One of the more unfortunate realities of baseball or sports in general is that people in baseball are more remembered for what they did recently rather than looking at the whole picture. Ivan Rodriguez was one of the best catchers in the history of the game in his prime, but his lackluster seasons in Washington will be burned into the mind of Millennial baseball fans. People will know Ichiro for his Miami Marlins seasons rather than his glory years in the Pacific Northwest with the Mariners. Like many professions, when it comes to players and managers in baseball, what is remembered is their last season, not necessarily their best.
And unfortunately, there will be some Royals fans who will look at Ned Yost’s tenure and base him on the past couple of years and his overall record. They will look at his .471 winning percentage and the past two seasons of 100-plus losses and say that Yost was “overrated” and was “past his prime” the past couple of years.
Maybe it was time for Ned to move on. After all, why would he announce his retirement now, with new ownership ready to take the reigns after the conclusion of the season? Did he think he was on the hot seat? Did he sense that the team was going in a direction that he didn’t have the energy for at this stage in his career?
Whatever the real reason for Yost’s retirement, this much is certain: Ned Yost was a manager the Royals deserved, delivered what Royals fans and Kansas City needed, and should be remembered for more than his win percentage when it comes to evaluating his tenure as Royals manager.
The Royals managerial history from 1990 on has been a complicated one. Prior to Ned Yost taking over in 2011, only Hal McRae (1993 and partial season of 1991) and Tony Pena (2003) posted winning seasons as Royals managers. It seemed like since McRrae, the Royals and their fan base had been cursed with bad manager after bad manager, with bad season after bad season being the primary consequence to the loyal Blue and White faithful in KC.
Take a look at the managers between McRae and Yost, and it’s nearly impossible to get through without vomiting in one’s mouth: Bob Boone, Tony Muser, Tony Pena, Buddy Bell, and who could forget…Trey Hillman (whose tenure looks even more embarrassing after the Danny Duffy story in the Star regarding the bullying and hazing going on in the clubhouse under Hillman’s watch). To say that Royals managers prior to Yost failed to inspire the club and the fans was putting it lightly. If anything, the managers during that mid 90’s through the early 2000’s made Royals fans feel as if their club was doomed, that the horrible string during that time period was karma for Don Denkinger’s call in the 1985 World Series.
The early years of Yost seemed to be more of the same. He took over a team and clubhouse mid-season from Hillman that had been totally adrift, and led them to a 55-72 record for the rest of the 2010 season. The next season, Yost won 71 games and improved that win total by one the season after in 2012. For Royals fans frustrated with year after year of manager futility, it seemed like Royals fans were eventually going to turn on Yost at any point in 2013. After all, the most success Yost experienced with the Brewers resulted him being asked to leave before the season was already over.
To think that Yost was going to lead the Royals to any kind of success, let alone a pennant or World Series title, seemed unrealistic, if not unthinkable.
And yet, in 2013, the Royals had a magical turnaround season, going 86-76, their first winning season in a decade. It was my first year in Kansas City as a resident, and as a closeted Royals fan most of my life (remember, I grew up in Northern California, mostly SF Giants territory), the experience was incredible. While I appreciated the 2014 and 2015 runs, the 2013 Royals season holds more sentimental value to me personally. The Royals were winning, respectable, and people came to the ballpark with hope and optimism rather than defeat and pessimism. I felt like I moved to Kansas City, being in the same city as a Major League Baseball team for the first time in my life, at exactly the right moment, as it was a wonderful distraction from a tough period in my life where I had to double-think if I made the right decision to move to KC in the first place due to a lot of personal struggles going on around that time.
The Kansas City Royals of 2013 helped get me through a rough patch in my life, and consequently got me hooked on Royals baseball for life. And yes, while the talent on the field did win the baseball games, Yost should deserve some respect for helping put it all together in 2013 after so many years of Royals failure.
From 2013-2017, the Royals didn’t win fewer than 80 games. Kauffman Stadium became one of the premiere experiences in Major League Baseball, as the wider baseball world began to appreciate what it meant to watch a baseball game not just at the K, but in Kansas City in general. And Yost gave the Royals a brand on the field: speed on the basepaths, excellent relief pitching, timely hitting, all to go along with big personalities that meshed on and off the field.
That is a credit to Yost and the culture he built in the clubhouse. Where Muser, Pena, Boone, and Hillman failed, Yost succeeded…to the point that it resulted in two pennants and a long-awaited World Series title in 2015 where for once, the Royals captured the attention of KC sports fans in the fall more than the Chiefs.
Yost was far from a perfect manager, as he certainly had his fair share of flaws that could drive the Kansas City faithful insane. He probably loved running the basepaths a bit too much. He stayed loyal to guys that he probably should have pulled the hook on quicker. Chris Getz, Brandon Moss, and Billy Hamilton were examples of guys he should have benched a whole lot sooner. He was old-school in how he loved the bunt, and he posted lineups that made sabermetrics-gurus cringe.
And the last two seasons certainly were rough for Royals fans. It was tough to see Yost trot out mediocre lineups as well as starters on the hill that seemed doom for failure before first pitch. His bullpen utilization in 2018 and 2019 seemed to frustrate fans who were used to his prowess in that area in 2014 and 2015. Yost certainly wasn’t responsible for all the losses over the last two seasons. Dayton Moore certainly deserves his fair share of credit for compiling a roster that seemed destined for mediocrity at best the last two seasons. At the same time, it was Yost who controlled the lineup card, made up the rotation, and called the shots when it came to the pen, and one can’t help but wonder what the past two seasons would have been like had the Royals been managed by someone who was a bit more open or new-school, unlike Yost.
And yet…his players loved him. And yet…the clubhouse remained stable in his tenure, even among the losses. And yet…fans, or at least the Royals fans who came to the ballpark everyday, loved him, as evidenced below:
Ned Yost will not retire with the best winning percentage in Royals manager history, but he will retire with the most wins for a Royals manager in the history of the franchise. Some will say that Yost was the beneficiary of a great run as well as patient ownership and management. But at the end of the day, Yost earned his years as Royals manager, warts and all. He gave Kansas City one of the best professional sporting moments in the city’s history: the World Series title and World Series parade. He helped make baseball in Kansas City relevant again, which seemed hard to think after so many years of lousiness in the 90’s and early 2000’s. He brought class and respect to a Royals organization that it lacked under previous Royals managers.
At the end of the day, he should be remembered for those things. He deserves a statue up there in the Royals Outfield Area with Dick Howser, the only other Royals manager who won a World Series title. Starting in 2020, Yost should receive a standing ovation every time he visits the K.
Maybe I’m being too optimistic. After all, who knows how many more losses this club will see this year, which will only fuel the fire of Yost critics who will say that him stepping down was a long-time coming.
I will be attending my last Royals game at the K of 2019 on Wednesday night as they take on the Braves.
You can bet your ass I will be standing up and applauding him when they announce his name as the “manager of your Kansas City Royals” when they announce starting lineups.
It’s the least I can do for all he’s done for the Royals and Kansas City since he took over about a decade ago.