In 2010 I started covering the Kansas City Royals and back then if you said you saw a light at the end of the tunnel, longtime Royals fans would assure it was an oncoming train.
The Royals hadn’t had a winning season since 2003 and hadn’t been to the playoffs since the discovery of fire.
But early on in my baseball writing career, I got to sit down and have a long conversation with Royals general manager Dayton Moore. I came away with the impression that this was a smart guy with a plan and the plan had a good chance of working.
I was dumb enough to say all that publicly and got roasted for doing so: Didn’t I know the Royals never won and you couldn’t believe anything the front office said?
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But everything was about to change and change sooner than most people thought possible.
Take a look at the list of players who first put on a Kansas City Royals uniform in 2011: Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and Salvador Perez.
It took a while for things to come together: in 2011 the Royals went 71-91, a year later they only improved by one game, they went 72-90. But in 2013 the Royals were 86-76 and every Royals fan knows what happened after that.
2014 and the Royals’ style of play
In the middle of the 2012 season the Royals got rid of coach Doug Sisson. Two years later Doug called me and wanted to talk about the 2014 Royals. Doug was excited and he said the Royals were bringing baseball back.
One more time: a guy that got fired by a team was still excited by that team and its approach to baseball.
Like a lot of people inside the game, Doug thought working walks and waiting to hit home runs was a boring way to play baseball. It wasn’t the game he grew up loving. Doug loved the speed game: playing great defense, stealing bases and taking the extra base was exciting, entertaining baseball.
But people who studied the game through numbers had decided small-ball tactics like the steal, the hit-and-run and the sacrifice bunt were counterproductive. Better to take pitches, work walks and wait for someone to hit a home run.
The fact that those tactics led to three-and-a-half hour ballgames that were as exciting as watching ice melt didn’t matter — winning was what mattered.
But a funny thing happened in 2014: the team that was dead-last in home runs and dead-last in walks made it to Game 7 of the World Series. In 2014 the Royals showed you could get away with being ninth in the league in runs scored, if only three teams in the league allowed fewer runs.
In 2015 most preseason predictions viewed the Royals’ success in 2014 as an aberration. The Royals still did not walk enough, hit enough home runs or score enough runs.
As you already know, the Royals once again proved the experts wrong. In 2015 the Royals were sixth in the league in runs scored, but only two teams allowed fewer runs.
Their aggressive style of play, typified by Eric Hosmer’s 90-foot dash to score the tying run in Game 5 of the 2015 World Series, led to a championship and a parade nobody will ever forget.
And now some of the guys who pulled that off might be playing their last game in a Royals uniform.
Fans have been disappointed in 2016 and 2017, but on Saturday night 32,727 of them showed up to say thanks to a team that brought baseball back to Kansas City and fans who enjoy an aggressive style of play.
Saturday night Ned Yost gave fans the chance to say thanks by pulling players out of the game in the middle of innings. That way the players could enjoy one last ovation in front of their Kansas City fans.
The Royals want to win Sunday’s game and finish at .500, but don’t be surprised if Ned does the same thing and pulls those players out of the game in the middle of innings.
So if you’re at the game, pay attention. It might be your last chance to cheer for Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar in a Royals uniform.
Back when I had that first long conversation with Dayton Moore, he said it was nice that fans still showed up wearing George Brett or Frank White jerseys, but he’d know he had accomplished what he set out to do when fans started showing up wearing Hosmer and Moustakas jerseys.
Look around and you’ll see what Dayton Moore accomplished.
These Kansas City Royals brought baseball back.