The idea was born last summer. The inspiration hit all at once. On a steamy July day in Atlanta, Royals general manager Dayton Moore had taken his teenage son, Robert, to the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood near downtown.
Moore had long admired the civil rights icon, he says. Captivated by King’s leadership and fascinated by his faith life, Moore held his teachings and life in high esteem. But as Moore toured the center and learned more about King’s life, he had an epiphany of sorts: His staff needed to see this, too.
So on Monday, Moore and the rest of the Royals’ baseball operations department will fly to Atlanta and spend four days in the city. The traveling party will consist of close to 20 people, from assistant general managers to scouts to directors of analytics. The itinerary includes meetings on character and leadership, race relations in the United States and a close study of the life of King, the Baptist minister and civil rights activist.
“If you’re living and breathing, you all understand that there’s issues that we encounter daily,” Moore says. “And I’ve always been a great admirer of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And so I think he’s one of the greatest leaders our country has ever seen. So I think it makes sense to study him.”
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This is how the Royals’ front office will begin a pivotal offseason that could define the next decade of baseball in Kansas City. This is where the organization’s brain trust will retreat for a week before the chaos of free agency takes hold in November.
The club will ration its baseball discussion in Atlanta, Moore says. There will be some of it, of course. Put enough baseball men together and that’s unavoidable. But the focus will be on leadership, on philosophy, on molding the minds who will guide the franchise into the future.
“This is something I want our baseball front office to be a part of,” Moore says.
Most Major League Baseball front offices are hardly bastions of diversity, of course. Moore understands this. The Royals have worked to be different, though, and in 2017 the organization featured minorities in three senior baseball operations positions directly under Moore.
But this is just part of the issue. Moore points out that he was born in 1967, one year before King was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn. In the baseball operations department, he’s one of the few with gray hair.
“I’m one of the older guys in the office,” Moore says. “We didn’t grow up in the civil rights era. I certainly remember studying it a little bit. But I want us to study that. I want us to understand what other people experienced the best way we know how.
“No matter what you try to do, it’s hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. You can only really look at life through your own eyes.”
For Moore, the point extends beyond race and culture. He wants his assistants and staffers to be curious, to be open-minded to new ideas and perspectives. The game of baseball, like any industry, is always evolving and morphing and innovating. The Royals have to embrace that.
“When you’re in a leadership position,” he says, “and you’re expected to hire people, and you’re expected to embrace diversity and different culture and different races and all different walks of life, and people with great wisdom, and young people coming into the game with new ideas … if you really want to embrace and respect diversity, you need to study it.”
The challenges of the Royals’ offseason will not be solved over the course of three or four days, of course. In early November, the club will watch Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar become free agents for the first time. Club officials will wait to see what the market bears. They are already weighing their options and mapping out plans.
The Royals are expected to prioritize Hosmer and look for creative ways to be competitive in 2018. But internally, club officials are already bracing for a rebuild that could span the next two to three seasons. The plan could include banking resources in 2018 and 2019, waiting for a new television contract to juice revenues and aiming for contention in 2020 or 2021. But the end goal, Moore says, would ultimately be sustainability.
“We don’t want to be in a situation in 2021 where we win for four or five years,” Moore says. “Let’s figure out how we can do this better and have winning baseball for 10 to 12 years in a row.”
For years, Moore says, the Royals were consumed with winning, with bringing another championship to Kansas City. The plan was a success. But the pedal-down philosophy influenced decisions in the long and short term.
He points to one example. In 2015, Moore traded left-handed pitching prospect Sean Manaea for Ben Zobrist before the trade deadline — and the decision was mostly easy. It made the Royals better. It resulted in a World Series. But moving forward, knowing how difficult it can be to sustain success, maybe the Royals think a little harder about dealing Manaea. Maybe not. But maybe, which is the point.
This is reality for the Royals moving forward. Club officials don’t know what the future holds, Moore says. But they know the goal. They know the process. It continues next week in Atlanta.