As an Orioles fan who got into baseball as a nine-year-old in 1998, there wasn’t much excitement in Birdland when I became a fan. I vaguely remember my dad being excited about the 1996 and 1997 playoff teams. I heard stories from the adults in my life about Brooks, Frank, Boog, and Eddie. Only the tail end of Cal Ripken’s career was a bright spot during those dark years in which I became an O’s fan.
The first spark of real hope I had as an Orioles fan came in 2010 with the hiring of Buck Showalter. He took over a club that was 32-73 and devoid of talent (check out the roster) and guided them to a 34-23 record down the stretch when they were playing for nothing except pride. Attending meaningful games at Camden Yards for the first time in 2012 was beyond exciting and being competitive for five years in a row is what I had dreamed of as a young fan.
Like many, I attribute the winning brand of baseball returning to Baltimore to Buck Showalter. He’s meant a great deal to this organization. Most Camden Chat readers probably feel the same way. Which is why it’s so painful to have come to the realization that he has to go after this season.
It is an unfortunate reality in sports that when a team plays poorly, it’s easier to blame on person at the top rather than the players who are on the field not performing. Showalter is not on the field playing and is not directly responsible for the Orioles scoring more total runs than only two teams this season or having the worst team ERA in baseball. But from 2012-2016 a winning culture existed in the Orioles clubhouse. Whatever is going on in there now cannot be described as a winning culture.
It is true that the talent level on the current roster is not ideal. But the team struggled mightily in the final four months of last season and this season before trading Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Zach Britton, Kevin Gausman, and Brad Brach. Besides, one of the traits that made Showalter consistently named as one of the best managers in the game from 2012-2016 was his ability to squeeze every last drop out of rosters that lacked prime talent.
The Orioles won the 2012 Wild Card game with Joe Saunders on the mound and Ryan Flaherty in the starting lineup. They took the Yankees to the final game in the following series while starting names like Lew Ford and Robert Andino. Those were blue collar teams that had success through hard play and fundamentals. Showalter was rightfully praised.
It’s clear from watching the year’s team that that spark is no longer there. They have been shut out 15 times and counting. Their defense, once a calling card for Baltimore teams, is below average. There have been too many instances where fundamentals have been botched.
In recent comments to Dan Connolly, Caleb Joseph expressed his frustration with some pretty harsh words. “It’s a privilege to be here, but you don’t lose a record number of games and not expect some retribution. Everybody. Every single locker in here should be thinking, ‘You know, I should be fired because I sucked. Period.’”
It’s fair to say that a part-time catcher with a .565 OPS shouldn’t be the person to come forward with such biting criticism. But he was part of the division winning 2014 club and talks about the winning culture that surrounded it. He notices a big difference between then and what is going on now.
Yes, the roster is different and clubhouse leaders such as J.J. Hardy, Nick Markakis, and Nelson Cruz are gone. The front office should be rightfully blamed for that. But it is the manager’s job to get the most out of the players he has in the dugout. Showalter has done it masterfully in recent years. He is not this year.
Some argue that Showalter lost the clubhouse when he didn’t pitch Zach Britton in the 2016 Wild Card game. There are quotes that suggest that players weren’t happy with that decision.
Much more recently, I wonder how the clubhouse feels about Adam Jones being given days off down the stretch this season. Everybody knows he isn’t a part of the future and young players need to be evaluated. But major league baseball players are proud individuals who want to win. You have think that not playing their best player rubs some of them the wrong way.
I’ll always associate the great memories of the competitive teams of recent years and my first taste of exciting baseball with Buck Showalter. I can’t wait to attend the game where he’s inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame. If I owned one of the bars across the street from Camden Yards, I’d erect a statue of him for fans to appreciate.
With all that said, it’s obvious that it’s time for a new voice in the Orioles dugout and for the Showalter era to end.