When the Orioles hired Buck Showalter to take over managing duties for the team in the middle of the 2010 season, I could not imagine the team actually getting better. They had been bad in all kinds of ways under all sorts of managers and players for 12 years at that point and it just felt like it was going to be forever.
About a year and two months after Showalter was brought on board, with no major infusion of marquee talent from outside the organization, the Orioles team he helmed was back in the playoffs for the first time since 1997. After cycling through jabronis like Lee Mazzilli, Sam Perlozzo, and Dave Trembley, the O’s found someone who could get the most out of a limited roster.
The Orioles went on to make the postseason three times over the next five seasons, repeatedly smashing past the expectations of the cottage industry of baseball prognosticators, leaving that group of people largely sputtering to justify how their systems are still good and right even though they kept being dead wrong about the O’s. I cannot prove the extent to which this was a Buck effect, but it’s what I believe all the same.
It’s hard to narrow down the list of what stands out about Buck because everything stands out. What I remember noticing first about him is the way that he always seemed to know what was the right thing to say. When he first arrived, he got a lot of questions about why he took this job and he would say something like, “It’s not about me, it’s about the Baltimore Orioles winning again.”
Later, when the Orioles had started winning, his line shifted to something like, “Somebody had to take a lot of bullets to get us here.” This was humility in action, as if it was inevitable that anyone arriving when he did could have gotten the kind of success that he did out of the 2012 team as compared to a Trembley-type.
The phrase that might define him the most is one that he said during the 2014 season: “I like our guys.” The Orioles turned it into a giveaway t-shirt. It was easy to like those guys when they were winning 96 games and the AL East title. This simple philosophy seemed to take root in the organization - perhaps because Showalter had more influence in front office decisionmaking than most managers do or should - as they retained various players in free agency.
We know in retrospect this idea may not have been for the best, but for fans the appeal of it remains simple: You want your favorite team to keep winning with your favorite players. Alas, it seems that the second law of thermodynamics applies to MLB teams as well: In a closed system, entropy is always increasing. That gets you from 89 wins in 2016 to 47 wins in 2018.
The Showalter quality of always knowing the right thing to say continued even as the team descended into its current depths. Whenever the question would come up about Orioles attendance and whether it “should” have been higher, Showalter simply noted that it was up to the Orioles team to have the fans wanting to come and support them.
It’s better for the manager to be remembered that way than to be remembered for an ongoing series of poor tactical choices with lineup construction and pitcher use. Other than that elephant in the room from about this time two years ago, and perhaps falling back on familiar faces as the 2018 season fell apart around him, Showalter seemed to be a master about that kind of stuff.
He was able to recognize his players strengths and put them in positions where they could succeed. I don’t believe that just any manager could have pulled together the collection of misfits that was the 2012 Orioles into a wild card team. Nor do I think that just any manager could have won the AL East in 2014 with a starting rotation that consisted of Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris, Ubaldo Jimenez (sometimes) and Kevin Gausman (ditto).
If there were sharp words behind closed doors, fans would never know it. If egos had to be managed or put in check, we would never know that, either. Showalter often went far out of his way to avoid throwing anybody under the bus publicly. From the outside, that sure seems to have bought him a lot of loyalty.
Along with actually being able to help a team win baseball games, another necessary quality for a baseball manager in Baltimore is the ability to occasionally channel the legend, Earl Weaver. There are not so many chances for this in the modern game, what with unarguable replay decisions foisted off on some dopes in a room full of TVs in New York with whom the manager cannot interact.
Buck may never have put the “ejected while exchanging the lineup cards” feather in his cap, and he probably never suggested an umpire had a rulebook in Braille because he was blind, but he had enough of the kind of moments where he just went out and yelled at some umpires who probably did something dumb and wrong to be a worthy successor to the Earl.
One particular instance that the team memorialized alongside of a fiery Earl moment in that pre-game “We’ve got magic to do” video was Buck pointing at an entire crew of umpires and “ejecting” them from the game. I don’t remember what exactly prompted that display, but I’m sure they deserved it.
My favorite random Buck moment had nothing to do with anything that happened on the field at all. During an offseason radio show, Buck was telling a story about how after a few lifeless spring training games, he wanted to get a young player in camp to bring a new energy level.
As Buck told it, he went and said, “Get me someone who’s full of piss and vinegar.” Then he paused and asked, “Can I say piss on here?” I laughed out loud in my car when I heard this and it amuses me to this day. The young player he was talking about was Cedric Mullins, by the way.
Showalter himself took a lot of bullets, as he might put it, by being the manager of this woeful 2018 squad all the way through. It dropped his record as O’s manager to 669-684 - a below-.500 mark. He deserves better. As it is, those 669 wins rank him second in franchise history, trailing only Earl himself. Buck’s place in Orioles history is secure. I just wish he could have won the World Series here.
Buck was hired. He managed. He is Birdland. The next person has some big shoes to fill.
What’s going to be your number one memory of Buck? Let us know in the comments below.