Buck Showalter says there’s been no secret formula to his 8-1 start with the Orioles, nothing that hard work and fear wouldn’t have accomplished on their own. But it’s an old-school fear that Showalter, a former Miss. State star, is using to his advantage fear of the manager, which he instilled in the American League’s worst team on Day One.
Buck stood in the middle of the clubhouse, clipboard in hand, and calmly read the names of every Class AA and Class AAA prospect dying for promotions to the major league roster. The Orioles, who’d long since tuned out Dave Trembley and interim replacement Juan Samuel, listened in shock to Showalter’s thinly veiled warning: No one’s safe on a team with a .345 winning percentage.
“The accountability factor isn’t always comfortable for ballplayers,” Showalter said Wednesday by telephone, before beating Cleveland, 3-1. “I wanted my guys to remember someone is always ready to take your job.”
Buck was speaking from his office during a late afternoon storm at Camden Yards, burrowing himself in a small pocket of free time. Buck allowed himself a few minutes to reminisce about his previous life in the Bronx, scars and all.
It feels like a million years since Showalter had his heart broken by George Steinbrenner dumped after losing the 1995 AL Division Series to the Mariners in a thrilling five-game showdown. The Boss was so enraged at losing to Lou Piniella, he fired Showalter and assembled a world championship team for the newcomer, Joe Torre.
Showalter’s wounds never fully healed; to this day he says, “My naivete about this business left me when I left the Yankees.” Everywhere he went, from the Diamondbacks to the Rangers and, since 2006, the ESPN studios, Showalter has been looking for a chance to prove the Yankees wrong, even after Steinbrenner disappeared from view and ultimately passed away.
The Orioles were a curious comeback choice for Showalter, given the near-impossibility of competing with the Yankees and Red Sox, not to mention the O’s own losing culture — 12 straight years under .500. But time was likely running out on Buck as he morphed into a engaging, full-time TV personality. This may have been his best, if not his last shot at rewriting his legacy.
Flaws and all, the Orioles are Buck’s obsession now, and the players in that clubhouse quickly are learning what drives him: being on time, playing hard, being better prepared than the opponents.
That’s why Showalter has a hard time understanding why the depth-chart anecdote has been so widely applauded.
“To me, it was a little overblown,” Showalter said. “All I did was educate myself on the Double-A and Triple-A kids.”
Of course he did; that’s what Showalter does he studies. Somehow, he’s making all the Orioles feel a little smarter, maybe even bulletproof. They’ve won eight of their first nine games under Buck, shocking the Angels in a three-game sweep, taking 3-of-4 from the White Sox before beating the Indians, 14-8, on Tuesday night in a game that spoke volumes about Buck’s ability to motivate young players.
He chose to stick with Jake Arrieta after the 24-year-old rookie was roughed up by the Tribe in a five-run fourth inning. Suddenly a 4-1 Orioles’ lead had turned into a 6-4 budding disaster, yet Showalter sent Arrieta back to the mound.
Incredibly, Arrieta shut down the Indians in the fifth and sixth innings, a vote of confidence Showalter hopes will pay a dividend in the future. He says it’s time the Orioles learned to develop and ultimately trust their younger players. The days of mimicking the Yankees’ and Red Sox’ business plans, Showalter believes, are over.
“You have to stay true to who you are. Tampa Bay had a lot of first-round picks before they finally realized who they are,” Showalter said. “It’s not easy to build a team that way; everyone wants instant gratification. But baseball isn’t like that.”
There’s a powerful lesson here for Mets’ ownership, which is almost certainly ready to fire Jerry Manuel on Oct. 4: A good manager can make all the difference, even if it means living with his flaws.
Showalter’s penchant for organization may eventually drive his bosses crazy. He needs control, and that may not play on a team owner by the ultimate control freak, Peter Angelos. But for now, the O’s have the right man.
Will the Mets be able to say the same thing on opening day 2011?
News Item: Cardinals complete three-game sweep of Cincinnati.
This is the NL Central Division’s most powerful statement to date, as Tony LaRussa one-upped counterpart Dusty Baker. Even though the Cards are only a game ahead of the Reds, there’s no question who holds the upper hand — an important seed to plant for the stretch run.
Between Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia, the Cardinals have the edge in starting pitching over the Reds. And they certainly got the nod in the managerial tale of the tape.
LaRussa may not have Baker’s people skills, but he has the guts to bat his pitcher in the No. 8 spot, which the manager believes gives Albert Pujols the chance to hit with a greater number of runners on base. Numerous simulation programs have agreed with LaRussa: They estimate the Cardinals will score an additional five to 10 runs this season because of their unconventional lineup.
More importantly, the Cardinals have assumed the personality of their ornery manager, evidenced by the seven-minute brawl Tuesday. The Reds’ Brandon Phillips provoked the Cardinals on Monday, saying he “hated” them for all their “(complaining).”
Not surprisingly, tempers exploded in the first inning as both benches engaged in a full-blown brawl. No one was issuing any apologies afterward. The Cardinals may be one the National League least popular teams, but it’s a good bet LaRussa is on his way to his 13th postseason appearance.
Bob Klapisch/The Record (Hackensack, N.J.) MCT