Ned Yost brought out the best in his players



September 25, 2019 - 10:56 AM

Ned Yost spends time with fans before playing the Oakland Athletics on Sept. 18. DANIEL SHIREY/GETTY IMAGES/TNS

The Ned Yost story that sticks in the mind came from the playoff runs. Of course that’s when it happened. Nobody’s career in Kansas City sports turned quicker or with more force than Yost’s during those two magical years.

The postseasons began with that 2014 Wild Card game, and by now we all remember it for Salvador Perez somehow pulling a pitch from the left handed batter’s box down the third base line. That moment changed the Royals. Changed baseball in Kansas City.

It also may have saved Yost’s job.

His decision to use Yordano Ventura in the sixth inning just two days after a 72-pitch outing in the season finale, with two runners on and the Royals up one, blew up. Ventura had never before pitched in a high-leverage situation as a reliever. He gave up a three-run homer, then a single, and threw a wild pitch. Yost was swiftly and overwhelmingly blasted online. The crowd buried Yost in boos.

Three hours later the crowd had Kansas City’s biggest party in years. Yost survived, and then celebrated. But that’s not the story that sticks out. That’s merely the story that sets up the story that sticks out.

The 2015 American League Championship Series. Game 6. The Wade Davis game. Davis pitched 1 2/3 innings with a rain delay in the middle, and the Royals won on a breathtaking marriage of preparation and athleticism when Lorenzo Cain scored from first base on a single. Those were wild times.

Afterward, I was walking back through the dugout tunnel to write. Two players a few feet ahead of me walked toward the clubhouse.

“Guess we bailed him out again,” one said to the other, and they both laughed.

It was a joke. Yost’s reputation as a strategic boob had become exaggerated. The Wall Street Journal labeled him “The Dunce” in a headline. The players noticed. Yost noticed. It’s hard to say they used it as motivation. They already had plenty, in the time of their professional lives. But it did spice the celebrations.

Then again, in private moments, some players allowed that some of Yost’s moves were, well, unproductive. I never heard that sentiment expressed as criticism, necessarily. But it did come as part of the description.

So I can’t swear that the line I overheard was a joke. I think it was.

The point remains either way: through parts of 10 seasons and 1,580 games as the Royals’ manager, Yost had his players’ backs, and they had his.

He announced he will retire after this season. Time for a new voice for the Royals, and finally to the post-baseball life Yost has always wanted.

Yost and the Royals went through some of their worst times together. They also brought out the best in each other.

Ned Yost is stubborn and proud and has no patience for fools. It’s also part of his job description to answer questions from reporters at least four times per day: a beat writers-only meeting followed by a bigger group followed by a one-on-one radio interview before the game, and then a postgame interview.

Add in spring training and the playoffs and Yost has sat to answer reporters’ questions well over 10,000 times. Just with the Royals, the number is close to 7,000.

Perhaps it’s simply a self-coping mechanism, then, but Yost developed something of a signature in these settings: Yost begins by totally rejecting the question’s premise before beginning his answer which, as many times as not, included agreeing with the premise.

My favorite example might be from this spring, when Yost was talking about no-hitters and someone mentioned it sounded like he was superstitious.