The jury is out on Kansas City manager Ned Yost. There are those who say he’s out of touch with how baseball’s played in the 21st century. Others believe he’s a crafty, cagey skipper who has no fear of being criticized and isn’t afraid to try the unexpected.
Then again, Yost may be perfectly made for the Royals -- a get-a-run then figure-a-way-to-score-another team.
Baseball is a strange game that most people see as never-changing. That’s far from true. There’s actually little comparison between the game today and how it was played when people like Royals slugger George Brett and pitching ace Bret Saberhagen disposed of the St. Louis Cardinals in the “Show Me” World Series nearly 30 years ago.
Baseball today is all about playing for the big inning or big hit. Let the fireworks explode and the fans cheer. Bigger is better and today’s super-informed, computer-driven analysts claim it's a smarter, more productive way to play. All that business about sending a batter to the plate to draw a walk or advance a runner with a bunt is so yesterday.
Yost is somewhat of a throwback. That’s what had critics howling after he managed a 9-8, 12-inning comeback win over the Oakland A’s in the American League Wild Card Game. His approach resembled how baseball was played years ago – get a run here or there, then let the pitching carry you home.
Maybe’s baseball’s small-ball approach is better suited for those with small minds. It’s the older generation who grew up watching Walter Alston flash a sign to the Dodgers’ Maury Wills, who stole second and wound up in scoring position. Try that a time or two, pick up a couple runs, let starters like Sandy Koufax or Don Drysdale shut down the opponent's collection of fearsome hitters, and the job was done.
The Los Angeles Angels, who won a league-leading 98 games this year, probably had no fear going into their series with the Royals, especially with power hitters Mike Trout and Albert Pujols ready to damage a small-market team like Kansas City. Were they surprised as the Royals swept the three-game series.
Maybe the lack of confidence that swirls around Yost has as much – or more – to do with the uncertainly associated with Royals baseball. This is a team that over the past 30 years has normally been out of playoff contention by Memorial Day. At times it resembled a group of minor-leaguers masquerading as the big boys.
Until the series with the Angels, there hadn’t been a post-season game played at Kaufman Stadium since the last pitch of the 1985 World Series. Still, the Royals kept battling and somehow their fans kept believing.
Baseball has changed in another way since the last time fans were still discussing Kansas City in a serious way in October. Today’s managers are the subject of harsh criticism and endless second-guessing. That represents a big change from days of old, when just a few sportswriters covered a team and offered alternate views.
Some managers manage a collection of highly paid stars, while Yost manages a roster in a scripted way to squeeze out a narrow victory. He can do that because he can take a lead and turn it over to a strong bullpen – the strength of a team that has refused to fold.
Yost’s style has not only conflicted with how baseball’s played today, but it has come at a time when there are far more “experts” to share their views – often opinionated and biting. Yost isn’t alone, he just happens to be fresh fodder, even as he takes a team to levels it hasn’t enjoyed in years.
Some might claim Yost’s style is outdated. Others might describe it as refreshing or fun. If the Royals keep it going, either description might be revised to include winning.
Tom Lindley is a CNHI sports columnist. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.