It was the first stop of the Ned Yost Farewell Tour, a meeting with the media in the basement of Kauffman Stadium. It was, as expected, a tour de force… Classic Ned. It was unsentimental and unapologetic. For someone who professes not to like to talk about himself and won’t dive into the pop psychology of self-actualization or self-analysis, he remains a fascinating character.
“The ring that he’s wearing (referring to Mike Swanson the team’s director of media relations who introduced Yost and noted he was responsible for the World Series ring Swanson was wearing) is contributed by Sal, by Alex Gordon, me, Dayton, Chuck Hawk, Jeff Davenport, Pedro Grifol… You know, it was a team effort to do that. And I get a lot of times credit for what happened, but the funny thing about it is, you know, I didn’t really have that much to do with it.”
Naturally, Yost deflects any kind of credit for the back-to-back AL pennants and the World Series title. It was all about the players. It was always all about the players for Yost. And for him to share the credit is admirable, but let’s be real - he deserves a lion’s share of the credit here. It was the players who made it happen, but it was his team. He put his thumbprint on the clubhouse, the lineup, the bullpen. Yost kept the even keel during the highest pressure situations. He took the experience of Milwaukee and his firing in a postseason race in the last week and a half of the season (“I was pissed,” he said yesterday.) and turned that into what became a learning experience.
Of course his detractors will latch on to the final part of the above quote, about how he didn’t have much to do with the championship. His detractors would be wrong to focus on that.
In early 2013, the Royals struggled out of the gate. After losing to the St. Louis Cardinals for their 18th loss in 22 games Yost was asked what he was doing to hold his players accountable.
“What are you asking me to do? Take my belt off and spank them? Yell at them? Scream at them?” he asked.
It doesn’t read as a very Zen moment from the manager. It’s highly unlikely the Dalai Lama, for example, has ever threatened to remove the belt from around his robe and spank a wayward disciple. (Besides, his belt is probably made of some high quality yarn. That won’t even leave a mark.) Still, it gets to what could be described as the Tao of Yost. Once he reached Kansas City he decided that he would believe in his players. They were losing, but as long as they gave him everything they had between the lines, he was ok with it. Screaming wouldn’t change anything.
Like everyone else, Yost knew that once they weren’t able to get back to the postseason in 2016 or 2017, the window of contention was slamming shut. And while he thought about walking away from the game, he felt he should stick around. “I knew that I had to go through the tough times as a manager. Because I could take it. I could take the negative talk, all the stuff… I could take it. And I knew that I needed to be a part of getting us through that tough time,” he said.
After taking stock at the All-Star Break, Yost made his decision that the time was right. He says it’s based on where the organization is currently, two years into The Process 2.0. He cited the four championships won in the lower minors this year, along with a core of talent in the big leagues. While it’s ok to be skeptical about when the next window of contention will slide open, it’s not going to be for several years. Yost, I believe, knows this. Maybe they win 70 games next year. Maybe they’ll hover around the 100 loss mark for the third consecutive season.
Honestly, Yost could have walked away at any time after the World Championship in 2015 and it would have been a deserved retirement. But of course it made sense to chase another. And then once the core departed following the 2017 season, it wouldn’t have been kosher to walk away at that moment. He would never allow his successor to take that kind of heat.
“I just feel this team is in a position where now, the worst of it… Is over,” he said.
Ned Yost is a standup guy.
One of the more epic Yost stories (or more like #Yosted) comes from the second game of the 2014 season when Yost allowed Alcides Escobar to hit in the eighth inning with a runner on second in a one-run game against the Tigers. Most managers would’ve pulled Escobar, who had been the worst regular hitter in the AL the previous season. But Yost believed in his shortstop at the plate and insisted that making a move in that situation would get in Escobar’s “dome.” It wasn’t about winning a game in April. It was about winning in the heat of a pennant race, when the pressure was on. It was about confidence.
He was asked about that patience on Tuesday. “I just believed in them.”
Fast forward eighteen months that game in Detroit and Escobar is leading off in the postseason. It shouldn’t have worked but it did. Did that moment against the Tigers have anything to do with that? It’s impossible to say. But what we do know for certain is Escobar hit .478/.481/.652 in the six game ALCS against Toronto and won the MVP. And then he got into the Mets’ collective domes with his patented “Esky Ambush.”
The Third Baseman Tree was another bizarre, yet ultimately effective defense of one of his players, in this case Mike Moustakas. It should be noted that often the Royals had to stand by their developing players. They were all-in on The Process. There was no Plan B ready to step in should someone like Moustakas fail. These were their players, for better or worse. And there was a lot of “worse” in the early days.
Moustakas was lifted for a pinch hitter in the ninth inning of the Wild Card Game. The next year, he was hitting second in Yost’s lineup and posted a 123 wRC+ en route to the championship.
Yost was a riverboat gambler for about a year and a half, consistently hitting on 18 and never going bust.
At the press conference to introduce James Shields and Wade Davis in 2012, Yost told the assembled media that, in an effort to avoid the heat that came with being the Royals manager, he would sometimes give his name as Frank when he ordered his morning Starbucks. He felt the arrival of the two pitchers would allow him to shed the pseudonym.
Times have changed. Pennants and championships and parades will do that. Nobody feels that more than Yost.
“Everybody understands what we’re doing. It’s a great baseball town. It’s a great baseball town that is baseball savvy and baseball wise and they see what we’re trying to do,” he said on Tuesday. “They understand it’s about building a team that plays hard every single day… It’s a very special baseball town.”
It’s a complicated legacy. That’s going to happen when a manager has been in charge for almost nine full seasons in a market like Kansas City. There are ups and downs. Tactical errors (“I outsmarted myself.”) and lineups that infuriate. No manager is perfect. It’s never as simple as The Dunce and the Chessmaster as the Wall Street Journal portrayed the 2014 ALCS managerial matchup between Yost and known managerial genius Buck Showalter. People were demanding that Yost should be fired in the middle of the Wild Card Game for crying out loud. An eighth inning rally and another 12th inning comeback flipped the narrative so hard the Royals couldn’t lose. They won eight consecutive postseason games.
Remember the exhaustion you felt after Alex Gordon was stranded at third base? How, after 15 excruciating postseason games, the club had come so tantalizingly close to the ultimate? Think about how the players and staff felt. Then remember how they got back up, hit the reset button and did it all over again. Only this time, they won the whole thing.
Yost doesn’t get enough credit.
Dayton Moore gives Yost credit. For Moore, and for Yost, baseball is about the relationships. On Tuesday, Moore touched on Yost’s toughness and his positive energy in their first encounters in Atlanta. He talked about getting reacquainted with Yost at a funeral service for a colleague in the offseason of 2007 when the Royals were looking for a manager.
“Ned asked, ‘What kind of a manager are you looking for?’” Moore recalled. “And I said, ‘Ned, we’re looking for somebody just like you.’”
When Yost became available and was ready to get back into the game, Moore jumped at the chance to bring him on board and said he brought a breath of fresh air to a franchise that needed it. Moore enjoyed working with Yost, talking to him after the wins and the losses. They weren’t always on the same page, but the relationship was built on something that was strong.
Moore cried on Tuesday.
And you understood.
“When we won the World Championship, I didn’t get a drop of champagne on me from that celebration,” Yost recalled on Tuesday. “I wasn’t in that celebration.”
But he got something better. He got a Salvy Splash.