Now with the Royals tying the World Series Wednesday night 1-1, things are really getting hot: Two San Francisco radio stations have removed the song “Royals” from their play lists. The smash hit from the seventeen-year-old Kiwi songbird Lorde was inspired by a 1976 photo of Royals’ hall-of-fame third baseman George Brett. Perhaps it was their meeting in the first month of the season that launched the club’s magical journey—which Bay Area DJs are now trying to derail by putting the kibosh on the club’s improvised anthem.
Closer to home, Giants and Royals front office personnel exchanged unpleasantries and nearly came to blows at a Washington area golf tournament recently. Or, it was just two former George Washington University head baseball coaches happy to entertain alumni and the current GW roster with a lively round of banter on the back nine. Mike Toomey, who coached the GW nine for part of the 1970s, is an assistant general manager with the Royals, and John Castleberry, who led the Colonials in the late 1980s and early 1990s, is northeast scouting supervisor for the Giants. With the series moving to San Francisco, I spoke with Castleberry, who helped build the current Giants club and is now looking to earn his third World Series ring with the organization. I asked him how the 2014 team differs from the two championship clubs.
“Most people don’t realize how young guys like Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner were back then,” says Castleberry. At the time, the Giants’ backstop was 23 and their southpaw ace 21. “They’re reaching the apex of their careers right now.
Even this group doesn’t get enough credit for being a young team. Everyone talks about the Royals being young, but without Hudson and Peavy, the average age on our club is probably 27. Our second baseman, Joe Panik, is 23 year old.”
Castleberry notes that the Giants have 14 homegrown players on their roster, which he sees as a tribute to the organization and general manager Brian Sabean. “We look not just at ability but also make up. Sure, skills put a kid in the spot to be looked at, but then we dig deeper, make home visits and find out about character.”
Contrary to what many fans of Moneyball believe, scouting amateur talent and building a professional baseball organization is about much more than crunching numbers.
“We have a very good analytical department that does numbers,” says Castleberry. “But it doesn’t stop there. Our guys get to know these kids. Panik had good numbers as well as make-up. The make-up of people like Panik, Bumgarner, and Posey is off the charts.”
According to Castleberry, Posey is the anchor of this team. “He’s not a rah-rah kind of guy,” says Castleberry. “But he has this talent—people just gravitate to him. And now he’s maturing even more, as are guys like Brandon Belt.”
Castleberry remembers seeing the former University of Texas first baseman hit in the Cape Cod League. “He had a very closed stance, like Disco Dan Ford. But he had really quick hands to the ball. It’s sad he got hurt this year, he had a chance to put up some really good numbers this season, but he’s having a nice postseason. And watch him around the bag at first—he’s money.”
Castleberry has high praise for the Royals organization, too, which is not surprising since he’s known a number of their front office executives for years dating back to their college careers, playing and coaching, in the Washington, DC area. Royals’ General Manager Dayton Moore played and coached at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. “He’s done a great job in Kansas City,” says Castleberry. “They gathered enough inventory in their organization so they could make deals that would augment their younger players. When you have enough inventory in one place you can fill another, like when they traded hitting prospect Will Myers to the Rays to get James Shields, a front-line starter. Dayton had a definite plan. People don’t realize it takes time—it might be a seven- or eight-year process to build an organization like this. But eventually the organization becomes what you think it’ll become.”