BRADENTON -- The Kansas City Royals and October used to go together like pulled pork and barbecue sauce.
Hal McRae was right in the middle of it.
Now he's watching from afar and enjoying retirement. But the 69-year-old Bradenton resident is getting a kick out of this year's Royals, who are back in the World Series -- and the postseason -- for the first time since the likes of McRae, George Brett and Bret Saberhagen helped Kansas City win its only baseball championship in 1985.
"I'm happy they're playing winning baseball again," McRae said Wednesday. "I'm rooting for them. And I'm watching the games, and I really don't watch a lot of baseball. Once they started to play competitive ball in August and September, I stared watching their games. I've watched all of the postseason play. It's a wonderful feeling to see them back on top again."
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It was a familiar feeling for McRae, who spent 1973-87 with the Royals and made the playoffs seven times. There were no wild cards during those days. If you didn't win your division, you were done until next spring.
Kansas City won three straight American League West titles from 1976-78 but lost each season to the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series.
More heartbreak followed. The Royals got past the
Yankees in '80 but lost the World Series in six games to the Philadelphia Phillies. That was followed up with ALCS losses in '81 and '84.
Then came '85, the first year the league championship series became a best-of-seven affair. That proved beneficial to the Royals, who rallied from a 3-1 deficit against the Toronto Blue Jays to win their second pennant.
They fell into a similar hole against the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. But with a little help from first base umpire Don Denkinger in Game 6, Kansas City came back to win in seven games.
"It was a relief to finally win it," said McRae, limited to three World Series at-bats in '85 because of a thigh injury. "We were in it seven out of 10 years."
A career .290 hitter who made three All-Star teams and led the majors in doubles twice, McRae's baseball life wasn't limited to Kansas City. He was drafted by and played four seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, who won pennants in '70 and '72 during McRae's tenure, and managed the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2001 and '02 after serving the same role with the Royals from 1991-94.
McRae won a World Series ring in 2006 working as the Cardinals' hitting coach and worked with the Phillies and Montreal Expos in a similar capacity.
But his heart belongs to the Royals.
"The enthusiasm in the stands is unbelievable," McRae said. "The way they supported the team, they're relieved, too, to finally have a competitive and better ballclub."
And McRae thinks Royals fans will have plenty to cheer about moving forward.
"They have a style of play," McRae said of the Royals. "And they all bought into that idea. And when they go out to play, they know how to win and what they have to do to win, and they have an advantage because they have a style. They just don't go out and try to win; they play their brand of baseball."