Dayton Moore and the Power of Belief
In a sportswriter’s life, you get to write about all sorts. You write about arrogant people and humble ones, overachievers and underachievers, those with hearts of gold and others with misplaced priorities, heroes and anti-heroes, groundbreakers and troubled souls, the charismatic and the boring, friendly sorts and hostile sorts, great quotes and monotone blatherers, individuals with something to say and individuals with nothing on their minds.
Dayton Moore is simply a good person.
I understand that being a good person isn’t the job. For 16 years, Dayton Moore’s job was to beat the odds and make the Kansas City Royals winners. In this, he and his team achieved the highest highs … and a considerably longer series of lows.
The Royals are in the midst of one of those lows now. They will lose 90 games this year, probably 95, and 100 is not yet out of mathematical range. It will be their sixth consecutive losing season. On Wednesday, the Royals dismissed Moore as president of baseball operations.
When teams lose consistently, this is what happens. Dayton has always known that. We have talked about it many times over the years.
But I don’t want to talk about all that now. I want to instead tell you just a little bit about the Dayton Moore I got to know and the philosophy that drives him: From the first day he arrived in Kansas City in 2006 — and I cannot even begin to describe just what a mess the Royals were back then — he kept insisting that his whole idea for turning the Royals into winners was built around five simple words:
You have to notice right away that none of those words are “power” or “outfield defense” or “fastball command.” But that was purposeful. Dayton never believed he could outsmart other teams. He certainly knew that he couldn’t outspend other teams. But he felt certain that if he and his team could stay true to their values, support each other, stand up for each other, play the game with love and respect, they would eventually win. It was a bold gamble. Many have mocked it through the years. Few believed it would ever pay off.
Hey, I didn’t always believe it would pay off, either.
But I couldn’t help but admire how devoted Dayton was to the plan (for a while he called it “The Process,” which also drew mockery). It’s not like he was always on point. He made some bad calls. He brought in some players who did not live up to his higher ideals. But, after a quick reset, he was back at it, drafting players for their leadership skills as much as their tools, signing players he hoped would set an example as well as put up numbers, developing players who, in his earnest words, played the game the right way.
The Royals had a losing record — and usually much worse than just “losing” — every one of his first seven full seasons as general manager. There were plenty of times during that stretch when it looked like the Royals would move on. Moore hired Trey Hillman out of Japan to be manager, because he liked Hillman’s spirit and passion; that was a fiasco. Then he hired Ned Yost after Ned flamed out in Milwaukee, and that didn’t look very good for a while, either.
As Moore walked in the door, the Royals drafted Luke Hochevar with the first overall pick of the 2006 draft — this in a first round that featured Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Evan Longoria and Tim Lincecum, among others. He gave Gil Meche a team-record contract to go 29-39 with a league average ERA.* He brought in a seemingly never-ending series of aging veterans in an effort to … well, being honest, a lot of it felt like nothing more than stalling while something special formed in the minor leagues. What else could he do but stall? The Royals had the lowest payroll in baseball in 2011.
*Meche did walk away from the fifth year of the contract; he did not believe he deserved to be paid for that year, an expression perhaps of the character that had inspired Moore to sign him in the first place.
And then, somehow, yes, something special formed in the minor leagues. A team came together exactly as Moore had imagined. It was a young team with an unshakeable confidence, a truckload of enthusiasm and an almost inexplicable ability to rise to the moment.
You had a walking smile in Salvador Perez behind the plate. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas were just ferocious competitors. Lorenzo Cain … Wade Davis … Alex Gordon … Greg Holland … the one thing Moore had promised when he arrived was that the Royals would become a team Kansas City could be proud of.
And here was a team Kansas City could be proud of.
They won 86 games in 2013, and then in 2014 they snuck in as the wild card and had one of the great playoff runs ever, a ridiculous comeback victory against Oakland, a sweep of Mike Trout’s Angels, a sweep of the Orioles, and then a classic, seven-game World Series against San Francisco that the Royals lost only because Madison Bumgarner proved unassailable.
Most of the baseball experts expected the Royals to fall back in 2015. Instead, they rose higher, finishing with the best record in the American League, beating the ascendant Astros in a classic series, and finally beating the Mets in New York to win the World Series.
I saw Dayton on the field after that game. He looked overwhelmed.
“I guess it worked,” I said to him.
“We all did it together,” he said back.
That was the high point, of course. Those Royals, alas, couldn’t last. Tragedy struck, as Yordano Ventura died in a car crash. Players signed elsewhere. Younger players didn’t develop as hoped. Dayton tried to keep that team together, best he could, because loyalty was always at the top of his list. But you can’t make time stand still. The Royals became mediocre. And, shortly after, they became very bad.
But Dayton Moore never stopped following his heart. His goal was never to build a winning baseball team, not exactly. Instead, it was to build a family, to build a team of people who inspired each other and, in a larger sense, inspired Kansas City. He wanted to build a team that motivated kids to play baseball. He wanted a team that celebrated and advanced this game that he loves very much.
That’s a tough task … particularly because most people don’t really care about all that other stuff and would be plenty happy with a simple winning baseball team.
Through the years, Dayton and I have argued a lot, busted each other’s chops a lot and found ourselves on the opposite side of plenty of issues, on the field and off. But through it all, I always understood what a special person he is, how much he cares about people, how much he adores baseball and, mostly, how hard he will fight for what he believes is right but also how readily he will admit it when he is wrong. He’s truly one of the best people I know.
He made the Kansas City Royals winners. And he was let go for allowing the Kansas City Royals to become losers. I am sure there are plenty of Royals fans who are happy he’s gone, and plenty of Royals fans who will always be grateful to him, and probably a lot of them are the same Royals fans. That’s the cycle of sports. Dayton knows all of this. He believes the Royals will be great again, and soon. He will never stop believing.