BALTIMORE — Corey Patterson had just been doubled off first base on a short fly to center. When he reached the top step of the Baltimore Orioles dugout, manager Buck Showalter was waiting for him.
Given Showalter’s reputation, a scowl and a scolding were surely upcoming.
Instead, Showalter asked Patterson to detail his thought process on the hit-and-run play. The manager nodded, then suggested that next time Patterson should keep running to third instead of hesitating at second.
Showalter, a former Mississippi State standout, left it at that.
The man currently managing the Orioles is clearly not as tightly wound as the one who sternly guided the New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks in the 1990s. Although his track record made an immediate impression on the lowly Orioles when he walked into the clubhouse on Aug. 3, the 54-year-old Showalter has saved his outbursts for umpires.
“The day is gone when the manager says, ‘This is what you’re going to do.’ We play 200 games counting spring training. There’s a relationship there that has to be,” Showalter said. “It’s very liberating when you have a pure heart about things. I’m just trying to present an atmosphere, a culture where guys can be as good as they can be.”
The Orioles have been very bad for a long time. Although they’re 12-8 under Showalter, their 32-73 record before his arrival doomed Baltimore to its 13th consecutive losing season.
The resurgence under Showalter can be attributed in part to the 894-840 ledger he compiled with the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Texas Rangers.
“The thing that sticks out is his reputation,” third baseman Ty Wigginton said. “You look at win-loss record, and everyone in here knows he’s been manager of the year. That kind of stuff. Obviously that’s going to grab your attention.”
Much more so than Baltimore’s other two managers this season. Dave Trembley never played or managed in the majors before his stint with the Orioles, and Juan Samuel’s first experience came when he stepped in for the fired Trembley on an interim basis.
“I think the difference is, ever since I was here there were rumblings about Dave Trembley. You could say we blocked them out but they were out there,” Wigginton said. “And then Juan had the interim tag. Now we’ve got Buck, and he’s the guy.”
President of baseball operations Andy MacPhail hired Showalter in August to give the newcomer time to assess his players and coaching staff before heading into next year. To aid the process, a wall in Showalter’s office lists most of the players in Baltimore’s minor league system.
But he’s not a general manager, and he’s not going to wait until 2011 to put his stamp on an organization that has become accustomed to losing.
“The last thing I want is the players to think is that I’m some kind of traveling instructor or something,” Showalter said. “Once the game starts, my priority is to manage that game and trying to put them in position to be successful.”
Success has been elusive for the Orioles. This season, they opened by losing 16 of 18 and carried the worst record in the major leagues until this month.
“I realize how tough a challenge this year has been for a lot of them — emotionally and mentally,” Showalter said.
During a recent game, Showalter walked over to starter Brad Bergesen and shared some knowledge about pitching. The funny thing is, Bergesen wasn’t even in the game.
“He’s the first manager that’s really come up to me during the game and pointed out situations when I’m not pitching,” Bergesen said. “He just told me what he thinks and explained different things. It’s very small things, but he’s trying to get us to learn the game and open our eyes to make us better ballplayers.”
Which is precisely what Showalter had in mind when he pulled aside Patterson after that double play.
“You present an atmosphere not of confrontation, but, ‘OK, talk to me. What are you thinking there?’” Showalter said. “Instead of going, ‘You got to do this, you’ve got to that.’”
Patterson isn’t surprised.
“We all heard things about him being a taskmaster or what not. Me, I don’t believe what I hear. I’ve got to see it and witness it,” Patterson said. “Since he’s been here, I haven’t seen him get in a guy’s face and chew him out. Not to say he won’t. A player might deserve it. He’s not here to be nice and baby us.”
Showalter chuckles when asked if his style has changed from drill sergeant to nurturer.
“You’ve got to be yourself,” he said. “I’m not as complicated as everyone makes me out to be. I have a belly laugh out here every single day. It’s a great gig. I love baseball players. I don’t take myself near as seriously as everyone thinks I do.”
David Ginsburg/The Associated Press