The story is from six years ago, shortly after Ned Yost had taken over for Trey Hillman and long before the Royals would win. The story happened after another loss, when the owner wanted a word with his new manager.
Yost didn’t know it at the time, but he had entered a world in which pessimism was a learned and honest trait. Yost was the exception. Some of that was being new. He’d been hired six months before, as an adviser. But some of it was his eyes and heart, too.
Yost had developed something like a baseball crush on many of the Royals’ young players, and had started telling friends he had never in his life been wrong about something that he had ever been this sure about.
Quickly, however, Yost was learning that part of his job would be as The Process’ salesman, the conduit from the team to the doubters — which, at least on this night, included David Glass. The club’s owner was angry, frustrated. Hands on his head. This was four years into what he thought was a steadier time for his team, but the Royals lost 97 games the year before and were buried in last place again.
“I don’t like watching this team,” Glass is remembered saying. “It upsets me. I don’t like it.”
Yost snapped back.
“Mr. Glass, then don’t watch,” he recalls saying. “Alright? Do not watch right now. But it’s going to get better. Trust me, it’s going to get better.”
Silence filled the room. What manager tells his owner not to watch the games? Yost remembers general manager Dayton Moore, the third man in the meeting, leaning back and looking at him with big eyes and a shocked face.
“I didn’t know where it was going to go,” Moore said. “It was a serious moment.”
Then Glass started laughing. Moore and Yost joined in. Yost has never brought this story up to Glass — and only spoke about it here after being asked — but the moment carries special meaning for him. The kicker of the story isn’t that he told his owner not to watch the team. It’s what happened next, which we’ll get to in a minute, but for now, Yost is laughing again, at least metaphorically.
He was the guy next to the guy on a world champion in Atlanta, and the guy fired in the middle of a pennant race in Milwaukee, and now he is the manager of the World Series champions in Kansas City. Yost usually does his best to hide it, but he takes special pride in knowing that of all the believers, he is almost certainly the one who wavered the least. Members of the front office, coaches, if they’re completely honest, they all had moments of doubt.
Some coped by maintaining loyalty to the journey, figuring that even if they failed, doing honest work would mean being able to find another job in baseball. At one point, one executive wondered why he put so much of his heart into a sport, promising that if he were fired he would work for a hospital or help kids. Yes, there were some dark moments.
Maybe Yost is just better at hiding it, but he says he never shared in the doubt. Others around him are stumped when asked if they remember anything indicating otherwise. At times, that assuredness appeared to border on delusion — but Yost is now taking a victory lap.
When pressed, he tells of the closest he ever got to uncertainty, but even this story paints a picture of conviction. This was in 2012, and by then, Yost had been the Royals’ manager for about 2 1/2 seasons. In Atlanta, he remembers it taking about 2 1/2 seasons for a young core of players to have an impact at the big-league level. In Milwaukee, the same thing — 2 1/2 seasons.
But here it was, roughly 2 1/2 seasons into his job with the Royals, and the team finished with 90 losses.
“Well,” Yost remembers thinking, “maybe it’s going to take a little longer than I thought.”
The next year, the Royals won 86 games. Their first winning season in a decade. The year after that, 89 wins, that unforgettable AL Wild Card Game, and a run to the World Series. The year after that, 95 wins, the near-death experience in Houston, and a world championship. No team in the American League has won more games over that time, and no other team in baseball has made two World Series.
“So that 2 1/2 -year mark,” Yost says, “it was exactly right.”
Yost spent most of this past offseason speaking to whoever asked, and traveling to every awards show or party to which he was invited. That meant everything from the Kansas City mechanical contractors’ association to the Gold Glove awards to the premier of the World Series movie to an autograph show with Marcus Allen and Brett Favre.
Actually, at that autograph show, he ended up sitting next to Carlos Correa, the Astros’ magnificently talented shortstop who missed a potential double-play grounder in the eighth inning of the Royals’ comeback in the fourth game of the division series.
“No,” Yost said, responding to a question. “I didn’t say anything to him.”
If it was all the same, Yost would’ve rather spent the offseason on his farm in Georgia, working the land or hunting deer. But winning a World Series means sacrificing your own priorities, because people want to celebrate with you, and the way Yost sees it he would be selfish not to let that happen.
Yost isn’t just celebrating the championship, either. He thinks it’s bigger than that. He feels particularly good about the accomplishment because of the way it happened. He was fired from his last job before he could see it through. The owner lost patience, and at least in Yost’s mind, that cost the team its best chance of winning. Part of him will always be upset about that, and this brings him back to the story from the top.
Telling the owner not to watch his team makes for a good tale, but for Yost it’s only the setup to the important part. Because after they laughed, and wound down by talking about other things, Glass stood up and turned toward the door.
Before he left, he looked at Moore and Yost and asked a simple question.
“What can I do to help?”
Glass has never met with Yost without asking that question. Yost had never worked with an owner who spoke like that.
And if he’s honest, maybe that’s part of why he’s been so certain all these years, too.