In 1995, Muriel Kauffman, widow of Royals founder Ewing Kauffman and the First Lady of Kansas City Royals baseball, passed away, leaving the team with no owner for the first time in franchise history. The Kauffmans had developed a succession plan, leaving the team to be run by a Board of Directors while the team searched for a long-term owner. The team had to be run essentially as a non-profit, which means costs had to be cut. I didn't know much about the business of baseball back then, but I knew that the Royals traded popular players like David Cone and Brian McRae within days of each other, and that the new guy in charge of things was a man known for cutting costs at Wal-Mart, new Royals Chairman of the Board, David Glass.
The Royals went through some lean years, with some low payrolls that were really more reflective of the business of baseball in that era, causing Royals fans to realize just how much the Kauffmans had been subsidizing the Royals all those years. The Royals were not the only small market franchise with a low payroll, not by a long shot, but they were probably the worst, and having the Wal-Mart guy as the face of the franchise didn't help.
David Glass eventually bought the club, having ingratiated himself with Major League's country club of owners, while the enthusiastic and eager potential owner Miles Prentice was shut-out for not knowing the secret handshake. Costs continued to be cut. When the Royals couldn't keep stars like Johnny Damon and Carlos Beltran, the finger pointed squarely at David Glass. When rumors of meddling - Jermaine Dye had to be traded for a Major Leaguer, a Joe Randa trade was supposedly nixed - surfaced, Royals fans grumbled. When the losses piled up, Royals fans stayed away. Their beloved franchise had become a national joke.
In 2006, the Royals finally fired Allard Baird and brought over Dayton Moore from the Atlanta Braves. Initially fans were thrilled. The Braves were a model organization. Moore had grown up a Royals fan. It seemed like a match made in heaven.
Then Dayton Moore showed his anti-sabermetric cards. He acquired Tony Pena Jr. He acquired Mike Jacobs. He overpaid for Gil Meche. He signed Jose Guillen. He acquired Yuniesky Betancourt, not once, but TWICE. He appeared to be a historical anachronism, trying to win with 1980s style baseball in an era of the slugger. His words became mocked. "High character on his fastball." "Plus hands, and plus hands." "Trust the process." The losses piled up. The Royals were once again a national joke.
In 2008, the Royals finally fired Trey Hillman and the Royals installed Ned Yost as manager. Nervous Ned, the manager fired two weeks before his team was about to embark on the playoffs. Ned loved to bunt. He loved to drive his catchers into the ground. He left his starters in too long. His bullpen roles were too rigid. He was prickly to the media. The losses piled up. The Royals were once again a national joke.
Until they weren't. The Royals began their turnaround when Dayton Moore suggested there "wasn't any reason why this team can't win 15 of their next 20 games." And they did just that in the second half of 2013. The team went on a terrific run and finished just a few games back of a Wild Card race. We weren't in the playoffs, but we weren't a joke anymore either. The process put in forth by Dayton Moore, the guidance of Ned Yost, the investment by David Glass - maybe, just maybe it was starting to pay off.
And then, then the miraculous happened. Just when the season looked sunk, just when we were arguing that the Royals needed to be sellers, recoup our losses from the folly of the James Shields trade, just when all hope looked lost, THEY DID IT AGAIN. The Royals went on an amazing second half run. And this time they didn't fall short. THEY MADE THE PLAYOFFS.
The story could have ended there and I think a lot of people would have been thrilled. But then the Royals had an amazing four-run comeback against the mighty Oakland Athletics in one of the most thrilling Wild Card games in its short history. And that would have made a fine ending. BUT IT WASN'T OVER.
The Royals steamrolled the Angels. They steamrolled the Orioles. And we sit here, on October 16, 2014, four years after Ned Yost was hired, eight years after Dayton Moore was hired, nineteen years since David Glass took control of this organization, and we are American League Champions. This entire story was something I had never even dared to dream because it seemed so ridiculous. And yet, it is very real.
And the story is not over yet.
I sat with my dad at the Wild Card game, screaming at the top of my lungs, hugging strangers, high-fiving people I had just met. My dad remarked it was something he would remember until the days he would not be able to remember anything at all. And I got to share it with him.
Today, I write words I never would have imagined just a few years ago, heck just a few months ago.
Thank you Ned Yost.
Thank you Dayton Moore.
Thank you David Glass.
You have given us an amazing, thrilling, wonderful, joyous ride that none of us will ever forget.