Have you heard of such a thing as a 'Pyrrhic victory?'
If you haven't, yes, it does indeed contain that many r's and, no, it is not a dirty or some exotic swear. If you have, good for you, but you're about to be refreshed.
A Pyrrhic victory is a success such that the success itself is actually detrimental in the long run. It was named after King Pyrrhus, probably by the same guy who coined Occam's Razor, and it refers to one of Pyrrhus' battles with the Roman Empire--ancient times' Russia. Pyrrhus and his soldiers won the battle, decimating the Roman forces. However, the Romans had so many armies, and Pyrrhus lost so many men, that ultimately it was a death blow to poor old Pyrrhie.
Pyrrhic victories can apply to all sorts of things. Let's say your go-to date is going to the opera--you think it's impressive and makes you look artistic. The last few times, you managed to get great tickets last minute. . "Hey," your mind says, hopefully in the voice of James Earl Jones, "this whole last-minute ticket thing is pretty swell." "Yeah, mind," your mind replies, also in the voice of James Earl Jones because that's how it works, "let's be sure to do it next time, too."Obviously, counting on the availability of last-minute tickets is a pretty poor idea and, lo and behold, your next date is furious that you don't actually have opera tickets and that your substitution is going to Waffle House. Pyrrhic victory.
But what if you're a baseball team or a fan of a baseball team that, in the past two years, defied conventional wisdom and soared to the top of the baseball world?
You can argue that there is no Pyrrhic victory when the 'bad' result is winning a World Series, and that's probably accurate. But the salient feature of Pyrrhic victories is this: success can sometimes be detrimental later. And that reading of the term might as well be the slogan for the 2016 Royals.
On Friday, Kansas City Star Royals beat writer Rustin Dodd wrote this about Ned Yost's decision process, specifically in regards to the dumpster fire that is Alcides Escobar, Leadoff Hitter:
Ned Yost still possesses the ultimate trump card, the perfect response for any question of concern about his baseball team. He can point to the scoreboard, to the World Series ring with his name on it, to the formula that helped his team claim a world championship last fall...
...Yost long ago conceded that Escobar hitting leadoff does not make sense from a statistical standpoint. But it has proven to be a winning formula, Yost says, and he will not be swayed by an early-season slump.
In 2015, the Royals won the AL Central, AL Championship, and World Series. Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Wade Davis had career years, Alcides Escobar and Salvador Perez won postseason MVP awards, and plenty of other contributors shone in the spotlight at least once.
But: Those things cannot be counted on to happen again, and pointing at last year's World Series trophy or last year's individual successes does not and will not fix this year's problems or guarantee this year's success.
Baseball is full of smart and talented athletes and minds. All 30 teams are trying to win a championship; it isn't like some of the teams are just there as an elaborate Dancing With the Stars audition. The game changes quickly, new blood is infused constantly, and players can stop playing well without any warning. Things change, and things change quickly.
It's an enormously difficult challenge. Yost isn't wrong that his team did win a World Series, and there are components of that team that would be foolish to change. "Don't mess with success," they say, and generally They is a pretty wise dude. But there's a fine line to walk--if you continue doing what you did well but don't also keep getting better and changing things when it's expedient, then you won't continue success. To put it another way: unnecessary changes are bad, but changes will be necessary; the trick is discovering what changes to make.
As an example of how hard this is, here is a comprehensive list of teams in the 21st Century who have won back-to-back World Series:
That's not a typo; that's the number. Zero, zilch, nada, zip. No teams. There have been a lot of great championship teams, too, like the 2009 New York Yankees juggernaut that won 103 games and featured three will-be first ballot Hall of Famers. So, if the Royals win a second consecutive World Series, they'll be the first in 16 years to do so.
Let's expand the list. Here's a full listing of teams who won consecutive league championships (again in the 21st century) to make it to the World Series:
- Yankees, 2001, fourth consecutive
- Phillies, 2009, second consecutive
- Rangers, 2011, second consecutive
- Royals, 2015, second consecutive
That's four times that either an NL or AL champion was a repeat. Again, no team has won three consecutive championships since the invincible late 90s/early 00s Yankees team.
This is not to say that the Royals can't or won't make a deep playoff run. They've proved they have talent, and most of their core from the past two years is still there. It wouldn't be surprising to see them make teams terrified in the playoffs again.
But if the Royals aren't careful, their recent success will make needed adjustments all the more difficult. Yes, Escobar is playing like anthropomorphic feces, but he won the ALCS MVP last year and hit .329 in the playoffs! Yes, Kendrys Morales' numbers are eerily similar to his disaster 2014 season, but he hit 22 home runs last year and won a Silver Slugger! Why are you criticizing this team????? They won the World Series last year idiot!!!!!!!!!
The Royals' 2014 and 2015 seasons will be special to me forever, and especially considering their context I'm not sure if I'll ever have two more rewarding seasons of sports fandom in the rest of my life. They are in the past, the same past that Prince and David Bowie occupy. Things change with time. Baseball is no different. If the Royals are to succeed again in 2016, they must not be afraid to evolve or to change something that worked in the past but isn't now.
In the Royals' 2015 Pyrrhic victory, that victory happened to be the entire war. They just can't let the result of that war prevent them from effectively competing in another one. Constant improvement is the only way teams develop dynasties, and the Royals will be missing out on one if they don't realize that.