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Marylander of the Year finalists: Buck Showalter

When the 2012 baseball season started, the consensus about the Baltimore Orioles, as expressed by one blogger, was that they would "finish fifth in the American League East. Only because they can't finish sixth."

The Orioles were coming off 14 consecutive losing seasons, and they played in the toughest division in baseball, behind the big-money teams in New York and Boston and the "moneyball" players in Tampa Bay. Even the Toronto Blue Jays seemed to be looking up. But not the Orioles, a team that appeared to have given up on the idea of bringing in the kind of big-name talent that wins pennants.

At the same time, though, Sun columnist Peter Schmuck made what was, if we do say so ourselves, a rather prescient observation. Before the season even started, he noted, "Here's another fact that has received relatively little attention this spring. In Showalter's three previous incarnations as a major league manager, his teams have made dramatic turnarounds in his second full year in charge. In each case, he took a team that had finished at least 10 games under .500 and led it to at least 88 victories."

It turned out to be 93, actually, plus a win in a high-stakes one-game playoff against the two-time defending American League champion Rangers in Texas, and two more against the Yankees before falling just short in the decisive fifth game of the series in New York. They overcame injuries, watched home-grown talent blossom and cobbled together win after win despite averaging fewer runs than their opponents for most of the season. They were 29-9 in one-run games, the best such record in major league history, and won an astonishing 16-straight extra-inning games during the regular season.

Indeed, something special, something magical was happening in Camden Yards, something the laws of baseball said was impossible. And gradually, a city started to believe in a way it hadn’t for a generation.

No one person was responsible, of course, but Mr. Showalter was the glue that held it together.

"I nominate Buck Showalter," wrote Joe Gutberlet of Rising Sun. "He has brought life back into the Orioles organization. During a year of economic turmoil and numerous bad decisions made by our political leaders, he created an outlet for optimism for a city and region that otherwise has not much else to look forward to."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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