Until the end, former Orioles manager Buck Showalter stuck with the plan.
With his future quite possibly sealed last weekend at Camden Yards but games still to be played and nothing publicly settled about his job status, Showalter treated the season finale Sunday like any other game, preparing that makeshift Orioles team to play the Houston Astros the same way he did when the two teams met in April, a whole season ahead for each.
"It was business right until the end," first baseman Trey Mancini said, indicating Showalter’s public reluctance to acknowledge the emotion of his circumstance Sunday matched what he did with his players in private. "From Game 1 to Game 162, even the last game, it just kind of felt like any other game and other day. He doesn't really break character too much, if you will."
As the Orioles and Showalter part ways at the end of a 115-loss season, as clear a consequence as any for the underperformance even as his contract expired, Orioles players said the manager who oversaw that collapse was the same who led them to three playoff appearances in five years from 2012 to 2016, for better or worse.
On his own likely last weekend in an Orioles uniform, center fielder Adam Jones said Showalter brought an air of accountability to the team, didn't take excuses and let professionals be just that. A manager who prided himself on preparation built a team that succeeded, and, at the club’s best, that's what stood out to the players he oversaw.
"The preparation and the caliber of the work that went on behind the scenes was pretty exceptional, especially when we did some of our advanced scouting,” veteran outfielder/designated hitter Mark Trumbo said. “Quite a bit of the work that went on behind the scenes would kind of be filtered down to the players in a way that was easily understandable. I always felt like that the end of some of those things, we came away having a very good understanding of what we were going up against the strengths and weakness of the opposition and what we'd need to succeed."
That trickled down all the way through the organization, Mancini said.
"I think he did a good job of instilling that in the minor league coaches, too," Mancini said. "That came from here. Every team that you came up on was run in a similar way, and you knew hat you had to do when you got to the majors. You kind of get thrown into the fire, but in a good way. I think he had a good line of communication with all the managers and coaches in the minors, getting us ready to play at that level.
"It's kind of an unsaid thing. You won't get too many pump-up speeches or anything, but you just know he expects you to get your business done and he trusts you to do it. He does a great job of running a team."
Many others felt the same way. Former utility infielder Ryan Flaherty said in a text message that there’s “not a person I respect more in the game than him.”
Trumbo said part of that is putting players in a position to succeed, especially when they arrive. Showalter has taken the likes of Steve Pearce and Delmon Young off the scrap heap and put them in places to thrive. He'd honor platoon splits so as to let newcomers get off to a good feeling, and let them play their best positions to see what they offer, regardless of outside opinions.
"I know there was a lot of work put into trying to get the right people, and I think that over the years, him and [executive vice president Dan Duquette, who the club also parted ways with Wednesday] and others have been very effective in getting guys that were maybe a little under the radar who they saw a lot of potential in," Trumbo said. "Going back to '16, so far my fondest memory and our most successful year, for that matter, I think if you look at a lot of guys on that team, there was a lot of experience, a lot of quality people in general, and I think Buck did an excellent job of putting us out in the best possible place to succeed on the field. I think everyone was in the right spot when they needed to be, and as a player that's all you can ask. You want to be in a position you have a relative comfort level in and know that there's a lot of thought being put in it, and people have confidence that you belong out there."
Left-hander Richard Bleier was one of the last success stories to come through the Duquette/Showalter era. A waiver claim in spring training in 2017, Duquette targeted him with input from Showalter and his staff. He had a 1.97 ERA over two seasons with the club before a lat tear this year, but in the interim, worked his way into a trusted role in Showalter’s bullpen in a way that many before him did — by simply going out and performing. That’s all Showalter asked, he said.
“I think people can say whatever they want, but it's what you do,” Bleier said. “Actions speak louder than words. So, when you see them calling up guys like me, for instance. I was 30 at the time with 23 innings in the big leagues. I think that gives people the idea that they really are going to give guys deserving of an opportunity an opportunity. It doesn't matter who you are or what you are. If you can prove that you can do it, we're going to see if you can. …
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“In my situation where I got DFA’ed [designated for assignment] by the Yankees, that was Dan and Buck that claimed me,” Bleier said. “It's a little sad that they're going. We understand that it's a business, and you wonder, what if the next person coming in isn't as opportunistic?”