Baltimore Sun reporter Eduardo A. Encina talks about Buck Showalter being named as the American League Manager of the Year by the Baseball Writers' Association of America on Tuesday.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter hadn't called many team meetings over the course of this past season, but before the postseason, he gathered his squad and spoke from the heart.
Showalter usually downplays his importance as a manager. "The game is about the players," he said. "Managers usually come and go."
On this day, he brought in Orioles Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson to speak. But before introducing Robinson, Showalter thanked his players for a memorable season.
"I never really had the chance to tell them thanks for the way they played, the standard they held for themselves and what they held each other to," Showalter said. "I had a great seat. There are so many things that happen that you take a real prideful moment."
Even though Showalter might like to play down his impact on the resurgence of the Orioles organization, there's little doubt he's been the single biggest part of the franchise's turnaround since becoming manager in July 2010.
Those efforts culminated on Tuesday with Showalter winning the American League Manager of the Year award. Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams was named National League Manager of the Year, beating Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle and San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy.
Showalter guided the Orioles to the franchise's most successful season in 17 years — a 96-win season and the team's first American League East title since 1997, overcoming the loss of several key players along the way.
He became the third Orioles manager to win the award, which began in 1983 and is selected by a vote of members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Frank Robinson won in 1989 and Davey Johnson in 1997.
It was the third time that Showalter won the award — the wins coming a decade apart at three different stops. He won in 1994 after leading the New York Yankees to a 70-43 record during a strike-shortened season. He won in 2004 after guiding the Texas Rangers to an 18-win improvement.
"What it means is that people get tired of your shtick after a while," Showalter joked about winning the award with three different teams. "I don't know."
Showalter won by a tremendous margin, receiving 25 of 30 first-place votes. Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia placed second, receiving four first-place votes, while the Kansas City Royals' Ned Yost was third. Seattle Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon, the fourth-place finisher, received one first-place vote.
Voting was completed before the beginning of the postseason. Voters ranked their top three choices and Showalter was listed on 29 of 30 ballots.
Showalter became the first manager to win the award with three different clubs in the same league. He is the second manager to win the award for three different clubs overall. Tony La Russa won as manager of the Chicago White Sox (1983), Oakland Athletics (1989, '92) and St. Louis Cardinals (2002). Showalter is also the third manager to win the award in three different decades, joining Hall of Famers Bobby Cox and La Russa.
He is also one of just six managers to win the award at least three times, joining an exclusive club that includes Cox, La Russa, Jim Leyland, Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella.
"Those are some pretty good names, I can tell you that," Showalter said. "Longevity, the most chances you have, the more chances you have of getting it right, you know? I think that's about all I take out of it. Never once have I assumed. It's such an honor to manage in the big leagues. Not a day goes by when I don't look around and say, 'Really?' It's pretty cool and I don't ever take it for granted."
Showalter, who is known for his meticulous preparation, made the right moves throughout a season that saw the Orioles lose several key players.
The team lost catcher Matt Wieters after just 26 games to eventual Tommy John elbow surgery. Third baseman Manny Machado missed the first month of the regular season recovering from offseason knee surgery and then was lost for the season in August after an injury to his other knee. In September, first baseman Chris Davis began serving a 25-game suspension for a failed drug test.
"I think the reason why all the guys in the clubhouse respect Buck and think he is the right man for the job is because he puts guys in positions to succeed," Wieters said. "It doesn't matter which guys are out. He doesn't pigeonhole certain players to a certain kind. He tries to work with what the strengths of all his players are and he puts us in positions to succeed. As a player, that's all you can ask for out of a manager."
Wieters said Showalter deserved the award and added that 2014 was the payoff from years of the manager creating a culture of winning inside the Orioles clubhouse.
"I think every year he has been here has been a good year," Wieters said. "I just think the culture, the winning culture, that he has brought back to Baltimore and everything that has gone into it up to this point has been great. I find it hard to point to one year. It's been a multi-year process for him to bring back Oriole baseball in the way that Baltimore as a city loves to see their team play. It's hard to pinpoint one year for him. Each year that goes into it, you can see him try to add on the next year."
Showalter was masterful with a pitching staff that posted a 3.43 staff ERA, the franchise's lowest since 1979. The starting rotation had four pitchers with double-digit wins. He utilized his bullpen with precision, ensuring his relievers stayed healthy over the long haul.
But above all, Showalter's greatest achievement in 2014 was keeping his cool throughout adversity. Because he didn't panic, his players followed his lead. The Orioles didn't just win the AL East, they ran away with it, winning by 12 games. They then went on to sweep the Detroit Tigers in three games in the AL Division Series.
"We had some big things happen to us from an injury standpoint and then Chris getting suspended," left-hander Zach Britton said. "And I think everyone was looking around at each other and going, 'Is this going to be the point where we kind of collapse or what's going to happen?
"And we didn't have to look any further than Buck. We saw that he didn't necessarily brush it to the wayside, but he said, 'Hey, it's just another challenge. We're gonna have this guy step up and take this guy's place.' The feeling we got is that we are going to keep pushing hard and we can be as good as anybody and we can win this division with the guys we have injured or with Chris suspended. ... You never looked at Buck and thought he lost confidence in the team."
Baltimore Sun reporter Dan Connolly contributed to this article.