Rivalries are beautiful things. They add spice to any sporting event or competition, especially in Major League Baseball. Baseball can be a slow game to begin with, so being able to dislike an opponent and their fan base only adds more fuel to the fire when watching a Major League game. After all, would the Red Sox’s comeback been as epic in 2004 if it was against any other team but the Yankees? Would the Giants’ 1951 home run to win the pennant been as memorable if it came against any other club than the hated Dodgers?
Let’s face it…rivalries only enhance baseball, not just in the moment, but in the lore of history as well.
Unfortunately for the Royals, they do not have a “traditional” rival in the sense of the word. They don’t have a rivalry that’s as epic as the Yankees- Red Sox, Giants-Dodgers, or Cardinals-Cubs, with the latter probably being THE baseball rivalry in the Midwest. That being said, the Royals do have rivalries with five Major League teams, in my opinion. When these five clubs come to Kauffman, it feels just a little bit more special and competitive, regardless of either team’s record. Now, not all rivalries are equal, so I ranked the “Royals Rivalries” from 5th to 1st, with first being the biggest or most hated rival of Royals fans, as of 2020. Here are some honorable mentions who just missed the cut:
- Boston Red Sox: Red Sox fans flood Kauffman whenever they come to town, and probably about 3/4 of those fans are NOT from New England, which irritates the hell out of Kansas City sports fans. Yet, the Red Sox and Royals don’t have any real history between them to consider their matchup a rivalry.
- Toronto Blue Jays: The Blue Jays have some serious playoff history with the Royals, as Kansas City came back to beat the Blue Jays in 1985 in the ALCS, and did it again 30 years later in 2015. Furthermore, Jose Bautista was enemy number one for a good couple of years when he was on the Blue Jays. But take away those two moments, and this matchup is pretty tame, and doesn’t carry much weight today.
- Los Angeles Angels: These two were actually pretty heated competitors during the late 70’s and 80’s, as they were constantly battling for AL West division crowns. Furthermore, the Orange County vs. Western Missouri/Eastern Kansas cultural battle is a super interesting one that can be displayed on the baseball field in this match up. However, since the Royals moved to the Central, fans on both sides have really stopped caring, and thus, this rivalry doesn’t really have the same kind of fire like it did 20-30 years ago.
I’m sure there are some other teams whom Royals fans dislike that didn’t make this list (I’m sure some will argue for the Baltimore Orioles or Minnesota Twins), but hey, that’s part of being a fan. We all have different opinions.
Anyways, let’s take a look at the Royals’ five biggest rivalries in baseball today.
5. Detroit Tigers
The Royals and Tigers have only been recent rivals, as the two played in opposite divisions until re-alignment in 1998, when the Tigers moved from the AL East to the AL Central to make space for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Prior to 1998, the only real experience the Royals had with the Tigers took place in 1984, as the miracle Royals took on the juggernaut Tigers, who ended up sweeping the Royals 3-0 in the American League Championship Series.
However, since the Tigers moved to the American League’s “midwest” division, the two have been kindred spirits of sorts. When the Tigers were in a rebuild in the late 90s and early 2000’s, so were the Royals. When the Tigers got competitive in 2010’s, the Royals weren’t far behind, finishing second to the Tigers in the AL Central in 2014…when the Royals actually won the pennant. And now, as the Royals are rebuilding, the Tigers are doing the same, trying to rebuild their farm after relying on vets for almost a decade.
Now, there has been some things that have irritated Royals fans when it comes to the Tigers: Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Nick Castellanos ( the latter two are no longer on the Tigers, thank God) have been thorns in the Royals’ side, constantly mashing Royals pitching over the past half-decade. Furthermore, it seems time and time again that the Tigers were able to acquire big-time players who wouldn’t even consider Kansas City as a possible destination, even during the Royals’ competitive run. However, the Tigers-Royals rivalry is pretty cordial in the stands, and is more a rivalry of “similar competitiveness” rather than sheer, genuine hatred.
4. New York Yankees
Some may not think this is fair, as every team in baseball thinks they have a rivalry with the Yankees. After all, it’s not hard to hate a club that not only has the most championships in baseball history, but also has one of the biggest payrolls and most obnoxious fan bases in baseball as well. If you ever go to a Royals-Yankees game at Kauffman Stadium, it’s easy to see half the stadium in Yankees navy blue and white, even during the days from 2013-2017, when the Royals were actually competitive.
However, during the late 1970’s and early 1980s, the Yankees-Royals rivalry was one of the best in baseball, with the Yankees usually getting the upper hand on Kansas City time and time again in the playoffs. From 1976-1978, the Yankees eliminated the Royals three times in ALCS, often in agonizing and frustrating fashion. The Royals eventually got their vengeance against the Yankees in 1980, as they swept the Yankees in the ALCS, though the Royals ended up losing to the Phillies in the World Series. Furthermore, in addition to those Royals-Yankees playoff games, the Royals-Yankees was also the rivalry that produced one of the most memorable moments of George Brett’s career (well at least until the Lorde song).
Since the Mid-80’s though, the Royals-Yankees rivalry has cooled, especially since the mid-90s as the Yankees established themselves as a dynasty, and well…the Royals did not…to put it nicely. And as such, the Yankees-Royals rivalry does not resonate with younger Royals fans as much as KC old timers who grew up with the Yankees as the Royals’ most hated opponent.
That being said, Yankees-Royals games are worth going to, and at least there is some legitimate history between the two, unlike some other clubs who “think” they have rivalries with the Yankees (looking at you Tampa Bay).
3. Oakland Athletics
The Royals and Athletics have a long-standing history, though newer Royals fans may not realize it, as it predates even the Royals’ existence. Before they moved to Oakland, the Athletics used to be the Kansas City Athletics, as they played at the old Municipal Stadium from 1955-1967. However, owner Charles Finley wanted a new stadium in KC, and as owners who want new venues are prone to do, he hung out Kansas City to dry, and ended up moving to Oakland, where the A’s became a competitive dynasty on the West Coast. From 1972-1974, the A’s won Three World Series titles, and also won additional West Division titles in 1975 and 1981. Even though Kansas City got Major League baseball back with the Royals in 1969, it was painful to see the A’s become a dynasty on the other side of the country in the East Bay Area.
The Royals and Athletics competed fiercely in the AL West in the 1970’s as well as the 1980’s, along with the California (now Los Angeles) Angels at the time. However, the rivalry has gone through a renaissance as of late, as both clubs have been on the opposite end of history-making moments.
In 2002, the Kansas City Royals came back from down double digit runs to tie the game, with the hope of preventing the A’s to win 20 games in a row, which would have been an American League record. But as expected for the Royals during this time, this proceeded to happen:
12 years later, the Royals and Athletics faced off in the AL Wild Card game, with the game being the Royals’ first playoff appearance since 1985. Much like the 2002 “Moneyball” game, the Athletics got off to a big lead early in the game. But this time, the Royals, as we all know, got the last laugh in this critical moment in Royals lore.
The A’s and Royals shouldn’t be a rivalry, as they are both small-market clubs, often overlooked by their in-state neighbors in the bigger lens of Major League baseball (the A’s are overshadowed by the Giants in the Bay Area; the Royals are overshadowed by the Cardinals in Missouri). There should be solidarity there between the two clubs. And yet, whenever the Royals and A’s play, there’s something chippy there, a genuine dislike between both players as well as fans.
That’s the sign of a good rivalry, regardless of geography or division.
2. Chicago White Sox
I have gone into multiple reasons before on this blog when it comes to why the White Sox and Royals have a rivalry, so I may be beating a dead horse here with Kansas City fans. But let’s go over a bullet point list to review why the White Sox are one of the Royals’ fiercest rivals:
- Chicago and Kansas City (much like New York and Kansas City) is the classic “Big City” vs “Small Town” rivalry. Chicago thinks its the epicenter of the Midwest (I mean…it is…but that’s besides the point) while Kansas City feels it gets disrespected when it comes to being included in the list of Midwest Major Cities (it is often overlooked). Thus, this plays well into the White Sox-Royals rivalry among the fanbase.
- The White Sox and Royals have recently faced off numerous times on Opening Day, as four out of the last six Opening Day games have been against the White Sox (and it would have been 5 this year). Thus, it seems like an annual tradition for both clubs that the Royals and White Sox open the season against one another, which only adds to the dislike between these two organizations.
- A White Sox fan attacked a Royals first base coach on the field. Yes, you read that right, as you will see below:
- The Royals and the White Sox also play in the shadow of their two bigger National League neighbors. The White Sox have to deal with obnoxious and fair weather Cubs fans, while the Royals have to deal with the “best fans in baseball” across the state in St. Louis. This only adds an edge to both clubs that is only amplified when they play one another, as they know a White Sox-Royals game won’t capture the nation or talking heads like a Cubs-Cardinals one.
- The White Sox and Royals have had recent beef, mostly between Tim Anderson and the Royals. After Tim Anderson showboated a home run, the Royals threw at him at the next at-bat, and it seems like the Royals and White Sox have been blood enemies since (which I kind of embrace, as I grew to hate the White Sox a lot last season, probably more than any other club).
- And don’t forget the brawl between the clubs in 2015, as Yordano Ventura did his usual thing (talk shit…god I miss him), which cleared the benches at Guaranteed Rate Field, as seen below:
Yes, the White Sox-Royals rivalry is truly one of the more underrated ones in baseball…though I know I may be biased as a Royals fan.
1. St. Louis Cardinals
To be honest, I really didn’t want to put the Cardinals here. I mean, how can the Royals’ biggest rival not even play in the same League as them? After all, if Interleague play didn’t exist, would the Cardinals-Royals still have a rivalry? Yes, there still would be hard feelings from 1985, but for the most part, I don’t know if the Cardinals-Royals rivalry would carry much weight if Interleague play wasn’t a thing.
But at the end of the day, Interleague play does exist, and the Royals-Cardinals play each other regularly. And in all honesty, I am glad they do because it’s a rivalry that goes beyond baseball and the teams’ record. It’s a rivalry for the fans, pure and simple.
The Royals-Cardinals rivalry has all the good makings of a “classic” rivalry in the mold of the Cardinals-Cubs or Yankees-White Sox. The Cardinals have a winning tradition, with 11 World Series titles, second only to the New York Yankees. The Cardinals play in a glorious downtown stadium, with Ballpark Village being the prime attraction in what is essentially a Midwest Baseball Disneyland of sorts. The Cardinals have won with homegrown players drafted and developed by the organization, and have consistently been competitive in the NL Central, even if they have not won the World Series since 2011. And the Cardinals are the premier sports team in town, as they outdrew and dominated the Rams, who eventually left for Los Angeles.
In other words, the Cardinals represent all that is perfect when it comes to a Midwestern baseball team: tradition, fandom, smart management, and an attraction-filled home that attracts St. Louis families to the ballpark and city on game day.
As for the Royals, sans two pennants in 2014 and 2015, and a magical World Series Run in 2015, the organization has struggled, especially post-1994, in the wake of Ewing Kauffman’s death. Kauffman Stadium is a beautiful park and great for watching the game, but it’s tailgate culture doesn’t have the “amenities” of St. Louis’ Ballpark Village. While the Cardinals’ homegrown players have turned into players of note in St. Louis, the Royals have struggled in that department, unable to get much out of their own prospects with the exception of Hosmer-Moose-Gordo and a couple of others from 2012 to now (though Adalberto Mondesi gives Royals fans hope). And unfortunately, while the Royals dominate the summer, KC becomes Chiefs Kingdom by August, maybe July this year considering the Chiefs will be defending their Super Bowl crown (of course, that’s if all this Co-Vid stuff dies down).
St. Louis and Kansas City also have their own beefs beyond baseball. St. Louis looks down on KC as a “cowtown”. KC thinks St. Louis is too snobby for its own good, especially considering Kansas City as a city is actually more populated than St. Louis now by almost 162,000 people (I know, the Metro comparisons are a different story between the two). As someone who is not from around here, it is fascinating to see the difference in cultural dynamics between St. Louis and KC folks, as they are eerily similar at times, but so pronounced in their disdain for one another. It only adds more to this rivalry when they meet in Kauffman, and half the stadium is in Cardinals red, and the other half is in Royals blue, with the latter grumbling under their breath in response to the obnoxious cheeriness of Cardinals Nation.
And that’s what makes this rivalry number one. It’s not about what happens or has happened on the field. It’s not so much about the Royals-Cardinals, but KC-St. Louis. It is almost a fierce, family rivalry between cousins where the two can’t stand one another when they are around, and baseball is the one place where both parties can express their disdain for one another without any serious recourse.
Luckily, I have been to a couple of Cardinals-Royals games at the K and they by far are the most enjoyable games to watch, even though the Cardinals have come out on top, convincingly, both times.
I wonder if Royals-Cardinals games at Busch Stadium have the same vibe. When all this Coronavirus stuff eventually fades, I hope to to find out by catching a Royals-Cards game in St. Louis either this year or next.
Because I want to tell them, in Busch Stadium, that Orta was safe.