By In Stuff

Blast from past: Dayton Moore

I wrote this in 2006 shortly after Dayton Moore took the job as Royals GM. I was reminded of it by somebody and reread it … I found it fascinating how much Dayton Moore has held true to his core beliefs through many years when it looked like it wouldn’t work. The manager stuff he talks about here just reiterate his feelings about Ned Yost.

The Royals didn’t win the division but I do wonder if he sent that bouquet of flowers to the ESPN guy. I’ll have to ask him when I get to KC.

* * *

Dayton Moore thinks often about the Plaza in the heart of Kansas City. It comforts him. He thinks about the shops and the restaurants and the people who walk around at all hours. He thinks about free parking. He thinks about the fountain with four equestrian figures on the corner of 47th and J.C. Nichols. Those four horses represent four great rivers around the world.

But that’s not why the Plaza comforts Royals general manager Dayton Moore.

“Why?” you ask.

“It’s something personal,” he says.

* * *

Kansas City Royals moment: Spring training, 1999. Royals executives gather around a pitcher named Mike Piechnik. He throws the ball just 75 mph, though it undeniably does dance. He also throws the ball underhanded. He is a Canadian softball pitcher. He has never played baseball before.

“It’s a balk,” Royals assistant general manager Allard Baird shouts as they watch Piechnik throw. The others discuss this. A balk? Someone looks for a rulebook.

Baird walks away while shaking his head. “It’s a balk,” he mutters.

* * *

Dayton Moore had it good. He was not yet 40 years old, and he was the No. 2 man for the Atlanta Braves, a team that had reached the playoffs 14 straight years. He was destined to be the Braves next general manager. Everybody knew that.

He did not have to wait for Atlanta. He was a hot property. The Braves, sparked by nine rookies (Dayton’s kids!) had won another division championship. The magazine Baseball America called Moore the top general-manager prospect in the game. The Boston Red Sox called him when GM Theo Epstein snuck out of Fenway Park. Arizona also called. Cincinnati, too.

So why was he considering a job with the Kansas City Royals?

Maybe he was being sentimental. Moore grew up a Royals fan. He remembered hot summer evenings in Coldwater, Kan. He sat in the living room with his grandmother, Wynona Marley. She loved the Royals. They kept score together. And together they rushed outside to get the morning paper, and they scoured the Royals box score because the day could not begin until they saw the batting line:

Brett 4 3 3 2.

Maybe it was childhood romance preying on Moore’s mind. George Brett was gone. The Royals had become hopeless. Baseball may be a big game, but it’s a small world, and Moore had been there on nights when baseball guys played the “What’s the worst job in baseball?” fantasy game. The Royals GM job was always a high draft pick.

Still. There was something beyond nostalgia going on. A friend had called and said, “Dayton, unless someone like you takes the Royals job, they have no chance in the world.”

Moore had ended the conversation right there because he cannot absorb compliments. They make him feel ill at ease. “Who am I?” he asked. He tried to forget it. But in the middle of the night, his friends words seared through him. The Royals did need someone. Dayton Moore sat awake in his comfortable home and his comfortable life, and his mind whirred with ideas for turning around the Royals. And, much to his surprise, by morning Moore realized that he was going to take the job.

* * *

Royals moment: Last game of the season, 2002. The Royals have 99 losses. They have never lost 100 games in a season — not even in their first year. Before the game, a couple of veteran players beg out of the game. They say they are hurting.

Manager Tony Pena sends out a lineup that includes the unmemorable Kit Pellow, Luis Ordaz and Dusty Wathan. Rookie relievers Ryan Bukvich and Jeremy Hill pitch. The Royals lose 7-3. They lose the 100th game.

“One hundred losses, ninety-nine losses,” Pena says. “What’s the difference?”

* * *

First thing, Dayton Moore asked his Royals executives to wear jackets and ties on game day. “The Royals,” he announced, “are going to be a professional organization.”

That was his buzzword. Professional. The first few weeks in Kansas City, he found himself snapping at people. Things weren’t professional. Why wasn’t this done? That? Why were the scouting reports so thin? Why were there no scouts watching other major-league teams? He looked at the major-league team and saw aging veterans clogging the base paths. He looked in the minors and saw no pitching. More than anything, he saw baseball people — good baseball people — who were not sure.

“We’re going to expect positive things,” he barked. Doubt was outlawed. Excuses were banned. “If there’s someone who does not believe 100 percent that we are going to win a championship,” he said, “then they will not work for the Kansas City Royals.” One day, he saw an ESPN announcer make a mocking comment about the Royals. Moore made a note to send that guy a bouquet when the Royals won the division. He meant “When.”

“If,” he said, “is not a word we use around here.”

Moore hardly recognized himself. “I don’t think I was rude,” he would say. “But close enough.” He could not keep up with his feelings. Moore had never intended to become a general manager. He grew up obsessed with playing baseball. He was an all-out, gut-busting ballplayer at Garden City Community College, then at George Mason. Until the very last minute — until he went undrafted for the final time — he still expected to play in the big leagues. Reality slapped him. He became a coach at George Mason. He loved it. The Atlanta Braves asked him to scout. He loved it.

Then the Braves asked him to come to Atlanta and work in the office. It was a spectacular break, one young scouts dream about. He said no. The phone rang an hour later — it was Roy Clark, the Braves director of scouting.

“Hello,” Moore answered.

“You’re an idiot,” Clark said.

“Why am I an idiot? I like what I m doing. That makes me an idiot?”

“No,” Clark said. “You have a chance to work with some of the best people who have ever run a baseball team and you said no. That makes you an idiot.”

He went to Atlanta. Immediately, people realized Moore had the gift. He was smart, aggressive, organized and he had terrific baseball instincts. People also liked working with him. He took charge of the Atlanta international scouting department, and in time he was the head of Atlanta’s scouting and player development. He built a reputation. Still, he did not think of becoming a general manager.

“I know it sounds strange,” he would say. “But I was happy.”

Moore expected to be one of those mysterious baseball people who dedicate their lives to the game and only get their names in the paper on the day they retire.

Then, teams started calling. The Royals job came open. “I m not complaining,” he said. “I signed up for this. I m excited about this.” But in those early days his patience cracked easily. He could not sleep. Moore walked the Plaza at night. That made him feel better.

* * *

Royals moment: September 2005. The Royals have already lost 19 games in a row. Pe a quit after a game.

A pop-up skies high in a meaningless Tuesday night game. Left fielder Terrence Long and center fielder Chip Ambres settle under it, look at each other and jog toward the dugout. The ball plops behind them.

“Someone needs to put this team out of its misery,” a former Royals player says.

* * *

Dayton Moore is as old fashioned as those pillow mitts fielders wore in the 1930s. That’s something people miss about him. He looks cutting edge in his crisp suits. He tries new things — complicated statistics, computer analysis, new approaches. He carries a Blackberry.

But at his core, Moore still believes baseball comes down to character. It’s just what he believed when he was a kid who, on rainy days, set up bases in his garage and cracked tennis balls off the walls and lawnmowers.

“I would not hire someone unless I believed in his character,” he said. “I would not draft or sign anyone unless I believed in his character. I learned that lesson a long time ago. We will have a team Kansas City can be proud of, I promise you that.”

If you ask Dayton Moore what his No. 1 quality for a baseball employee is, he will say: “Someone who doesn’t sugarcoat things.” He wants honesty. He wants accountability. He wants people who love their work and give all they have. This might explain the close relationship he has built with manager Buddy Bell. Many people felt sure Bell would be fired shortly after Moore arrived. But Moore expects five things from his manager:

1. Communicate with the front office.
2. Earn the players respect.
3. Keep players focused for 162 games.
4. Keep players motivated for 162 games.
5. Keep politics out of the clubhouse.

“You ll notice there’s nothing in there about strategy,” he said. “I think manager strategy is the most overrated aspect of the game. It’s up to the players to produce. People are going to blame Buddy Bell because Ambiorix Burgos blows a game in the ninth? Come on. Blame us for rushing Burgos. Blame us for not giving Buddy better options. Blame Burgos himself for not getting the job done. But that’s the not the manager.

“Sure, I like Buddy. He has the respect of his players. They play hard. As long as that happens, I don’t second-guess the manager. It’s a dictatorship in the clubhouse, and the manager is the dictator. That’s Buddy’s clubhouse. I was taught a long time ago: Hire good people and let them do their jobs.”

This is Moore’s reputation. In Atlanta, people loved working for him because he did not look over anybody’s shoulder. Gene Watson was a scout for Atlanta, and he was in Venezuela. He saw a young pitcher throwing 93 mph with good sink. It was late at night, and he calledMoore at home and gave an enthusiastic scouting report.

Moore said just two words: “Sign him.”

Watson recently left the Florida Marlins to come work for Moore and the Royals.

“He’s one of those incredible people who you know will be successful,” Watson said. “We’re going to win in Kansas City. And I just want to be a part of it.”

* * *

Royals moment: May 2006. Center fielder Kerry Robinson races back to the wall on a long fly ball in Chicago. He leaps at the fence. He climbs the wall.

The baseball bounces 10 feet in front of him on the warning track.

“Every time it seems like we hit bottom, we go lower,” a Royals executive says.

* * *

Some good things did happen after Moore arrived. Mark Teahen emerged for three months as a terrific young hitter. David DeJesus stayed healthy. Pitcher Luke Hudson had some success. Moore traded for a promising first baseman, Ryan Shealy. The Royals signed pitcher Luke Hochevar — a Scott Boras client. Alex Gordon was chosen as the minor-league player of the year.

The team also played marginally better. This last week, they battle to avoid 100 losses, which is fairly remarkable after the awful start.

“I do feel more at home in the job,” he said. Of course, he still finds it odd that he’s the general manager of his hometown team. He does sometimes think back to when he was 19 and he still believed he would be a major-league player. He stood outside the fence at Royals Stadium and watched game seven of the 1985 World Series.

“I’m not a comfortable guy,” he said. “When things are going badly, I’m uncomfortable. When things are going well, I m even more uncomfortable. But I know: This is where I want to be. This is where I’m supposed to be. We’re going to get it done.”

When things begin to overwhelm him, Moore thinks about the Plaza. It grounds him. It inspires him. It reminds him why he came to Kansas City.

“The Plaza?” you ask. “Why?”

“Haven’t you figured it out?” he asks back. He shrugs. “On my first day in town, my wife and I were driving through the Plaza. There were people walking everywhere. Kids. Adults. It was great.

“And I turned to Marianne, and I said, This is where we’re going to have the parade. “

32 Responses to Blast from past: Dayton Moore

  1. mvandermast says:

    It took me a minute to figure out that “Pe a quit after the game” meant “Pena quit after the game.” Great read as always; thanks, Joe.

  2. hawkbrand says:

    Does Dayton deserve all this credit for producing an 89 win team in year 8 of his reign? Typically, 89 win teams do not earn a wild card. He drafted Hosmer and Moose for power, and they produced 23 homers this season combined. And both players have had the Alex Gordon obligatory 1,500 at bats. He traded Myer and Odorizzi for two years of Shields and probably two years of Davis (can Royals afford to pay a one inning set up guy $15 million the next 2 years?). He fully expected Davis to be a starter and lucked out that he can be effective pitching one inning. We could have had 4 more years of underpaying for a ROY and an above average starter. I think Dayton lucked out this year. I expect this year’s team to be a one hit wonder. A sub .500 team for most of the season except for a nice 5 week stretch from July 22 to August 23. Don’t get me wrong, I am a Royals fan. I just don’t see this continuing. Once every 29 years a team can get lucky in the greatest season of parity since before the ’94 strike. I think Dayton is lucky and isn’t worthy of most of the praise coming his way.

    • Don’t forget they were an over .500 team last year too so there is something “continuing”. They’re in a better position than the Tigers at this point.

    • flcounselor says:

      “He fully expected Davis to be a starter and lucked out that he can be effective pitching one inning.”

      You’re dead wrong. That sentence fully reveals your lack of baseball knowledge.

      The year before Moore made the trade Davis had an ERA of 2.43 with 87 strikeouts in 70.1 innings of relief. It was known that if Davis didn’t work out he’d already established that he was a quality reliever.

      Luck had nothing to do with Davis’ success, and very little to do with anything else you attribute just to luck.

    • invitro says:

      “Typically, 89 win teams do not earn a wild card.”

      I wanted to check this… here are the win totals for the ALWCs, ordered by year from 1996 to 2014:
      88 96 92 94 91 102 99 95 98 95 95 94 95 95 95 91 93 93 92 92(1-game playoff included) 89 88

      And the NLWCs:
      90 92 90 96 94 93 95 91 92 89 88 90 90 92 91 90 94 88 90 94 88 88 (three 1-game playoffs included)

      So 89 wins is certainly the bottom of the range in the AL; the average is 93-94. It’s more often good enough in the NL, where the average is around 91.

    • MikeN says:

      All this talk about how one-sided the Myers trade is just guesswork. I remember when people thought the Red Sox were giving up the future best player in baseball for Josh Beckett, saved only by throw-in Mike Lowell becoming MVP. In retrospect, Beckett for Ramirez was a steal for the Red Sox.

    • Roy says:

      Care to offer an amendment to your incredibly bad prognostication?

    • William Eldridge says:

      Hello hawkbrand, I am sitting here reading your comments, I indeed think Dayton Moore (and the staff he has assembled) is deserving of the praise. Not only have they duplicated last year’s success, but has surpassed it in winning the World Series. And with the basic core of the team in place, I believe the success is sustainable for years to come. Kudos to Dayton Moore.

  3. NJAndy says:

    We have the home field advantage in The World Series and you are complaining? Good grief. Enjoy the ride.

  4. paul says:

    I am very jealous that you will be there for game 1, Joe, but at least I will be at game 4. Will you be there, Joe?

  5. Faye Schlift says:

    Let me preface by saying that I love Joe’s writings. But even his biggest
    fans have to admit that there has been a strange disconnect from
    reality and logical analysis/criticism over the years when it comes to Dayton Moore.

    If someone read this 2006 column on Moore and knew nothing
    about baseball. they would think this guy was going to be one outstanding
    General Manager. They might be shocked to learn that his teams would
    have a 594-702 record over the next 8 years. His contributions would
    include horrendous & clueless trades and signings. Joe even lists a couple
    of “good things” that happened early in Moore’s reign: signing Luke Hochevar (really?)
    and acquiring Ryan Shealy (not mentioned, but traded for Jeremy Affeldt who I think
    is still playing). This guy has been absolutely terrible until the 8th inning of the
    play-in Wild Card game with Oakland. Now it turns out, he had a plan all along
    and has stuck to his “core beliefs”. The last 8 games have been amazing but do they
    really negate 8+ years of incompetence. For a similar revisionist story, see: Yost, Ned.

    • DjangoZ says:

      It was a good Joe story, but you’re right, Moore doesn’t deserve much credit. He has been a fair to poor GM, though he does get some slack given the limited payroll he has to work with and the terrible shape of the organization when he took over. Still 8 years is a loooong time to be given to deliver success.

      • nightfly says:

        As an Islanders fan, I feel somewhat qualified/compelled to reply.

        The Isles made a trade in the first season Garth Snow became GM – the established Ryan Smyth for what amounted to three first-rounders – the Isles’ two prior selections and their upcoming selection in the upcoming draft. FWIW the trade “worked” in that the club made the playoffs; failed because they were promptly demolished and Smyth jumped ship as a free agent that offseason.

        So, with a team that was probably not a playoff team going forward, with no prospects to speak of and no draft choices before the third round of that draft. Snow and company blew up what was left to destroy and started over.

        Well, it took six years and a strike-shortened season, but they made the playoffs again. And after last season’s debacle, he retooled the team with a few signings and three big trades (Halak, Boychuk, Leddy) and they look darned promising this year – eight years after he last made the playoffs.

        Some teams just take longer to fill in the yawning crater of past stupidity, and especially in baseball when you have to try to project some players five-plus years after a draft, developing them through as many as five levels of minor league training. Moore may well be on the right track despite it all.

    • MikeN says:

      When I read the article, I thought Joe was being subtly critical of Moore. Then again I didn’t read it in 06, but around 2010 or so, before the current success.

  6. invitro says:

    “But at his core, Moore still believes baseball comes down to character.”

    “I would not hire someone unless I believed in his character,” he said. “I would not draft or sign anyone unless I believed in his character.”

    Given KC’s extremely woeful performance in GMDM’s reign, we must conclude that the best baseball players have lousy character.

  7. invitro says:

    “I would not hire someone unless I believed in his character,” he said. “I would not draft or sign anyone unless I believed in his character. I learned that lesson a long time ago. We will have a team Kansas City can be proud of, I promise you that.”

    I also wonder who were the players that DM did not sign because of their low character. I’ve gotten the impression that Brett had low character, at least when he was young; would DM have signed him? Is low character a big problem in baseball, or was it in 2005? Was DM mainly talking about steroids?

    I can see that character might’ve been an issue around 1978, when drugs were starting to be a major factor in MLB and the NBA. But wasn’t KC one of the drug hotbeds then? Isn’t Kansas City still very proud of the teams that had lots of drug users?

    • hawkbrand says:

      Kansas City had 4 players caught in the cocaine scandal of ’83 – Aikens, Blue, Martin, and Wilson – they were found guilty of misdemeanor charges for attempt to purchase cocaine. The Royals cut ties with 3 of those 4. The Royals also were found later to have another cocaine user on the ’85 team – Lonnie “Sniff, Sniff,” Smith. The Royals cut ties with him and Dayton’s mentor, John Schuerholz, allegedly tried to have him blackballed. So, the Royals were found to have 1 of 25 players (4%) on the ’80 World Series team to have a drug problem (just Aikens as Wilson didn’t allegedly start using until ’82) and just one player on the ’85 team (just Smith as Wilson was drug-free then having served his time and undergone treatment). Keith Hernandez estimated that at least 40% of baseball players in the early 80’s were recreational drug users. Thus, Kansas City celebrates their World Series teams that have had far fewer drug users than the estimated percent of the baseball population as a whole, and the overall percent of the U.S. population for that matter. So, I wouldn’t say Kansas City had a lot of drug users. Kansas City probably had among the lowest number of drug users. Especially given that Vida Blue, Jerry Martin, Lonnie Smith, and Willie Aikens brought their drug habits/use from other baseball organizations. They were all users prior to landing with the Royals.

      • invitro says:

        “Kansas City probably had among the lowest number of drug users.”

        This is a masterpiece of nonsense. Do you work for the government?

  8. Jeff says:

    “He carries a Blackberry.” indicates his cutting-edginess. How did 2006 get so far away?

  9. MikeN says:

    Who was the Venezuelan pitcher?

    • hawkbrand says:

      My guess would be Jose Ascanio. I believe the only other Venezuelan pitcher who was signed by the Braves during Dayton’s days in Atlanta was Ruben Quevedo. But that was back in ’95 when Moore was just a scout.

  10. Dayton Moore is being mentioned as the next Braves GM, which makes sense with his relationship with Schuerholz and the fact that the Braves are using an interim GM right now with the winter meetings looming. They could be waiting for the Royals to finish playing. I’m not certain I want Moore. They haven’t developed that much talent, quite frankly. The team won, but not because they developed or acquired an awesome roster.

  11. shoekc says:

    People that are complaining of Dayton Moore’s lack of success are missing one key ingredient. He has been hamstrung by David Glass and a limited payroll. Baseball is not an even playing field, KC is fighting an uphill battle to be .500. MLB has set it up for the top 8-10 payroll teams to have a huge advantage. I admit I am not a huge Yost fan, and at times am frustrated with moves, but back to back winning seasons and a portion of the payroll of many teams has to be considered.

  12. hawkbrand says:

    Royals have a payroll north of $90 million, higher than the A’s and Pirates. Moore has been given money to play with, and he has flushed a lot of it down the drain. He spent $36 million on Jose Guillen and $20 million on Jeff Francouer over 3 seasons each. He paid $6 million to Jonathan Sanchez and his 1-6 record and over 7 era. Sanchez is the guy who Moore gave up Melky Cabrera for. The Royals have invested more than $20 million in Luke Hochevar. Although, he could end up being a decent reliever if he can return to last year’s form in 2015. Although, he isn’t worth his $5.5 million salary he got this year.

    • The Francoeur contract was ridiculous. Francoeur had already failed with the Braves, where he went from the home town fan favorite to getting booed for his constant flailing at the outside slider. He had a couple of good months with the Mets and as a platoon player for the Rangers. So, he would have been worth a decent one year deal to see if he could put together a full season of good work. But nothing beyond that. That’s just an epic fail by Moore.

      Another one that bugs me is the Braves BJ Upton signing. When the Braves signed Dan Uggla, at least he was coming off a career year. Nobody expected him to crater as fast and as far as he did. A GM might be excused for that mistake. But, With Upton, he was already in decline. His numbers were already dropping, so there was nothing about him that warranted a five year deal. Kind of reminds me of the Dontrelle Willis deal with Detroit, where Willis got a contract despite having lost it two years prior. I’m not a GM, but I know enough not to sign already declining players to multi year deals. I understand the temptation to reward 30-something players coming off big years, but giving a long term deal to failing/declinng players? What is that?

  13. Luke says:

    I feel really bad for all the people writing negative things here. Here’s the thing, these next 9 days are as good as anyone can reasonably expect it to get for the Royals. In fact, all the past tragedy means I’m getting more joy out of this than a Yankees fan would get from winning 3 straight World Series. Bottom line, if you’re not happy with Dayton’s performance now, you’re never going to be. Win or lose, there’s only 9 days left, then it’s just a memory. Enjoy the ride.

    • The Royals remind me a lot of the 1988 Dodgers…. minus Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershiser. That, and the Royals aren’t facing the 1988 A’s, either. Smoke and mirrors, but that doesn’t mean they can’t win a championship. But, if you like that parallel, note how many World Championships the Dodgers have won since then. Exactly zero. You can pull it off with chewing gum and bailing wire once…. but don’t look for a dynasty, or even a consistent playoff team. The Royals roster is a slightly better than .500 type roster. They’re on a roll. They might win, so enjoy the ride. The clock will strike midnight, but if they are holding up the trophy as the clock chimes 12, it will make for a magical season that will overshadow the inevitable slide back to reality next year.

      • BTW: the 1988 Dodgers win was a personal highlight in sports. All year it seemed impossible. When Gibson got hurt, it felt like it was over. The A’s were too good. Even with Gipson the Dodgers had overachieved. When Gibson hit that HR, fairy dust was sprinkled on the proceedings and suddenly it seemed possible. The rest of the series was just a lot of craziness. Scrubs making plays they never make and getting hits they had no business getting in the World Series. Magic. The replays of the Gibson HR still give me goosebumps. I do hope the Royals seize the moment. They can hang their hat on that for a long time.

  14. […] addition to his own record, Moore carried this organizational and civic baggage with him into the 2012-13 off […]

  15. […] Or maybe I agree with him. Back in 2006 when he was hired as general manager of the Royals, he had 5 points for what he wanted out of a manager. They […]

  16. […] When owner David Glass offered the KC Royals general manager job to Dayton Moore, many people advised him not to take the job. The Royals appeared to be a hopeless organization. Soon after Moore took the Kansas City job, Kansas City Star columnist Joe Posnanki wrote this in a 2006 feature about Moore: […]

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