The Kansas City Royals are one of the leading contenders for Sports Illustrated's 2015 Sportsman of the Year. You can see the full list and the entire series of essays that make the argument for each candidate here.
Before we talk about belief and faith and magic, about miracle eighth inning comebacks and mad dashes, let’s make one thing clear: They may have defied every projection system—human and non-human—on their way to a championship no one saw coming, but the story of the 2015 Kansas City Royals is not a parable of grit overcoming talent, of a plucky little team that could. They were simply the best team in baseball in 2015, as talented and brilliantly constructed as any on the planet, a good old fashioned baseball tale of spectacular defense, brilliant base-running, an indestructible bullpen and a relentless offense. They were in first place in the AL Central from June 8 on and finished with the league’s best record. Theirs is a collection of stars—Lorenzo Cain, Wade Davis, Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez—who would be stars anywhere, on any team, in any year.
Yes, they transformed a city. In Kansas City, after that storybook 2014 run, the Royals became everything. The old ball team became what they talked about at September Chiefs games, on weekends mornings at the River Market, or while waiting for seats at Oklahoma Joe’s. But 2014 was just the beginning. At some point—it's impossible to say exactly when—Kansas City became a baseball town. During the 2015 regular season, the fans shattered the record for the highest attendance in franchise history. Fox Sports Kansas City announced not only its highest ratings ever, but the highest local rating by any regional sports network in the majors, and the highest for any market in 13 years.
But the baseball awakening in Kansas City is just part of why the Royals should be the 2015 Sportsmen of the Year. This Royals team did things impossible in this day and age in which everything in baseball is measured with NASA-levels of precision, at a time where there are no more mysteries. They refused to give in to convention, in everything they do, from Dayton Moore’s Process to Ned Yost’s lineup construction to Alcides Escobar’s insane first pitch approach. They made us rethink the game, to reconsider what we thought about the value of dominant 60-inning relievers, of aggressive base-running and the power of just putting the damn ball in play. They made us rethink the power of the immeasurable. Of mysteries like faith and belief, the importance of character, the effect of clubhouse guys: All those things that Moore and Yost have been talking about all these years, through all the losing seasons, all those things that were met with eye rolling and ridicule. After watching the Royals in October—night after night of slicing up pitchers and running wild on the bases and winning with late-inning drama that felt pre-scripted, and doing so with such intensity and joy—you had to acknowledge that those things, all those things, could maybe, possibly, mean something. That maybe all those things do play a small part in winning a one-run game in October, in coming back time and time again, in creating a culture where a team plays with such energy and hunger.
How else to explain that miracle eighth inning rally in Houston, Lorenzo Cain scoring from first on a single, Alex Gordon homering off Jeurys Familia, Eric Hosmer’s mad dash home? How else to explain that this team came back to win eight times in the postseason? (No team in history had ever done that.) How else to explain the seven times they came back from multiple runs? (No one had ever done that, either.) How else to explain that they outscored teams 51–11 in the seventh inning or later, or that three times they trailed in the eighth inning in the World Series only to come back and win?
They were one of the best stories of the year in 2014, then undid the underdog narrative and somehow turned out to be an even better story in 2015. We’ve never seen a team like this before. We will never see a team like this again.