Small-Market Royals Take Big Approach

ALSO: BALLPLAYERS SHOULD TAKE MORE PRIDE IN PERSONAL APPEARANCE

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Pregame Pepper

Did you know ...

Hall of Fame nominee Billy Wagner, a flame-throwing closer, learned to throw lefthanded after twice breaking his right arm as a kid. He uses his right hand to cut steak and sign autographs . . .

FBI director J. Edgar Hoover turned down an offer to become Commissioner of Baseball in 1951 . . .

Luis Tiant’s father led a team of Cuban All-Stars past the St. Louis Cardinals in 1936 . . .

Brooklyn Dodgers owner Charles Ebbets died on the morning of the 1925 Ebbets Field opener.

Leading Off

Baseball vs. Business People: Dayton Moore and the Royals Way

By Kevin O’Brien, The Royals Reporter

There is no question that baseball has changed since the publication of “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis in 2003. While the game is still mired in unnecessary tradition and killjoy “unwritten” rules on the field, in the front office, player evaluation and development has changed over the past two decades. Instead of crotchety old baseball guys calling the shots, it is young ambitious types in suits, with MBAs or data science degrees running baseball teams behind the scenes.

The days of “Pop” Fisher patriarchs making trades and acquiring players on Roy Hobbes-esque “hunches” has given way to baseball versions of Gordon Gekkos. At times, it feels like there isn’t much difference between a Wall Street brokerage firm and a modern MLB front office.

It is not necessarily a bad thing. Teams are making tremendous gains in player development science. 20 years ago, a guy like Kyle Boddy would still be running “Driveline Mechanics” out of a garage in a Seattle suburb. Now, thanks to an evolved “business” mindset in front offices, Boddy is not only employed by a Major League team (the Cincinnati Reds), but his entrepreneurial venture is making waves in other organizations as well.

“Business sense” over “baseball experience” seems to be the “gold standard” among MLB front offices today. However, the Kansas City Royals and general manager Dayton Moore, the second-longest tenured GM in baseball (only Brian Cashman has been with the Yankees longer), seem to buck that trend.

In Kansas City, it is all about baseball, even when popular trends hint that the Royals should perhaps be more “Moneyball” savvy. According to Forbes Magazine’s most recent MLB franchise valuations, the Royals rank 29th out of 30 when it comes to team value. When it comes to TV market size, only Milwaukee and Cincinnati are smaller than Kansas City.

No one would fault the Royals for being more “business”-centered. To some critics, they probably should focus on the bottom line more often when it comes to making personnel decisions. And yet, that is not Moore’s modus operandi.

When other big-league clubs this summer were cutting minor-league players and team employees in response to the COVID pandemic, the Royals did the opposite: they continued to pay minor-league players and high-ranking front office members even took pay cuts to prevent massive layoffs. The reason, according to Moore?

To maintain the health and future of the game, as evidenced from his statement on May 23rd: “Understand this: The minor-league players, the players you'll never know about, the players that never get out of rookie ball or High-A, those players have as much impact on the growth of our game as the 10-year or 15-year veteran players. They have as much opportunity to influence the growth of our game as those individuals who played for a long time because those individuals go back into their communities and teach the game, work in academies, are JUCO coaches, college coaches, scouts, coaches in pro baseball. They're growing the game constantly because they're so passionate about it. So we felt it was really, really important not to release one minor-league player during this time, a time we needed to stand behind them.”

As organizations continue to allow minor-league teams to contract in an effort to cut player costs, Moore and the Royals have been the most vocal defenders of minor-league baseball, especially in the lower levels. Though clubs in the Appalachian League will no longer be affiliated with Minor League Baseball, Moore reiterated the importance of these clubs to not only their organization in terms of developing talent, but also in terms of growing MLB’s influence across the nation.

“It’s not a big commitment financially [to keep baseball in Burlington],” he said. “It’s just not. And it’s so important for the growth of our game. The majority of those young fans in Burlington will never see a Major League Baseball game. They won’t see one, not in person. Even now, if you go to a major-league ballpark, there aren’t a lot of poor kids, African-American kids, disadvantaged kids. And in Appalachia, in some of these towns... trust me, I’ve spent a lot of time in those places. I know how important baseball is to those communities...”

Lastly, only six MLB teams officially sponsor MLB Youth Academies, which provide baseball, softball and educational opportunities for young people in urban areas across the country. Not only are the Royals one of those teams, with a facility that is modeled after their Royals Academy campus back in the ‘70s, but they are continuing to offer opportunities for youth in midst of school closures due to COVID. Instead of shutting doors, the Royals UrbanYouth Academy has instead offered a place for young baseball and softball high school athletes to do their classes remotely at the facility, and get baseball training and educational opportunities in the afternoon.

And why? Because Moore believes that Major League Baseball (and the Royals specifically) can heal the divisions in Kansas City, as well as this country as a whole.

“The major-league team,” he said, “has to use its platform to grow the game at the younger level... We can begin to bridge the gap between our urban, suburban and rural communities of Kansas City through the games of baseball and softball.”

When looking at the Royals front office, all the top officials under Moore are former baseball lifers. Assistant general managers J.J Picollo, Scott Sharp, and Lonnie Goldberg played college baseball at George Mason, either for or with Moore in some capacity when he was a coach or player with the Patriots. Furthermore, Rene Francisco, who oversees International Operations for the Royals, is a former junior college and small college baseball player as well. When it comes to leadership at the top, it is obvious that “baseball” sense and experience rule the day.

Of course, while Moore and the Royals’ impact off the field are much noted in Kansas City, and the general baseball community, his legacy on the field is more polarizing. Moore did bring the Royals their second World Series championship in club history (first since 1985), as well as another American League pennant in 2014.

Since Moore took over the Royals in 2006, however, the team has only had three winning seasons (2013, 2014, and 2015) and made the postseason just twice. While the Royals did improve to 26-34 in a shortened 2020 campaign, they also had back-to-back 100-plus loss seasons in 2018 and 2019, less than five years removed from the Royals’ World Series run.

Moore’s “baseball over business” focus is not perfect by any means, and even he understands that the Royals need to win soon to justify his tenure as the Royals’ general manager. While teams seem to be non-tendering perfectly productive players left and right due to financial concerns, the Royals made splashes in free agency with Mike Minor, Michael A. Taylor, and Carlos Santana, and pretty much tendered every regular player a contract with the exception of Maikel Franco, whose release may actually be a blessing in disguise for the organization.

This off-season so far is a prime example of Moore’s philosophy: it’s the players in the locker room, not the numbers in the spreadsheet, that matter most.

Nonetheless, Moore’s philosophy could backfire, and if the Royals take a step back, that may be it for him in Kansas City, especially with a new owner taking over last season. What matters most at the MLB level is winning, and if Moore can’t do that again, then it is likely owner John Sherman will find someone who can, even if it may be more in the “business” mold.

“Baseball” over “Business” has been the “Royals Way” for about 15 years now and it definitely has its share of detractors in Kansas City. And yet, Moore’s approach has been refreshing, especially in a time where owners and front offices are pinching pennies more than ever before, much to general baseball fans’ chagrin.

It’s nice, for a change, to see a modern-day baseball scene in Kansas City that is more about the spirit of the game than the bottom line, and closer in comparison to the movie “Little Big League” than “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

Kevin O’Brien is a high school educator and lifelong baseball fan who shares his thoughts on the Royals at his blog, the Royals Reporter, and on Twitter @RoyalsReportKev. Kevin grew up in Sacramento but moved to Kansas City seven years ago and has been a passionate Royals fan ever since. Kevin is finishing a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Notre Dame, and frequently procrastinates on assignments to write analysis on Franchy Cordero’s breakout in 2021. His e.mail address is TheRoyalsReporter@gmail.com.

Cleaning Up

Ballplayers Should Keep Their Beards Presentable

By Dan Schlossberg

Now that Lance Lynn has landed on the South Side of Chicago, he can compete with Dallas Keuchel to determine who has the scruffiest beard on the White Sox pitching staff.

It shouldn’t be necessary.

All teams have uniforms that are supposed to meet strict guidelines and should apply those rules to personal appearance as well.

Assuming that athletes serve as role models for impressionable young fans, players should not look like rock stars high on acid or other mind-altering drugs.

This is not to say that George Steinbrenner was right to issue an edict banning facial hair during his domain as owner of the New York Yankees.

Steinbrenner had his hands full with Oscar Gamble’s Afro, which hardly fit under his cap, but didn’t want to be perceived as a racist – especially during the tumultuous ‘70s.

The Yankees, owned by the Steinbrenner family since 1973, have always taken pride in looking presentable. From the pinstriped uniforms to the well-manicured manes, the Bronx Bombers have always looked as good as they played. It’s no surprise that they have won 40 pennants and 27 world championships – far more than anyone else.

On the other hand, they could have been even better. Several players, notably future Hall of Fame closer Rollie Fingers, refused to relinquish free agency if it meant shaving their locks.

There’s nothing wrong with the Fingers handlebar, which he still has, even if it does resemble cartoon character Snidely Whiplash.

And there was nothing wrong with the mustache grown by Don Mattingly, later a manager in Los Angeles and Miami, during his Yankee days. Even Billy Martin grew one, though Buck Showalter was much more compliant with enforcing the team’s ban on facial hair.

Mattingly, voted NL Manager of the Year by the Baseball Writers Association of America, still scowls at the idea of players who look like girls from the back. That means you, Noah Syndergaard. Do you see how good Jacob deGrom looks since getting rid of his Samson image? And look how much his pitching has improved since his barber visit.

If there’s a competition for bad beards in baseball, ex-Met Justin Turner might win it. The fact that his unkempt hair is red merely exacerbates the hairy issue.

Unlike Turner, who still swings a productive bat, fellow redhead Craig Kimbrel has declined in direct proportion to his straggly beard. In fact, the cost-cutting Chicago Cubs would like nothing more than shipping his beard and his contract to any club willing to pay his barber bill.

In the good old days when players paid more attention to young fans, they took pride in their appearance. In these days of Anything Goes, however, too many cavort on the field like players from the House of David – an all-bearded barnstorming team with religious roots.

Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies would have blended into that team. He looks like he hasn’t seen a barber in years.

But Jayson Werth was the personification of the Caveman Look. The Washington Nationals once staged a “Jayson Werth Chiapet Day” to mark – or perhaps mock – his manly mane.

Personally speaking, I like beards – provided they are presentable. I wear one myself and have ever since receiving my honorable discharge from the U.S. Army Reserve in 1975. There were fights and arguments over hair length there too; sideburns could not exceed half of the ear-lobe.

Do you think they found more important things to worry about since?

All of us, whether ballplayers or civilians, want to look our best, with personal grooming at the top of the list. So it’s easy to understand why a prematurely-balding young man – hello, John Smoltz – would want to compensate for lack of hair on top for an abundance below.

Just keep it presentable, the way Bryce Harper and even Jake Arrieta do. If you want to go wild, do it during the winter when nobody’s watching.

It’s not a political statement. It’s just decent adult behavior.

Former AP newsman Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is Weekend Editor for HERE’S THE PITCH, national baseball writer for forbes.com, and the author of 38 baseball books. His e.mail is ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

Mike Mussina’s luggage was flattened by the team bus during his first road trip as a pro . . .

Edgar Martinez batted .571 against Mariano Rivera in his career . . .

John Smoltz is the only Hall of Famer who had Tommy John surgery . . .

The Negro National League used white umpires during its first two seasons.

Reader Reacts

Extra Innings Movie Scores With Former Ump

Just want to let you know I watched Extra Innings last night and your review and recommendation to watch the movie was outstanding. Absolutely thoroughly enjoyed it and certainly understand the total acceptance it's receiving from Jewish Film Festivals everywhere. I'll be recommending it to my pals, both Jewish and otherwise. Good job!

AL CLARK

Williamsburg, VA

Al Clark was a major-league umpire from 1976-2001.

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Know Your Editors

HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [bchrom831@gmail.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [nymfan97@gmail.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [ballauthor@gmail.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.

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