BALTIMORE—Tiny crowds, seemingly meaningless games. That shouldn’t be acceptable to the Orioles, Buck Showalter says.
The Orioles’ manager doesn’t know if he’ll return in 2019. That decision has yet to be made, but Showalter, who has been playing to a clubhouse that’s nearly entirely new, wants his players to realize that things may not be as dire as it appears.
“The path between the good and the bad isn’t nearly as wide as some people might think,” Showalter said before Tuesday’s record-setting 108th loss, 6-4 to the Toronto Blue Jays.
He looks back at his managing career and remembers that in 1998, the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks lost 97 games. A year and later they won 100 and the National League West.
Less than two years ago, the Orioles were in American League wild-card playoff game, and last year in early September, the Orioles were in playoff conversation.
They lost 19 of their final 23 games in 2017. Instead of trying to rebuild, the decision was made, which Showalter supported, to try to reload and squeeze another year out of the group of veterans.
That strategy failed miserably, and the Orioles are faced with a rebuild and what appears to be a long climb back to contention.
With just 11 games remaining, there’s little mystery left on the field. The Orioles will have the worst record in franchise history, and there may be little difference between losing 115 and 117 games.
The drama will begin when the season ends. Who will make decisions on Showalter and Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette? When will those decisions be made?
In 2011, the last time the Orioles changed their top baseball decision-maker, Andy MacPhail chose not to renew his contract as the team’s president of baseball pperations, a decision that was not unexpected but not made public until shortly after the season ended.
Showalter had just completed his first full season as Orioles manager, and while there was some talk that he might replace MacPhail in the front office, that never happened.
Many candidates were considered, and it wasn’t until Nov. 8 that Duquette, who had been out of baseball for nearly a decade, was named. Duquette has never conducted a managerial search in his seven years with the Orioles.
Shortly after Duquette came to the Orioles, Brady Anderson was named vice president of baseball operations, and in his time with the Orioles, he’s had a varied portfolio.
He’s trained players in the offseason in his Southern California house and was actively involved in the Orioles’ pursuit of free-agent pitchers Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb, and the retention of Chris Tillman.
Anderson could move into the role of top decision-maker, especially since John and Louis Angelos, sons of managing partner Peter Angelos, have taken a more active role in running the team.
Showalter was hired by MacPhail in August 2010 after a deliberate search. The Orioles haven’t looked for a new manager in an offseason since after the 2003 season, when Lee Mazzilli replaced Mike Hargove.
That year, managerial candidates met with Orioles general managers Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan, and afterward were questioned by the media. Among those interviewed were former Orioles Rich Dauer, Rick Dempsey and Eddie Murray as well as Terry Francona, who was hired by the Boston Red Sox.
Sam Perlozzo, a longtime Orioles coach, was also interviewed and though he wasn’t hired, ended up replacing Mazzilli in August 2005.
Angelos watched tapes of the media sessions to help him in the decision-making process.
Last fall, the New York Yankees made their managerial candidates available to the media on conference calls.
Such a transparent process would be welcomed, if the Orioles do change managers, but it’s not expected to be repeated.
Showalter appears eager to continue as Orioles manager, and he’s trying to use any way he can to motivate his team. He talks about the small crowds and games that don’t have any effect on the postseason.
“I want them to realize this is not what you want,” Showalter said. “Let’s do everything possible not to have this going into September.”
When he arrived, the Orioles were in the midst of years of irrelevant September games and smallish crowds. The team quickly turned around, and now it’s turned again, this time for the worse.
These days, Showalter plays his team tapes of home playoff games with large crowds making lots of noise to inspire them.
“This is what can be. It’s up to us,” he tells them.