KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Ned Yost undoubtedly will get a resounding ovation Sunday at Kauffman Stadium, where the cantankerous but upbeat, fascinating and hilarious character will manage the Royals for the last time.
Many will write and speak eloquently of this decidedly unique man who guided the Royals to precious back-to-back World Series appearances that revitalized the community and to more wins than any of his 15 predecessors on the job.
We’ll think about his friendships with Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Foxworthy and time as a taxidermist and love for his farm and obsession with lunar landings and his near-death experience and the way he usually shot down the premise of any question before typically giving a colorful answer.
But nobody will say anything more memorable and powerful than the statement made by general manager Dayton Moore at a news conference on Tuesday, when he was overcome by a question about his relationship with Yost.
Eyes moistening to their brims, Moore paused. And paused. And paused.
Twenty-one, maybe 22 seconds of silence spoke volumes about the human touch that has defined this organization under Moore’s leadership since he took over in 2006.
And it’s a touch that would come to be the very signature of Yost, who had “captivated” Moore upon their first meeting because of what Moore called his toughness, positivity and great energy.
In an era dominated by the rise of analytics, in a span when Yost would be called a “dunce” by The Wall Street Journal, his success is a reminder that the job remains about a lot more than pulling levers and regurgitating data.
It’s about bringing out the best in players and making them better than the sum of their parts, which Yost undeniably was a key to cultivating toward and in 2014 and 2015.
Contrary to some of his playful bluster, Yost is a humble man who says he “didn’t have that much to do with” the playoff runs and 2015 World Series triumph. It’s about the people who perform and the people you never see behind the scenes, he’ll tell you: “I was just lucky enough to be in this spot where I could benefit from everybody’s expertise, everybody’s hard work.”
If it was about him, he says, “we wouldn’t be sitting in this room right now; we wouldn’t have accomplished anything.” Maybe what he did best, he said, was learn to delegate.
But he does allow as he has at least one asset: He can identify talented people, Yost said, and “I can see their heart, and I can see who they are on the inside.”
You need only have glanced around the room Tuesday for a prime reminder of that.
Sitting on the side as Yost spoke was outfielder Alex Gordon, whose career was in limbo, if not jeopardy, when Moore turned to Yost in 2010 as the organization was “struggling a little bit mentally” in the rebuilding process, per Moore.
When I asked Gordon later why he went, he suggested it was a form of tribute to Yost — who recalled arguing with Moore about the upside of Gordon’s future.
“Just what we’ve been through in our careers and what he’s meant to me in my career,” Gordon said. “Who really knows what my career would have been without him?”
Gordon, who convinced catcher Sal Perez to also attend the news conference, added that a lot of players then and now were the beneficiaries of that validating faith from Yost.
Such reassurance particularly resonated when thousands didn’t believe, said Gordon, adding that Yost was such a player’s manager that it felt like a friendship.
Many of the players on those teams shared the experience of Yost’s steadfast support and belief in them before they believed in themselves: Alcides Escobar; Eric Hosmer; Lorenzo Cain; Mike Moustakas …
But positivity or not, Yost didn’t always connect with his players. His old-school style had to be contoured to a young team and to the times, loosening the reins some in a parallel to how he had to trust his staff more.
“You know me: I’m stubborn … So it takes me a little bit of time,” he said, acknowledging there can be a blurry line between stubbornness and staying the course. “You can’t just blow with the wind … You still have to have absolutes.”
Even as he continued to change and change and change, he said, “I think I’ve gotten to a point where I’m pretty much unadaptable now.”
Between a second straight 100-loss season for the Royals and an impending change in ownership ahead, between the fact he’s 64 and suffered a near-death experience less than two years ago, maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that Yost is retiring now.
Yost is many, many, many things but certainly in part a humorist, gifted with the comedian’s keen sense of audience and timing and when to drop the mic and walk away. Kind of like Jerry teaches George on Seinfield: hit the right note and head out.
It’s telling about Yost that the note he’s leaving on isn’t an uptick.
Because he wanted to be the bridge between eras as the Royals worked to rebuild and replenish their farm system.
This time was for the team, too.
“I could take it,” he said.
Leaving on a high note would have meant walking away after after the clinching game in 2015, when Yost and Moore spent long moments together in Yost’s office, away from the clubhouse celebration, some of it in silent appreciation of what it meant to so many others.
By the time it was over, Yost had the best winning percentage (.710, 22-9) in MLB history among those who’ve managed at least 20 games.
Those back-to-back World Series were such a repudiation of the mocking #Yosted label that cynics had affixed to him that the term should resonate in an entirely different way about the actual imprint he made and will leave on the organization.
They #Yosted their way to the top, a legacy to the human touch.
“It worked out OK,” he said, just before leaving the stage Tuesday.
When Moore resumed speaking Tuesday, he alluded to growing up together in the game with similar mentors and beliefs in people and said, “It’s going to be hard not working with him.”
Then he choked up and paused again.
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