The Royals haven't been to the playoffs since 1985, when they defeated the Cardinals in a seven-game World Series. Since then, they've posted eight winning seasons in 28 chances entering 2014, most of them during those first 10 years of playoff-less baseball, and have scarred a fan base that still has a lot of trauma to work through even with Kansas City's recent success.
While the Royals have been sitting at home watching meaningful October baseball for almost three decades now, a few things have been going on in the game. Rather than just say, "It's been 28 years since the Royals have made the postseason -- that's a really long time" let's instead show our work. Consider these representations of just how long 28 years is in Major League Baseball, and what can happen in that time frame.
Greg Maddux happened in between Royals' playoff appearances. Like, the whole thing. Maddux debuted with the Cubs in September of 1986 at the age of 20. He pitched for the Cubs through 1992, pitched 11 seasons for the Braves, rejoined the Cubs, then the Dodgers, then the Padres, then the Dodgers again, and called it a career. He threw over 5,000 regular season innings -- and another 198 in the playoffs -- and was part of 13 different playoff teams, including the World Series champion 1995 Braves. Maddux won four Cy Young awards, made eight All-Star teams, was awarded 18 Gold Gloves -- including 13 in a row -- and retired after 23 seasons in the majors. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014 in his first year of eligibility, and now he is in possession of Twitter's greatest avatar.
How they clinched
Maddux was voted into Cooperstown back in January and was inducted in July, when things were still very much up in the air for Kansas City. The entire Greg Maddux experience, from start to finish, was completed in between meaningful Royals' October games.
All but 13 of Barry Bonds' homers
Barry Bonds hit 13 dingers as a 20-year-old in Low-A ball in 1985, his first professional baseball season. Those are the only home runs Barry Bonds hit before the Royals last made the playoffs. The other 769 of them -- he hit seven at Triple-A in 1986 -- came after the Royals' World Series win.
Bonds hit a record 762 homers in the majors while setting the all-time walks record with 2,558 and the intentional walk record with 688. From 2004 through 2007, when the Royals finished in last place in the AL Central for four consecutive years, they amassed 1,787 walks and 502 homers, and it only took them twice as many plate appearances as Bonds had in his career to do it.
It's not just Maddux and Bonds
There were more major debuts in 1986 than just those two. In fact, you can build an entire team comprised of Hall of Famers, soon-to-be Hall of Famers, and guys who were or are pretty close to that distinction. Barry Larkin, inducted into Cooperstown in 2012, could play shortstop for them. Former Royals Bo Jackson and David Cone could play the outfield and start, respectively. Maddux, Kevin Brown, Chuck Finley, and Jamie Moyer -- who pitched for 25 years in the majors -- would join Cone in this made-up '86-centric rotation. Will Clark would play first, so that Mark McGwire would be freed up for third base -- yes, the last Royals' playoff appearance was so long ago that Mark McGwire was still at the hot corner.
Rafael Palmeiro was an outfielder at the time, and, of course, there's Bonds, who used to play center. Benito Santiago could catch, Fred McGriff could be the designated hitter because there is no shortage of awesome 1986 first basemen debuts, and another former Royal in Jay Bell could hop in at second. If you want a closer, Mitch Williams can be the guy. Bobby Bonilla debuted as well, so if you're not in love with one of the players at the various positions Bonilla played in his career, swap him in.
Every one of those players started their big-league careers in 1986 and finished their entire runs well before now. There are other amazing players from years besides 1986, obviously, but if we just focus on players then we'll never get to the rest of the good stuff.
Bud Selig's never-ending commissioner run
Bud Selig became the acting commissioner in 1992 after a vote of no confidence in then-commissioner Fay Vincent. At that point, the Royals had already missed the playoffs for quite a few years. Selig officially took over as the actual (instead of acting) commissioner in 1998, more than a decade into the Royals' playoff-less stretch, and he announced that he would leave the position after the 2014 season. Rob Manfred has already been elected as Selig's replacement, so the Royals were basically down to their last strike* on this one.
Watching, waiting for the Royals to finally make the playoffs again. (Photo credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)
Four expansion teams (and all their success)
In 1993, the Marlins and Rockies made their first appearances in Major League Baseball games. They were the first expansion teams since 1977, when the Mariners and Blue Jays came into being, and these NL counterparts were both immediately successful. The Rockies made it to the playoffs first, reaching as the National League's wild card in 1995, and the Marlins won the 1997 World Series after their own wild card berth. The Rockies reached their first World Series in 2007, where they lost to Boston.
In 1998, two more expansion teams were introduced when the Diamondbacks and then-Devil Rays showed up. The Rays were an absolute joke for most of their first decade of existence, but made it to the World Series in 2008 before losing to the Phillies; they've won the AL East twice and made it to October through the wild card on two other occasions. The Diamondbacks fast-tracked things like the Marlins and Rockies had before them, reaching the playoffs in just their second year of existence by winning the NL West in 1999, then winning the World Series in 2001 to put an end to the Yankees' dynasty.
Not one, but two Marlins' World Series titles since the Royals were last in the playoffs. (Photo credit: Mike Ehrmann)
All four of these teams arrived on the scene after the Royals' last playoff appearance. They have combined for five World Series appearances -- the Marlins twice and everyone else once -- and 14 playoff appearances in their combined history, with three of these trips resulting in championships.
Oh, and that wild card thing these expansion teams love so much was invented after the last Royals' playoff appearance, too; the Rockies were actually the first NL wild card ever. The system was invented twice, actually, since now there are two wild cards in each league whereas at its inception there was just the one.
The Cubs made the playoffs five times
The Cubs, guys. The Cubs!
The Royals lost the Battle for Missouri
The Royals defeated the Cardinals in head-to-head combat in 1985, but after that it's been all Cardinals all the time. They've posted winning records in 21 of the 29 seasons since that match-up. They've made the playoffs 12 times in that stretch, and a 13th is happening in 2014. They've participated in five World Series during those playoff runs, coming away victorious in two of them, in 2006 and 2011. They've lost more World Series than they've won in the last 28 years, sure, but something tells me Royals fans -- and fans of most other teams -- would happily trade situations.
As someone with no vested interest in any of the playoff teams this year, Battle for Missouri 2 sounds like a good World Series, especially if the Royals can come out on top just to drown out the mocking of the last few decades from their families and friends who wear red when they watch baseball.
The Royals themselves
1985 was a long time ago in baseball years, as you had already figured out by getting this far. It was also a long time ago for a significant portion of the 2014 Royals' roster -- 28 of the 48 players they have used at one time or another in 2014 were not yet born on Oct. 27, 1985, the day Kansas City won the World Series. That's 58 percent of them, if you prefer your staggering numbers in that form.
Two of their rotation members, Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy, are 23 and 25 years old, respectively. Closer Greg Holland was born in late November of 1985, so he missed the Royals' World Series by a little less than a month, while Wade Davis just missed being included on this list as a September '85 baby. Major bullpen piece Kelvin Herrera won't even turn 25 until New Year's Eve.
Starting catcher Salvador Perez (24), first baseman Eric Hosmer (24), shortstop Alcides Escobar (27), third baseman Mike Moustakas (26), center fielder Lorenzo Cain (28 -- born in 1986), and designated hitter Billy Butler (28, also an April '86 baby) were all born after the last Royals' playoff berth. That's six of their nine lineup regulars; their primary bench piece, Jarrod Dyson, only missed the cut by about a year.
That's all over now. The Royals' road is still a long one, and defeat could come at any time in October (even as soon as Tuesday), but they mercifully took a first step they've been unable to take for all of the majority of their players' lives. The fans who have never seen a competitive Royals team can similarly take a deep breath, while those who have fading memories of the last one finally have something new to recall. It took an entire Greg Maddux and change to get back to October, but Kansas City finally got there again just the same.