Thursday, October 23, 2014

Baseball Past and Present

By Matthew Linenbroker
            In 1985, the Kansas City Royals faced the St. Louis Cardinals in what was deemed the “I-70 Showdown Series.” During the ninth inning of Game 6, first base umpire Don Denkinger called Royals’ batter Jorge Orta safe at first, although replays showed that Cardinals’ first baseman Todd Worrell actually beat Orta to the base. After another base hit and intentionally walking Hal McRae, a single to right field drove in two runs, giving the Royals a 2-1 win. After that loss, the Cardinals melted down in Game 7, letting the Royals take their crown. Missouri was halved into bitterness and glee, caught in a newly inflated intra-state rivalry.
            The Royals are once again in the World Series, for the first time since 1985, and the Cardinals could have potentially become their opponent. The scent of a rematch wafted through the air, but the San Francisco Giants overtook them (although the Cardinals have won the World Series twice since their loss to the Royals).
Missouri is an explosive epicenter of baseball fanaticism, which is often due to the deafening dedication of Cardinal Nation. However, Royals’ fans are doing their part this year too – Anchorman actor Paul Rudd even invited everyone to a kegger at his mom’s house in Overland Park after the Royals’ American League Championship Series win.
Hit singer-songwriter Lorde penned her breakthrough song “Royals” after seeing a picture of Kansas City Royals’ player George Brett signing baseballs in a 1976 National Geographic magazine. A couple of San Francisco radio stations have responded to this by banning Lorde’s KC-inspired song from the radio until after the World Series is over.
             A look back at Missouri baseball history reveals more than just a kegger and a 17-year-old musician, and more than just an infamous umpire and a Royals’ triumph. Before the Cardinals’ #11in11, before Jarrod Dyson, before Jon Jay, before Pujols, Eckstein, and Edmonds, even before Don Denkinger and the 1985 Show-Me Showdown, Missouri basked in the sunlight of groundbreaking baseball culture. Roger D. Launius’ book Seasons in the Sun digs into the dirt to examine the Midwestern roots of baseball. St. Louis became a charter member of the newly formed National League in 1876, and Kansas City housed one of the premiere Negro National League
teams, the Kansas City Monarchs, in the 1920’s.
The history of baseball is intertwined with the history of Missouri, existing through political turmoil, war, economic depression, and segregation. Prior to his death in Kansas City in 1982, star Negro League Pitcher Leroy “Satchel” Paige impacted the baseball African-American civil rights fight. Donald Spivey’s If You Were Only White follows the tense political struggle, and Satchel’s important role in it.
Stan Musial is more than a Cardinals’ legend; he is a baseball legend. When America fought the Great Depression, war, and post-war turmoil, Stan the Man offered the nation a taste of hope and escape as he broke records and barriers. James N. Giglio’s Musial illuminates the life and career of the man immortalized in statue-form outside of Busch Stadium.
Missouri’s exceptional baseball past will forever help forge the legacy of excellence in Missouri’s baseball future. It is the nature of friendly competition to bring people together in solidarity; as fans assemble for #BlueOctober and #RedOctober, seeing Missouri once again bask in the possibility of its two teams uniting once more over America’s pastime feels like an intrinsic homage to Satchel, Musial, and all the others, large and small, who made Missouri baseball the noble creation that it is today. These books highlight a time in Missouri that helped shape the baseball culture we live in today, and just as people study the Declaration of Independence to understand the conception of our current government, so can Musial be looked at as a stepping-stone to Ozzie Smith, to Pujols, to Jay, so can a possible Royals’ World Series win be viewed through a retrospective of the Negro League Kansas City Monarchs. As a central facet of American culture, Baseball is ever evolving, and by learning of its progression, we can deeper our understanding and appreciation of the glorious baseball present.


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