When he arrived in August 2010, the Orioles were the worst team in baseball. As he leaves, they’re no better.
Somewhere in between rests Buck Showalter’s legacy as Orioles manager, an 8 1/2-year term that roused the club from a 14-year losing skein unprecedented in franchise history. Moreover, Showalter’s obsession with detail helped resurrect, for several years at least, the club’s once-proud mantra known as “The Oriole Way.”
Three times, on Showalter’s watch, the Orioles reached the postseason. Of the team’s 18 full-time managers since 1954, only Earl Weaver (six) can top that — and Weaver ran the team for 17 years, winning four pennants and the 1970 World Series.
Though not alike in their demeanor — Weaver, the feisty, umpire-baiting manager, and Showalter, a mostly even-tempered one — they rank first and a distant second in both Orioles victories and longevity. Weaver won 1,480 games; Showalter, 669. Third is Paul Richards (517), architect of the farm system that served the Orioles for their 1960s and 1970s heyday. Fourth is Hank Bauer (407), the gruff ex-Marine who managed five years — and took Baltimore to its first world championship in 1966.
Showalter’s teams lost 684 games, second to Weaver’s (1,060). But his winning percentage (.494) ranks eighth on the Orioles list, .001 ahead of long-forgotten Phil Regan, who managed in 1995. Showalter’s final season dragged his numbers down; had he left after the 2017 season, he would have placed sixth (.522).
He was the Orioles’ 10th manager since 1993, when Peter Angelos bought the team, and the only one to last more than four full seasons.
“I see enormous potential with this club,” Showalter said upon his hiring in 2010. The Orioles were 32-73 when he managed his first Orioles game, just one game better than at that same point this year. They went 34-23 thereafter and, two years later, reached the playoffs for the first time since 1997.
In his best season (2014) Showalter led the Orioles to 96 wins. Only four others have surpassed that total: Weaver (seven times), Bauer (twice), Davey Johnson and Joe Altobelli.
A baseball lifer, Showalter came with a checkered past. Twice, he’d been American League Manager of the Year after rebuilding the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers. But he left New York a year before they won the 1996 World Series, and was fired by Texas when its turnaround stalled. Likewise in Arizona, Showalter managed the fledgling Diamondbacks to a classic about-face, going from 97 losses in 1998 to a division flag the following year. One season later, having slipped to third, he was fired.
Though he leaves the Orioles on a sour note, Showalter achieved in Baltimore what many, including former Yankees star Don Mattingly, had predicted.
“We (New York) were floundering when he got there, and Buck gave us stability,” Mattingly said in 2010. “Buck kept saying, ‘We’ve got to get guys in here who are bothered when we lose, and get rid of those who aren’t.’
“He’ll do the same in Baltimore. I always saw [the Orioles] as a great organization, with Earl Weaver and Cal [Ripken Jr.] and Cal’s father, and it’s kind of sad to see what has happened there. But there’s no reason that it shouldn’t change — and Buck is capable of helping to change it.”
That he did. For a while, anyway.