The magnitude of Kansas City Royals skipper Ned Yost’s accomplishments with this unheralded and underrated band of baseballers was bluntly and explicitly expressed by my sports radio partner Champ from Detroit (pardon his French): “On the real…Yost turned shit into steak.”
Not just any old T-bone steak you find in Pathmark. He turned a spoiled roast of a Royals franchise into Filet Mignon from Hotel Savoy on West 9 th.
With Wednesday night’s 2-1 ALCS-clinching victory over B-More, KC advanced to its first World Series appearance since The Cosby Show was crushing the ratings wars in ’85.
Yost became the first manager in MLB history to go unblemished in his first eight postseason games and in the process, complete one of the more impressive franchise revitalizations in MLB history.
If anybody should be patting themselves on the back, it’s Yost. He outdueled Bob Melvin and Billy Beane’s sabermetrics superpower Oakland A’s in a 12-inning AL Wild Card game.
Then he one-upped a highly-respected and battle-savvy World Series skipper in Mike Scioscia. In fact he didn’t give up a single ALDS game to Scioscia, a guy that we’ve seen win his team a playoff game by using his baseball brain to shift the momentum in his team’s favor.
Yost licked off four in a row quicker than G.I. Joe with a Tech and a banana clip. Scioscia had the MLB-high 98 wins and a roster full of name ringers, but he had nothing for Yost.
The best thing about Yost is that when the cameras are on him, he’s cool as Big Daddy Kane in the “Ain’t No Half Steppin’” video.
He’s not the argumentative type. He’s consistent, but his style of play is aggressive and the maneuvers that he was criticized and blasted for in the past are now coming up like Royal Flushes every time he makes a decision. Baseball Nation would have understood if KC bowed out of things after they dismantled the Angels, but this band of ballers had bigger plans.
Prior to the ALCS, Yost wasn’t given the prognosticator’s edge in the managerial matchup by anyone in print, radio, TV or otherwise. Buck Showalter is considered the most tactically-efficient skipper left in the playoffs.
Even with the loss of Manny Machado and Chris Davis, Showalter’s experience and playoff pedigree was supposed to be enough to finally bounce these pesky, overachieving Royals. Genrally speaking, Yost isn't considered much of a factor in whether KC wins or loses. He kind of just glides under the radar, despite the fact that he has years of experience as a head coach and a track record of rebuilding a broken Brewers franchise in his first stint as a leading man.
Instead, the networks choose to credit KC’s bullpen assassins; Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and closer Greg Holland (combined 1.08 ERA in the postseason). Or the coming of age of KC’s four first-round draft picks; Billy Butler (’04) Alex Gordon (’05), Mike Moustakas (’07) and Eric Hosmer (’08).
The players even gave props to GM Dayton Moore and owner David Glass. “We’ve had our struggles,” Gordon said after the ALCS –clinching win, “but they’ve (front office) done a good job of drafting the right guys and developing them. It’s taken a while but we are here now.”
Much of that arrival should be attributed to Yost who understood his situation in KC and made the most of his small budget and commitment to homegrown talent by designing a team around the skill set of his players, utilizing the cavernous Kauffman Stadium and getting his troops to reach peak performance at the perfect time. Now they are as confident as any of the veteran clubs remaining.
“We’re not done,” said Hosmer, echoing the words of Rap God KRS-1 in the hip-hop classic You Must Learn. “We aint done yet.”
The Learning Curve
Yost went 457-502 in six years as manager of the Brewers and was let go with about two weeks left in the 2008 season, before Milwaukee clinched the National League Wild Card spot on the final day. Yost previously served in Atlanta as bullpen coach (1991 to 1998) and third-base coach (1999 to 2002).
Yost's Brewers tenure ended in controversy and perceived underachievement but that was only because of the lofty goals that had been re-established under his tenure, which began in October of 2002. Under Yost’s guidance the Brewers went from perennial doormats to championships contenders.
However, once a standard was set, Yost was criticized for his team’s inconsistency and inability to take that next step, which led to Yost's managing coming under fire late in 2007. During the 2007 season, the Brewers held an 8-1/2 game division lead over the Cubs by June 23 but squandered it down the stretch, finishing 2 games behind the Cubs. Yost's unorthodox bullpen management, lineup strategies, and bench management were blamed.
TSL’s Rob Parker was a baseball beat writer during most of Yost’s career and he described some of the manager’s past moves as “shaky”
The pressure seemed to get the best of Yost during that fateful 2008 season as he was thrown out of three games in the last week of the season, leading reporters to question his gangsta as a skipper. He was released as manager on September 15, 2008, after being swept by the Philadelphia Phillies in a four game series. The sweep resulted in the loss of a four game wild card lead. Yost was replaced by 3rd base coach Dale Sveum. Under Sveum, the Brewers went 7–5 for the remaining 12 games of the season and clinched the NL Wild Card.
This portrayal of Yost is a far cry from the poised general he’s exhibited in these playoffs, but Yost’s Milwaukee pitstop turned out to be a mandatory growth process. One that every championship manager needs to endure.
Any World Series manager has gone through his share of heart-wrenching defeats and deflected an onslaught of critical fans and media, haters and second-guessers. How he responds to those tough times is what allows him to calmly manage and lead his team in the most nail-biting pressure cookers.
On May 13, 2010, Yost was named manager of the Kansas City Royals, replacing Trey Hillman, and his job was to once again resurrect a fallen franchise.
Before Yost arrived the Brewers had only won at least 90 games just two times in the preceding 19 years and finished higher than third just once. Under Yost they transformed their losing culture and slowly grew into contenders, winning 90 games and earning a playoff spot on his way out.
He’s had the same incremental success with the Royals. The year before Yost’s arrival the Royals were a putrid 65-97. He rolled up his sleeves improved by a few games each season and by 2014 they find themselves in the World Series. Take a look at the baseball masterminds we had holding bench in these playoffs: Don Mattingly, Buck Showalter, Clint Hurdle, Scioscia and the like.
Who would of thought that Yost — a mediocre player at Dublin HS in California, a backup catcher and awful hitter in his brief MLB stint in the 1980’s and a guy who according to informed baseball minds was a suspect manager — would smash titan after titan with his team of mighty mites.
Wall Street Journal reporter Brian Costa seemed to speak for much of the baseball world when he penned this column less than two weeks ago titled “Ned Yost and Buck Showalter: The Dunce and the Chessmaster.”
The piece was written as beautifully as you’d expect from a Wall Street Journal reporter, but it was horribly inaccurate as Yost has already proven his worth. This would be the perfect time for Yost to clap back at the venomous words that have been directed his way over the years. But he chooses to deflect the praise in the same manner he ignores negative commentary.
“I didn’t do a thing,” he said of his contributions to the Royals come up. “My players won eight straight. It’s nice.”
On the NL side, San Francisco punched its ticket to the World Series for the third time since 2010 by defeating St. Louis in in a five game NLDS battle. The Royals may be a team of destiny but Bruce Bochy's Giants don't lose in the WS and the numbers support that. Yost has one more mountain to climb, and in San Fran, he couldn't have gotten a stiffer draw. Yost will have to be at the top of his game to outwork Bochy and a San Fran team that knows how to close and has their own penchant for drama as evidenced by Travis Ishikawa's three-run, walkoff homer in the bottom of the ninth inning, sending the Giants to the World Series with a 6-3 win on Thursday night.
The final conquest begins Tuesday, but for now Yost's Royals squad can sit back like fat cats already having shocked the world. Anything more at this point is just gravy on the steak.