The Kansas City Royals won the 2014 American League pennant, barely losing the World Series. The 2015 Royals did win the World Series. It had been Kansas City’s first major championship in 30 years, since the Royals last did it in 1985.
There’s a tweet that sticks out to me to this day regarding the Royals. Kansas City turned out for the Royals during those years like never before. Anyone in the metro could feel the energy. It was electric. The two loudest moments I have ever experienced at a baseball game was immediately following James Shields’ first pitch strike in the 2014 Wild Card Game and immediately after Salvador Perez’s grounder to third skipped by the outstretched glove of Josh Donaldson.
This tweet acknowledged Kansas City’s relentless passion for the Royals in the sweetest way possible: by comparing them, favorably, against St. Louis and Cardinals fans.
Observed from time there during the ALCS and watching last night: Kansas City is the baseball town St. Louis thinks it is.— Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) October 28, 2015
Getting into the history of why most everyone outside of St. Louis despises both the Cardinals and their fandom would take too long, but the tl;dr version is this: the Cardinals fandom has been spoiled by years of good fortune, is somehow both boastful and personally insulted when others react negatively to said boasting, is generally insecure, and to this day pushes a navel gazing and vaguely racist narrative about playing the game the right way. The ultimate tl;dr is that Cardinals fans call themselves the Best Fans in Baseball. That’s a level of arrogance and tone deafness that is simply astounding.
I would be remiss in pointing out that there are, in fact, good Cardinals fans who love the city and love the team just like lots of people in lots of cities. A friend of mine got his dream job in the employ of the Cardinals organization, and he’s a St. Louis guy who loves the Blues and loved the Rams when they were in town. Good Cardinals fans are everywhere, in fact.
But the prime reason why there are so many Cardinals fans at all is because of the strength of their organization. See, while Kansas City might be the baseball town that St. Louis thinks it is, it is not because of their organization: the Cardinals are the organization the Royals think they are.
I don’t mean about culture, not necessarily. I don’t mean about history. I mean about winning. When it comes down to pure, cold numbers, the Cardinals organization is what the Royals organization wants to be and just isn’t
Just take a look at the St. Louis Cardinals franchise page on Baseball-Reference. See all those winning percentages over .500? That’s quite something. Since the year 2000, the Cardinals have suffered one—one!—losing season. They have made the playoffs 12 times in that span, four of which resulted in a trip to the World Series, two of which resulted in the Cardinals being crowned world champions.
In response, look at the Royals franchise page. One two-year spark in the sea of nothingness before and after.
It is ridiculous to look much beyond the last two decades or so. Those in charge in the 70s, 80s, and 90s are no longer here. Those players are no longer here. The game has changed drastically. It is not the same.
What does matter is that the Cardinals have sustained a large, passionate fanbase because they are incredibly well run. They win, all the time, and that is the single greatest way to attract fans, as it should be. The Cardinals have extensive history, yes, but they have, in the strictest possible terms, a culture of winning. The expectation of both Cardinals fans and the Cardinals front office is that the team makes the postseason and competes every year. That, not the bells and whistles and BFIB acronyms and insisting that everyone knows what high school you went to, is the core of a winning culture.
As GM, Moore is convicted of the importance of that winning culture. A quick glance through a 2017 MLB.com interview yields phrases and buzzwords that illuminate his process: Model organization. Creating a culture and environment. Changing the environment. Importance of winning. If these sound like things like the Cardinals front office would say, you’d be right.
Here is the hard, uncomfortable truth: Moore and his front office have shown an ability to construct a winning baseball team out of nothing. Yet, despite Moore’s 13th anniversary as Royals GM looming this summer, he and his front office have shown absolutely zero evidence that they can create a consistent, sustainable winner.
This is not to say that Moore cannot do so. This is merely to point out that the Royals’ success has set a bar, and that bar is significantly higher than Moore’s overall tenure. Making two playoffs in 13 years is not enough. It would not be for the Cardinals, the organization the Royals are seeking to emulate. The Royals organization rightly knows that it isn’t enough to be a flash in the pan. The Cardinals has shown that it is possible not to be.
It might be the height of irony that Moore may have set the bar too high for himself in the long term. But it is necessary. Neither the Royals nor their fans ought to lose sight that things should be different. Better. That’s what successful teams do. The Royals, arguably, aren’t there yet.