Two days after manager Buck Showalter declined to use Zach Britton in the 2016 wild-card game, he and Dan Duquette sat in front of the press to examine the season and look ahead.
But before Showalter could look forward, he was peppered with questions about not using Britton in the 11-inning loss to Toronto, a move that brought intense criticism and still is talked about today.
While Showalter took question after question, Duquette sat there impassively, not coming to his manager’s defense. Most general managers would have said they supported their manager—even if they disagreed with the decision.
But Duquette was silent. It said much about their relationship.
Two years after that wild-card game, Duquette and Showalter, whose pairing was always awkward, are gone from the Orioles. The team announced their departures on Wednesday.
As the losses piled up, ending with 115, people wondered: Would Buck go, and Dan stay? Would Dan go, and Buck stay? Would both stay? Or would both go?
After Duquette engineered the five July deals ahead of the non-waiver trade deadline and spoke confidently of the rebuilding plan, it seemed possible that he’d continue in his role.
But the Orioles needed somebody to make those moves, and Duquette was in charge.
Now, he’s not.
Showalter’s departure was expected, and he’ll go down as the second most successful manager in the club’s history. Even Hank Bauer, whose team won the World Series in 1966, and Joe Altobelli, who won the Series in 1983, won’t be remembered as fondly as Showalter.
Andy MacPhail, the highly skilled baseball executive, who began the Orioles’ turnaround in 2007, used to say that a manager should fit the market he’s working in, and his selection of Showalter in 2010 was a masterstroke.
Showalter took to Baltimore immediately. The fans loved him. His baseball acumen reminded many of Earl Weaver, the fiery competitor who was the most successful manager in Orioles history. Showalter was us against the world. He got Baltimore.
He and his wife, Angela, had a special affection for Baltimore and its fans, and Buck and I bonded in a special way. He’s the same age as I am, and when he talked about old television shows or sports from the 1960s or ’70s, I identified with him.
And, he was funny. In pregame press conferences, he’d often make me laugh. I have a loud laugh, and he enjoyed hearing it. Catcher Caleb Joseph would watch in-house feeds of those pressers and skillfully imitate my laugh.
When the Orioles won, Showalter would almost always turn to me and ask me about the time of the game. Because he’s on MLB’s Competition Committee, Showalter cared intensely about the length of games, and if the Orioles won a snappy game, so much the better.
Most of all, he taught me an incredible amount about baseball. Early in spring training, while pitchers were in fielding drills, he’d walk over and tell me, without prompting, why a certain pitcher was a skilled fielder and why another wasn’t.
He’d talk about anything, sports, politics, geography. Once he started talking about Madagascar, and he was shocked when I mentioned I had a neighbor who was from there.
My favorite time with Buck was Sunday morning. With little sleep and lots of coffee, that was Buck unplugged. Before Sunday road games, we’d gather in his office and after the formal interview, which wasn’t always so formal, he’d talk, sometimes for 30 minutes—or even more, and invariably I’d learn something.
While others may not have enjoyed those sessions as much as I did, I knew they were special. Here was a brilliant baseball mind taking us inside the game, and his insights were always helpful.
Duquette could also be entertaining, but isn’t as comfortable with the press. In March 2012, the Orioles played the Red Sox in Fort Myers. It was the first time that Duquette, who had a controversial stint as Boston’s general manager, had faced the Boston press in years.
“Dan, when you were here, you were quite a lightning rod,” one questioner began. “Oh, really,” Duquette deadpanned.
Now, both are gone, and their imprimatur will remain. Showalter will be fondly remembered in Baltimore. He’s the guy who brought Chris Davis in to pitch the 16th and 17th inning at Fenway Park.
He’s the one who converted Britton from a struggling starter to a premier reliever, and who saw that Manny Machado could play third base in the big leagues—and, six years later—saw he needed to play shortstop again.
Duquette will be criticized for trying to replace Nick Markakis with Travis Snider, Alejandro De Aza and Gerardo Parra and for trading away Josh Hader in the Bud Norris trade.
But Duquette was the one who found an unknown pitcher from Taiwan in Japan. Without Wei-Yin Chen, the Orioles’ staff wouldn’t have been as strong as it was in the 2012 and 2014 postseasons, and he found Miguel Gonzalez, who came out of nowhere to pitch effectively in those years.
Duquette also rescued Nate McLouth from the baseball scrap heap in 2012, and when Markakis was hurt, McLouth was an effective replacement. He also stole Richard Bleier from the Yankees.
There were plenty of bad moves, too. His signings of Colby Rasmus and Danny Valencia this spring didn’t help the team. Trading Zach Davies for Parra backfired, costing the Orioles dearly.
But Duquette and Showalter gave Oriole fans three postseason appearances in five years, and made fans forget about the 14 straight losing seasons.
There’ll soon be another executive vice president of baseball operations who’ll chose a new manager, and Oriole fans will hope they can be even more successful than Duquette and Showalter were.
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB
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