Royals general manager Dayton Moore is driven by an unyielding faith

Royals' Dayton Moore on looking to 2016 season

Royals general manager Dayton Moore spoke about the team's off-season and acquiring pitchers Ian Kennedy and Joakim Soria for the 2016 roster.
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Royals general manager Dayton Moore spoke about the team's off-season and acquiring pitchers Ian Kennedy and Joakim Soria for the 2016 roster.

It almost didn’t happen, of course. This is easy to overlook now. Forget Eric Hosmer’s dash home in New York. Forget Wade Davis standing firm against Toronto. Forget the miracle at Minute Maid Park.

Forget the World Series championship, and the victory parade two days later, and every memory from the last two years — the greatest 24-month run of baseball in Kansas City. Forget it all, because it was all one conversation away from not happening. Dayton Moore can admit that now.

He will tell you that maybe he didn’t believe. Not fully, anyway. He needed one phone call. He needed to hear one Bible verse.

The story begins in the spring of 2006, when Moore was an assistant general manager for the Atlanta Braves. He had spent 12 years there, and the place felt like a perfect fit. He loved his job. He loved his life. He loved his boss, Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz. He loved the idea of raising a family there, he says. He had already passed on two opportunities to become a major-league general manager. He wasn’t sure about another.

But then the Royals called that May. Moore had grown up a Royals fan, his family’s roots in western Kansas, so of course he took the interview. But when the job offer came a few days later, he wasn’t convinced. He says he nearly stayed in Atlanta, but then he picked up the phone and called Braves team chaplain Tim Cash.

Cash had become a close friend and confidante during the years in Atlanta. Moore considered him a spiritual mentor. As the conversation went on, Moore confided that he was concerned about leaving the shadow of Schuerzholz. Cash listened for a moment, then said what Moore needed to hear.

“I told Dayton: ‘You were born an original,’ ” Cash says now. “You don’t want to die a copy. God has gifted you with so much leadership.”

As the talk continued, Cash says he quoted a Bible verse: 2 Timothy 1:7.

“For God did not give us a spirit of fear,” Cash says, “but of power and love and self control.”

A few days later, Moore called Royals owner David Glass. He was coming to Kansas City.

Nearly 10 years later, on a quiet morning in mid-March, Dayton Moore takes a seat on a leather couch in his second-floor office at the Royals’ spring-training complex in Surprise, Ariz. On the wall behind him, catcher Salvador Perez is dousing Ned Yost with an ice-cold Gatorade shower in the moments after the World Series clincher. On his desk, Moore has written out 12 items on a morning checklist.

“Things we have to do if we’re going to continue to get better,” he says.

Moore is talking about the last 10 years, how a small-market team in Kansas City became the best in baseball, how a first-time GM found peace by focusing on faith.

I didn’t know if we were ever going to win. But we’re just going to do everything we can to create a great place to work. … And if we run out of time, we run out of time.

Royals GM Dayton Moore

He is talking about patience and trust and belief and all the things we associate with faith in general. But he is also talking about something very specific. In a decade in Kansas City, Moore has never been shy about talking about his spirituality or his Christian beliefs. But he has resisted the urge to be ostentatious about it, too.

It is a personal relationship, he says, and it is the force that guides his daily life. It is the reason he is here, entering his 10th full season in Kansas City, the reason he survived a storm of criticism in the dark years, and the reason he shrugs off questions about that November night in New York when the Royals became champions again.

“My faith has given me the foundation to persevere through all that,” Moore says. “It just has. I’ve got one authority. And my authority tells me I’m in process, that I’m trying to get better each and every day. But it demands that I give my best effort. My faith really provides me with the necessary foundation.”

It would be too simple to say that Moore has become one of the top executives in baseball because of a devout lifestyle, too banal to say that a pious worldview has any intrinsic or tangible connection to on-field success. But if you want to understand one of the most remarkable sports turnarounds of the 21st century, you have to understand its architect. And for those who know Dayton Moore, it is impossible to separate the man from his faith.

“He is so full of integrity, it’s unbelievable,” Royals manager Ned Yost says.

“That’s why he’s so successful,” first baseman Eric Hosmer says.

“His thinking is bigger than baseball,” says Gene Watson, the Royals’ director of pro scouting. “It’s life.”

In the early days, the only constant was change. The Moore family lived a nomadic existence, moving from Kansas to Florida to Memphis to New York and finally Moline, Ill. Robert Moore was in the airline business, an aircraft mechanic instructor with a strong work ethic, his son says, and he chased the industry around the country.

“He bettered our lives,” Moore says, discussing his late father, who died 25 years ago after a battle with cancer.

The logistics made for a hectic childhood. But in many ways, the chaos was good, Moore says. There were new towns, new friends, new comfort zones. There was the challenge of adapting to different surroundings. There were also the constants — baseball in the summer, church every Sunday.

These days, Moore says he practices a non-denominational Christian faith. But as a child, he was raised in the Methodist church. This was a different time. His parents came from a different era. Robert Moore spent part of his childhood in an orphanage after his father was killed in World War II. Penne Moore grew up without indoor plumbing on a farm near Coldwater, Kan.

Dayton Moore would become the first person in his family to go to college. His father, Moore says, instilled what we might consider Midwestern values. He was, Moore says, the “spiritual leader of the family.”

“We grew up really simple,” Moore says. “Faith was important. It was a focus: ‘Take care of what you have. Don’t worry about what you don’t have.’ 

Moore says his faith grew stronger while he attended Garden City Community College. He was on his own for the first time, playing college baseball in a small town, and began to have the thoughts that all young men have. He pondered his future. He thought about the man he wanted to be. He remembered the guidance of his father.

There was no great epiphany, Moore says, no neat story to tell. Maybe he was just drawn to it. Maybe he just grew up.

“I wasn’t crazy about some of the choices that I was making,” Moore says. “I knew that if I was going to the man that God wanted me to be, I needed to walk with God. I needed to have a relationship with Jesus. And that was just a personal choice that I made.”

In the summer of 2006, in the weeks after he arrived in Kansas City, Moore moved into a temporary place near the Country Club Plaza. The excavation process began in earnest. His new organization needed a stress test, every nook and cranny subject to intense inspection. The results were not pretty. The walls needed gutting; the innards needed a cleaning. The foundation? Well, what foundation?

During the day, Moore took stock of the Royals’ resources and began to sketch out a plan. At night, he would meet staffers on the Plaza for beers or sodas, discussing the Royals’ future.

Moore counted just three players who could help the Royals win at the big-league level: Billy Butler, Alex Gordon and Zack Greinke, a 22-year-old right-hander who had walked away from the game before the season.

That summer, Greinke was finishing the season with the Class AA Wichita Wranglers. In the weeks after Moore took over, Greinke drove from Wichita to Kansas City, delivering a simple message to his new general manager: When the minor-league season was over, he did not wish to receive a September call-up.

In some ways, the Greinke situation provided the first test of what the Royals would become. Moore told his staffers that they needed to be patient, that they needed to let Greinke return on his own timeline. They would let him grow as a person first, then worry about baseball. Watson, who arrived in Kansas City that summer, calls it the “single biggest thing that we’ve ever done here.”

“I saw how how he handled Zack one-on-one that first summer,” Watson says. “He didn’t rush anything. He still made it about Zack.”

Three years later, Greinke won a Cy Young Award. By 2010, the Royals had traded him for a young shortstop and center fielder, the spine of a future champion. The experience was formative.

The biggest thing is, you’re not going perform good here if things aren’t good at home, outside of the field. That’s what he means: This is second.

Royals left fielder Alex Gordon, on GM Dayton Moore

Years earlier, when Moore was working as a young scout in Atlanta in the early 2000s, he read a book by Bob Briner, the former sports executive and author. It was called “The Management Methods of Jesus.”

Moore cannot remember how the book came into his possession. But it left an imprint. When he took the job with the Royals, he used the book as a template, looking to its chapters as he sketched out what he called a “Model of Organizational Harmony.”

In essence, they were simple, personal reminders, often wrapped in a parable or a verse. Moore took them seriously.

Settle Disputes. Be Responsive. Stand Up For Your People.

As the losing seasons stacked up, and the process began to stall, Moore says he used the model as a mental checklist. When he sparred with reporters, he sought to avoid holding grudges. When he blew up on his employees, he sought to calm any negative feelings. When the mission seemed improbable, he sought to offer positive reinforcement. One year, he gave every employee in the baseball operations department a hammer with a Royals insignia. The message: Keep hammering away.

In the worst times, Moore says, he remembered a conversation with Dave Dombrowski, then the Detroit Tigers’ general manager. It was the year after Moore arrived in Kansas City. The Royals were playing Detroit. Dombrowski had rebuilt the Tigers from 119-game losers in 2003 to American League champions in 2006. Moore was just launching his own long-term plan. Dombrowksi offered advice in plain terms.

Do things the right way. If you run out of time, you run out of time.

The Royals would lose 100 games for the fourth time in five seasons. The franchise hadn’t been to the playoffs in two decades. The idea of winning a World Series in Kansas City didn’t just feel far-fetched. It felt like fiction.

“I made an advanced decision,” Moore says. “I didn’t know if we were ever going to win. But we’re just going to do everything we can to create a great place to work. We’re going to represent the game of baseball. We’re going to do everything we can to grow baseball in our community. And if we run out of time, we run out of time.”

For Moore, the Royals Way manifested itself in specific ideas. Here is one: Nearly every spring, Moore gathers players for what has become known as the “Family” speech. Moore tells them to “take care of home” first, to worry about being good husbands, fathers and sons. It can feel mawkish, maybe even a little hokey. But for those listening, it’s one of the most important speeches of the year.

“The biggest thing is, you’re not going to perform good here if things aren’t good at home, outside of the field,” left fielder Alex Gordon says. “That’s what he means: This is second.”

The culture of baseball is such that much of this is not uncommon. There are deeply religious men in every clubhouse. Every team holds weekly chapel sessions on Sunday mornings. For years, faith has been a part of the fabric of the game.

But in a meaningful way, Moore has sought to make those values a pillar of his organization. He prays daily, he says, worrying about his wife, Marianne, and their three children. He has hired Cash, the former chaplain, as a consultant, a “life coach” for players who seek motivation or confidence. He has spearheaded the planning process of the new Kansas City MLB Urban Youth Academy, a project he calls more important than anything the Royals will accomplish on the field.

During his tenure, Moore has also hired two managers — Yost and Trey Hillman — who share a deep Christian faith. This is partly coincidence, of course. But Yost believes it contributes to a healthy culture. Moore and Yost share a value system, he says. They see the world in similar ways. It can’t hurt to understand your co-workers.

“I know what he’s thinking, and he knows what I’m thinking,” Yost says. “I know what he’s about. He knows what I’m about. Our faith and our families are very important to us. That transitions into what we do in the clubhouse.”

Kansas City Star beat writer Rustin Dodd talks about Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore and manager Ned Yost signing contract extensions.

On a Sunday night last November, as Wade Davis took the mound against the New York Mets in the 12th inning of Game 5, Moore rode an elevator down to the clubhouse level at Citi Field. He weaved through the interior of the stadium, climbed a small flight of stairs and found an opening in a tunnel near the visitors’ dugout. As the Royals closed out their first world championship in three decades, Moore watched from a few feet away, standing behind his team.

If you ask Moore about the moments after the final out, he doesn’t remember much. He knows a Fox television staffer came to grab him for a trophy ceremony. He knows he went searching for his family. He remembers the Royals fans who crowded behind the third-base dugout in the minutes after the game. As the night turned to morning, Moore found a quiet spot on a dugout bench. The celebration poured out onto Citi Field; Moore soaked in the moment in solitude. Five months later, he says he rarely reflects on the championship.

“We’ve never really allowed ourself to be completely attached to the outcome,” Moore says.

He says winning feels the same at every level — that same shot of adrenalin, from Little League to high school to independent ball. The World Series was no different, and the feeling always leaves soon enough.

There is something else, too. When people ask Moore about winning the World Series, he will often bring up the 2014 Wild Card Game. It was the night that signaled his franchise’s arrival, an epic 9-8 victory in extra innings. But Moore reflects on it for different reasons. The outcome makes him think about Oakland general manager Billy Beane.

“What could Billy Beane have done differently in that Wild Card Game?” Moore says. “He couldn’t have done anything. He had a good team — one of the best teams in the American League.”

This, in some ways, is the secret. For nearly 10 years, Moore put his faith in the process, believing in a culture and a mission, staying true to a clubhouse full of players. His faith, he says, offered comfort during seven straight losing seasons, and it kept him grounded after the glory.

As the Royals set out to defend their championship, he prefers to re-visit the foundation. There is no spirit of failure. There is only power, love and self control. The process begins anew.

“What’s hard for a lot of people is to recognize what’s in the heart,” Moore says. “A lot people choose to not look at this. I’ve come to believe that’s the most important. If somebody will give their heart away, then they care. And you’ve got to care, too.”