Orioles' Run Started In Sarasota ... Really, It Did
• 2012 American League Division Series: Orioles vs. Yankees
By Stan "The Fan" Charles
They say hope springs eternal. I am not quite sure who "they" are, or to what that phrase first referred, but it always seemed to fit nicely in the baseball category to this unabashed fan.
It has been an almost-impossible purgatory to live in Baltimore during these last 14 years. The two most successful years during the Peter Angelos ownership era seemed to be back in some long-forgotten place, when stagecoaches ruled the roads. Was it really only 15 or 16 years ago that the Orioles, under the guidance of general manager Pat Gillick and skipper Davey Johnson, walked the trapeze into baseball's postseason?
And so, with the Orioles celebrating by spraying champagne at one another, I think back to spring in Sarasota. I think of how Andy MacPhail was hurried into the general manager position in June 2008. I think back to how bad the team he inherited was and how adrift the organization was at that time. I think back to how MacPhail, with a million and one things to focus on, made finalizing a new spring-training home, one where the players could take some pride and see themselves as actual major league members rather than vagabonds, a priority.
Did Sarasota and all it symbolized turn around the Orioles overnight? Absolutely not. Yet without that shiny new symbol to start the season, this organization might still be floundering.
I think of how after another embarrassing start to a season in 2010, MacPhail made the move to fire manager Dave Trembley. There were a couple of names that he went after, including Eric Wedge, Bobby Valentine and Buck Showalter. MacPhail took his time -- nearly two months -- and as talks and discussions evolved, the choice was Showalter. In hindsight, with no disrespect to Wedge, Showalter was the right shot by a long shot.
What separated Showalter was his own sense of having been humbled by the game he couldn't do without. He seemed to be the perfect embodiment of the title of Earl Weaver's book, It's What You Learn After You Know It All That Counts. Showalter knew plenty, but he had learned to work in consort with others. This was the new and improved Showalter, one ready to dare to be different.
Although his first full season showed little in the way of growing the Orioles' wins and losses, there was a growth in Showlater's knowledge of the players he had and the core that could turn the team around.
I go back one last time to MacPhail. Using the phrase Showalter used in reference to wild-card starter Joe Saunders, MacPhail knew his limitations. As the 2011 season wound down, MacPhail knew it was time to step away from the Orioles. Without any public airing of differences with owner Peter Angelos, and no real divide between the two men, MacPhail chose to walk away at the expiration of his three-year contract.
Whatever his private reasons were, MacPhail left a gaping hole in leadership for the Orioles. That fact began to surface as an aging Angelos and Showalter tried to keep up a good face as they looked at a few up-and-coming general manager types. One by one, the potential candidates eliminated themselves. The Angels hired Jerry Dipoto after the Orioles gave chase. Another candidate, Tony LaCava, decided to test Angelos early on, demanding the right to fire certain long-time scouting folks. While LaCava may have survived his personal litmus test, Angelos decided to look at others.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Dan Duquette, the one-time boy genius general manager of the old Montreal Expos (1992-94) and Boston Red Sox (1994-2002), surfaced as a new and eclectic choice. Out of the game he loved for nine years, Duquette, cousin of former O's assistant general manager Jim, wanted back in and realized he had to humble himself -- much like Showalter.
In doing so, Duquette made himself an uber-attractive candidate. In doing so, Duquette chose to focus on what he could do, rather than pick battles he couldn't win.
General manager and manager needed to have each other's backs for them to succeed in the still-somewhat-dysfunctional environment inside the Orioles' inner sanctum. Perhaps at a different time, these two headstrong men couldn't have co-existed. But, finally, Angelos had two important people working in these two key positions that needed him more than he needed them.
To date, as they are apt to say in Baltimore these days, it's been nothing short of magical.
Posted Oct. 6, 2012