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SAM MELLINGER What Royals GM Dayton Moore really meant by his ‘World Series’ comment

  • The Kansas City Star
  • Published Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013, at 2:24 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at 11:09 a.m.

Dayton Moore said something stupid. This stupid thing he said will hang on him. His words will be mocked.

To some, Moore has already been the Royals’ general manager too long. Seven years already. It’ll be eight in June, and during that time the Pirates and Rays and A’s have won more while spending less. The Indians have bottomed out and made the playoffs again. The Royals’ highpoint, so far, is this recently completed 86-win season that was five games from a playoff spot and seven games from the division championship.

And with all of that, he said this stupid thing in a room full of reporters and rolling cameras and open notebooks and a live listening audience during a news conference on Tuesday:

“In a small way, I feel like we’ve won the World Series.”

Those words beg to be mocked and, in fact, started being mocked before he even finished the sentence. For fans who would prefer Moore gone, those words are a gift. They make for the easiest jokes. Some of them are actually funny, and it’s absolutely true that there is too much self-congratulation from the Royals right now.

But look a little deeper, beyond the easy jokes. There is an interesting point he was trying to make. After the reporters and cameras and notebooks left the news conference, I hung around to give Moore the chance to clarify what he meant.

He quickly realized he shouldn’t have used those words — World Series — and articulated himself more clearly.

I tried to get right to the point.

You shouldn’t have said that “World Series” thing. It won’t look good.

Moore thought for a moment. He nodded his head. He left the Braves to come here seven years ago. They had just won their 14th straight division championship. They played in five World Series, winning one. He was the logical replacement whenever general manager John Schuerholz retired from the Braves. Why would Moore leave?

He officially took over the Royals in June 2006. They lost 100 games that season for the third year in a row. It was the first time Moore had ever been with a team that lost that much, and he hated it. He was cranky. He was short with people. Maybe he didn’t realize how good he had it with the Braves. Maybe he regretted giving all of it up.

If you’ve followed the Royals for a while, you know what a mess they were back then. Outdated computer systems, insufficient staff, the wrong priorities and no real plan on how to get better. Moore began to understand why friends tried to talk him out of taking the job in Kansas City. The Royals were an industry joke, a hopeless situation.

But after convincing owner David Glass to spend more in scouting and player development, Moore began to guide a change. The Royals drafted the best players available, not just the ones who would sign. They added scouts. Added farm teams. Brought back some pride and organizational self-esteem. Built what most agreed was the best minor-league system in baseball and, this year, won more games than any Royals team since 1989.

For most of two decades, the Royals were a joke nationally and locally. A generation of kids grew up knowing the Royals as nothing but losers. Reliever Aaron Crow, for instance, is a Topeka kid who can’t remember the Royals ever being good. When he played video games, he usually chose the Mariners. Now, the other day, a season-ticket holder stopped Moore in the airport and said he saw grown men crying during the Royals’ last home game.

This is what is on Moore’s mind when he talks about being proud of what the Royals have done the last seven years. They’re in a place where winning is possible again, and considering where they started, that’s no small feat. Moore bumbled his words, said it in a way that virtually guarantees his point won’t be heard through the jokes, and this can’t be said enough: It was a stupid thing to say.

But this is what he meant.

“What I’m saying, I mean, look, ‘World Series’ is the wrong term,” he says. “But I feel very, very good about where our organization is. It means a lot to me. You have to know how I’m wired. The only reason I’m a general manager is that this is my boyhood team. It’s a special place for me.…

“I had a strong relationship with my grandmother, and she loved the Royals. When our games are on at night, I picture my grandmother and people of her generation loving and tuning into this game. I know how important it is to their lives.…

“And it means a lot to me that little boys want to grow up and be baseball players so they can be like Sal Perez or Eric Hosmer. That means a lot to me. That means everything to me. That means more to me than winning a World Series.”

There’s that term again. World Series. I ask if he really means that.

“Without a doubt.”

I tell him I want to quote him on that.

“Yeah. Without a doubt. I want to win a World Series, and I expect us to compete to win a World Series. So that needs to be printed as well. But it means a lot to me that our fans are engaged with the team and love baseball.”

Moore points to a picture of George Brett hanging on the wall.

“That guy right there, the fact he would get back in uniform for us means a ton. I don’t think he’d have done it for everybody. I think he appreciates the passion with which we’re trying to build this thing.”

There is a short pause.

“Look, I don’t know if Ned’s the perfect manager. But I know one thing: After the last game in Chicago, the players freaking love Ned Yost. It’s not the courtesy fist bump or whatever. (Hosmer) comes up from a distance and gives him one of these (big hugs). Same thing with (Mike Moustakas), and other guys. Sal says, ‘I love Ned Yost.’ That’s important to me.”

The Royals lost most of a generation of potential fans by dissolving into a whimpering mess for most of the 1990s and 2000s. For anyone younger than 30, the Royals have always been losers. Maybe there was a year where Carlos Beltran caught someone’s attention, but then the next year he was traded.

Now, Perez is an All-Star and signed with the Royals for six more years.

This is Moore’s point, and it’s valid.

The reality is that he’s in a results business, and in a job where men don’t usually get seven years to build a winning team. So from Moore, it sounds like premature celebration. It sounds small-minded. It sounds a bit delusional.

The Royals had a nice 2013 season. Every indication is that this is a team very much on the come. You see people wearing their old Royals stuff again, and you see others buying new Royals stuff. The television broadcasts set several ratings records. Underneath the debris of two disastrous decades of baseball are thousands of Kansas Citians willing to fall in love with the Royals again.

Anyone who has talked with Moore, or who’s even watched batting practice with him knows how much he wants to win. Still, there’s a problem with Moore’s message that goes beyond his word choice. The Royals are better positioned than they have been in decades, but they’ve been so bad for so long that their fans have a well-earned skepticism.

So when fans hear the general manager claim victory — In a small way, I feel like we’ve won the World Series — with a team that finished five games out of a tie for the second wild-card spot, it brings to mind too many teams that aimed for mediocre and settled for un-embarrassing.

That has to fade, if the change Moore is so proud of is to last.

It’s on the Royals to change it.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send email to smellinger@kcstar.com or follow him at Twitter.com/mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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