Buck Showalter introduced as Baltimore Orioles manager
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
BALTIMORE -- On its surface, the scene was no different from any of the others in the past: Another new Baltimore Orioles manager -- that would be the 10th of the Peter Angelos Era, if you're counting -- seated beside his new boss, with his gleaming new Orioles uniform thrown over his dress shirt and tie, the proud wife and kids seated off to the side, the Oriole Park at Camden Yards field gleaming in the sunshine out the window below.
But something about Monday's introduction of Buck Showalter on the sixth floor of the B&O Warehouse felt different.
Maybe it was the serious, almost scowl-like expression on Showalter's face as General Manager Andy MacPhail introduced him. Maybe it was the palpable nervousness emanating from the Orioles employees (including center fielder Adam Jones) who gathered, per tradition, at the back of the room to watch the news conference.
It felt different because, well, Showalter is different.
At a basic level, he is significantly distinct from any of his four immediate predecessors -- Juan Samuel, Dave Trembley, Sam Perlozzo and Lee Mazzilli, in reverse chronological order -- in that he has previous big league managing experience. Showalter, though most recently an ESPN analyst, has previously managed the New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks and Texas Rangers. Clearly, the Orioles have had enough of managerial rookies.
"We have a core of young players who are struggling and who have taken a step backwards," said MacPhail, chief architect of the 32-73 train wreck in Baltimore, by way of introducing Showalter. "They haven't been exposed to a winning type of environment. . . . We just didn't feel this was a circumstance where we could bring somebody in who had never managed at the major league level."
But Showalter, who will manage his first game for the Orioles on Tuesday night, isn't just any baseball-lifer retread. He's different.
He is meticulous in his preparation, demanding in his attention to detail, assertive in his leadership style. He wants his players, his coaching staff, his PR people and his clubhouse attendants to do things a certain way -- namely, his way. The arc of a Showalter regime has become clear through his three previous stops: He comes in and kicks butt. He practically wills the franchise to a significant improvement. And eventually and inevitably, his act wears thin and he is dismissed in favor of someone less different.
"I try to be true to my own skin," Showalter said in response to a question about his reputation as a micro-manager, never directly shooting down the notion. "I am who I am. I don't spend a lot of time overanalyzing it. I know what's worked for me with the organizations I've been with in the past."
Make no mistake: The Showalter hiring was a direct, frontal attack on the culture of losing that has infested the once-proud Orioles franchise over the course of 12 consecutive (about to be 13) losing seasons. And it was hatched out of a state of desperation, by a franchise scared to death at the thought of its talented young core being eaten alive by that culture, and perpetuating the hideous cycle.
"We need an identity as a franchise," MacPhail said. "We need somebody who can put his stamp on this team and have us play a certain brand of baseball that we're going to have to play to win."
Orioles legend Jim Palmer, now a team broadcaster, put it more bluntly in an interview with the team's radio rights holder: "This team doesn't know what's about to hit them," Palmer said. "He's going to demand this club play the game the right way. . . . This organization is going to get better. When you talk about work ethic, I don't think these [players] know what it's like to work hard, and I think they are going to learn that through Buck Showalter."
Showalter understands the challenges confronting him in Baltimore -- "I'm not naive," he said -- which include not only the pervasive culture of losing, but also the rigors of playing in the American League East, a lack of clubhouse leadership and a payroll (once among the highest in baseball) that is now below the big league average.
"I don't want to sit here and prejudge things just because of what they might look like from a distance," Showalter said, implying that, from a distance, they look awful. " . . . You just want [the players to] understand we're all trying for the same goal. And if someone doesn't share those goals, I'm sure they'll be comfortable playing somewhere else."