On May 27, 1969, the Kansas City Royals edged the Boston Red Sox in Municipal Stadium, 5-4. That lifted the first-year Royals to 21-21. It wasn't the first time they'd reached the .500 mark -- they'd won their first two games of the season, and been over and below .500 various times since -- but it was the last time for quite a while.
But on July 17, 1976, the Royals again edged the Red Sox in Kansas City (2-1 this time) to reach .500 in franchise history: 606 wins, 606 losses. The Royals spent the rest of that season both over and below .500, but finished the season five games under as they lost nine of their last 11 (everyone took great solace in the club's first division title, however).
On July 2, 1977, Andy Hassler beat Dennis Eckersley in Cleveland, 1-0. And again the Royals were at .500 on the nose (681-681). They lost to the Indians the next day, but got back to .500 on July 4 with another victory against a future Hall of Famer, as Jim Colborn beat Gaylord Perry down in the heart of Texas.
Beginning with that game, the Royals mounted one of the great stretch runs in baseball history, going 62-24 from July 4 through the end of the season. But could anyone have guessed that the Royals wouldn't again fall below the .500 mark, as a franchise, for nearly 25 years?
They haven't. The last decade has been lean for the Royals, but through it all they've kept their collective head above water. Through it all, they've remained the only pre-1998 expansion franchise with a winning record.
Until now, that is. After losing again last night, the Royals are on the precipice. They've won 2,638 games, and they've lost 2,637. It might happen Friday night, or Saturday or Sunday or perhaps early next week. But it's going to happen, because it's become apparent that this is, once again, a terrible team. If you want to track it for yourself, the Royals will fall below .500 as a franchise when they fall 20 games below .500 for this season. And once they get there, it's anybody's guess as to how far they'll fall. But I'll be very surprised if, aside for a brief moment or two this summer, they ever see the good side of .500 again.
As a Royals fan, there's a big part of me that's angry, a big part of me that would like to hurl blame at the executives and managers -- well, one manager -- who have helped bring this franchise to the brink of an all-time losing record. But you don't need me for that; if you've followed the Royals at all over the last decade, you can identify the guilty parties without too much trouble.
I'd rather focus on the great joy that the Royals brought me over the years. My family moved to Kansas City in the spring of 1976, when I was nine years old. For me, baseball was just another sport, no better than football or basketball or kickball. But when the Royals won their first division title that summer, they won me over to baseball, and so I have to thank them for the lucky life that I've led. And rather than mourn the Royals as losers, let us instead celebrate them as winners.