The Culture of Losing Comes from the Culture of Winning

"I can't believe 30 years from now teams will still try to play like this."

When I was in high school, "Luke" was one of the more popular guys in our school. Girls loved him, and guys wanted to be him. He threw the coolest parties and drove the coolest car. He always had the coolest pre-ripped jeans and went to shows for cool grunge bands I had never even heard of. He was the man.

I ran into him at a bar not long ago. While many of us have gotten fatter or balder, he looked exactly the same. But he looked….odd. Like he didn’t fit in this time period. And he didn’t seem cool anymore. Apparently he still lived by our high school, in an apartment, but he worked for his dad’s landscaping business. He still listened to 1990s bands. I’m not even kidding - he still wore flannel. It was like he had fallen into a crevice in 1996, and was frozen until just now. He was…a loser.

The Royals are the cool guy in high school who never grew up.

They experienced success early on in their history, but this early success calcified their organizational philosophy. They never changed with the times. They never grew up. To paraphrase Nick last week, the Royals learned the wrong lesson from their success.

The Royals were successful early on by being an innovative organization willing to try new things. They developed a team with a strong minor league system with an emphasis on player development. They built a Royals Academy that took unpolished athletes and turned them into professional ballplayers. They realized the park effects of their stadium and built a club tailor-made to Royals Stadium by emphasizing pitching, speed and defense. They took the bold step of locking up key components of the franchise with "lifetime contracts." They were truly forward-thinkers, and much of that credit has to be given to their owner Ewing Kauffman who set the culture for innovation early on.

Once Ewing passed, the Royals’ philosophy was not to continue being an innovative organization looking for the next competitive advantage, it was to look back to the past and try to continue winning as they had done in the 70s and 80s - by emphasizing pitching, speed, and defense and relying almost solely on home-grown talent.

Here is where the Royals ranked in key categories during their hey-day.

Year

Home Runs

Walks

Stolen Bases

Pitcher strikeouts

1976

11th

8th

2nd

7th

1977

6th

9th

2nd

4th

1978

11th

10th

1st

12th

1979

11th

6th

1st

12th

1980

9th

6th

1st

13th

1981

10th

10th

2nd

14th

1982

10th

13th

4th

14th

1983

12th

14th

2nd

14th

1984

12th

14th

6th

11th

1985

8th

12th

5th

7th

Here is where they rank during their era of suck.

Year

Home Runs

Walks

Stolen Bases

Pitcher strikeouts

1995

14th

13th

2nd

12th

1996

13th

12th

1st

12th

1997

10th

9th

4th

10th

1998

12th

12th

4th

9th

1999

12th

10th

3rd

14th

2000

13th

14th

3rd

12th

2001

11th

14th

10th

13th

2002

12th

8th

1st

13th

2003

7th

9th

3rd

13th

2004

11th

13th

12th

14th

2005

14th

12th

12th

12th

2006

14th

10th

8th

14th

2007

14th

13th

10th

13th

2008

13th

14th

11th

7th

2009

13th

13th

9th

4th

2010

12th

9th

6th

11th

2011

11th

11th

2nd

10th

2012

14th

14th

6th

7th

The ranks aren’t that much different than from their hey-day. It is pretty clear what they value. And yet the results in the win-loss column are so much different. Why? The game has changed. Ripped-jeans and flannel aren’t cool anymore. You can’t win anymore without getting runners on base and hitting the ball out of the ballpark. That 1985 team the Royals want to emulate so badly? They scored fewer runs than the 91-loss 2011 Royals.

The early Royals relied much on developing homegrown talent. They signed exactly one free agent from 1976-1988. But today, you can't win solely with homegrown talent, you have to be able to spend some money on talent.

The Royals learned the wrong lesson from their success.

Dayton Moore and Ned Yost want to talk about a culture of losing, but the culture of losing in this franchise stems from an unwillingness to let go of the culture of winning from thirty years ago. The Royals are chasing ghosts of the past while a whole new game passes them by. Until they fundamentally change what kind of organization they want to become, the losing will not subside, no matter how many bad attitudes they cut ties with.

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