Diamond Days

George Mason University alum Dayton Moore hits front office stride with Kansas City Royals.

George Mason University alum Dayton Moore hits front office stride with Kansas City Royals.

By David Gignilliat

Dayton Moore / Photo courtesy of Chris Vleisides/Kansas City

Even with baseball’s lengthy offseason, the work for Kansas City Royals General Manager Dayton Moore never really slows down. It just keeps on going.

Even before the dust has settled from last out of the prior season, it’s already time for him to start thinking about next year’s squad. Per the rules of Major League Baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement, six days after the World Series ends free agency period begins as players can test their values on the open market. League-wide winter meetings usually take place each December. Then more free agency and exploring possible trades, and making decisions about salary arbitration, minor league contracts and non-roster invitees. And, there’s scouting international talent in the Dominican Republic and other far-flung locales. Organizational meetings. Winter not yet over, pitchers and catchers begin to report for spring training in February at the team complex in Surprise, Ari.

Before you can sing ‘Take Me Out To The Ballgame,’ on Opening Day, the real grind unfolds anew—a marathon 162-game, six-month season begins in April and ends early October. If you’re lucky, your team earns one of baseball’s 12 postseason spots, and nearly another month’s worth of games if your team advances through the playoffs into the World Series.

Then, you do it all over again.

But for Moore, who started his journey into the upper echelons of professional baseball’s front offices as a student-athlete at George Mason University nearly 25 years earlier, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Dayton Moore took some heat for recent trades for the Kansas City Royals as he tries to build his young team, specifically in the bullpen. / Photo courtesy of Chris Vleisides/Kansas City

“I don’t think it’s a big deal that I’m a GM of a baseball team. I just love the game. I wouldn’t trade my career path for anything. I have been fortunate to know what it’s like to grind it out as a player and strive to be successful,” says Moore, who lived in Northern Virginia from 1988 to 1996. “I was one of those players that went to every open tryout camp, and wanted to play as badly as anyone possibly could. And when I realized genetically I wasn’t gifted enough for that to happen, I moved on to the next challenge.”

After growing up in Moline, Ill., Moore spent two years at Garden City Community College, playing baseball for the small college located in Garden City, Kan. After using up his junior college eligibility, he spent the following summer playing for the Reston Raiders (“It was my first time ever that far east,” he says.) of the Clark Griffith League, a collegiate summer baseball league serving teams in the Metro-D.C. area, which is open to those with at least one year of collegiate eligibility and amateur status; the league included mostly freshman and sophomores.

It was during this time that he attracted the attention of George Mason coach Billy Brown, who had seen him play and was recruiting one of his friends to play for the Patriots.

“Dayton was a great defensive player, and as an offensive player, [he was] the type of guy who could move the bat. He was obviously very bright. He knew how to play the game, run the bases,” says Brown. “It became apparent as he played for us that there were a heckuva lot more intangibles than just being a very solid college player. He was above and beyond when it came to the mental aspect of the game.”

Brown, still the coach at George Mason going on his 32nd season, perhaps saw a bit of himself in the passionate young infielder. Like Moore, he took an indirect path to George Mason, returning to Fairfax as a player after seasons at the University of Georgia and Allegany Community College (Cumberland, Md.). He finished his playing career at George Mason, earning his degree in 1980 and taking over as the team’s third-ever head coach a year later when Walt Masterson retired in 1981.

Photo courtesy of Chris Vleisides/Kansas City

While with the Patriots, Moore emerged as a leader, a student of baseball analysis long before such a thing would become de rigeuer.

“From a work ethic standpoint, he was just relentless,” Brown recalls of Moore. “He was always dissecting things back in an age where there weren’t computers to dissect things. That was him just being analytical about the game.”

Moore played an integral role on the 1988 Patriots team that advanced to the East Regionals in Tallahassee, Fla. of the NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament. Brown never chooses captains for his Mason teams, preferring the role to grow organically within the squad. “I think leadership comes naturally. It rises to the top. That was the way it was when Dayton was here. He was the guy that rose to the top.”

After finishing his intercollegiate eligibility at George Mason in 1990, Brown helped Moore sign with an independent professional team, the Erie Sailors of the New York-Penn League. His dreams of a budding professional career crashed quickly, however, as he was released out of spring training.

“I remember Billy said, ‘Come on back, let’s coach,’” Moore recalls. “Whenever my playing career was over, I knew I wanted to coach. And I knew there was a willingness or an openness at the [George Mason] program to have me coach in the future.”

Brown offered Moore a position as a graduate assistant, which he gladly took. Even then, Brown saw something special in his former player, a passion and drive that would serve him and the game well.

As a Mason assistant, Moore worked primarily with infielders and hitters, and was “very hands-on,” recalls Brown. During Moore’s stint as a coach, the team won its third conference championship in 1992 and a school Division I-record for victories with a 39-18 mark. That year, the Patriots also earned their first-ever NCAA Tournament win defeating Rider 10-2 at the East Regional in Gainesville, Fla. The next season, the team won its first-ever at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and an overall 33-15 record.

During the offseason, Moore managed the Winchester Royals in the nearby Valley League, an NCAA-sanctioned summer collegiate baseball league with several teams populated by players in the Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia. In both 1992 and 1993, the Moore-led Royals won the league’s championship.

With a coaching schedule that put him involved in over 100 games a year, his on-field success started to draw the attention of others outside of the red clay diamonds of Northern Virginia, most notably the National League’s Atlanta Braves.

“When the Braves called me, I originally said ‘No, I wasn’t interested,’” Moore says. He was already living one of his dreams, coaching athletes at the college level. But Atlanta’s then-scouting supervisor Roy Clark kept calling, and encouraged him to meet with the Braves, to at least hear them out.

Northern Virginians in the Major Leagues:

CURRENT:

Mat Latos
Pitcher, Cincinnati (born in Alexandria) 

Joe Saunders
Pitcher, Baltimore/Free Agent (born in Falls Church, attended West Springfield HS, Virginia Tech)

Justin Verlander
Pitcher, Detroit (born in Manakin-Sabot, attended Goochland HS) 

FORMER:

Mike Matthews
Relief Pitcher, St. Louis, Milwaukee, San Diego, Cincinnati, NY Mets, 2000-2005 (born in Fredericksburg, attended Woodbridge HS)

John Wasdin
Relief Pitcher, 1995-2007 (born in Ft. Belvoir)

Al Bumbry
Outfielder, Baltimore, San Diego, 1972-1985 (born in Fredericksburg) 

Clark had played at Ferrum and graduated from Virginia’s Martinsville High School, and had known Moore from their intersections in Northern Virginia baseball circles. Clark, now the assistant general manager and vice president of player personnel for the Washington Nationals, was also instrumental in selecting Bryce Harper with the first pick of the 2010 Major League Draft.

Moore eventually obliged, and met with Clark and the Braves to discuss a position in their scouting department. After careful consideration, he accepted a position as the team’s scouting director for the mid-Atlantic states. The position, though not entry-level, was a foot in the door, an opportunity to grow his baseball resume.

“I was going to do the job for four years. And try to learn a different side of the game,” Moore says. “Fortunately I had a wife that was very supportive of what I wanted to do. I certainly wasn’t the breadwinner.”

In August 1996, after a few more years based in Northern Virginia, the Braves asked him to relocate to Atlanta to be an assistant in the baseball operations department. A few months later, in November, he became the team’s director of scouting.

“I decided to do it truthfully because it afforded us the opportunity as a family to make ends meet on one income. Living in the Northern Virginia area as a scout, you needed two incomes,” says Moore, who met his wife Marianne, an Oakton High School graduate, while living in Northern Virginia. “So I decided to go down there and do it, see what happens, and it gave Marianne an opportunity to stay at home.”

There probably was no better proving ground for an aspiring young front office executives than the 1990s-to-early-2000s era Atlanta Braves. At the time, the Atlanta Braves were becoming the standard-bearer for how to run a front office in all of baseball, if not all professional sports. Led by General Manager John Schuerholz and Manager Bobby Cox, the Braves won a record 14 straight division titles from 1991 to 2005. Atlanta made it to the World Series five times during this period, winning it all in 1995. During this time period, the team was home to several likely Hall of Fame players, including homegrown talents Tom Glavine and Chipper Jones, as well as longtime Braves’ pitchers John Smoltz and Greg Maddux.

“John [Schuerholz] is one of the best competitors I’ve ever known, combined with his intellect and his baseball instincts and his ability to hire the best people,” says Moore.

Moore moved quickly up the rungs of the Atlanta front office system, becoming assistant director of player development, and then director of international scouting before his promotion in 2002 to director of player personnel development. In August 2005, he took over as the team’s assistant general manager, becoming Schuerholz’s second-in-command. The swift ascent led “Baseball America,” one of the sport’s top industry publications, to name him its top general manager prospect in 2004 and one of the “Top 10 Up-And-Coming Power Brokers in MLB” in 2005.

 

GOING HOME AGAIN

While preparing for Atlanta’s 2006 draft, Schuerholz called Moore into his office. The owners of the Kansas City Royals, Dan and Dave Glass, had made some inquiries about Moore and wanted to meet with him to discuss their vacant general manager position. Schuerholz himself had spent 22 years with the Royals’ organization before joining the Braves, and though he did not want to lose someone many thought would be his successor in Atlanta, he wanted Moore to speak with the Glass family about the opportunity with the Royals.

“The Royals were my boyhood team,” remembers Moore. “I followed them as close as you can. I was aware of their situation, and knew they had struggled for many, many years, and so it was intriguing to meet with them, but I wasn’t sure I would want the position.”

Like the Atlanta opportunity over a decade earlier, Moore eventually capitulated and agreed to meet with the Royals’ brass.

“Meeting with Dan and Dave, they made it very clear they wanted to start from scratch and build a model organization, and to take the necessary time that it would require to build something,” he says. “It really wasn’t a rebuilding effort, because the Royals hadn’t won anything since [the World Series in] 1985, so it was an opportunity to build something.”

Moore took the job on June 8, 2006, replacing Allard Baird, now a vice president of player personnel with the Boston Red Sox. In doing so, he instantly became one of the league’s youngest general managers and another poster boy for a younger generation of aggressive front office executives.

 

BUILDING A TEAM

At the time, the Royals did not have an international program, and a limited scouting and development staff. In his first season, the team went 62-100, finishing last in the division and with the second-worst record in the American League. Except for budding star Zach Greinke (who would go onto to win the 2009 Cy Young award in Kansas City before leaving for Milwaukee), the cupboard of talent was nearly bare.

"Dayton was a great player. ... He was above and beyond when it came to the mental aspect of the game,” says GMU coach Billy Brown. / Photo courtesy of George Mason University Athletics Department

So Moore played to his strengths, scouting and development, hoping to return a winner to Kansas City through the draft, the minor leagues and through player development. They made draft picks cautiously. Like his mentor’s blueprint in Atlanta, he hoped to have at least a few players each year from within the Royals to emerge each season and vie for playing time at the major league level.

“One of the things that helps when you’re trying to build an organization, you need somebody to develop relationships and manage from the ground up,” he suggests. “If you’re already with an established organization, one that’s thriving, you can manage from the top-down because it’s already established. We knew we had to build a foundation in Kansas City, I wanted to be a part of laying the bricks, and that’s what I’ve been able to do.”

Some of those ‘bricks’ have included recruiting a few fellow George Mason alums. First, he added J.J. Piccolo, the team’s current assistant general manager-scouting and player development. Piccolo played at Mason during Moore’s coaching tenure, and like his current boss, went on to coach at George Mason following graduation. He had also worked in the Braves front office alongside Moore from 1999 to 2005. In 2010, Moore hired another Mason graduate, Lonnie Goldberg, to be his director of scouting. Goldberg grew up in Fairfax, and also followed the Fairfax-to-Atlanta pipeline to Kansas City, playing for Moore and with Piccolo at George Mason, later joining both of them in the Braves front office.

Just after this year’s Winter Meetings, held in Nashville, Tenn., Moore and the Royals consummated a blockbuster trade, sending uber-prospect Wil Myers and three others to the Tampa Bay Rays for right-handed pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis. Myers hit .314 with 37 homers and 140 strikeouts in 591 plate appearances at Class AA and AAA in 2012, and at just 22, is a blue chip prospect who may turn out to be a franchise player. Both of the new Royals pitchers have had significant success at the major league level, including an all-star nod and a third-place finish in the American League Cy Young race for the 31-year-old Shields in 2011.

Ten years earlier, such a trade might have taken up a few column inches in the morning paper, or warrant a brief aside on ESPN’s “SportsCenter.” But in 2012, when literally thousands of baseball watchers, including many fans, have an editorial or social media platform; and when Major League Baseball runs a year-round cable network covering the sport; and fans starting a FireDaytonMoore blog, there is nowhere to hide from what can seem like a torrent of criticism.

Many observers posited that the Royals had given up too much in Myers, rated the No. 3 prospect in all of baseball after the 2012 season by “Baseball America.” Some accused Moore of trading away the team’s long-term future for a potential short-term gain, a win-now season.
 

Moore’s Northern Virginia ‘Base’-Path:

Reston Raiders
Clark Griffith League Player

Student
George Mason Physical Education and Health, 1989

Player
George Mason, 1988-1990

Assistant Baseball Coach
George Mason University, 1990-94

Winchester Royals
Shenandoah Valley League, Manager 1991-93

Mid-Atlantic States Area Scouting Supervisor
Atlanta Braves, 1994-96

“I think that Dayton understands that, whatever you do, there’s going to be criticism at some point from some segment. The bottom line is you have to have the courage and fortitude to go out and do those types of things and do what you think is right, and he never wavers on that,” says Brown, who still follows Moore’s exploits closely. “And that’s an incredibly great quality [to have] on a personal level. All the great ones have that—they’re willing to get out there on the line and make the decision whether it’s popular or not. You’re doing exactly what you believe is the right thing, and that’s the way he’s run his life.”

Moore held his ground, and gave several interviews to national media outlets in the subsequent days affirming his bold decision. “The most pressure I feel, truthfully, is being a husband. So, I don’t really feel like I’m under any more pressure than anybody else, because I think that most good men, that’s where they feel the most pressure in life. I’m no different.”

His wife, and three children, Ashley, Avery and Robert have always been his priority. “That’s where I put the most pressure on myself. That’s my main team,” he says.

In some ways, the 2013 version of the Royals resemble the Washington Nationals teams of the last few years. They’re both among baseball’s youngest teams, with scores of young players at the major league level, and coveted homegrown talent just a few seasons away. After making the postseason seven times between 1976 and 1985, the Royals have not been to the playoffs since, the longest drought of any current team.

The missing link for the recent Royals teams has been quality starting pitching, something Moore addressed with several offseason moves, including the Myers/Shields trade and acquiring veteran pitchers Jeremy Guthrie and Ervin Santana via trade and free agency, respectively.

“Prior to the 2012 season, we were just trying to patch it up year in and year out and be as competitive as possible, knowing full well that we probably weren’t ready to win,” he says. “We now believe that we’re in a much, much better position to compete. I don’t know if we’re going to win, but we have a much better product on the field. It’s a young team, it’s a talented team, and I’m excited.”

Moore, who just turned 46 in February of this year, says he’s never seen his current position as the end of his baseball journey.

“I want to get back into coaching someday. My gut tells me [it’ll be] somewhere at the high school or college level,” Moore says. “I don’t have to be the GM of a major league team to be happy.”

 

(March 2013)

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