I loved how The Baltimore Sun described the hiring of the new manager of the Orioles:
“The Orioles on Thursday hired a baseball lifer — a man with small-town roots, a work ethic forged by his father, and an unshakeable conviction in the fundamentals of the game, born of long heart-to-heart talks with his old man.
The description fits Cal Ripken Jr.
The job goes to Buck Showalter.”
He is a two-time manager of the year with the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers and he will have his hands full with these Orioles. Currently, the O’s are 31-70, by far the worst record in the major leagues. They are well on their way to a 13th consecutive losing season…almost “Pittsburgian”…
Yet, I think this is a brilliant move for the black and orange. Showalter has been recently seen on ESPN as a terrific analyst. “My job with ESPN allowed me to follow this organization closely over the last several years, and although the current record may seem to indicate otherwise, I see enormous potential with this club,” Showalter said in a statement released by the team. “I look forward to the challenge of competing in the American League East. Baltimore is a tremendous baseball town with passion and pride in its club, and my family and I look forward to making it our new home.”
Showalter, 54, has been both hailed and assailed for this attention to detail and for his hands-on demeanor. In Arizona, he was given the keys to the team…well before they even played their first game as a franchise. He had his hands on everything from teaching young players how things would be done to choosing the colors for the clubhouse walls.
“Buck can be very involved in all aspects of the team,” said Davey Johnson, onetime Orioles second baseman who managed the club to its last winning season in 1997. “I don’t see that a negative. I’d rather have a manager who has eyes in the back of his head than one who doesn’t.”
He was hired in 1991 by the then terrible New York Yankees when he was just 35 years old. “Big Stein” showed remarkable patience with his young manager, and it was rewarded when Showalter rebuilt the team and reached the playoffs. Showalter resigned in 1995, rather than fire a coach as ordered. The Yankees won the World Series one year later.
Moving onto Arizona, he led the expansion Diamondbacks to a West Division title in just their second year (1999), only to be fired the next season after finishing a disappointing third. A year later, Arizona won the World Series.
His next turn-around came in Texas. Notoriously bad (blamed on the brutal mid-summer heat among other things), Showalter’s Rangers finished 20 games under .500 the first season…but were 18 games over the next year. He was unable to make any further advances, and was fired after the 2006 season.
Now, onto what used to be a jewel of a franchise. A model stadium (now, believe it or not, in its 19th year) and a formerly great fan base…the Baltimore Orioles have been beset with major problems from the front office to signing players who seemed to lose their talent when they put on the Orioles uniform.
“Buck wants to get out of the studio and back onto the field. He still has the fire in his belly,” said Ron Polk, his coach at Mississippi State. “You can see it when he’s on ‘Baseball Tonight’ — the analytical mind, the discipline, the eye for detail. He’s a lot like his dad.”
William Nathaniel Showalter III grew up in Century, Fla. (pop. 1,700), where the town’s lighted ball field sat next to the Showalters’ two-story home. Nat, as he was then known, played Little League there. On hot, sultry nights, his folks set their lawn chairs in the back yard, beyond the outfield fence, shooed away the bugs and watched their only son whale the tar out of the ball.
Showalter’s father was a high school principal and former coach — a stern, structured father of four who taught his brood that life had no short cuts.
And in the unforgiving American League East, Showalter will be tested to the max. He will have to make tough decisions and get the O’s front office to move quicker on making changes. They seem to have a real tough time pulling the trigger. The Orioles interviewed former major league managers Bobby Valentine and Eric Wedge, ex-Baltimore catcher Rick Dempsey and interim manager Juan Samuel before settling on Showalter.
In my opinion, Showalter is the right choice for the Orioles and I hope he can turn things around. There are no quick fixes in baseball…at least not in a division where you play the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Toronto Blue Jays. The Orioles need to make major changes and commit to one style (youth? veterans? bringing up your own players through your organization? signing (decent) free agents?) for a few years and see what happens. Showalter will get rid of anyone who doesn’t buy into his ideas…and if you are not bothered by losing, you WILL be gone quickly!