It was the Orioles’ final regular-season series in Tampa Bay -- three October games that preceded the team’s first trip to the playoffs in 15 years -- and I was sitting in Orioles manager Buck Showalter’s office in the visiting clubhouse of Tropicana Field.
I was telling Showalter why I needed some extra interview time; because I was writing a front-page story to run the day the postseason began.
Showalter shook his head as he turned to the coffee maker, “No Ed,” he said. “Let’s put that on page F47.”
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He immediately deflected the spotlight. He started talking about how shortstop J.J. Hardy deserved a Gold Glove. He spoke about how lucky the team was to have a catcher with the skill set of Matt Wieters. He talked about how he had seen center fielder Adam Jones grow into a franchise cornerstone both inside and outside the clubhouse.
Given his reaction – and the even-keel mentality he preached during the Orioles’ 93-win season – Showalter likely blushed at his most recent honor. This weekend, The Baltimore Sun named Showalter its 2012 Marylander of the Year.
The Sun brought the award back for the first time since 2002. The list of past winners contains a who’s who of Baltimore-area newsmakers, from Bea Gaddy to Kweisi Mfume to John Waters. The entire Baltimore Ravens team received the honor after winning the Super Bowl in 2001. Cal Ripken, Jr., won during his second AL MVP year, and Orioles owner Peter Angelos was the 1998 Marylander of the Year for efforts in and out of the O’s organization.
But Showalter is the first manager or coach of a Baltimore pro sports team to receive the honor.
I can’t help but think back to that afternoon, when Showalter and I talked about his managerial philosophy. He gave more credit to his players than himself. Still, he’s been a winner in each of his three previous managerial stops, so that’s a credit to his ability to get the most of his players.
But to Showalter, he was just one piece of the puzzle.
“Once in a while, you’ve got to step back,” Showalter said back in October. “There’s perception and there’s reality. Perception in today’s world, you kind of come to realize who you are in your own skin and who you’re not. It’s so much about the players. They’re playing the game. It’s what I can do to make it better and easier because there will be another guy to come along and that’s fine.
“There are people who do this job as good if not better than me and it doesn’t make anybody better or less. It’s just the way of the world. There’s people who can write as well as you but it doesn’t keep you from grinding the heck out of it. The reward for doing a job well is the opportunity to do it more.”
It is true that many people deserve applause for the Orioles’ success in 2012. New executive vice president Dan Duquette was shrewd in his roster moves all season, allowing the team to overcome a rash of injuries. He wasn’t afraid to give any player a chance to contribute. And while former president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail didn’t reap the benefits, his deals for Jones and Hardy were instrumental in the team’s success. And of course, the players themselves deserve a lot of credit, but Showalter was the glue that held it all together in the clubhouse.
Another thing that struck me about Showalter is his quick connection to Baltimore. He only spends part of the offseason here -- his primary residence is in Dallas -- but he returns to be the face for team and charity events like the late-October 5K race to benefit KidsPeace, a charity that Showalter and his wife Angela have championed since arriving in Baltimore. He was at the team’s holiday party, joking around with elementary schoolers.
During each of this season’s statue unveilings at Camden Yards, Showalter was there, front and center. Yes, he came up through the Yankees system, but Showalter has an incredible appreciation for the team’s rich history and he even scoffs when others try to connect his style with that of Orioles Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver, saying that he is nowhere near the realm of Weaver’s legendary status.
But over the course of the season, the one thing that resonated about Showalter was the pride and passion for what he does. He would seem visibly flustered at the notion that veteran Jim Thome, a late-season trade acquisition, would beat him to the clubhouse. That just doesn’t happen. During spring training, he lauded the team’s renovated digs in Sarasota as another way to eliminate the excuses for past struggles and years of training in subpar spring environments.
“That woke people up to say, ‘Hey, there’s something going on here,’” Showalter said. “There was no more lowly ‘here’s our spring training home.’ It’s part of it, our presentation."
And now those excuses are all gone. And a lot of it has to do with Showalter.
“If you ever think you have something to do with it, you’ve missed the boat,” Showalter said. “What you are kind of responsible for is creating the environment that fits them. You don’t cram stuff down their throat. It’s got to be stuff they buy into. Obviously, it was a hungry place and I had some window of opportunity because things have been struggling and people are listening to you.”