As Kansas City and Chiefs fans recovered from the epic hangover that was their epic 51-31 win over the Houston Texans, in which they came back from a 24-0 first quarter deficit, Major League Baseball issued this news drop to further put salt in the wound of Houston sports fans Monday morning:
If the news was not bad enough for Houston sports fans who not only had to deal with the Texans collapse a day earlier, but their World Series loss in November as well, this news report later surfaced regarding Luhnow and Hinch’s futures as General Manager and Manager, respectively:
The decision from Jim Crane is the start of the end of what may have been the craziest scandal we have seen in baseball, maybe sports in general. It’s up there with the steroid scandal of the late 90’s and early 2000’s and of course “Deflate-Gate” in the NFL, but no “alleged” steroid users have been formally banned from the game, and the Patriots (including head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady) did not see this kind of fallout from their own “cheating” scandal. To see the Astros not only get penalized by Major League Baseball, but see repercussion in their own organization could mean the end of the Astros dynasty as soon as this Spring. (Though there are some in baseball circles that feel that the suspensions and $5 million fine are not enough.)
It does not seem like too long ago when the Astros were the laughing stock of baseball. Yes, it’s easy to remember the 2017 World Series title, the near 2019 title, and of course, the Royals’ epic comeback in Minute Maid Park in Game 4. For many baseball fans with short term-memory, the Astros have been synonymous with excellence in baseball since 2015. They were seen as the mold in terms of how to rebuild the right way: by drafting well and using analytics to mold their roster around their young talent.
However, before the Astros took the mantle of “best organization in baseball” (until the cheating scandal of course), they were a mess. From 2009-2014, the Astros hadn’t won more than 76 games and lost 100 or more games for three straight seasons (from 2011-2013). Houston suffered with young talent struggling out of the gate (and completely in some cases…don’t forget about Brett Wallace), poor managers (who can forget Cecil Cooper, Brad Mills and Bo Porter, after all?) and a transition to the American League West that seemed asinine at first. (At the time, the West was much stronger than the NL Central.) As the Royals started to be competitive in 2013, only to see that streak of competitiveness gradually decline starting in 2016, the Astros went from Major League’s worst to an ascent to the Major League’s best by 2015.
It’s a shame that the Royals and Astros really only had one-to-two years (2015 for sure, and maybe 2016 slightly during the regular season) where they shared the competitive spotlight in the American League.
For many Royals fans, to see Houston go from “worst” to “first” from 2015-on was all kinds of frustrating, mainly because they did it in a way that was the antithesis of general manager Dayton Moore and even manager Ned Yost. While Moore and Yost’s style of baseball brought home pennants and a World Series title to KC, it also stunted long-term success. The Royals paid for bad contracts in free agency (Ian Kennedy, the return of Joakim Soria, and Brandon Moss being the biggest example), held on to the wrong guys too long (Alex Gordon), and did not seem to get great return on guys they knew were going to leave (Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain).
Yes, the Royals are a small market club and the game is set up to make being competitive difficult for clubs of the Royals’ market size. At the same time, as the game began to become more analytical and metrics-based, it felt like the Royals valued “nostalgia” more than “data.” For Royals fans like myself, to see the Astros, who were irrelevant for almost a decade from the late 2000’s to the early 2010’s, suddenly surge to prominence thanks to smart, analytically-driven decision making…well…it did not make losing seasons like 2018 and 2019 any easier to stomach.
I mean the Astros were winning with scouting and anlytical decision making. So were the Rays. So were the Athletics. Why couldn’t the Royals be in the same boat? Why couldn’t Moore worry more about scouting and Yost focus on being a modern day manager instead of worrying about the “war on porn”? Yes, Moore and Yost brought a World Series title, but two years of competitiveness weathered into back-to-back 100-loss seasons and baseball agnosticism in KC once again by end of the 2010’s.
The Royals should be better than that. Royals fans deserve a consistent winner that even the most casual of baseball fans could get into on an annual basis. They should have followed that Astros model, much like many “cutting edge” clubs were starting to do at the end of the 2010’s.
It’s amazing how situations like the Luhnow and Hinch firing can make you re-think things just like that.
I have mixed feelings about Moore and Yost in KC. I loved Yost’s personality, but I wondered if his undying loyalty to certain guys prevented the club from truly progressing, especially in the post-World Series seasons. As for Moore? I wondered if his care for the civic aspects of being a sports figure in Kansas City (which he does a solid job of) got in the way of him doing his job at time as general manager, especially in the post-World Series glow. Would he be better at scouting and evaluating if he spent more time with his team and less time doing press engagements talking about the “new drug?”
And yet, despite my frustrations with the Royals as a competitive baseball team, as an organization, the Royals have constantly been solid citizens both in the local and national media. It’s one of the reasons I have endured so much to this club even during these lean years. Sure, Moore could have gotten better players in free agency or in the draft, but the players he has called up have not only been great role models, but they also endear themselves to the fans on the field…even if they produce mixed results.
Just think, the Yankees or Red Sox or even Astros would have crucified a Top-5 pick like Bubba Starling taking as long as he did to make it to the Majors. Mike Francesa would have roasted Starling on WFAN morning radio like Jesus Montero if Starling been drafted and developed in the Yankees system. Instead, Starling is welcomed, applauded and greeted with hope, not pessimism, though all evidence points that fans probably should fall in the latter (based on his track record).
You cannot knock Moore for the image he carries, even if it may be over-saturated in Christian, perhaps Conservative shtick (which of course plays to the Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Iowa-area sports fans). Moore really has done nothing to embarrass the organization, and that is not necessarily an easy feat to do, especially in this day and age where winning trumps all. It’s a reason why I consider myself a Royals fan, but have failed to really grasp the Chiefs fully as a KC transplant. Yes, certain Royals have been good and bad, but they have always represented the team well off the field, and the team has always honored the game and played it the right way.
Can we honestly say that about all the Chiefs players? I mean…sure you got the Choir Boy and Savior Patrick Mahomes…but remember Kareem Hunt? Even Tyreek Hill has a lot of baggage that has seemingly been forgotten because he can score touchdowns.
It’s hypocritical of KC sports fans who care about “champions of character” and then turn a blind eye to spousal abuse (and don’t get me started on the whole “racist” imagery you see at Chiefs games on a regular basis). But I am not going to worry about that now. This is a Royals blog and the Chiefs are on the cusp of the Super Bowl, so I’m going to let sleeping dogs lie.
But while I feel uncomfortable with the Chiefs on occasion, I have never felt that way with the Royals. I am proud to be a fan of the boys in blue and white, and a lot of that has to do with the teams and players Moore has assembled, even if I hate to admit it.
I can’t imagine what it would be like if the Royals had something similar to the Astros situation happen. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to know that the 2014 and 2015 pennants and 2015 World Series title were tainted. It would kill Kansas City sports fans. The World Series parade was one of the greatest moments of my life as a sports fan, and to think that it would have been compromised due to cheating would have made me question everything I know as a sports fan…and I know many Royals fans would share this sentiment.
That’s what Astros fans are dealing with now. They went from one of the greatest turnaround success stories in baseball to one of the most “hated” franchises in the game in the span of a few months during the playoffs, when all the cheating information started to come to light. Just think about that. The Astros were more hated than the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers and Cardinals…that is quite some feat.
Just imagine if the Royals were in that discussion? It would devastate the city as well as the collective psyche of Royals fans in general. The Royals may not always win, but when they do so, they do it in a way that endears them to the common baseball fan. 2014 proved that as did 2015. And it will come again…whenever that should be.
Moore certainly has had his problems as Royals general manager. And these next few years will be key in terms of whether he is indeed the right GM for the Royals going forward.
But I’ll admit this: Moore has always tried to do right for the city and Royals fans overall. He may not be the most successful general manager in baseball history or the best analytical one (frustrating for a numbers guy like myself), but he has done what he’s needed to do to help Royals fans be proud to cheer on this team at the K each and every year, regardless of record.
I’m sure Astros fans will take that from a GM now, especially since it will only go downhill for them from here.