Peter Schmuck

Schmuck: Orioles’ Brandon Hyde has proven he’s the right man for a very difficult job

When the Orioles wrap up the 2019 season Sunday at Fenway Park, Brandon Hyde will head into the offseason and surely spend a lot of time replaying his first season as a major league manager.

Hopefully, he’ll play a lot of golf, too, because he’s earned the opportunity to decompress after a challenging year that turned out to be a unique amalgam of on-field failure and overall organizational success.


The Orioles lost more than 100 games for the second straight season, but everybody knew they were headed in that direction. Hyde’s job was to get there while creating a competitive laboratory to evaluate the talent throughout the system.

Mission accomplished.


Still, it was no easy task for a guy who got used to winning during his five years as a coach with the Chicago Cubs. His competitiveness was never in question and he made it clear from the start that — rebuilding program notwithstanding — the Orioles would take the field with the intention of winning every game.

What resulted was a team that showed modest improvement over the 2018 season in which the Orioles lost more games (115) than any team in the history of the franchise. And they did so with a certain flair that made the Orioles more watchable than any last-place team had a right to be.

In the process, the club might have discovered some keepers in Rule 5 draftees Anthony Santander and Richie Martin, rookie All-Star John Means, and waiver pick-ups Hanser Alberto, Renato Núñez and Pedro Severino.

Don’t misunderstand. There were plenty of stretches during which the Orioles looked every bit as bad as their final record might indicate. But Hyde was able to steer a group of largely unproven players through the toughest of those times while keeping them focused on the importance of exploiting the opportunity that only a rebuilding organization could offer.

The proof is in the way they have finished. No one would’ve thought twice if they had sleepwalked through the final 10 days of the schedule and limped into the offseason. Yet Hyde kept them engaged to the point where they are in position to sweep this weekend’s series against the Boston Red Sox.

They’ll take the field for the last time with five victories in their past eight games, and they’ve averaged six runs per game over their past 13. That’s not a team that’s mailing anything in. It’s a team that knows that in the context of the organization’s strategic vision, the final games of a lost season might be the ones that reveal the most about the young players competing to be part of a hopefully brighter future.

That’s a credit to the job Hyde has done this season while trying to compete with the beasts of the American League East despite a depleted starting rotation and an overmatched bullpen.

Meanwhile, the third-place Red Sox appear to have their bags packed and their boarding passes in tow. The loss Saturday was their eighth in 12 games.


There were some hiccups, of course. Nobody gets through a season like this without the frustration boiling over a few times and the Orioles were not the exception. Some eyebrows went up when first baseman Chris Davis had to be restrained by teammates after a dugout confrontation with Hyde in early August and reliever Richard Bleier exchanged heated words with coach José David Flóres over defensive positioning a few weeks later.

Hyde handled the Davis situation with a light touch, which drew some questions about the lack of any public disciplinary action. But it also showed a level of compassion for a veteran player who has endured a steep, humiliating three-year decline in his offensive production.

Even before that incident, it could not have been easy for a first-year manager to reduce the playing time of a two-time major league home run champion. Hyde managed that by keeping Davis in the loop and trying to put him in a position to succeed.

Davis continued to struggle at the plate, but if it turns out he is playing his last season in an Orioles uniform, it has ended with a handful of highlights. He was again the Orioles’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, hit the game-winning homer in the Orioles’ final home game of the year and will enter Sunday with six hits, five walks and two home runs in his past 23 plate appearances.

Hyde had to do a lot of hand-holding with the number of young players who passed through the Orioles clubhouse over the past seven months. He had a group of young pitchers who were learning to pitch at the major league level and taking their lumps. He also had a handful of unheralded young position players who showed they could produce at the big league level and will come back next spring with a chance to make their case to be part of the plan.

It seems highly likely that 2020 will be every bit as challenging as this season was, but Hyde appears to be the right manager for the job.