October is always the time of the year when disappointed, disgusted or otherwise disoriented sports fans get most distracted. They're caught in the crosshairs of the only month of the year when all four major sports are presenting meaningful games.
For Baltimore Orioles fans, meaningful games barely lasted past Opening Day, and distractions came early, as the team became hopelessly inept long before Father's Day. It was about then it became obvious a rebuild, reboot, reload or whatever else you'd like to call it would be a long and tedious process.
Eventually, it also became obvious the long and tedious process would inevitably result in a change of command, so it wasn't exactly a shock when Orioles manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette got the “thanks for your service, don't let the door hit you on the way out” treatment. For sure, many considered this a strange pairing to begin with. They were considered to be part of an arranged baseball marriage that didn't include the phrase “as long as you both shall agree -- or disagree.”
As awkward as the arrangement may have seemed, the duo had a rather remarkable five-year run from 2012-2016, during which time the Orioles went to the postseason three times and won more games than any other team in the American League. Showalter and Duquette get to share the credit of ending a 14-year losing drought for the Orioles, but there's no question the manager had become the sign of hope and face of the franchise.
To sum up Showalter's time in Baltimore, he was the right man in the right place at the right time. And, at least in my opinion, when his tenure came to an end he was still the right man in the right place -- but it was just not the right time.
Despite posting the worst record in club history in 2018, a lot of baseball people will tell you the Orioles are in a better position now than they were when Showalter took the job. Whether that proves to be true will be decided in large measure by how successful Duquette was with the trades he made ahead of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline that brought 15 new players into the organization.
How that plays out remains to be seen, and hopefully the new regime will find the right man for the job. But there is no doubt in my mind that for the job that needs to be done, Showalter would fit every requirement for what is needed moving forward. He has a sound program in place that runs throughout the minor league system, and to drastically change it would be a dangerous mistake.
Some will tell you that eventually a manager's message gets old and Showalter is no exception to that theory. In reality, however, where the message gets old is with the fan base, and to a degree with the media, especially in an age of instant gratification through social media outlets. There was never an indication that Showalter's message got stale with his players -- partly because of constant turnover and also because the Orioles developed a solid leadership core in the clubhouse.
We'll never know, perhaps, if Showalter would've taken the job in 2010 had he known former president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail would stay just one more year. Likewise, we'll never know who Duquette would've hired as manager had he been retained, which had been widely speculated during the final weeks of the season.
As of press time, there was only mild speculation about who the Orioles would entrust with all future baseball decisions -- at least for the time being. The Orioles could bring in someone with a track record like former Chicago Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, former Miami Marlins GM Dan Jennings, former Milwaukee Brewers GM Doug Melvin or current San Francisco Giants executive John Barr. The Orioles could also reach out to a potential rising star like Oakland Athletics executive Billy Owens. But I think it would be prudent for whoever takes the job to maintain the structure that is in place.
Any decision should be based more on the overall body of work, rather than this year's record. Norfolk Tides manager Ron Johnson, Bowie Baysox manager Gary Kendall, Orioles third base coach Bobby Dickerson and former infielder and current MASN analyst Mike Bordick should be in the picture.
Watching outfielder Andrew McCutchen playing for the New York Yankees in the postseason, it wasn't difficult wondering if longtime Orioles outfielder Adam Jones might have worn that uniform under a different set of circumstances. Both will be free agents at the end of the season and figure to play similar roles somewhere next year -- but it won't be on the same team.
OK, so of the two ex-Oriole teammates, who had Brewers left-hander Wade Miley, not Atlanta Braves right-hander Kevin Gausman, starting a potentially clinching third game of a five-game division series? And not giving up a run? Certainly wasn't John or Tessie, must've been Harry, over there in the corner.
I caught a line somewhere noting the Orioles weren't smart enough to have Gausman pitch like there were runners on base all the time like the Braves did. No offense, but it did seem like he pitched out of the stretch a lot while he was here, and it didn't always go too well.
I have been accused of being an eternal optimist more than once, and as difficult of a year as it has been for the University of Maryland football team, I find it hard not to root for better fortunes. I also find it hard to understand some fans who are quick to note the Terps' loss to Temple while still overlooking a convincing win against Texas, which hung a 48-45 loss on Oklahoma when the Sooners were ranked No. 7 in the country.
The loss to Temple wasn't as embarrassing as all of those empty seats, something that has to be fixed if the Terps are ever going to be relevant. As it is, every visiting Big Ten team will invade College Park, Md., the way Pittsburgh Steelers fans invade every NFL city.
I'm a little off base here, but did I read that Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson got a 20-game suspension for being naughty during a preseason game? You'd never see anything like that during a spring training game.
With apologies to my Alabama friends ... but rooting for the Crimson Tide football team must be like rooting for Amazon.
Happy Halloween -- caution to Orioles fans: don't go trick-or-treating this year!
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox
Issue 248: October 2018
Originally published Oct. 15, 2018