If you want to know why Buck Showalter would be a good fit to tamp down the turmoil roiling the Houston Astros franchise in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal that led to the firing of manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow, you have to consider what many people believe is his biggest fault.
So, here’s an anecdote from the eight years and change he managed the Orioles that will explain it in a way that should be understandable to all.
One morning in spring training, I had something in my eye and walked a few yards down a “team personnel only” clubhouse hallway to find a mirror. Showalter was nowhere around and it didn’t seem like a big deal and I was in and out of the restroom in maybe 25 seconds.
Later that day, I saw him on the field and stopped to ask a question, but he beat me to it. He wanted to know if I found whatever I needed in the players’ bathroom.
He said it with a chuckle, but the point was clear. He knew everything that went on in the Orioles clubhouse and he made sure the coaches and support staff knew that he was not to be kept in the dark about anything that happened on his watch.
Say what you want about his micro style of management, it is exactly what the Astros need in the immediate aftermath of the unsavory revelations that soiled the team’s 2017 World Series title and led to ouster of Luhnow and Hinch. Former Astros coach Alex Cora also was fired in connection with the scandal after two seasons managing the Red Sox and 2017 team leader Carlos Beltran stepped down Thursday just two months after being hired to manage the Mets.
It’s pretty obvious now that, as good a job as Hinch did in his five winning seasons as manager, the inmates were helping run the asylum during the 2017 world title run. The challenge going forward for the Astros is to continue winning while the organization makes it clear to its players and the public that there cannot be even a hint of suspicious activity.
Their World Series championship bears an imaginary asterisk, but the front office has pushed all the right buttons strategically to assemble a very talented team, which is projected to remain one of the winningest franchises in the sport in 2020. It just needs a no-nonsense manager with a strong reputation to make sure that happens.
Showalter, reached by phone Thursday, would not confirm or deny published reports that he had interviewed for the Astros job, but he did have something to say about the sign-stealing scandal that has rocked the sport — directly relating it to the greatly increased access to up-to-the-minute video and electronic communication in the dugout.
“It’s basically an unintended consequence of having all this technology in the dugout,’’ Showalter said. “The video rooms, the replay room … they put iPads in the dugout. When I first saw that, I went, ‘Really?’ The replay room should never be close to the dugout. I never had to pick up the phone in Baltimore. I could just yell back to it.
“This is a solvable issue. You put a compliance officer in the dugout. You move the video rooms down the hall. Nobody’s allowed in there and they police it. It’s pretty simple. Why do they have the drug [testers] waiting at the top of the stairs after every game? They police it. It got to be a big problem, so they police it.”
If there’s an argument against Showalter, it is that he’s an old-school manager and the Astros have been the poster team for baseball’s growing infatuation with cutting-edge analytics over traditional scouting methods, but that’s a secondary consideration at this point.
The Astros franchise needs someone who is ready to hit the ground running with less than four weeks remaining before the start of spring training.
There are several other well-respected veteran managers available, including Mike Scioscia, John Gibbons, Dusty Baker and Clint Hurdle, and there suddenly are three last-minute jobs to fill. Showalter figures to be a candidate for all of them, but the best fit — for both him and the team — would appear to be the Astros.