Baltimore Sun's Orioles beat writer Jon Meoli on the Orioles decision to not bring Buck Showalter back for another season. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)
It is a rare baseball manager whose mots are so bonsthey end up on T-shirts. Surely there are few who inspire their teams to immortalize them as garden gnomes. Or those whose dry, pause-filled post-game news conferences were often more entertaining than what preceded them.
But that is why Orioles Nation “Buckled Up.” We liked the guy who liked our guys. And over the past eight years, a span in which the Orioles rose out of a years-long mediocrity only to plummet to historic awfulness this past season, in Buck we really did come to trust.
Showalter arrived in Baltimore in August 2010, and yet for many, he seems to have always been here, the stalwart, fatherly figure in the dugout, arms crossed and usually expressionless — of course his dogs were basset hounds — exuding an affection for his players and even this city so beleaguered both within and without the emerald diamond that is Camden Yards.
He came here having already managed the Yankees in that city where, supposedly, if you make it there, you can make it anywhere. Baltimore was appropriately, humbly grateful.
“We as Baltimore sports fans tend to sometimes have an inferiority thing,” said Jason Policastro, 37, of Rodgers Forge. “We don’t deserve the best; we don’t get the best.
“With Buck, we were getting one of the best,” he said.
Policastro, a copywriter at T. Rowe Price, was among several fans to note one particularly glittery section of Showalter’s resume.
“He was on ‘Seinfeld,’ ” he said.
And indeed, Baltimoreans soon came to see for themselves the deadpan style of that cameo appearance, from 1994, in which Showalter listens to George’s typically harebrained scheme: to switch from polyester to cotton and give the Yankees a 5-degree-cooler advantage over opponents.
Policastro’s cover photo on his Twitter account may declare, “BRITTON SHOULD HAVE PITCHED IN THE WILD CARD GAME,” a widely held view after Showalter didn’t go to the then-perfect closer, who had saved 47 out of 47 games in the regular season, for the 2016 wild-card game that the Orioles went on to lose. But Policastro said even that didn’t change his opinion of Showalter, nor did this year’s disastrous season.
“Find me a manager who would have succeeded in this situation,” he said.
Craig Allen, at 49 a lifelong O’s fan, agrees.
“What do you do?” said Allen, ticking off some of this season’s lows — from Chris Davis’ lowest-ever batting average for a regular major leaguer to the way he believes the team mishandled the last year of Adam Jones’ contract.
Allen, a self-described “sneaker head” who sells shoes online from his Owings Mills home, is among the many who fully expected this day to come, with the Orioles already having launched a team-wide renovation effort.
Bob Leffler, a longtime Baltimore-based sports marketing executive, said Showalter’s personal charisma made him the unusual manager who could sell tickets in the way a player might. He views Showalter as something of the anti-Bill Belichick, the New England Patriots coach whose winning ways don’t extend to his scowling demeanor.
“How many managers before him were on ‘Seinfeld’?” Leffler said. “He is a media star, and the managers before him were basically technicians. He’s very glib. He handles himself very well.
“But,” he added, “you still have to win.”
Fans — and Baltimoreans in general — clearly bonded with Showalter in his more than eight years here. They remain grateful.
“He brought the Orioles back from the dead,” said Beau Boughamer, 40, of Catonsville.
What stands out for Boughamer is how the manager handled one of the darkest times not for the team but for its city — the April 2015 rioting that broke out after the death of Freddie Gray from injuries suffered in police custody. Tensions remained so high that the Orioles played a game in an empty Camden Yards several days later rather than risk further trouble downtown.
“It was a difficult day, and people were listening to what players were saying, and what Buck would say after the game,” Boughamer said. “And he said, ‘I’ve never been black’ and that he didn’t know what [black] players are going through. He basically said it wasn’t for him to say.”
That struck Boughamer, a communications manager for a foundation, as exactly the right thing to say at an otherwise divisive time.
“The Orioles are one of the things people in the city and county have in common,” he said. “I thought he represented the city really well.”
Boughamer said he would always be grateful to Showalter for the magical 2012 season that ended the Orioles’ 15-year postseason drought, and led two years later to their division championship.
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“I think there’s a whole generation of Orioles fans who are forever in debt to Buck for the 2012 Orioles and then of course the 2014 Orioles,” he said. “Buck pulled great performances out of veteran utility players and the young guys just coming up.”
As for who can fill Showalter’s shoes, there’s only one person, Boughamer said.