Yost better skipper due to time in Milwaukee
Royals triumphant in his first regular-season return since 2008
MILWAUKEE -- Ned Yost could have had the last laugh, but he passed on the opportunity. That was essentially the right move.
The Royals manager has the 2014 American League pennant on his resume and this year's club is leading the AL Central.
Monday was his first regular-season return to Milwaukee -- an 8-5 win for the Royals -- since he was dismissed as Brewers manager with two weeks remaining in the 2008 season. Who is riding higher now, Yost or the last-place Brewers?
But when Yost was asked a question about what a return to Milwaukee meant, he closed the door on bitterness and instead suggested that he learned difficult lessons that made him a better manager in Kansas City.
"It's just another series," he said. "Some of the great lessons that I learned here have prepared me for this job. I think you learn through experience in everything you do, to try to get better as a player, as a coach, as a manager.
"You know, I loved being here the six years I managed here. I learned a lot of valuable things; what to do, what not to do, and that experience prepared me for being here with the Royals."
So the Royals have a better Ned Yost, manager, than the Brewers did?
"Without a doubt, I'm a better manager than I was then," Yost said. "What helps me so much is that I have a phenomenal coaching staff. My coaching staff is the best coaching staff I've ever had. And that helps me out, a great deal better, too. And I think I'm better than I was in Milwaukee because I lean on these guys now. It's a lot more fun when you have good coaches that you trust, that you can lean on pretty heavy."
In terms of lessons learned during his tenure in Milwaukee, one area stands out for Yost.
"The biggest lesson learned is that back when I was with Milwaukee, I thought I could control everything," Yost said. "You can't, you can't control it. It's the players who have to perform. When players weren't performing, it used to tear me up. It used to kill me. 'Is there something I should be doing?' What am I doing wrong? Is there something I can do?' How can I help this guy? What can I do? What can I do?'
"You have to give them the time it takes to pull through, but you can't control their performance on the field. They have to perform. That was a rough lesson to have to learn."
Yost inherited a Milwaukee team that lost 106 games, and patiently, painstakingly developed young players into a group that could legitimately contend for a postseason berth.
At the end of August, 2008, the Brewers were 80-56 with a 5 1/2-game lead in the National League Wild Card race. The next two weeks, the Brewers went 3-11. Yost was dismissed on Sept. 15.
Craig Counsell, now manager of the Brewers, was a player on the 2008 team. Yost's firing, at that point in the season, came as a shock.
"It's not something you ever saw or ever remember seeing with another team," Counsell said. "It was a big surprise. The players play, that's what they do. It was one of those spots where we weren't playing well and they made a decision. Was it surprising? Of course, it was very surprising, no question."
The 2008 Brewers named third-base coach Dale Sveum (now Kansas City's hitting coach) as interim manager. They finished the season 7-5 under Sveum, qualified as the Wild Card, and were eliminated in a Division Series by the Phillies.
But those who understood the development of this team also understood that Yost deserved more credit than blame for the Brewers' performance.
Counsell credits Yost with teaching "tough lessons," the value of which became more apparent with the passage of time.
"Later, I understood everything Ned was trying to do," Counsell said. "Ned did a great job of developing a lot of young players here."
Monday night was a one-sided event, until the ninth. With the Royals up by six runs, Yost decided to give closer Greg Holland an inning of work. Holland had not pitched since last Tuesday.
Five straight Brewers reached against Holland. With the potential tying run at the plate, Wade Davis came in and retired the next three hitters, striking out Ryan Braun on a 97-mph fastball with serious sink.
Asked about Holland's performance, Yost said:
"It's rust. That's my fault. I haven't thrown him in six days."
That was also the correct answer. You don't want to say that Yost has mellowed because he's still a fierce competitor. But yes, he has definitely learned some lessons that have made him a better manager.