KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) The memories come back in bits and pieces, and for that he can be forgiven. After all, 29 years have passed since he was standing on the hillside, watching everything unfold.
It was a blowout, Dayton Moore says, the deciding game of the 1985 World Series. Darryl Motley homered off John Tudor in the second inning. Cardinals pitcher Joaquin Andujar, known for his volatile temper, got tossed by umpire Don Denkinger later in the game.
More than anything, though, Moore remembers the way Kansas City celebrated.
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”Just the joy and the atmosphere,” he said almost wistfully. ”Actually, it was very similar to what we experienced during the playoff games here, a lot of energy. A lot of fun.”
Nearly three decades after the Royals won their only World Series, they’re headed back to baseball’s biggest stage. And the kid who grew up cheering for them in his hometown of Wichita, Kansas, and couldn’t score a ticket to Game 7 of the ’85 Fall Classic – instead watching from beyond the outfield fence – is the general manager responsible for making it happen.
”It’s what it’s all about, from a baseball standpoint,” Moore said Thursday, less than 24 hours clinching the AL pennant with a 2-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles.
”The things that have happened around the city, the joy we’ve brought to people’s lives, that’s special,” Moore said. ”It’s what athletics is all about. That’s why we do what we do. We love to compete. We love to win. But this is what attracted us to the game as little kids.”
The Royals will open the World Series on Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium against San Francisco. This time, Moore’s sure to have a decent seat.
The way he pulled off one of the game’s great turnarounds is a testament to perseverance, to patience and savvy and good business sense. It took tricky trades, wise draft choices and the kind of commitment to a rebuilding job that is rarely seen in professional sports these days.
In a win-now era, Moore spent eight long years rebuilding.
There were pitfalls along the way, lousy contracts given to Gil Meche and Jose Guillen that proved to be a waste of precious money. There were misfires on managers. There were failed young prospects that were rushed to the majors or never even got there.
Slowly, though, things started to turn around. Young hitters such as Alex Gordon and Billy Butler figured things out. First-round draft picks Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas matriculated to the big leagues. Shrewd signings in free agency and smart scouting of international prospects such as Salvador Perez and Kelvin Herrera began to pay dividends.
Then the two big trades that would make or break Moore’s tenure in Kansas City.
The first: shipping disgruntled Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke to Milwaukee for a package of prospects that included Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain, the ALCS MVP this year. The second: sending baseball’s top prospect, Wil Myers, and several other young talents to Tampa Bay for starting pitcher James Shields and dominant reliever Wade Davis.
”I think that was when Dayton really put us over the top,” said Gordon, the starting left fielder. ”He did a great job of finding guys, developing them and turning it into this.”
He also managed to do it with significant financial limitations.
In a game of massive revenue disparity, the small-market Royals set a franchise record with just over $97 million in payroll this season. But the Dodgers still doled out $255 million, and the Angels – whom the Royals swept out of the playoffs – spent more than $163 million.
”Dayton has all the assets you want in a general manager,” Royals owner David Glass said this week. ”He’s a great talent evaluator. A great leader. He has absolute integrity. He’s very intense. He’s as good as it gets as far as general managers are concerned, in my opinion.”
That’s why his name is now surfacing for other jobs.
The biggest opening in baseball happens to be in Atlanta, where Frank Wren was fired and interim GM John Hart declined an offer for the full-time job. Moore got his start in the Braves organization as a scout, and learned the ins and outs of the front office from their longtime general manager John Schuerholz – coincidentally, the GM of the Royals from 1982-90.
Glass, who hired Moore away from Atlanta in 2006, said he wouldn’t stand in the way of him leaving. But Glass also said that he would do everything in his power to get him to stay.
Given the long and complex history that Moore has with the Royals, from his days watching from the grassy hillside outside the ballpark to now occupying one of the suits reserved for the general manager, it might take quite the offer to lure him away.
Especially given how much fun he’s had along the way.
”It’s an unbelievable blessing to be where we are right now,” Moore said. ”We knew this was a great fan base and if we could put a product on the field, they would support it. Hopefully we’ve grown the game in this area and brought a lot of joy to peoples’ lives.”