Today the Kansas City Royals begin playing in the World Series, having made the Major League Baseball playoffs this year for the first time since 1985.
They have gone on a postseason run that has delighted and bewildered many baseball fans, not losing a game despite playing teams that were far more successful than them during the regular season. Now they stand four wins away from being crowned champions of baseball.
But enough about them. What lessons can you take away from this?
1. Past failures don’t mean anything. Get over them.
Kansas City has had a stunning run of incompetence since their last World Series appearance in 1985. They still had some success in the late 80s with the remains of their championship team, but they were terrible in the 90s, with just two winning seasons, one of which came in 1994, when the season ended early due to a player’s strike.
Then they got worse–so much worse–in the 2000s. They had just one season where they won more games than they lost, a surprise 2003 season where everything went their way and they still finished just 83-79. Four times they lost 100 games.
This decade didn’t start out much better, with the Royals losing 90 or more games in 2010, 2011, and 2012. Last season, they went 86-76 and in the beginning of September (the last month of the regular season), they still had an outside shot at the playoffs. They did not finish the season well, ending up 7 games behind the division champion Detroit Tigers. It was a season that prompted General Manager Dayton Moore, having just finished his seventh season running the team, the first with a winning a record, to say “I feel like we’ve won the World Series.”
This legacy of failure was not the result of bad luck or fluke plays. It was the result of a couple decades of intentionally giving money to bad baseball players to play baseball professionally for the team. It was the result of sticking with people who showed they could not perform their tasks far longer than other organizations would. It was trickle-down ineptitude.
And now they’re on the brink of being labeled the best team in baseball.
No matter how bad your past, you can overcome it if you just keep going out there every day and trying.
2. You can overcome managerial incompetence.
We’ve all suffered through this, right? Your job is going fine, things are running pretty smoothly, and then a directive comes down from the executive group that doesn’t make any sense. Everybody’s life is made harder and things really struggle, and you wonder “What are they thinking?”
As mentioned, Dayton Moore as General Manager of the Royals now has two winning seasons on his 8-year-long resume. He is the architect of the team, so it’s his responsibility to find the players to produce a winning team. He has instead signed a lot of bad players. Even this year, the year of Royals Devil Magic, he signed 42-year-old Raul Ibanez to be on the team after Ibanez had spent the first few months of the year showing he was completely unable to play baseball anymore and was released by the Los Angeles Angels.
Moore has been hampered in his endeavors, because the team is owned by the Glass family, and they are notoriously cheap. With the oodles of money flowing into baseball right now, the Glass family chooses to make a nice profit rather than invest it in the team. This is their right, of course, but it does make it harder to field a winning team.
And the man in charge of the players, of who gets into the games, and how they’re used, is Ned Yost. There is a lot that can be said about the questionable decisions Yost makes, so let’s go with a couple of fun ones.
1) Yost became the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers in 2003. In 2008, the Brewers were in a similar situation to this year’s Royals, chasing a playoff spot when they hadn’t made the playoffs since losing the World Series in 1982. With 12 games left to play in the season, the first-place Brewers fired Yost, an absolutely unheard of move.
2) Remember that questionable Raul Ibanez signing mentioned when discussing Dayton Moore? Any value the ancient Ibanez could hint at providing would be with his bat. He had been a good hitter over his long career, but he had always been a lousy fielder. At 42, he could barely move anymore. Luckily for the Royals, they play in the American League, where a player can hit without playing in the field as the designated hitter. Yost had Ibanez start 13 games in the field, where he was predictably awful. 13! That’s not a case of there being an emergency and he had to fill out a roster. That’s Yost saying, “Now now, I think he’s got something he’s not showing us. He’ll be good out there.” He was not good out there.
Yet despite every layer of managerial command showing some level of inability to field a winning team, here are the Royals, winners of the American League.
You too can overcome the failures of those in positions of power in your organization.
3. Being mediocre can be good enough.
Let’s be honest: these Royals are not very good.
Oh, they are certainly not bad. For the first time in a long time, all of the players they use deserve to be on a major league roster. They have talent.
They just don’t have an overwhelming amount of it. During the regular season, they outscored their opponents by 27 runs, which is not very impressive. If they had wound up with the record that mathologists say that run difference would suggest, they would not have made the playoffs at all.
Their pitching staff was good (and helped out by their excellent defense), but their offense had as much trouble scoring as high school mathletes. They didn’t draw walks (last in the American League) or hit home runs (last in the American League). Instead, they tried to put the bat on the ball and run around a lot. That’s a solid strategy for Little League, but less effective in the Majors. This is why Ibanez was signed in the first place.
And while a lot of people want to point to their postseason success to show that method really can work, in truth they’ve finally started walking and hitting for power. I haven’t looked up the stats, but I think they’ve hit more home runs in the playoffs than they did during the year. Certainly their pitching has still been good and their defense has been unbelievable, so even a little uptick in offense has been enough to propel them to the World Series.
T.I. might not want no mediocres, but sometimes, being mediocre is enough, because it puts you in a position where everything can go right. Which leads to the next point.
4. Hope can be a strategy.
The Royals made the postseason as a wild card team, so they had to win a one-game playoff just to make the big boy playoffs. In that game against the A’s, they trailed 7-3 in the 8th inning. This is when the Legend of the Royals began.
Despite trailing by four runs with only six outs left until they were eliminated, the Royals played as though the game were much closer. They laid down sacrifice bunts; they stole bases, they did things that teams usually do when they’re playing for one run.
Of course, it all somehow worked. Their strategy could only be described as “I hope this works” (Yost!), and it somehow did.
Don’t bother coming up with plans. Just do stuff, hoping it works out. Sometimes, it will.
5. There is no reason in the universe.
Okay, that might sound bad, but stick with me on this one.
That the Royals are in the World Series simply doesn’t make sense. They were a mediocre team led by incompetents, employing questionable strategies that somehow helped them beat superior teams, after a long tradition of being the laughingstock of the sport.
There’s no reason that should happen. The Royals have helped us realize there is no reason in the universe.
Think about how freeing that is. No longer do we have to worry about what our actions mean, or what someone else’s actions mean, or why things happen. Things just happen. Maybe it’s because the universe is unfeeling and caring, a random collection of bits that can’t hoped to be understood. Maybe everything is orchestrated according to the whims of a capricious deity.
Or maybe one fan just never took off his lucky socks and it actually worked this time.
Either way, we can just relax and let things happen. It’s out of our hands.
So will the Royals topple the Giants and win the World Series? Who can say?
But it doesn’t really matter, does it? After all, the Royals feel like they already won the World Series last year.
1. Ibanez has been the oldest player in the majors for the last three years. ↩
2. “Questionable” definitely means “bad” in this case. ↩
3. This might be more difficult if you’re self-employed. ↩
4. Got you, mathletes! Finally, someone stands up to you. ↩