Jeff Montgomery held his tongue long enough. For 10 years he quietly watched as the Royals lost nearly 1000 games. He was gone, but not forgotten. He was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame in 2003. But he contented himself with raising four children and observing his former team’s losing ways from afar.
During the post-Jeff Montgomery decade of 2000 to 2009, the Royals won 672 games, lost 948, had one winning season, and posted a “winning” percentage of .414.
In 2010, however, the former relief pitcher decided it was time to start talking again. He began providing pre and post-game commentary for the Royals’ TV broadcasts, first on a trial basis, and now full-time going into 2011.
Montgomery played 12 seasons with KC, notching 304 saves and playing in three All-Star games. He spoke about his playing career and his new broadcasting venture in a previous article on I-70baseball.com.
Like the average Royals’ fan, Montgomery suffered through the promises of “rebuilding” and “youth movements” with very little to show when it was all over. But as he moves into a new phase of his career, he believes the Royals are moving into a new phase of their history as well, one in which things are finally being done the right way.
“It’s been a very frustrating period,” Montgomery said recently. “I think the most difficult part is that there have been on-again, off-again movements toward rebuilding the organization. The Royals fans have been given promises that we’re going to go young and we’re going to build. The problem with that is that it’s a very time consuming process.”
Montgomery will be watching first-hand as the Royals attempt to transition the top-rated farm system in baseball into a competitive major league team. Under the direction of Dayton Moore, the team is working to develop a home-grown cast that can matriculate together to the big leagues.
At the time of Montgomery’s retirement in 1999, the Royals were launching a youth-movement that appeared headed for success. In 2000 the lineup consisted of Mike Sweeney (26 years old), Carlos Febles (24), Mark Quinn (26) Carlos Beltran (23), Jermaine Dye (26) and Johnny Damon (26). Salary demands forced the Royals to part with a few of those key pieces, but yet the team amazingly succeeded in 2003 to post 83 wins, narrowly missing the playoffs. That success proved to be fool’s gold, Montgomery said, causing the team to lose sight of its long-range plan.
“You know, in 2003, the Royals had a winning record – the only time in about 16 or 17 seasons that that’s happened. But after that, going into the 2004 season, they kind of got off track. They brought in Juan Gonzalez and traded for Benito Santiago, and tried to win again. And everybody expected that, and it was a huge disappointment. And as a result of that, it kind of threw that plan off track again.”
Montgomery believes that Moore’s approach – to stockpile quality pitchers in the minor leagues and to eschew quick free-agent fixes – will be successful.
“In 2006, when Dayton Moore came in, he was essentially given the time and the flexibility to start from scratch, focusing primarily on pitching,” said Montgomery. “As Dayton put it, pitching is the currency of baseball. We’re going to add arms to the organization at the minor league level, at the major league level. We’re going to build around pitching, just like when he was involved in the rebirth of the Atlanta Braves going back a couple of decades ago.”
When Moore signed on with the Braves in 1994 as a scout, the team was enjoying the fruits of the labor of developing Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Steve Avery. The current Royals boast a handful of talented pitchers in the minor leagues that Montgomery envisions developing into quality major leaguers.
As many of the Royals’ prize prospects have climbed to the Double A and Triple A levels of the system, Montgomery believes fans won’t have to wait much longer.
“I think right now the organization is about 80 to 85% through that process, but they are not going to defer, and try to bring in guys that are going to get them off that track,” he said. “They are so close. I’ve compared it to running a marathon. They are about 25 miles into their marathon race and they’ve just got a little bit to go. There’s no guarantee they’re going to finish this race, but they’re getting close. And there’s no reason to get off course now.”
Montgomery knows this is same song, umpteenth verse to long-suffering KC fans. But he believes this time it’s different.
“The difference I think now is that there is not just one or two guys in the minor leagues that everyone is banking on. If you go back over the years, there was Zack Greinke who everyone said was going to be a standout pitcher, which he turned out to be. There was Alex Gordon, the college player of the year, who everyone expected to become the next George Brett. So far that has not occurred.
But the difference again now is that there are literally dozens of players. The organization is very rich in young talent both from a pitching standpoint and from an offensive standpoint. There are going to be some busts along the way. Some of those guys are not going to work out. They’re going to become injured or they’re not going to play to the level everyone expects them to.
“But if you’ve got such a large amount of players who have all got such a high level of expectations, some percentage is going to hit, and you don’t have to have all of them. You’ve got a deep enough system now, that even if only a fraction of them hit, you’re going to be ok.”