Dayton Moore brought a championship to Kansas City in 2015. While it had only been two years since Sporting Kansas City snagged the MLS Cup, the Kansas City Royals had not won a championship in 30 years, and the Kansas City Chiefs haven’t competed for a title for even longer. Moore’s Royals came within one hit of tying the seventh game of the 2014 World Series, too.
Legacy is a tricky and always changing thing, but Moore’s legacy as the Royals General Manager legacy will probably always be viewed through the lens of a savior, of a builder, of more broadly someone who revitalized the Royals from their decades-long slumber.
Winning a championship is great. It is the pinnacle of sports achievement, and the flags won from those championship runs fly forever.
But winning a championship is not the only mark of success, nor should it be.
This is partly because winning a championship is not always possible; sometimes, events conspire against your team. Sometimes Kevin Durant hits free agency the exact moment that the NBA Player’s Association cleared a large jump in the salary cap, allowing the best team in the league to add the second-best player in the league without giving anything else up and thereby wrecking top-end league parity for years. Sometimes your rival happens to be Michael Phelps, best swimmer of all time.
And if winning a championship is the only true check mark for a successful team, well, then the league is almost exclusively comprised primarily of failures and frauds every single season. One team out of 30 wins the World Series, meaning that the Royals’ three-decade championship drought was actually plenty reasonable. To examine some of the great team runs of recent history—the Verlander-Cabrera Detroit Tigers, the Shields-Longoria Tampa Bay Rays, the Hamilton-Kinsler Texas Rangers—and to say they were unmitigated failures because they didn’t win it all is to ignore how the mere hope of a championship can transform a franchise.
There is a continuum of results in sports. At one end is winning a championship, yes. But excellent teams that compete deep into the playoff aren’t that far away from that end. And, moving further down the continuum, perennial competitiveness is valuable and successful in and of itself. For instance, the St. Louis Cardinals, one of the most historically successful baseball teams in the league, haven’t made the playoffs since 2015 and haven’t won a playoff series since 2014. They will likely be on the outside looking in again this year. But their impressive attendance has held steady because they have fielded competitive and interesting teams for a long time.
On the opposite end of the continuum, however, is what the 2018 Kansas City Royals are doing. What they are doing is lots and lots of losing. Few games are competitive. Few games are interesting at all. Almost none of them are particularly entertaining. And it would be sort of ok if it was intentional, because small market teams have smaller competitive windows than the large market teams do.
But it’s not intentional, and no one in the Royals front office saw this coming. In fact, per Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star, the Royals front office is “stunned” by the record of this year’s Royals, who are on pace to lose more than 25 additional games than the front office projected.
This season is frankly unacceptable. Moore is not on the hot seat and his job isn’t in danger, but if we’re honest it probably should be. That’s because Moore’s own philosophy suggests that the Royals’ aspirations are higher than just putting together a few good seasons. The subtitle of Moore’s book More Than a Season is Building a Championship Culture, and in the prologue Moore wrote this (emphasis mine):
We wanted to not only build a championship team in Kansas City, but also do it the right way. We wanted an organization that would make everyone who works or plays for the Royals and all those fans who support the ballclub proud. I can’t put a number to all of the times I’ve heard a comment such as, ‘My kids have never experienced winning baseball in Kansas City like I did in the 1970s and ‘80s. I’m looking forward to the day when they can enjoy the Royals the Way I did as a child.’
The 1970s and 1980s Royals weren’t just a pair of World Series teams and flotsam: the Royals were a legitimate powerhouse. In those two decades, Kansas City fielded 14 winning teams and went to the playoffs seven times, culminating in an American League Championship in 1980 and a World Series win in 1985.
The current Royals just can’t compete with that.
Moore took the Royals’ GM job in the middle of 2006, so he did not have control in the construction of that roster. But he did for every roster since 2007. This year is his 12th season as Royals GM, and he has provided a grand total of three winning seasons with one self-congratulatory book about them. The Royals have been to the playoffs twice in a dozen years. Most egregiously, Moore has personally overseen a Royals squad that racked up 90 or more losses six times (this year included as one, because it is just July and they have already lost 61).
The worst part, of course, is that this rebuild is just getting started. Next year is far more likely than not to eclipse 90 losses again, and 2020 is more likely than not to continue the trend. What if it takes longer than everyone previously thought—baseball doesn’t always do what you want it to—and 2021 is also a bad one?
Championships do not and should not validate a front office regime for eternity. By Moore’s own admission, part of his goal is to put together a respectable organization.
But let me ask you: what ‘respectable’ organization accidentally loses more than 110 games just three short years since winning a World Series?
What ‘respectable’ organization can only scrape together three winning seasons in a decade and a half?
What ‘respectable’ organization refuses to eat salary in crucial trades in order to save money, but is the only MLB team publically floating the idea of signing a convicted child molester because talent is paramount?
Moore’s legacy is showing cracks, and he’s earned the opportunity to repair them. But part of his appeal is that he supposedly brought Kansas City out of the dark ages. This year’s Royals are on pace to lose 113 games with no relief in sight. Out of the dark ages? We’re watching an utterly terrible team play baseball and looking back to the good ol’ days when the Royals were champions. Sure sounds like 2005 all over again, doesn’t it?