Royals Run Recalls Memories of Rooting Against the Dreaded New York Yankees

BY BRIAN PATRICK HARMON

Their center fielder introduced me to the beauty of an inside-the-park home run. Their submarine closer seemed to scrape his knuckles on the mound with every pitch. And one of their shortstops played with a toothpick dangling from his mouth.

They were the Kansas City Royals of the late 1970s and early 1980s, a talented and character-laden team that hit, ran and pitched their way to six division crowns in a 10-year span, ultimately winning the franchise’s first World Series in 1985.

Often, these Royals were the last team standing in the way of yet another World Series appearance for the New York Yankees. And as such, in my family, they were a team worth rooting for.

It was a drag being a young diehard New York Mets fan during the Carter Administration – back when Joe Torre was cutting his eventual Hall of Fame skipper’s teeth as the Amazins’ manager. For seven consecutive seasons, the Mets finished last or next-to-last in the National League East.

So come October – certainly if I wanted to stay in the good graces of my grandfather – the team to pull for was whichever team was facing the Yankees in the playoffs.

It certainly didn’t seem like such a good idea in 1976. That was when I watched with my little mouth agape as Yankees first-baseman Chris Chambliss slugged a walk-off homer in the decisive Game 5 win over the Royals in the American League Championship and somehow made it around the bases in spite of the thousands of frenzied fans that had stormed the field at Yankee Stadium.

It didn’t get better in 1977 or 1978. The Yankees eliminated the Royals in the playoffs those seasons too. Kansas City finally defeated the Yankees in a playoff series in 1980 and reached its first World Series.

So embarrassed by the loss was Yankees owner George Steinbrenner that he fired his manager Dick Howser, even after the team won 103 games during the regular season. Stuff like that made it easy to root against the Yanks.

A bit of irony: Howser managed Kansas City when they defeated cross-state rival St. Louis in the 1985 World Series.

I certainly hadn’t given those Royals teams much thought over the last three decades, not with the Royals holding court at the bottom of the American League standings season after season. But the team’s rocket ride through the playoffs this season got me thinking about the players on those consistently good Royals teams.

At the top of the list is Willie Wilson, the Royals fleet-footed center fielder from 1977 to 1986, whose blinding speed turned some games into track meets. I still see him in my mind lacing one in the gap at the then-Royals Stadium and whirling around the bases for a game-winning inside-the-park home run in an extra-inning game with the Yankees. He hit a total of 13 inside-the-park homers.

It’s easy to recall watching reliever Dan Quisenberry – the perennial Rolaids Relief Man in the American League – closing win after win with his submarine delivery.

U.L. Washington was the Royals shortstop who played with a toothpick in the corner of his mouth at the plate and in the field. He switched to a Q-tip when parents of youth players complained.

But who can forget that? I still have baseball cards with U.L. slyly grinning and chomping on a toothpick.

I challenged myself to remember the regulars from the 1976 team. I came up with seven of the nine regulars and managed to accurately name four starting pitchers, Paul Splitorff, Dennis Leonard, Doug Bird and Andy Hassler.

I thought for sure that Darrell Porter was the Royals catcher that season, but my research at mlb.com revealed he didn’t arrive in Kansas City until 1977. As it turned out, Buck Martinez and Bob Stinson shared time behind the plate in 1976.

Right field was the only other gap in my memory for the starters on that 1976 team. Al Cowens, who finished second in voting for the American League MVP award in 1977 was Kansas City’s regular right fielder from 1974 to 1979. Missing his name smarted.

Of course, it was easy to remember George Brett — who hit .390 in 1980 and seemed to win the American League batting title every year Twins and Angels star Rod Carew didn’t — being the heart and soul of the team. He was Kansas City’s third-baseman for 21 seasons.

The 1976 team was solid up the middle with center fielder Amos Otis; shortstop Freddie Patek, who standing 5-foot-five was the shortest player of his time; and longtime Royals second-baseman Frank White.

Big John Mayberry was the slugging first-baseman, Hal McRae was the clutch-hitting DH and Tom Poquette was the journey-man leftfielder for the 1976 squad.

Brett, White, McRae and Wilson, who played sparingly as a rookie in 1976, were still key contributors on the 1985 team that won it all.

Here’s hoping their re-appearance in the World Series this year is an omen of things to come in the 2015 season for my Mets, who won the World Series in 1986.

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With Football and Hazing, History Repeats Itself

By BRIAN PATRICK HARMON

It was theater in its ugliest form:

Two half-naked freshman football players being forced by teammates twice their size to lick each other’s nipples.

An audience that by most accounts exceeded a dozen players eagerly watched the degradation – and cheered. It only got worse – far worse – for the pint-size 13-year-olds.

Next came demands to simulate oral sex on a banana held against the groin of one of the three attackers – much to the delight of the ogling crowd. Then, the ringleader in this varsity trio lowered the hazing attack to new depths.

Witnesses said that with rock music blaring and duct tape at the ready to drown out the screams, a hulking 16-year-old lineman grabbed a broomstick and dipped it in Mineral Ice.

This was part of the horrific pre-season football camp scene in August 2003 that landed three upperclassmen from Long Island’s Mepham High School in jail and led to the cancellation of Mepham’s football season. The depiction above – describing one of the many attacks on Mepham freshmen inside a cabin at a sleep-away camp in Honesdale, Pa. – kicked off a story I wrote back then, as a reporter for New York’s Daily News.

The paper, committed to being the first media outlet to identify the teens accused in the attacks, wanted to deliver a strong, compelling story. Editors said the writing and reporting were fine, but what I submitted was too strong. What did get published was a version that toned down the details and pulled back on the drama, but was nonetheless influential in that it named the accused.

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Daily News Dec. 21, 2003

The details that began to emerge last week of the alleged hazing attacks involving members of New Jersey’s Sayreville War Memorial High School football team are no less shocking. This fall – before school district administrators appropriately cancelled the remainder of the season on Oct. 7 – freshman football players were routinely subjected to sexual attacks carried out by seniors during a locker room ritual, police said.

Seven players – aged 15 to 17 – were criminally charged Oct. 10 for their involvement in sexual assaults on younger players. One parent, informed by his son, told a reporter with NJ Advance Media for NJ.com that a victim would be held by multiple older players while a finger was inserted into his rectum. The same finger was sometimes placed in the freshman’s mouth, according to the NJ.com report.

At the time of the arrests, the coaches – except the assistant arrested for steroids possession a week before the hazing story broke – still had their jobs.

Hazing – in varying degrees of severity – exists at all levels of team sports. In the NFL, summer camps each year yield images of rookies wrapped and immobilized by yards and yards of athletic tape.

Last month, rookies across Major League Baseball were encouraged by the veterans on their respective teams to carry out goofy public acts. On the team’s website, the New York Mets proudly posted embarrassing photos of sheepish-looking rookies pushed into parading around the clubhouse dressed in feminine super hero costumes.

Given how widespread hazing is, it cannot be eliminated. And nor should it be – so long as it’s all in good fun, it’s not dangerous and the participants are willing. However, it should be carefully monitored and contained, particularly at the high school level.

Coaches may want to rein in the seemingly good-natured hazing that calls on freshmen to clean the field or carry off all the equipment after practice. Simply because this type of delegating makes an impression on young minds that the lowerclassman is something lesser than the rest of the team.

Another factor to consider is that when a school team’s hazing customs go unchecked, the bullying will grow more degrading every season. In many instances, each class looks to top its predecessor.

Consider that during Mepham football’s 2002 pre-season camp, the worst hazing act was a swirly, which involves holding someone upside down and dipping the person’s head into a toilet bowl as it is flushed.

Seems mild when you look at what happened at their camp in 2003.

With one 250-pound lineman sitting on top of the fully-naked victim, the equally beefy ringleader of the Mepham hazing attack began violating the freshman with a broomstick that had been dipped in Mineral Ice. Duct-tape muffled the screams. Laughter from the spectators and the beat of the music took care of the muffles.

Back and forth, the attackers bounced between two freshmen. Friends since kindergarten, the two teen victims were now linked as objects facing bizarre brutality.

Similar attacks were repeated throughout the five-day camp, with the attackers adding beatings and pine cones and golf balls to their sadistic repertoire. Those objects were also dipped in Mineral Ice.

By some accounts, the attackers grew tired of the assault and allowed the victims to return to their bunks with golf balls still inside them.

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Wayne County, Pa., court documents

Photo: By trowel317 via Flickr