Straitjacketed by lawyer-ese, Royals pitcher Danny Duffy was supposed to say as little as possible the other day after being cited for driving under the influence.
In a remorseful tone, he delivered a brief and vague statement on Tuesday in the media room at Kauffman Stadium.
Then, about to make the instant exit as planned, Duffy was compelled to say something more unrestrained.
Speaking of general manager Dayton Moore, seated alongside him, Duffy said, “I owe my life to this guy.”
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If that sounds like an exaggeration, beyond his parents, there’s little doubt Duffy believes that’s true — and you could go around the clubhouse and find many with similar sentiments.
The day the Royals selected him in the third round of the 2007 draft, Duffy was in cap and gown for graduation from Cabrillo High in Lompoc, Calif., thus becoming a Royal immediately after that rite of passage.
Through a personal issue that left him quitting the game for a period in 2010, through Tommy John surgery and other ups-and-downs, “Bury Me A Royal” became not just a popular Duffy Tweet but a belief system because of how the organization nurtured him under Moore’s guidance.
Nurtured without enabling, much in the way you’d hope a parent would.
You saw living proof of what that looks like in the riveting news conference with Moore after Duffy left.
It was a scene remarkable for Moore’s candor and insight and sheer humanity when most leaders would tend to be invisible or mechanical.
Over and over, Moore said the Royals love Duffy and will support him.
But he was unwilling to dismiss the DUI as an isolated incident, since he doesn’t know all the facts, and said there is no alibi or excuse for what Duffy had done.
In the age of the coddled or propped-up or insulated athlete, his most striking words were these:
“Danny’s hurting, but, honestly, I’m glad he’s hurting,” Moore said. “He needs to hurt. He needs to feel shame.”
In the process, Moore demonstrated once again what makes him special and so much more than what his title says.
Since winning the 2015 World Series, little has gone as the Royals or Moore might have hoped.
After his streak of remarkably successful moves, a number either have backfired (Alex Gordon’s $72 million contract) or have muddled the issue of whether the future is now, or truly somewhere off in the future (Wade Davis for Jorge Soler and holding onto a horde of potential free agents).
Even the trade-deadline moves that seemed likely to bolster the Royals’ playoff prospects (acquiring Melky Cabrera and three Padres pitchers) have provided at best mixed results.
Now, salvaging a wild-card spot is a lofty goal entering the last month of the regular season in what looms as the end of an era.
Barring a momentous change of fortune into an improbable playoff run, Moore isn’t going to get another of those Major League Baseball “Executive of the Year” awards like he did in 2015.
But if this is the last hurrah with much of the core that made baseball in KC not just relevant but thrilling again, even if you’re exasperated with the state of things right now, it’s also a fine time to pause and remember that Moore is the same man who rejuvenated the franchise.
And remember that with his dignity, integrity, transparency, charitable endeavors and appeal to the best in us, he’s done some of his most admirable work in the last few months — work that transcends baseball and stands for why Kansas City is lucky to have him in this job.
After Moore got the wrenching news on Jan. 22 of Yordano Ventura’s death in a car accident in the Dominican Republic, he knew that he was being called upon to try to somehow comfort Kansas City and Ventura’s family, and even the Dominican nation itself.
From watching Ventura’s former teammates suddenly serving as pallbearers … to seeing Royals executives, dressed formally, walking more than a mile in stifling heat among the Dominicans to the graveyard … to an emotional woman in Ventura’s hometown of Las Terrenas holding a handmade sign reading, “Thank You Kansas City For Your Love And Support.”
I will remember all of these snapshots for the rest of my life.
But I don’t believe anything will remain more vivid than how Moore handled it all.
Moments after Moore hugged the weeping Jarrod Dyson, whom Moore had traded to Seattle not long before, Moore took the hands of Ventura’s family members just feet from the casket.
“We’re very sorry, and you’ve reminded us today that Jesus speaks to us through pain,” he said in words that were translated for them. “We’re all family. We’re all hurting together. We loved Yordano, and we love (your) family.
“And we’re proud and honored to share in this sorrow and pain with you.”
It’s impossible to gauge the effect Ventura’s death has had on this season, whether in cold-blooded terms of the sheer performances he might’ve contributed, or the psychological impact of such a piercing loss.
In the aftermath, Moore knew both that healing and compassion were needed, but so was redoubling the organization’s efforts to create awareness of the trappings and pitfalls of its players’ fame and fortune.
He met with players in small groups and talked to them again about the importance of making good choices, reiterating their responsibilities to the community and to themselves.
Life happens anyway, though.
Because players aren’t “perfect vessels,” as he put it. They have what he called “the freedom and the choices of manhood, but oftentimes they don’t have those responsibilities. Because we don’t allow them to have those responsibilities.”
He takes that on himself, though, in ways that are rare and important and much more lasting than just what you see in the team’s win/loss record.
“I view this as a positive. I view this as a good thing. I enjoy problems,” Moore said. “Because then you get opportunities to grow and get better and let them shape you and mold you, and those circumstances grow you as a person and a professional …
“I can’t wait for Danny to have this discussion with our minor-league players in the future. We will discuss it, we won’t run away from it and we’ll learn from it and discuss it to give other people hope and to learn from. That’s the bottom line.”
It’s a different one, of course, than what the record tells you.
But it’s a standard and way of thinking from which all else has come in his tenure with the Royals — something bigger to remember when some decisions go awry.