“When my voice gets tired and old, and they don’t want to hear it any more, I’m gone. Get another slapdick in here behind me.” - Buck Showalter, September 2014
Thus spoke Buck as the Orioles barreled towards their first division title in 17 years. At the time, this was nothing more than one of those folksy Buck-isms that makes you laugh. We could not imagine a future time where Showalter’s voice might grow tired and old and he would be gone.
The day has arrived. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported on Wednesday afternoon that Showalter will not be returning to the Orioles in any capacity for next season. This bit of news followed from fellow Athletic reporter Dan Connolly tweeting earlier in the day that Showalter would be meeting with O’s ownership today and offered an unknown role within the organization.
Whatever was offered, it seems that Showalter’s choice was not to return, and so the search must now begin for another slapdick. Ramping up the horror immediately, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale references MASN analyst Mike Bordick’s name as one that had come up a few weeks ago. I have no idea if Bordick would be a bad manager but his name being mentioned here makes me react with extreme distaste.
For the larger baseball world, Showalter’s tenure with the Orioles will probably be chiefly defined by his infamous decision to not have Zach Britton pitch during the 2016 Wild Card Game, instead turning to Ubaldo Jimenez. That was awful at the time and looks even worse now as it is clear with the hindsight of two years that game was the last chance for that core group of Orioles to win.
Back in Birdland, Buck can be remembered for more than that frustrating mistake. He helped to bring winning baseball back to Baltimore. You will never convince me otherwise. The sad sacks who went 34-73 under Dave Trembley and Juan Samuel finished the 2010 season with a 34-23 after Showalter was hired.
Though the 2011 season was disappointing again, the 15-13 September finish that culminated in Robert Andino destroying the Red Sox and inviting them to exit the stadium and return to their domiciles proved to be the springboard to launch the franchise into a great five year stretch where they made the playoffs three times. After what came before, it was just so welcome.
What was the magic that had those Orioles overachieving their projected records and Pythagorean win expectations by so much? It remains a debate even now. Again, it’s clear that Buck must have been onto something - with his bullpen management, with his giving chances to scrap heap players like Miguel Gonzalez, Nate McLouth, and Steve Pearce in ways that allowed them to succeed.
The Orioles were better than expected. Showalter probably deserved the Manager of the Year award in more than just 2014. Not a bad piece of hardware to add to the display case, nonetheless. I’m sure he would have rather had a World Series ring, but alas, it was not meant to be. He deserved better, too, than to finish with a sub-.500 record as O’s manager: 669-684 when the dust settled. His contract has run out and he will not get another one here.
Now that the decision is made, the debate can renew over whether this was the right time to move on. For me, what nudges me towards “time to move on” is the misguided loyalty that Showalter seemed to hold for players like Chris Davis and Chris Tillman even as they had clearly become shells of their former selves.
The fact that Davis batted fifth or higher in 84 of his 128 games this season even though he batted .168/.243/.296 is embarrassing, a fireable offense almost in and of itself. The 47-115 record this season was not all Davis’s fault, nor Buck’s, but it did make clear that whatever the solution to this mess should be, Showalter should probably not be a part of it and neither should any of his coaching staff and perhaps not anyone else who his influence brought into the organization.
It’s a sad and necessary day for Birdland. At least the Orioles made a decision on Showalter fairly quickly, just three days after the end of the regular season. Perhaps they won’t drag their feet about the offseason’s other big decisions as well.