking it so my line drives travel farther?”
The league office had to find out. With both teams playing the game under protest, Dick Butler, the American League supervisor of umpires, took a saw to both bats the next day. All that resulted in was four pieces of kindling. There was no cork to be found.
Thus, the Angels’ victory stood and the Royals’ lead was back to half a game. By the time the teams reconvened in Kansas City, it was 1 1/2 games.
At Kansas City: The Royals really couldn’t win this thing with a starting pitching rotation that included three rookies, could they? Not against the pressure-tested Angels, whose lineup was stocked with such playoff veterans as Grich, DeCinces, Boone, Fred Lynn and Mr. October himself.
Results of the doubleheader that opened the series: Game 1--Royals 4, Angels 0; Game 2--Royals 12, Angels 4.
Winning pitchers: Game 1--Bret Saberhagen, a rookie; Game 2--Danny Jackson, a rookie.
Together, Saberhagen and Jackson took a 4-15 record as starters into the doubleheader. Together, they restricted the Angels to two earned runs.
The Angels were now down 3 1/2 games in the standings with six to play. Even Jackson had to admit that the outlook wasn’t bright for the California club.
“I would say that if we don’t win (tomorrow’s game), you guys can all come back to Carmel with me,” Jackson told the press. “We have to do something we haven’t done all year--and that’s win six in a row.”
Carmel Calling. In Game 3, the Angel attack erupted for six more hits--and somehow that earned them extra innings. But it didn’t earn them a victory, as Quisenberry pitched four scoreless innings to gain credit for a 6-5 decision in 12.
The Angel deficit was 4 1/2 with five to play. “We’re not out of it mathematically but in all probability, we’re done,” Lynn said.
Two days later, the Angels were done. Their 2-1 loss to the Texas Rangers in Arlington officially eliminated California. The Angels had six hits.
This year, normality has returned to the Angel-Royal rivalry. The Angels are hitting again, the Royals have been at full strength and both teams are closing in on 90 victories. This is a race worth watching.
They’ve already passed through the Anaheim phase of September, the Royals having won two out of three. Things started to re-heat on the verbal front when someone asked Mauch if the two Kansas City victories would give the Royals a psychological advantage in the rematch.
“I don’t know,” Mauch replied. “I never saw Freud play baseball.”
One thing, however, has not changed: Intensity is expected. That’s the traditional fare when the Angels and the Royals get together for a late-season winner-take-all date.
“I think that we both know what’s comin’ in Kansas City,” Jackson said.