“Believe it or not, the Royals used to be terrible. No kids, it’s true. Kansas City used to be terrible. … How did it turn around? How did the Royals reach the playoffs … win the World Series in 2015 … well, it was that minor league system … that amazing Kansas City Royals minor league system.”
There will be no humblebragging here. I wrote those words in 2011 for Sports Illustrated. I wrote them when the Kansas City Royals were coming off a 95-loss season preceded by a 97-loss season. The Royals had finished with one (barely) winning record in the 16 years since the 1994 strike. They were terrible, a laughingstock, and I predicted that they would win the 2015 World Series based on the expected emergence of a whole bunch of players like Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez and Eric Hosmer, who had not yet played a single major-league game.
In a professional career during which I have made my mark by being wrong, I’m not going to underplay this one. I predicted almost five years ago that the Royals were going to win the World Series this year. In the moments after Game 5 ended, and the Royals beat the Mets, I was standing just outside the clubhouse as champagne sprayed, and I felt this finger poking my chest. I turned.
“YOU PREDICTED THIS!” Dayton Moore was shouting at me. “YOU PREDICTED THIS!”
Then a bunch of other Royals people started calling me “Nostradamus.”
Yes. All hail me.
Of course, if you want to get into the details, well, I got a few things wrong in that piece. So what happened was this: Back in late 2010, I was talking with my editor there and I was telling him that we should do something on how the Kansas City Royals’ farm system was the best in baseball and one of the best in recent memory. My friend and current SI managing editor Chris Stone gave me the green light because he’s a big baseball guy and, I suspect, because he deeply amused by my Royals optimism.
I mean, the Royals’ farm system was legit — I was hardly the only one saying so. Baseball America listed the Royals’ farm system as the best in baseball and perhaps the best since they had started keeping track 25 years earlier. Many others sang along. Keith Law, for instance, had five Royals prospects in his Top 41. Baseball Prospectus had five in its Top 21. John Sickels had three Royals in his Top 10 hitting prospects and three more in his Top 20 pitching prospects. I would hear from people throughout baseball about the Royals’ amazing prospects, and how this time there was real reason for hope in Kansas City.
So it was widely acknowledged that the Royals had prospects. But what would they do with them?
When it was time to write the story, I decided on a gimmick: I would write it as if I was years into the future. And I would write it as if the Royals were the dominant team in baseball.
A few of the predictions I made in that piece:
— LeBron James would not win an NBA title. Fact check: False. Very false.
— Tiger Woods would not break Jack Nicklaus’ record for major championships. Fact check: Mostly true.
— Charlie Sheen would become Reverend Sheen. Fact check: False, as far as I know.
— Derek Jeter would become U.S. President. Fact check: Too early to tell.
— Flying cars are coming. Fact check: Do we know what Apple is doing?
And as far as the Royals go, well, this was five years ago, so a lot of details I got wrong. I assumed that top prospects Wil Myers, Mike Montgomery and John Lamb would play a role in the ascent (they did, sort of, more on that in a second). I assumed that Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer would become MVP candidates, which is not exactly true, at least so far.
But when predicting the future, you shouldn’t worry too much about the details. What was clear in 2011 was that something fundamental had changed with the Royals. It was the same thing we saw last year with the Chicago Cubs (who I think will win the World Series in the next five years). The Royals had the most valuable asset in all of baseball: Young talent. And if they used that young talent in the right way, they would ascend.
Well, the Royals did. Young homegrown players like Moustakas, Hosmer, Salvador Perez, Yordano Ventura and Kelvin Herrera emerged as big contributors. The Royals traded Myers and Montgomery in a big seven-player deal that netted them Cyborg Wade Davis, the all-but-unhittable reliever. The Royals dealt Lamb to Cincinnati in a trade-deadline deal that brought them Johnny Cueto, who came up big in two crucial postseason games this year.
The Royals did a lot of other things right, too. Dayton Moore and the club had one coveted player in 2011, and that was former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke. They had to get a lot in a trade for him. When they made the trade, many people — Nostradamus, included — thought they did not get enough. As it turned out, they got Lorenzo Cain, who will get MVP votes this year, and Alcides Escobar, who is their everyday shortstop and leadoff hitter. So, yeah, they hit big.
They made some shrewd small-print acquisitions, too, like Kendrys Morales, who looked completely spent last year, pitcher Chris Young and utility-man-extraordinaire Ben Zobrist. It wasn’t the straight-line climb to the top that I might have predicted in that story. But climbs to the top never go in straight lines.
I became a Kansas City Star sports columnist back in 1996, and for 15 or so years I wrote columns about their awfulness. How many? Have you seen the movie, “Home”? There’s that great exchange in there between Captain Smek and Oh.
Oh: “I has fixed my mistake!”
Smek: “Yes, but before you that, you has made your mistake.”
Oh: “But I …”
Smek: “And many mistakes before that.”
Oh: “Wait, I have not …”
Smek: “Many, many, many, many …”
Oh: Actually, I …
That’s how many columns I wrote about the Royals’ awfulness. But always, there was a thread of hope that one of the plans would work. The Royals always had good people trying to make the team a winner. The Royals always had a few good prospects, a few good players, a few good thoughts … and there was this feeling that someday, after all the high draft picks, after so many mistakes had been learned from, after Bill James’ plexiglass principle kicked in (teams that improve in one season tend to decline in the next and vice versa) this team would have its day.
Well, it happened. When I decided to put the hopes into the historic pages of Sports Illustrated, where they will stand forever, I predicted they would first make the playoffs in 2013. It was actually 2014. I predicted they would win their first World Series in 2015.
I also predicted they would win three more. That will be tougher.
So, yes, I’m going to say that I absolutely called this and, like the Emperor from Star Wars, I feel it’s only right that everyone should kneel before me. This week’s Sports Illustrated cover features Hosmer and Moustakas hugging each other, surrounded by the team. Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen.
The headline: “Make it Reign!” I have foreseen it!
The subhead: “How the relentless Royals ran off with a World Series title no one saw coming.”
Oh … come on!