The Orioles ushered in another new era Monday afternoon, introducing their 17th full-time manager -- and third skipper this season -- in baseball lifer Buck Showalter, who took both a humorous and a realistic approach to the challenges he and the declining franchise face in the basement of the ultracompetitive American League East.
"They talk about the three leagues: the American League, the National League and the American League East," Showalter said. "But I don't think they handicap games. They don't give you a run before it starts. And that's not going to change."
Showalter, 54, who has compiled an 882-833 record and won the AL Manager of the Year Award twice in 11 seasons, inherits an Orioles team that is a major league-worst 32-73 and is on pace to surpass the franchise's nadir of 107 losses set in 1988.
"I have respect for what the challenges are, and I am not naive," said Showalter, wearing a pristine No. 26 Orioles jersey -- in honor of his late friend Johnny Oates -- and speaking before a crowded room of Orioles employees and media on the sixth floor of the B&O; Warehouse.
Showalter will address his players this afternoon -- though center fielder Adam Jones attended Monday's 40-minute news conference to hear his new boss talk -- and then will lead the Orioles for the first time at 7:05 p.m. against the Los Angeles Angels.
On Monday, he instead spoke, in essence, to a legion of disgruntled Orioles fans, explaining that things can get better but it will take time.
"Because a club has struggled for so long, everyone thinks everything there is bad," Showalter said. "That's not the case here. There are a lot of good things, and I've done my homework."
By signing Showalter to a contract that doesn't expire until after the 2013 season, Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail hopes the club will forge a new direction after what is all but certain to be its 13th consecutive losing season.
"We need an identity as a franchise. We need somebody that can put his stamp on this team and have us play a certain brand of baseball that we are going to have to play to win," said MacPhail, whose contract expires at the end of 2011. "Again, [Showalter] has a reputation that excels or equals all others in that category."
This is Showalter's fourth big league managerial gig. A former New York Yankees minor leaguer, he took over the downtrodden Yankees in 1992 and guided them to the playoffs for the first time in a decade before being fired in 1995 after a dispute with management.
He managed the Arizona Diamondbacks from their inception in 1998 and won 100 games in 1999 before being fired after the 2000 season. He then spent four seasons with the Texas Rangers (2003-2006), keeping them in the pennant race for much of 2004 and earning his second Manager of the Year award. Both the Diamondbacks (2001) and Yankees (1996) won the World Series the year after he was fired.
"It's kind of like raising your daughter and then letting someone else walk them down the aisle," Showalter said. "I hope to get to walk them down the aisle here."
That path became more perilous this season, when a club with expectations of improving on a 98-loss campaign dropped 16 of its first 18 games, leading to the eventual firing of manager Dave Trembley on June 3.
Juan Samuel, who Monday turned down the opportunity to be on Showalter's staff and instead will spend the next two months as a special-assignment assistant for the club working primarily in his native Dominican Republic, compiled a 17-34 record as the Orioles' interim manager while MacPhail looked for a full-time replacement.
MacPhail interviewed four candidates -- former big league managers Showalter, Bobby Valentine and Eric Wedge and current MASN broadcaster and former Oriole Rick Dempsey -- before eventually settling on Showalter and his turnaround track record.
"We have a young core of players that are struggling, taking a step backwards," MacPhail said. "They haven't been exposed to winning-type environments. We, for the last couple of months, have been trying to find somebody that has had some experience in creating that environment, that has been exposed to young rosters before and knows how to prepare young players to be as good as they possibly can be. We were looking for somebody that had some experience at that, some success in that. ÃÂÃÂ [Showalter] has done it in three different places."
In the past, Showalter has been involved in most aspects of an organization. With the Orioles, he said, his specific involvement would be up to MacPhail. The club president said Showalter wouldn't be included in amateur scouting decisions but would have input involving major league moves and would share his opinions with pro scouts in a meeting after this season.
"One of the things that made Buck the most attractive to me is he has worn a lot of hats and done different things, and the more help we can get, the better," MacPhail said.
MacPhail said Showalter's reputation as a micromanager is "not an issue for me, not an issue for those that I spoke with ÃÂÃÂ during this process."
Said Showalter of the micromanaging criticism: "I try to be true to my own skin, and it depends on who you talk to. It's kind of like the person you pick to deliver the eulogy at your funeral. There's only one or two people who really, really know you. So I've come to grips with it, I live with it. And I try to do what's best every day and move on."
Attending the conference with his wife and two adult children, Showalter said all the right things about the community and the Orioles. Currently living in Dallas, he said he expects to buy a house in the Baltimore area. He thanked club owner Peter Angelos for hiring him and pointed to the organization's history, saying he would tap into it for help as he leads the club.
He also praised Samuel and publicly recognized Dempsey, one of his competitors for the post, for being at the conference. He added that he is wearing uniform No. 26 to memorialize Oates, the former Orioles catcher and manager whom Showalter played for in the minors and considers a mentor.
"It's been 5 1/2 years since John passed away, and not many days go by that I don't think about how lucky I was to have him pass my way," said Showalter, who asked Oates' family's permission to honor him. "He was pretty special."
In a lighter moment, Showalter referenced the Mel Gibson movie "Braveheart," saying that despite the odds, he thinks at some point the Orioles will be ready to compete with their intimidating opponents.
In reality, he knows that he could be in for the battle of his professional career.
"I know a lot of people have asked: 'Why? Why Baltimore?'" Showalter said about leaving his baseball analyst job at ESPN to manage again. "You miss the exhilarating feeling of competing for a common cause with a group of men and women. You miss that team where you put yourself out every night for a common cause. ÃÂÃÂ We just have to put a product on the field that [fans] want to be a part of."