Last season, the Kansas City Royals won the American League pennant, galvanizing the community and forging a generation of Royals fans. I talked to multiple members of the community about the exciting season, and asked them what it meant to them.
This season, the Royals won the World Series, completing a journey through the desert that lasted 30 years. Again, I will talk with important members of the community about this achievement, their place in it, and the joy of the World Champions Royals.
Bob Dutton was the longtime beat writer for the Royals for decades. His last season with the team was 2013, as the Royals won their first winning season in a decade. Though he now covers the Seattle Mariners, Bob's time in Kansas City presents a unique and fascinating perspective on the team.
You worked for the Kansas City Star for over 30 years. Much your time was spent exclusively covering the Royals, in the era of 100-loss seasons and questionable management decisions. How were you able to separate your own opinions from your job as a purely reporting beat writer?
That’s the job, really. That’s my job in Tacoma as a Mariners beat reporter. Not to make a big deal out of it, but I always viewed the job as one where I provided readers with sufficient information to form their own opinions. If you want someone to tell you what to think, there’s no shortage of those folks.
Dayton Moore and his front office suffered through a half-dozen underwhelming seasons before his plan started to pay off. How confident were they in their plan, even when things looked bleak? Did the players and coaches buy in?
Oh, I think Moore and his staff always believed their approach would work if given sufficient time. It was a harder sell to the players they inherited. There needed to be a culture change in the clubhouse, and that didn’t really take hold until the guys they drafted, who had success in the minors, began to reach the majors. I think those guys always believed it would happen.
How has Twitter and social media changed baseball reporting, and how have you had to adapt to it?
It makes everything more immediate, of course. You don’t get to report as thoroughly as you once did. So on twitter, I use a lot of phases such as, "I'm hearing…" and so forth. Virtually all of my Twitter encounters have been positive. There have been very few exceptions. I doubt that I’ve blocked more than a dozen people over the years.
In covering the Seattle Mariners, what is perception of the Kansas City Royals like? Has it changed in the first few years you've been there?
If you’re asking my perception, I’d tell you that I saw them turn the corner in 2013. I’m not saying I’d have predicted two pennants and one world title over the next two years, but I believed they had built themselves into a legitimate contender. The national perception is Royals are now viewed as a model on how to build a franchise: bullpen, great defense, contact hitters and athleticism. Success changes perceptions. I don’t believe Moore’s general approach is any different now than it was a few years ago. But it wasn’t that long ago he was generally viewed as a failure, although in part because many believed he was in a hopeless situation.
What has it been like watching the Royals finally have their success after years of futility?
By design, I try not to have a deep emotional attachment to any club I cover. (And I know that has always bothered people.) But for me, anyway, if I viewed the club as a fan, I would find it difficult to cover the club in an objective manner. Let me try to explain. I’m a big hockey fan, and the only club in any sport where I have a deep emotional attachment is the Philadelphia Flyers. And in following them, I experience wide swings between exhilaration and despair several occasions within each game. I’m a fan. And it’s great being a fan. But I can’t function that way as a reporter. At least I can’t.
I will say this, though. In my time covering the Royals, I encountered many fans who stuck with that club through thin and thinner, when things looked absolutely hopeless in terms of ever getting better. When they reached postseason in 2014 and then had success, and then topped that success this year…I was beyond happy for the joy those people experienced. For me, that was the best part of the Royals’ success, seeing the faith and steadfastness of those fans rewarded.
Are there any stories about the players or coaches of the 2015 Champs that stick out in your mind (that are decent for publishing online)?
Oh, there are all sorts of moments over the years that were indelible. Too many to count and all really too long to provide sufficient background.
Some quick hits:
Brian Anderson telling me, "Dude, you’ve got to write that we lost because we hit the cutoff man" on the night when Matt Stairs drilled Ken Harvey in the back in San Diego on a throw to the plate with the score tied.
Zack Greinke saying he was "annoyed" at home fans chanting Cy Young as he entered from the bullpen in 2009. And when club officials tried to soften it by saying he meant "distracted," him telling me, "No, I meant annoyed."
- Buddy Bell saying of one his own players: "He can beat you in so many ways" and not meaning it as a compliment.
James Shields showing what leadership meant by going on road trips in spring training and coming in on his off-days to talk to other young pitchers after they came out of games.
- Jeff Foxworthy telling me that Ned Yost is the funniest guy he knows. When I treated that as just another joke, he turned serious and reassured me that he wasn’t kidding.
Alex Gordon telling me late in 2010 that he was going to dominate in 2011, then not trying to deny it or suggest he was misquoted when he received a ton of scorn after the story hit.
Joakim Soria asking me to stop referring to him as the Mexicutioner (because of the killings in his home country) because he felt if I stopped, everyone else would stop. This is the first time I’ve typed that word since then.
- Watching Wil Myers argue with George Brett on a bench at a back field in Surprise on the proper way to use pine tar when batting.
- Watching Mike Moustakas take command of a photo shoot with Myers and Eric Hosmer in spring training for our special section of the club’s farm system. Moose barked: "Hats on straight, arms folded, no smiles." The other two complied immediately without a word. Somewhere, you can probably locate John Sleezer’s great picture.
And so many, many more. Last August produced a highlight, too, when the Mariners made their one trip to Kauffman. I got to meet Sung Woo, who made a special late-night trip to my hotel. Sung Woo represents the best in Royals’ fans, but I met dozens of Sung Woo-types over the years.