Yost earned Royals' faith by believing in team
Early in the 2014 season, the Kansas City Royals were slumping at the plate and critics were calling for the dismissal of manager Ned Yost.
But Yost was, typically, displaying confidence in and patience with the talented young core of players around which the Royals had been built. That confidence and that patience were eventually rewarded, as Kansas City broke a 29-year postseason drought and won the American League pennant.
And Yost himself was rewarded, with the Royals announcing Tuesday that he had been given a one-year contract extension through the 2016 season.
But earlier last season, the situation had seemed genuinely bleak. The Royals weren't hitting and the manager was a convenient target for any of the team's shortcomings. The criticism had become routine: He bunted too much. His lineup choices were based on hope rather than analysis. Yost was aware of the noise outside, but his faith in his players could not be diminished.
"Let other people freak out," Yost said. "Let them do that. Our job is to continue to work the baseball season every single day. I've been in this game a long time. I know that you're going to have ups and downs. I know there are going to be periods of time when it seems like we're never going to win another ballgame or we're never going to get another hit. And I also know that it can turn around and you can get on a nice run."
As we all know now, the Royals got on that "nice run" at the best of times. After qualifying for the postseason as a Wild Card team, they went 8-0 through three postseason rounds. They were eventually defeated in seven games in the World Series by the Giants and the historically terrific pitching of Madison Bumgarner.
But there was no denying what the Royals had accomplished. And there was also no denying that, whatever anybody thought of Yost as a manager, these Royals had played hard for him, had persevered through difficult times, and had eventually reached a place that 28 other clubs desperately wanted, but could not find.
So Tuesday, Royals general manager Dayton Moore made the announcement that Yost had been extended. Yost's contract is now in synch with Moore's, which also runs through 2016.
"Ned's a done a terrific job," Moore said. "He came to our organization at a point in time when I think we needed to be re-energized, and Ned brought a lot of hope and optimism. Ned's one of the best leaders I've ever worked with. … Those are the character traits we believe are very important for a Major League manager.
"I can't say enough about how he managed the team and related to our fan base … throughout the playoffs. It was done really well, and we all saw the real Ned during that time."
The "real Ned" turns out to be much more adept at dealing with the media, for instance, than he was during his tenure as Brewers manager. He has become more open. His sense of humor is readily on display.
But in Milwaukee, too, Yost managed a team all the way from the edge of oblivion to the brink of the postseason. In 2008, with two weeks left in the regular season, with the Brewers about to qualify for the postseason as a Wild Card team, Yost was dismissed.
The Royals, on the other hand, stayed the course with Yost, and were rewarded for their faith in him. Yost, meanwhile, remains grateful to an organization that has not only given him an opportunity, but provided him with a roster than could and did succeed.
"We've got a real good core group of players," Yost said. "We did take a big step forward last year as an organization and took our game to the next level. The players have now experienced what that feels like and understand what it takes to perform at a high level in front of an energy-packed crowd. …
"We came as close as you could possibly come but we didn't get it done. When you don't win it, it leaves a taste in your mouth. … I think everybody in that locker room will tell you that they want to finish this thing off and win a world championship."
For several seasons, Yost had been touting his group as a team that would eventually reach the World Series. He was right about the Royals, as players, as competitors, as individuals.
And the Royals, in turn, were right about Ned Yost. He could manage a team all the way to a World Series. Now, fittingly enough, he will have at least two more chances at having his club take the ultimate postseason step.