The season surely is young and no one wants to get overly excited about their team’s start if it’s good or overly depressed if it’s not. But the start being generated by the Baltimore Orioles (6-0) as this is written) maybe is something we should take notice of.
Because no team that plays for Buck Showalter ever quits and all of his players are “on guard ” and know what is expected of them. Yes, you could say that he is from the old school of baseball and he clearly has expectations that leave no room for individualism. And in that light, it would be safe to say that Juan Bautista or Yasiel Puig would not make it in a Oriole uniform.
And whether the Orioles are your team or not, it’s definitely going to be interesting to follow them from this point on………because Buck Showalter is operating in a Division that (like last year) is totally up for grabs……..
But more than that, Buck Showalter’s journey in baseball is noteworthy. It is a journey that has been marked by events that shape him even to this day, having been removed as the manager of a team he brought to the cusp of a Championship twice………a man who many have said may be “too smart for baseball “……….
His story, like many others chronicled here, is a human story that deserves telling……..
Buck Showalter has managed in the major leagues for eighteen years. Over that span, he has amassed three Manager of the Year awards and finished second twice. His winning, percentage of.520 to date while not eye catching is still better than Casey Stengel and Dick Williams, both of whom are in the Baseball Hall Of Fame.
But as we’ve noted so many times in past columns, it’s never just about the numbers. What it is more about is the way you go about doing your job. And that’s where the real story of Buck Showalter begins…….
In a article that appeared in Men’s Journal , he put it this way…..”My dad once warned me about caring too much”, he said of his fervor for the sport. “I think I’ve gotten better at that over the years, but don’t try and hold me to it.”
Of course, the problem that often develops with a person who cares too much about their job is that they seek to become a control freak in sort of a “my way or the doorway” approach. With Showalter, this was best seen in Arizona, where he presided over the birth of a franchise, designing each detail of the organization, from the color of its jerseys to its clubhouse layout, and then guided the Diamondbacks, in their second year of life, to 100 wins and a title in the NL West.
The problem extends itself by the fact that baseball is a long grind of 162 games that stretches out over half a year. It’s not like football where the coach struggles to get his team “up for a game” only sixteen times a season. Even players the likes of Derek Jeter, who was always up for the game being played that day, has felt the wrath of the man on a mission to perfectionism…….Showalter explains……”The first time we went to Yankee Stadium, I screamed at Derek Jeter from the dugout. Our young guys are thinking, ‘Wow, he’s screaming at Derek Jeter’ – well, he’s always jumping back from balls just off the plate. I know how many calls that team gets – and yes, he pisses me off.”
Still, no one questions Showalter as a judge of baseball talent. Joel Sherman, who writes about the Yankees in the New York Post recalls, “I remember in 1990, he showed me the stat line of a kid who was a marginal prospect in low-A ball, He pointed to K’s and walks and said, ‘Forget the other numbers; that kid’s going to be a star.'” The kid, of course, was Mariano Rivera, whom Showalter twice kept out of trades.”
And with that in mind, don’t forget that it was Buck Showalter who lobbied long and hard over the winter with Baltimore’s front office to sign Chris Davis to a long term and very expensive deal.
I’ve always believed that the best gauge of a manager’s ability is whether or not he gets the most out of the talent he is given, whether or not that talent level is at the top or the bottom of the talent scale. Is he mindful, for instance, of putting his players in a position where they can succeed, or does he insist on telling Chris Davis to lay down a bunt to move runners along late in the game. Does he have a sense of who’s hurting and needs a blow for a day or two……. And does he ride the hot hitter in the lineup without damaging the confidence of the player he is temporarily replacing.
Needless to say, the season is in its infancy and a host of challenges confront the Orioles and Showalter. The biggest one perhaps is whether or not he will be able to coax the breakout season from Manny Machado that everyone knows he is capable of. And, will he be successful in guiding Chris Davis through the pressure that a big contract produces. And what about the hand he is being dealt regarding his starting pitching………that alone can make or break the Orioles season.
So it is with some level of caution that we should view the start of the Orioles. Buck Showalter has proven over time that he can be the right man at the right time for other franchises. The question is will his players maintain the work ethic they seemingly have now……..or will Showalter’s intensity wear them down over the course of the long season. It’s his job to make sure that doesn’t happen……but as they say…..”You can lead a horse to water, but…………”
Even as a Yankees fan, I’m rooting for him……..