Royals’ Top 5 managers: Flanagan’s take

June 15th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Jeffrey Flanagan’s ranking of the Top 5 managers in Royals history:

1. Ned Yost (2010-19)
Key fact: 22-9 postseason record

Some may look at Yost’s regular-season record of 746-839 and wonder how a manager with a losing record could be listed as No. 1. It’s simple: Yost is the only Royals manager in franchise history to guide his team to two World Series (winning in 2015) and post an amazing 22-9 playoff record.

And when it comes down to it, all that matters is getting teams to the postseason and being successful there: That’s what every team strives for.

And much of that below .500 regular-season mark occurred during two rebuilding stints. The Royals were 55 games under .500 with Yost during the rebuilding years 2010-12. And once the championship run was over, the team began to retool again, as Yost endured back-to-back 100-plus loss seasons.

Royals' Top 5: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | DH | RHP | LHP | Reliever

But the Royals finished 52 games over .500 when they were striving for the postseason from 2013-17.

And the manager behind that rise to greatness was Yost, who perhaps rightfully was sometimes questioned about in-game management, but was the perfect man to develop a young team into World Series champions.

“The best decision I ever made,” general manager Dayton Moore has often said, “was to hire Ned Yost.”

Yost knew his clubhouse, knew his players, knew when to nurture and knew when to be stern.

“You always knew where you stood with skip,” left-hander Danny Duffy said. “He was fair and honest.”

2. Dick Howser (1981-86)
Key facts World Series championship in 1985

Howser was a calming influence during a rocky time in Royals history. Jim Frey had guided the Royals to their first World Series in 1980, but they stumbled out of the gates at 30-40 in the strike-shortened '81 season.

Howser took over and got the Royals back to the playoffs in 1981. He then steered the Royals through harsh times that included a drug scandal, eventually elevating them back to the playoffs in '84, and then a World Series championship in '85.

“Everyone in the clubhouse had respect for Dick Howser,” Hall of Famer George Brett once said. “He knew players, understood them.”

Howser was especially good with the young players coming through the system.

“I know I wouldn’t have gotten to where I did without Dick Howser,” Bret Saberhagen said. “He took a chance on a 19-year-old out of camp. He had confidence in me.”

Howser went 404-365 in the regular season. He died of brain cancer in 1987.

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3. Whitey Herzog (1975-79)
Key fact: Three straight American League Championship Series appearances

Herzog took over for Jack McKeon a little past midway through the 1975 season, and he was a difference-maker for a team about to make its glory run.

Herzog guided the Royals to a 410-304 regular-season record and their first playoff appearance in 1976. Granted, the Royals lost three straight heart-breaking ALCS series under Herzog, but he helped put Kansas City on the baseball map.

“He gave us instant creditability,” the late Paul Splittorff once said.

No. 4 Jim Frey (1980-81)
Key fact: Led K.C. to its first World Series

Frey wasn’t the most beloved manager in Royals history, according to some players. But he deserves credit for guiding the Royals to a 97-65 regular-season mark in 1980 and the team’s first World Series appearance when the Royals lost in six games to the Phillies.

Some observers believe Frey shouldn’t get too much credit because it essentially was Herzog’s team. Nonetheless, Frey is one of three Royals managers to win a pennant.

5. Jack McKeon (1973-75)
Key fact: 88-74 in 1973

Before there was Herzog, Frey and Howser, someone had to help develop a young team just four years removed from expansion. And that was McKeon, who was somewhat like Yost in knowing when to nurture and when to be tough.

Honorable mentions
John Wathan (1987-91): Guided the Royals to a 92-70 mark in '89, a team certainly good enough to make the playoffs had there been a Wild Card. Oakland won 99 that year.

Hal McRae (1991-94): Oh, what could have been. McRae was a fan favorite as a player and as a manager because of his hard-nosed approach to the game. McRae finally had the team he wanted constructed in ’94 and was 64-51 that season, primed to make the playoffs when the strike hit. Months later, he was dismissed.

Tony Pena (2002-05): Pena does get some credit for that goofy 83-79 season in '03, the only winning mark in an 18-year span in Royals history.