Gregorian Chants

With playoff berth nearing, it’s time to give Royals manager Ned Yost some credit

Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost.
Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost. The Kansas City Star

1. NO TOAST FOR YOST? Since they started giving out the award in 1983, only one Royals skipper has won American League manager of the year (Tony Pena).

That’s probably no surprise, considering that pending tonight’s game at Chicago they’ve only reached postseason play twice (1984 and 1985) since the inception of the award.

And that’s not likely to change this season since the Angels’ Mike Scioscia or Baltimore’s Buck Showalter appear to be the favorites.

But when the Royals clinch their first playoff spot since 1985 sometime this weekend, the breakthrough should make for some appreciation of Royals manager Ned Yost.

If only …

But it ought to at least create some kind of dilemma for the legion of fans who have decided they despise him or that he is incompetent.

Players win and lose games, of course, but there are those who see it as only players can win games and it’s mostly managers that lose them.

And Yost particularly provokes that way of thinking to some.

It’s part of the fabric of the game, of course.

Something about its pace and apparent simplicity have always made it an incubator for second-guessing the manager.

There’s plenty of time to question every decision after the fact. And so many of us played at a much more elemental level that we all know better … in a sport defined more by failure than success to begin with.

Almost no one is immune.

According to the book, “The Philadelphia Athletics,” the manager with the most victories in the history of the game, Connie Mack, retired after the 1950 season with this caveat:

“I’m not quitting because I’m getting old; I’m quitting because I think people want me to.”

Now, Mack was 87 and, alas, had been fading in a number of ways for years. But it’s long been the manager’s plight to be pilloried for decisions that go awry and to be seen as merely blundering into those that do work out.

Somehow, a manager must perfectly straddle those lines of playing by the book and by the gut and incorporating new math into all this or they are perceived as idiots.

Never mind if those things all can contradict themselves and that playing percentages by definition means you only succeed X percent of the time.

Anything that goes wrong is unforgettable and unforgivable, and anything that goes right is just a blind squirrel finding an acorn.

Plenty in St. Louis still have that view of Tony La Russa, even though he finished his career with the third-most wins among managers in the history of the game and led the Cardinals to two World Series wins.

Yost’s mentor, Bobby Cox, is the fourth-winningest manager baseball ever has known.

But many an Atlanta fan thinks of that era of Braves baseball as a letdown because the team won only one World Series (1995) despite making the playoffs all but one year from 1991-2005.

Even as this 28-year playoff drought approaches its end, a Royals fan might find that standard a bit fussy.

But some will still find it hard to embrace Yost, in part because he can be irritable, in part because his considerable sense of humor just doesn’t translate well to sound bites and in part because he’s made some memorable decisions that backfired.

Some logic and fair-mindedness seem called for here, though:

If you blame Yost for the bad years, and even the handful of obviously bad decisions this season, you can’t just dismiss his role in the turnaround and say the Royals have overcome him to win.

This is a team that could have crumbled a few times, most notably after Yost’s ill-conceived pitching blunder in Boston after the All-Star break made you wonder if the team had lost faith in him.

But one way or another, he patched that up.

He also kept things moving forward and stayed upbeat with his team when all appeared lost at the trade deadline, when the Royals had to make a substantial move but were gridlocked.

He’s been given a great pitching staff to work with, yes, but it’s hard to find ways to manufacture runs and wins with an often under-performing lineup.

Which helps account for why we might see some exotic moves that leave you scratching your head.

But as of this week, Yost has managed the most games in Royals history, and entering tonight’s game his team is 34 games over .500 since last June 4.

Look back at recent Royals history, and it seems remarkable that he remains unpopular in so many precincts.

So if his decisions that drive people bonkers have earned him the ridiculing Twitter stamp of #Yosted, well, that imprint belongs on what this team has achieved, too.

2. MISSING PAYNE: With so many strong personalities on this Ryder Cup team, captain Tom Watson was confident any number of players would help him spread the energy and urgency of the event.

But he wasn’t expecting anyone to do what Payne Stewart did in 1993, when his daily ritual was to blare Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The USA” at 5:30 a.m. for wakeup calls in the hotel.

“We miss him,” Watson said.

The native of Springfield, Mo., was 42 when he died in an airplane accident 15 years ago next month.

3. TRADITION UNLIKE ANY OTHER: Watson is a traditionalist, so he was jarred by the scene at his Ryder Cup debut in 1977 in England.

“In the Ryder Cup, you hear cheers when people miss putts. … The players have to understand that; I had a hard time understanding that,” he said.

Watson was “kind of unsuspecting” until he missed a short putt and heard a cheer, but he came to understand it as part of the phenomenon of international competition.

“So I don’t have any issue with it,” he said.

4. MATCH-UP ZONE: Match play, the format for the Ryder Cup, is “a different animal than playing your score,” Watson noted.

Even so, it doesn’t quite change one element of the game: focus on your own play.

“Granddad said, ‘You play the golf course and let your opponent take care of himself,’” Watson said.

5. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN: So, this happened on national TV in Cleveland earlier this week:

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to vgregorian@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com

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