A Synergy of Blue: Finding Baseball Again in Kansas City

There is an old saying that can be applied to almost any kind of human endeavor. Raise your hand if you haven’t heard this before:

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

If you didn’t know, the quote is from Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher who lived more than 2,300 years ago. This saying is pulled out frequently when talking about underdog teams in sports, teams without a real superstar, but it is almost always used when a team’s winning appears to be nothing more than a fluke. I’m pretty sure that the 2014 KC Royals were not what Aristotle had in mind when he laid out this quote for the ages, but the idea of the Royals, as applied to anything else, might be.

Like an explosion across the ballparks of America, the Kansas City Royals have landed in the World Series, embracing their team synergy like no other I’ve ever seen before.

Synergy—I’ll save you from clicking over to Dictionary.com—comes from the Greek word synergia, and means “when combined elements produce a total effect greater than the sum of the individual contributions.”

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Synergy. I’ve always loved the word, always loved its meaning, which in visual terms, looks something like this: 2 + 2 + 3 + 1 = 16.

It is an intangible concept at best, but one that can be applied to almost anything—food, science, nature, even love and baseball. A lot of corporations grabbed onto the word and spoon-fed it to their employees to enhance teamwork and spirit. And here’s the thing: You can apply the concept of synergy to almost everything except—and feel the irony—math. And if you’re any kind of baseball fan, you know that math—numbers—is what baseball is really about to almost everyone: From RBIs, fantasy games, to a ballplayer’s WAR number, ticket prices, salaries, even the cost of a replica jersey.

It’s the math, baby.

And the 2014 Royals’ math doesn’t add up. But the synergy flowing in out of Kauffman Stadium does.

There's a lot of heart in this Kansas City team.

There’s a lot of heart in this Kansas City team.

I was originally going to add a link to the song “You Gotta Have heart” from the 1958 movie Damn Yankees!—hey, these Royals have heart—but the tune is so dated and slow that listening to it is not fun. And if anything,these Royals are fun. With their non-Red Sox-like beards, cool haircuts, baggy pants, speed motions, and goggles-wearing style, they’ve rekindled my unconditional love of baseball, something I didn’t think was possible.

For most of the past 20 years, the Kansas City Royals were worse than the replaceable-part ballplayers they rolled out onto the field. It never seemed the team should be as bad as it was, and while almost all Royals fans knew in their hearts that the team would suck one way or another, the annual high number of losses always left them wondering how a team could be so damn bad.

A few lowlights from the not-so-royal years: trading away three Cy Young Award winners (although the third trade was a great one), not having an owner for SEVEN years, trading away a trio of all-star outfielders for virtually nothing in return, hiring the worst manager in the history of the game, cutting all ties to Latin America scouting, adding BLACK to the team uniform, signing Juan Gonzalez, hiring a manager who had never worn a major league uniform before, losing 100 or more games four times in a five-year period—it goes on and on and on. Terrible, awful, and sad. The butt of all bad baseball-team jokes, the butt of all losing jokes, just the butt, period.

One player in particular personified these the lifeless, heartless Royals: Jeff King. I don’t like picking on King, but he, more than anyone else, exemplified the rudderless, heartless bunch residing at Kauffman Stadium until about six or seven years ago. Why? He quit.

A good first baseman for the Royals, King came to KC from Pittsburgh in 1996. He averaged 29 home runs and 112 RBIs in his first two seasons with Kansas City, and hit 24 home runs with 93 RBIs in 1998. I liked him a lot. But on May 23, 1999, the $4 million-a-year first baseman quit the game and walked away.

“My head is here, my heart is not,” King said when he left the Royals. “I think it just came to the point that as much as I hoped and wished, my heart was not totally committed.”

No heart.

For these reasons (and there are a lot of other bad Royals things I’ve failed to mention), the last few years I’ve often questioned my Royals fandom, even my love for baseball in general. My team was horrible, and there seemed to be no relief coming.

Then Kansas City won 86 games in 2013. Hope, and a lot of it, was high for the 2014 team. But something was wrong at the beginning of the season. The team wasn’t as good as everyone thought it should be, and it appeared that the manager, Ned Yost, couldn’t manage his way out of a wet bag on most nights. The 2014 Royals were deemed a huge disappointment by myself and almost everyone else in the world of baseball experts and fans by the All-Star Game. The team was 7 games back on July 23, and I wanted the roster blown up, the manager and GM fired, the Royals sold to an owner who wanted to win, and so on.

So, how wrong was I? Pretty darn.

Two months later, the team was in the playoffs. And now the World Series. The 2014 Kansas City Royals are also being called a team of destiny. I don’t know about any of that, but I do know that the team is absolutely a total piece of synergy, and the perfect sports example for Aristotle.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The Pythagorean Theorem (math!) of baseball is a pretty good gauge to use in determining what a team’s total number of wins should be—using the formula, the numbers the 2014 Royals put together should have won them just 84 games, not enough to make the playoffs. On the field, the team won 89 games and a playoff spot. They’ve also won over a lot of hearts the last three weeks as America has gotten a good look at their incredible, magical tickers, and synergy in its finest form.

Aristotle would be proud—Let’s Go Royals!