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Ned Yost, Royals legend

He’s a World Series winner, has the most wins in team history...and the most losses. He’s a complicated legend.

MLB: World Series-Parade
Nov 3, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost (3) waves to the crowd at the World Series parade. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

The 2010 Royals were a clown show, largely because their manager to start the season was a clown show. After beating the Indians 6–4 on a Thursday afternoon, Trey Hillman was mercifully fired and the Ned Yost era began. Many of the voices in response to the move were both positive in that Hillman was in over his head but Yost wasn’t the answer. After all, he’d been fired in late September with his team on the verge of a playoff appearance. That’s not great. But we were also told he was a good manager to usher in some development, which would be necessary as the farm system was improving rapidly and would bear fruit very soon.

In those first few weeks, I think I personally loved Yost so much because he was actually a professional. The circus that surrounded Hillman was gone and I found myself greatly enjoying actual baseball phrases like “Banny was out there banging strikes.” The Royals won the first game of his tenure and went 6–2 in his first eight games. Problem solved, right? Well no. Of course not. They went 55–72 in the final 127 games of the season following Hillman’s departure and then got notably worse after the season when the Royals traded ace Zack Greinke to the Brewers in exchange for some unknown components.

And that’s when the real Ned Yost tenure began. The 2011 team didn’t fully start off as the future world champions, but it certainly got there. And still, in the days leading up to the season, Yost made a move that had many scratching heads. Alex Gordon, a subpar big leaguer to that point and in the midst of a position change to the outfield, would be the teams number three hitter. Gordon was a career .244/.328/.405 hitter to that point. Worse yet, he had hit .222/.319/.365 over the previous two seasons with injury issues and the aforementioned position change. Gordon had said in the offseason that he was going to dominate, but why was Yost giving him such a prominent position in the batting order?

Before you could say #Yosted, we had our answer. Yost, as he did so many times after that, just saw something. Gordon was just 2 for 13 with a double in the first three games, but then got hits in 19 straight games after that. Through April, he was hitting .339/.391/.541 and playing a ridiculously good left field. He hit a little tailspin in May when Yost decided to try something with him again and with Eric Hosmer up from the minor leagues and ready to be thrust into the middle of the order, Gordon was moved up to the leadoff spot. It was unorthodox. It didn’t make a ton of sense in a traditional baseball sense, but Yost put a guy who worked walks and got on base in a position in the lineup where he could utilize that skill the best.

Much like his first game of the season, Gordon went hitless that first day in the leadoff spot. But he slowly came around. When it was all said and done, he hit at the top of the order for the remainder of the season, never starting anywhere else. He hit .305/.383/.532 from the top of the lineup. Alex Gordon absolutely saved his career, but Ned Yost’s faith played a really big role.

During that season, we saw the core of the 2015 champions find their way to the big leagues. Think about some of the names that came up that season and made their debut, either in the big leagues or with the Royals. Eric Hosmer, Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, Lorenzo Cain, Danny Duffy, Tim Collins and Kelvin Herrera all stepped foot on the field as Royals for the first in 2011. Jarrod Dyson and Greg Holland had made their debuts a year earlier. Those 10 players played HUGE roles on two of the best Royals teams of the last quarter century.

And Yost presided over it all.

He infuriated people for so many reasons. He often talked about how guys need to hit in pressure situations when it doesn’t matter to learn how to do it when it does. Alcides Escobar consistently batted late in games in situations that dictated a pinch hitter. But he rarely, if ever, did send up a pinch hitter. I didn’t get it at the time. To be honest, I still don’t. But Escobar has an ALCS MVP trophy at home and, well, I don’t.

Sometimes Ned was a little rough with people. One of the things I’ve grown to love about Ned is his “no, maybe, yes” answer. We don’t have many more opportunities to listen to it, but whenever a reporter is on to him and asks him a question, he immediately denies it. I remember late in the 2015 season, the Royals had made Ben Zobrist and Gordon the top of their order. It just made sense to finally drop Escobar from the leadoff spot because he wasn’t producing and they had two guys who would be perfect for it.

Someone asked him if he was considering moving Esky back to the top of the lineup before the playoffs started because the team was struggling. Ned’s answer began with him denying the idea entirely. Of course not, he’d say (or something like that), his team was a division winner and that was the best lineup. Then he responded with something that said he’d actually thought about it, but wasn’t sure what he was going to do. And then the next day, Escobar was hitting leadoff. The Royals won five in a row and then won three series in a row and then had a pretty fun parade and it wasn’t really mentioned again, but that’s a Yost classic.

Yost had a lot of complaints about his tactical managing. He famously didn’t pitch Kelvin Herrera in the sixth inning of a game against the Red Sox because the sixth was Aaron Crow’s inning. Crow gave up a grand slam to Daniel Nava and the Red Sox won by four. Crow pitched three more times in his career after that. Yes, twice in the sixth, but Yost learned. He had a trio of relievers in Herrera, Wade Davis and Holland that he needed to lean on heavily. And he did throughout the playoffs. Some would argue it took until he had enough good players to make him a good manager, but I’d argue that’s true of pretty much any manager.

I’d also argue that those people are probably right. Yost isn’t a great tactical manager. He may even be bad. But the job of a manager, especially in the American League, is less about the strategy and more about the actual managing of the people. I mean, it’s right there in the job title. And that’s where Yost excels. He manages his people exceptionally well and I don’t think we’ve heard anything about any player who has anything but great things to say about their time playing for him. He has always been about protecting his players above all else and working to prepare them for bigger and better things at all times. And it’s worth noting that the Royals in their very short prime were one of the most prepared teams out there on a daily basis. Maybe it was because of the people surrounding Yost and not because of Yost himself, but he allowed them to do their work, so he at least deserves some of the credit.

In my mind, for all of the wins he may have given away with a ill-timed bunt here (they’re almost all ill-timed, by the way) or a misguided pitching change there, he probably got them back by getting the most out of his team playing for him. Would the Royals have been able to make the playoffs in 2013 with another manager at the healm? Maybe. They missed by six games and were a ridiculous 8–20 in May. They were 0–8 in one-run games that month. Could someone else have gotten them to 4–4 in those games and put them closer to a push in the last couple weeks? It’s certainly possible, and I won’t pretend to say I didn’t think about that at the time.

And fast forward again to the 2016/2017 offseason when Yordano Ventura tragically passed away in the car accident. I can’t imagine another manager at the healm of this team as they navigated through the emotions of that in spring training and throughout the season. Yost, having the player’s ultimate respect and his standing in the game, was able to help the team better than almost anyone I could possibly imagine. NedYo was right for the job.

In the end, Yost ended up a great fit for the Royals even though he was the imperfect choice. He helped to continue the development of the best farm system in the history of whatever after they reached the big leagues. There were bumps in the road. But they got where they needed to be, and on the world’s biggest stage, Yost was about as good as it got. The Royals were 22–9 in the 2014/2015 postseasons, and the manager has to get at least some of that credit. In his nine plus seasons in Kansas City, Yost went from angry to cantankerous to downright fun at times. Certain reporters might not necessarily agree with the fun, but a lot definitely would.

Down to the very end of his tenure, Yost cared more about the organization than himself. He could have retired after 2017 when the vast majority of the World Series team had all departed. Nobody would have blamed him. After a couple disappointing seasons in which the Royals missed the playoffs, his record with the team sat at 629–632, much more respectable than the 744–836 it is today heading into his now final homestand. But he wanted to help set the next manager up for success rather than dump a rebuild on them. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic tweeted an anecdote from Doug Melvin, former Brewers GM where Yost said he’d rather take the losses on his record than hinder development of two of the top young prospects on the Brewers. This is who he is and has always been.

No, the final record isn’t anything special. The decisions were easy to criticize. The demeanor wasn’t always easy to love. But there are two flags flying on top of the Hall of Fame building that are because of two teams he managed. And the difference between the situation he took over in 2010 from a manager in way over his head and the one that will be there in 2020 is night and day. Yost is a big reason for that. He has more wins than anyone in Royals history. He also has more losses. He also has the most World Series appearances of any manager in Royals history. It’s a complicated tenure to dissect, but I will miss Ned Yost in that dugout.

One quick story. I was first credentialed in 2014. I was in the clubhouse a few times, attended Yost’s pre-game presser a few times and even asked a few questions here and there. I remember once, I specifically asked if Greg Holland would be available that night because he’d pitched a couple days in a row. Yost told me he had no reason to give me that answer (and then eventually said he probably wasn’t unless available unless it was a true emergency, classic Ned). He never remembered my name. Then came ALDS Game Three against the Angels. With a television crew hanging around, I was standing in the clubhouse waiting on, I think, Billy Butler to have a minute to talk. Up walks Yost. All of a sudden, the guy knew who I was, asked how my day job was and it felt like an honest to goodness connection for 20 seconds. Was it the cameras? Was he just happier that the weight was off his back? Hell if I know.

I’m honestly not even sure what it all means. And I’m not sure if it makes Yost more likable or less likable. But it sure is a story. It’s kind of like Yost’s time as manager of the Royals. I’m not entirely sure how great it was or how horrible it was, but there sure were some highs and there sure were some lows. And whether he’s replaced by Pedro Grifol (yes please), Mike Mathney (insert Michael Scott “no” gif here) or someone else, I have a feeling the lyrics to Big Yellow Taxi might become relevant.

“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”

I, for one, will miss Ned Yost on the Royals bench. Here’s to the man who made #Yosted go from bad to good to probably bad again. Thanks for everything, Ned.