Ten years ago, the Royals were awful. They were worse than awful. It was as if they weren't really a part of Major League Baseball. They were there on the schedule, like an anonymous Division III school set up on the schedule of a powerhouse college athletic program, and you're not sure if the game is an exhibition game or a real game. Either way, it was a nearly automatic win.
The Royals lost. A lot. They lost 100 games or more in four of five seasons between 2002 and 2006. The Kansas City Athletics - a pathetically bad franchise that was so inept it moved to Oakland - never had a stretch like that. The Washington Senators - a franchise so inept it inspired the phrase "Washington, first in war, first in peace, last in the American League" - never had a stretch like that. The Cleveland Indians, a franchise so laughable they literally made a comedy about them, never had a stretch like that.
By early May of 2006, the Royals stood at 6-20, and owner David Glass was so frustrated, he promised "significant changes." The team would begin a thirteen game losing streak the next week. Glass had decided it was time to fire General Manager Allard Baird after six years on the job. Only the Royals couldn't even fire their General Manager properly. Baird was left twisting in the wind as Glass began reaching out to potential candidates to replace him.
One of the candidates David Glass reached out to was Dayton Moore, the young Assistant General Manager of the Braves. Moore had already turned down interviews with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cincinnati Reds and withdrew his name from consideration to replace Theo Epstein in Boston after an interview, and was considered one of the best prospective General Managers in the game. Why on earth would he take the job in Kansas City?
"Believe me, as bad as you think it might be in this organization," one Royals executive says anonymously, "things right now are much, much worse."
-Kansas City Star, May 30, 2006
After meeting with the Royals, Moore was ready to turn down the job offer. He had grown up a Royals fan, with family in the Wichita area, and had even watched the 1985 World Series from I-70 overlooking the stadium. But he was comfortable in Atlanta and doubted his own abilities to turn around a franchise friends were telling him was a "professional graveyard", according to his book "More than a Season." Rumors also swirled that he was requiring complete autonomy to run the baseball-side of the organization, and that was holding up negotiations, a charge the Glass family and Moore himself denied. If Dayton Moore turned them down, the Royals were prepared to hire a much less inspiring choice - retreads like former Tigers and Padres GM Randy Smith, or former Phillies GM Ed Wade.
Dayton Moore did some soul-searching, however, and decided the challenge would be worth it. He accepted the job on May 31 - ten years ago this week. He would begin work after the June amateur draft the next week. He did not know the disarray he was walking into. It began with a contentious press conference, with reporters wanting answers for why Royals management botched the firing of Allard Baird so badly. It did not take long for Moore to begin to regret his decision.
The press conference was scheduled for 1:00 p.m. at Kauffman Stadium. Shortly before it started, I did an interview with ESPN. The interview itself went fine, but after we finished, the cameraman said off the cuff, "Well, congratulations, you're the general manager of a minor league team that has yet to play in the major leagues. How do you feel?"
-Dayton Moore, More than a Season
Dayton asked for fans to be patient, to "trust the process" as he built the team from the ground up, changing the organization to build a team of homegrown stars. We often times disagreed with his methods, criticized his old school approach, and grew frustrated at the seemingly extended timetable of success. But in the end, Dayton Moore did deliver possibly the most exciting era of Royals baseball in franchise history, culminating in a championship in 2015.
This week will will feature a series looking back at the ten years of Dayton Moore, examining all aspects of his tenure. We will take a closer look at the trades, free agents, development, and overall organizational management of the Dayton Moore era. It has been far from a perfect decade of Dayton, but the recent results make some of the earlier struggles worth it.