This month, August 3 to be exact, marked eight years since Buck Showalter managed his first game with the Baltimore Orioles. It seems like yesterday watching Buck’s opening press conference and seeing him talk about his love of competition, the need for accountability, Baltimore’s great fans and proud baseball tradition, and always doing what is best.
Showalter chose to wear number 26 in honor of his friend and former O’s skipper Johnny Oates and was off and running. Eight years later, then-Orioles GM Andy MacPhail’s praise of Showalter’s track record, experience, and expertise has been proven true and Showalter has managed into the top echelon of the “Oriole Way.”
Big picture, the totality of his work is the most successful run for the ball club on the diamond in 40 years. He is second all-time in wins for Baltimore with a career record of 657-648 (.503) and second in longevity by managing parts of nine seasons. Not surprisingly, he trails only Earl Weaver in both categories. Earl finished his Hall of Fame career 1,480-1,060 (.583) over 17 seasons.
Showalter replaced interim manager Juan Samuel, who was part of a long line of unsuccessful skippers following the departure of Davey Johnson. The list of names also includes Dave Trembley, Sam Perlozzo, Lee Mazzilli, Mike Hargrove and Ray Miller. None of those won more than 275 games or had a winning percentage higher than .485. Dark days in Birdland.
Since August 2010, there certainly have been more highs than lows, but as far as Buck in Baltimore is concerned, the future is unclear. His contract is up at the end of the season, as is that of his boss, Dan Duquette. There are a lot of ways that uncertain situation could shake out, and a few of those ways are ones where Showalter is not the manager next season.
In the spirit of this uncertainty, and his recent anniversary, let’s look back at some of the most memorable moments involving Buck Showalter and his teams in Charm City.
Finishing the Red Sox’ collapse
In September 2011 – Buck’s first full-season at the helm – the Orioles were wrapping up a largely forgettable 69-93 effort. The crescendo came on the final day of the season.
Trailing 3-2 in the ninth inning, a Nolan Reimold double tied the game 3-3. Robert Andino followed with a single to left off Jonathan Papelbon, scoring Reimold, for a 4-3 walk off victory. An on-field celebration ensued as if the O’s had made the playoffs. It is fun to watch and in retrospect, probably laid some of the groundwork for success in 2012.
The loss prevented the Boston Red Sox from making the playoffs – they finished one game behind Tampa Bay – and culminated with the clubhouse biscuits, fried chicken, beer and video games fiasco, as well as the firing of Terry Francona.
Watching this link from the six-minute mark to the end is a wonderful reminder of the misery Boston fans were living in 2011.
2012 Wild Card
The 2012 Wild Card game in Arlington was the O’s first win during the post-season since 1997 and was extra sweet for Showalter, coming at the place where he managed from 2003-2006 before being fired by GM Jon Daniels.
The game was highlighted by Joe Saunders pitching 5 2/3 innings of one run, six hit, four strikeout baseball, as well as RBI singles by J.J. Hardy and a young Manny Machado. The victory took the O’s to 75-0 on the season when they were leading after seven innings, with Jim Johnson anchoring the bullpen. Other fun names and contributors from that club include Nate McLouth, Jim Thome and Robert Andino. Great memories.
The headline in the Baltimore Sun the next day simply stated, “Bring on the Yankees.”
Fire in the belly
Buck is largely stoic, but when he gets fired up, it goes to a new level. Take for example this June 2013 incident in Toronto. There was a dispute involving a Chris Davis foul ball with umpire Angel Hernandez. And as Jim Hunter points out in the broadcast, “It’s kind of amazing how things follow umpires. Every time Angel Hernandez has the plate in a game something happens to one of the teams. It is just amazing.”
That opinion seems to be consensus around MLB and sure enough, something happened and Buck went red-faced berserk. It really gets good at the 2:10 mark.
Also in 2013, Showalter had to be restrained at Camden Yards during a dispute with Yankee manager Joe Girardi. Between innings, Buck can be seen yelling, “That’s not right, Joe!” while waving his finger like an angry parent, and bench coach John Russell and two umpires hold him back.
Watching fired-up managers on YouTube never gets old.
To date, it is the signature moment in Buck’s Baltimore career: the decision to pinch hit Delmon Young for Ryan Flaherty during game two of the 2014 ALDS against the Detroit Tigers. Joakim Soria was pitching in the eighth inning and after Delmon’s stroke to left field for a bases clearing double, the TBS broadcaster noted, “The legend of Delmon Young in the post-season continues…” It sure did.
Every O’s fan has their Delmon Young story. Mine involves sitting about 15 rows behind the Tigers dugout, as he walked to the plate, commenting to my uncle that Delmon loves to go after the first pitch, and high fiving and hugging everyone within reach when he did and as J.J. Hardy scored all the way from first base with a fantastic slide.
My good friend John O’Hara, who has sold beer at Memorial Stadium and Camden Yards since the mid-1970s, was walking to his car a few blocks from OPACY, heard the roar, and said it was loudest he’d ever remembered in 40 years of attending games. Louder than any World Series, playoff game or even 2,131. That’s loud. And John would know.
Young was 10-20 in the regular season pinch hitting, and at Orioles FanFest in January 2015, Buck talked about how they almost burned him earlier in the game, but waited and got the match-up he and John Russell wanted. Apparently, Young vs. Soria was the ideal situation for the orange and black. The rest is history.
As of today, this clip of the double on You Tube has 71,826 views. At least 500 of them are from my computer when I need to smile.
This clip can’t be watched. Too painful. But, here it is, since it is a memorable moment in Buck’s career and now we know it is also the official end of the 2012-2016 run of excellence.
Should Ubaldo Jimenez have been in the game at that point? With hindsight, no.
Would the Orioles have been in the playoffs without Ubaldo’s stellar September 2016 pitching? Probably not. Don’t forget that.
Overall, in September 2016, Jimenez won three games and the Birds finished the month 16-11, tying for the Wild Card, 2.5 games in front of Detroit. He was lights out in the month of September, going 3-1 with a 2.31 ERA in five starts, including a complete game on Sept. 5.
Certainly, with a redo, Buck would put in Zach Britton. However, hypothetically, if Britton retired the Blue Jays in the 11th and let’s say the 12th too, then say Baltimore took the lead in the 13th and brought in Ubaldo and he blew the save, critics would have howled that Showalter used Britton too early and without a lead.
Sometimes managers can’t win. Analyzing this game still turns my stomach and makes me sick.
As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. The first chapter of the Orioles’ run of success under Showalter is certainly over. No doubt about that. Whether there will be a second chapter is a mystery.
Plenty has been written on Camden Chat and elsewhere about the nightmare that is the 2018 season, but nothing sums it up better than Showalter walking in front of a Xander Bogaerts home run trot in May during a game at Fenway Park to pull Kevin Gausman.
Time will tell what happens to Buck Showalter and his future in Baltimore. Whatever happens, it’s impossible to dispute that he left Orioles baseball in better shape than he found it. That’s something to be very proud of.
Happy anniversary, Buck! Here’s hoping for more to come!