All my life, I have been waiting for what happened late Sunday night (or early Monday morning). Years and years of irrelevancy, having patience and trusting “the process” has finally paid off. For the first time in 30 years, the Kansas City Royals are World Series champions.
After winning the World Series in 1985, the franchise began what went onto be the longest postseason drought in professional sports. They had just one winning season in eighteen years from 1995-2012 and lost 100 games four times over that span. They endured nine consecutive losing seasons from 2004-2012 in which they averaged a record of 66-96.
For some reason the Royals appealed to me, I want to say it was back in 2005. What exactly did I see in this team that went 56-106 that season? My 10-year old self saw a team that had nice uniforms and a beautiful stadium (both are still true, and always will be). But looking back on it now, I saw a team that plays in a small market that forces the team to make smart baseball decisions and a team that, at the time, had highly regarded young players such as 2004 first round pick Billy Butler and 2005 first round pick Alex Gordon and a number one overall pick in 2006 (Luke Hochevar) that would help turn the team around soon.
Speaking of 2006, I will never forget one day that year when I was at a friend’s house. We were watching ESPN and the Royals game for that night came up on the bottom line. I said, “I hope our ace is pitching tonight!”
Sure enough, our ace was pitching that night. It was Scott Elarton, who made 29 starts for the Royals over a two year span and went 6-13 with a 6.59 ERA and a 7.23 FIP. My friends began to laugh, and so did I. He was the ace of our staff. That is how bad the Royals were when I became a fan.
The rumors are true. Prior to that time, I was a Yankee fan. While my Dad coached my little league teams for years, my love of the game comes from watching the Yankees every night with my Nana (she still watches all game, every game). Why make the 180 degree switch away from the winningest franchise of all-time? Because the Royals were a team that I could call my own.
Here is what I had to endure since I decided to become a Royals fan:
2005: 56-106, 43 GB
2006: 62-100, 34 GB
2007: 69-93, 27 GB
2008: 75-87, 13.5 GB
2009: 65-97, 21.5 GB
2010: 67-95, 27 GB
2011: 71-91, 24 GB
2012: 72-90, 16 GB
I made the choice to battle through eight brutal seasons that most people would not have been able to deal with.
The Royals hired Dayton Moore shortly after the First Year Player Draft in 2006 to be their General Manager and he could not have walked into a worse situation. The organization had very little talent at any level that offered much hope (Gordon and Butler took a long time to develop, and most consider Hochevar a bust). It was going to take time and patience to turn this thing around. Baseball is extremely difficult to do a complete rebuild of an organization. Most teams have seven or eight minor league affiliates that are just as vital as the major league roster if a team wants to maintain long-term success. Moore added an academy in the Dominican Republic and brought in an entire new scouting department that, for the most part, he worked with while working in the Braves front office.
Moore stated that he was going to build the best minor league system in baseball and this came to fruition in 2011. Baseball America ranked the Royals farm system as the best in baseball that year and also the best they have ever seen since they began ranking farm systems 22 years earlier as they placed five prospects in the top 20 and nine in the top 100. But the job was far from over. Every player develops at their own pace and some flame out and do not even appear in the big leagues. Other players are used as trade chips to acquire certain players needed to complete the puzzle. But for the most part, the core of this team was developed internally.
The consensus top three at the time were Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Wil Myers. Hosmer developed into a three-time gold glove winner and a middle-of-the-order bat who has become the face of the franchise. Moustakas struggled early in his Major League career but had an All-Star season in 2015 after adjusting to opponents using the shift against him and using the entire field. Myers was involved in a franchise altering trade that received criticism from many at the time and will be discussed later on.
The 2010 season left much to be desired. The team was once again terrible and Zack Greinke struggled a year after winning the American League Cy Young Award. While the numbers may not show it, this thing really began to turn around on December 19, 2010.
I woke up and my dad told me that my boy has been traded. I knew this meant that we traded Greinke because a trade that off-season was inevitable. I told him not to tell me what happened and I went onto the Royals’ website to find that Greinke (and can’t forget about Yuniesky Betancourt) was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers. In return, the Royals received Alcides Escobar, Jake Odorizzi, Lorenzo Cain, and Jeremy Jeffress.
Scouts who watched Cain in his brief call up with the Brewers in 2010 told the Royals they needed to get this guy if they were to work out a Greinke trade with Milwaukee. He was very raw as a baseball player as he did not begin playing the sport until his sophomore year of high school. He has since blossomed into a superstar player. Escobar was the key player in the deal at the time, and has become one of the best shortstops in baseball. He has always been known as a slick defender with a strong arm. His bat has begun to develop and he just set a record for most hits by a shortstop in a single postseason with 23. When he swings at the first pitch, this team seems to win. When he doesn’t, they don’t win. This cannot possibly be explained. Jeffress found his way back to the Brewers and pitched out of their bullpen this season. Odorizzi would go onto be an important part of another trade the Royals would make.
While most people point to the next trade as the turning point for this franchise, it was the trade with the Brewers that landed two all-star players who play premium positions up the middle and will be anchoring those positions for years to come.
Another night I will never forget was December 9, 2012. Like most Royals fans, I went nuts when we made the James Shields-Wil Myers trade (which should really be called the Wade Davis trade now). I get too attached to prospects and this is likely because they were basically what “the process” was all about. Trading Wil Myers and three other prospects away was devastating. The Royals were blowing the future in an attempt to win now. Boy was I wrong. The trade could not have worked out any better. Shields came in and changed the culture in that clubhouse the minute he walked in the room. He was a workhorse starter for two years and helped bring the Royals back to relevancy. Tampa also received Jake Odorizzi in this deal. They wanted Yordano Ventura, but the Royals refused to part with him. Good thing they didn’t. Davis did not stick in the rotation, but he has become the best relief pitcher in baseball (I am still not convinced that he is human, and I am not alone).
“I can confirm I am human,” says Wade Davis. I still have my doubts.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 2, 2015
2013: 86-76, 7 GB
2014: 89-73, WC, AL Champs
2015: 95-67, AL Central Champs, AL Champs, World Series Champs
I need to give credit where credit is due, and the New York Yankees deserve some credit here. They were the only team to outbid the Royals to sign Carlos Beltran prior to the 2014 season. If they did not sign him, the Royals would have and they would have lost their 17th overall pick in the 2014 First Year Player Draft. That would be Brandon Finnegan, who played a vital role in the Wild Card Game a season ago and was ultimately a part of the package to land Johnny Cueto from the Cincinnati Reds. While Cueto had his struggles, his performances in Game 5 of the ALDS and Game 2 of the World Series were two of the three best pitched games in Royals’ postseason history. So thank you Yankees for giving the Royals two American League pennants and a World Series championship.
But really, this was a collective team effort. All 25 guys on the roster appeared in a game during the World Series. Even the guys not on the postseason roster were important. “Draft bust” Luke Hochevar has found a home in the bullpen, did not allow a run all postseason and picked up the win in Game 5. As one of the team’s longest tenured players, he went through some brutal times early in his career. But the team stuck with him and he stuck with the team. I am glad to see him get rewarded. Christian Colon wad drafted fourth overall in 2010 before Chris Sale and Matt Harvey. But he has two of the most important hits in Royals history. He got the game-tying hit in the Wild Card Game in the 12th inning and scored the winning run last year. This year, he drove in the go-ahead run in Game 5 which ultimately gave the Royals the title, in his only at-bat all postseason.
This team is truly a family, and they only came closer when Mike Moustakas lost his mother and Chris Young and Edinson Volquez lost their father. They truly had Angels looking over this team and the team made them proud with the way they supported each other as brothers and went out and played the game like no other team does. The way Volquez pitched in Game 5 of the World Series after burying his father a few days prior, there are no words to describe it.
It has been a long wait for this fan base, and it has been worth every second of it. 2014 was a blast and a season that I will never forget. I wanted to say before the season that the Royals would get back and win it all in 2015, but I refrained to be more professional and not pick as a fan knowing how rare it is for teams to make it to the World Series in back-to-back years. But dammit I should have picked as a fan. Because watching this team as much as I do, I knew that there was nobody that was going to beat them this year. I knew that the Kansas City Royals really were the best team in baseball. They entered 2015 with unfinished business, and no other team in baseball was more motivated than they were to win it all after what almost was a season ago. They proved that in Game 5 by coming from behind to win for the eighth time this postseason, a Major League record.
Hall-of-Famer George Brett himself called the 2015 Royals the greatest Royals team ever, better than all of the teams that he played on in the 70’s and 80’s. I was not around in 1985, but it is hard to imagine any team that was more fun to watch than this one. It is the best time to be a Royals fan, maybe ever, and we are extremely lucky to be able to have the kind of team that we have now. The majority of this team is homegrown. Four years later, we are seeing the final product of patience and relying on scouting and player development and making the proper trades when needed. It took 30 years of irrelevancy, having patience and trusting “the process”, but it was undoubtedly all worth it.
My senior quote in high school came from a Sports Illustrated article from March 2011 by Joe Posnanski called Royals, Flush. The article was written in the future and it talked about how Kansas City built this incredible farm system that led them to become a powerhouse team. The quote that I used was the following quote from Dayton Moore: “We’re doing this the right way. We’re doing it with good people. At the end of the day we’re going to win.”
Mission accomplished, Mr. Moore. Once again, the Kansas City Royals are World Champions.