In two weeks, we will reach the sixth anniversary of Ned Yost being hired as Royals manager to replace Trey Hillman. Before he was hired in Kansas City, Ned Yost was infamously known for being the manager fired just two weeks before his team was to begin the playoffs. His hiring was met with a great deal of skepticism, and despite incremental improvement each year, many fans were calling for Ned Yost to be fired when the Royals were under .500 in July of 2014.
Of course, the Royals went on a run that summer, and the rest is history. Ned Yost has become the first two-time pennant-winning manager in franchise history, and his 480 career victories in Royal blue are the most ever. He joins Dick Howser as the only skipper to lead the Royals to a championship and his post-season record is the best in Major League history. While he has had two losing seasons among his five in Kansas City, he is only the second manager ever to improve his record each season for six seasons, joining Hall of Famer Connie Mack and the 1919-1925 Philadelphia Athletics.
Still, there has been some reluctance to give Ned Yost too much credit. He has been criticized for playing "smallball", using bunts and steals to win games, contradicting modern analytical wisdom against giving away outs on the basepaths. His use of a poor on-base hitter in Alcides Escobar as a leadoff hitter has drawn ire. His overall record with the Royals is barely over .500 (480 wins, 475 losses), although he was given a rebuilding team and has improved the team each year.
Where does Ned Yost stand in Royals history? He is certainly better than any managers of the last 20 years - Trey Hillman, Buddy Bell, Tony Pena, Tony Muser, and Bob Boone. How does he stack up against the more successful Royals managers? Here is what he is up against.
Howser is generally considered the best manager in Royals history for winning the championship in 1985. His career was cut short when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor the following season, forcing him to retire. Howser took over the Royals for the final month of the 1981 season, after a 103-win season with the Yankees in his only year managing the dysfunctional Bronx Bombers. The Royals immediately won 90 games the next year, but missed the playoffs under Howser. Dick trusted a very young, unproven rotation in 1984 and snuck into the playoffs with just 84 wins. Many of those pitchers - Bret Saberhagen, Mark Gubicza, Danny Jackson - would be huge the next year as the Royals won the World Series.
Howser won 404 games while losing 365 for a .525 winning percentage in Kansas City. His number ten jersey is one of just three numbers retired with the Royals.
Whitey had very brief managing stints in Texas and California before the Royals hired him to take the 1975 Royals to the next level. The Royals were still in their infancy, but were already producing winning seasons and Herzog was expected to take them to the playoffs. In his first full season in 1976, Herzog did just that, winning 90 games, but falling to the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series. The next year, the Royals were likely the best team in all of baseball, winning 103 games. However they still failed to get past the New York Yankees in the playoffs.
Whitey Herzog inspired a new brand of baseball, called "Whiteyball" that emphasized speed on the bases. The Royals failed to get past the Yankees a third straight year in 1978, then won 85 games in 1979 before Herzog was fired in a clash with management. He would end up across the state in St. Louis, where he would win over 800 games, three pennants, and the 1982 championship.
Herzog won 410 games with the Royals, losing 304. His .574 winning percentage is the best in franchise history. No other Royals manager has ever won three straight division titles. Whitey Herzog is also the only Royals manager ever to be inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame for his managing record.
"Trader Jack" McKeon was manager of the Omaha ballclub before he took over the Royals in 1973, and won 88 games his first year, the most in franchise history at that time and second only to the Oakland Athletics in the division. McKeon took over a young Royals club and helped develop players like George Brett, John Mayberry, Steve Busby, Dennis Leonard, and Paul Splittorff that would be the nucleus of Royals contenders. The Royals stumbled to win just 77 games in 1974, and were just 50-46 before he was fired in 1975, to be replaced by Herzog. McKeon went on to become General Manager of the Padres, before managing the Padres, Reds, and Marlins, winning a pennant in 2003 at the age of 73. He is one of just seven Royals managers with a winning record, with a winning percentage of .512.
Frey was hired immediately to replace Herzog following the 1979 season, and guided the Royals to their first ever pennant in 1980, winning 97 games and besting the Yankees before falling to the Philadelphia Phillies in the Fall Classic. Frey found it hard to win over fans though, replacing the popular Herzog, and was roundly criticized for his strategic blunders. Despite winning a pennant, Frey was fired 70 games into the following season with a 30-40 record. His .547 winning percentage is still the second-best in club history.
Wathan was a long-time Royals catcher who was managing the Omaha ballclub in 1987, when the team fired manager Billy Gardner. The job was offered to hitting coach Hal McRae, but after he turned down the interim job, the Royals promoted Wathan to be big league skipper. Wathan would hang on for three more full seasons, winning 92 games in 1989, third-most in baseball, but not enough to land a playoff spot. He was fired 37 games into the 1991 season, ending his Royals career with a record of 287-270, a .515 winning percentage.
The hard-nosed McRae was a popular leader in the Royals clubhouse during their peak, who was named hitting coach immediately after his retirement in 1987. After turning down the interim managerial job, he was let go and coached with the Pirates and Expos before the Royals hired him to run their team in 1991, replacing Wathan. The Royals had a winning record once McRae was hired in 1991, but stumbled to 90 losses in 1992. The Royals had winning record in 1993 and made a playoff run in 1994 before the season ended due to a work stoppage with the Royals just three games out of a Wild Card spot. McRae was let go after that season as the team wanted to go with a youth movement, but Hal ended his Royals tenure with a winning record at 286-277.
How does Ned Yost stack up against Royals managers of the past? Will he have his number retired? A statue?