The winter of 1976-77 was a brutal one for most of the country. In Chicago, the temperature dipped below 32 degrees on Dec. 27 and would not climb back above freezing until Feb. 9. In Cincinnati, the Ohio River froze over, bringing river traffic to a halt for a week. A massive blizzard crippled Buffalo, with snowfall as much as 100 inches over a three-day period and strong winds whipping that snow into drifts 30-40 feet high. The cold even reached places that normally never have to worry about it; on Jan. 19, snow fell in Miami for the first time in recorded history.
Although Kansas City was somewhat spared the worst of this, with a dry winter (1976-77 also featured drought conditions in much of the country) and the usual assortment of bitterly cold and pleasantly warm days, the Royals and their fans suffered through the winter anyway. In less than two weeks the previous October, they had gone from the high of the franchise’s first division title and Kansas City’s first-ever taste of the MLB postseason to the sudden gut punch of Chris Chambliss hitting a pennant-winning walkoff home run in Game Five of the ALCS. The Royals had finally climbed the mountain of AL West supremacy, knocking off the hated Oakland Athletics, only to be pushed off the summit by the New York Yankees.
As most fans probably know, KC’s disdain for the New Yorkers preceded the Royals’ entry into the American League. When the Athletics played in Kansas City, the Yankees often treated them as a farm team, dumping their unwanted players on the A’s in lopsided trades that sent top prospects to the big city. So, having vanquished the team (and owner Charlie Finley) that treated baseball fans in Kansas City like doormats, then pulled up stakes and left town just before they finally became winners, the Royals had now been victimized by the other monster in their fans’ nightmares.
Despite all this, the 1977 Royals seemed at ease as their pitchers and catchers reported to Fort Myers, Florida, to start spring training. The front office had managed to sign every key player to multiple-year contracts over the winter and had fortified the roster by trading for catcher Darrell Porter and pitcher Jim Colborn. Manager Whitey Herzog noted that the media was excited about the offseasons the California Angels and Texas Rangers, and joked the Royals had already fallen to third place in their eyes. While Herzog hoped the team would hit for more power (the 1976 team hit just 65 home runs), he was also happy with his squad’s pitching and defense. With expansion teams in Seattle and Toronto joining the league, Herzog predicted it would take 100 wins to capture a second division title.
The fans were excited, too. The Royals reported a team-record 6,800 season tickets had been sold, with the expectation they would be around 8,000 by Opening Day. The expectations were high, but only the next eight months would tell if they would be met.
Today’s birthdays: Bob Hegman (1958), David Howard (1967), Scott Service (1967)