If you're surprised that Buck Showalter is about to become the next manager of the Orioles, you probably haven't been paying attention. But, at this point in consecutive losing season No. 13, who could blame you for that?
Showalter has been the leading candidate for weeks, and probably the only candidate since he had his third interview/meeting with club officials earlier this month. The only thing that is curious is the timing of putting him into the dugout Tuesday night at Camden Yards.
President of baseball operations Andy MacPhail insisted all along that he was not working on a timetable, which had been widely viewed as an excuse for holding back the announcement of a new manager until the manager could not have any responsibility for the outcome of this sorry season.
That's why I was starting to believe that Showalter would not start until September, which would allow him just enough time to evaluate the veterans and some minor league call-ups before the Orioles head into what might be their most important offseason of this young century.
Now, if I were running the team (count your blessings), I would have announced the hiring of Showalter as the manager-in-waiting and sent him on a monthlong tour of the Orioles' minor league system. That way, he could avoid what promises to be a nuclear August and get a firm grasp of just where this organization stands before he puts on the uniform.
No one denies that the reason the club did not quickly appoint a new permanent manager when Dave Trembley was fired was to avoid the possibility that the new guy's credibility might be tainted by four months at the helm of a ship that had already sunk. The word on the street in June was that Showalter, who became the leading candidate when Bobby Valentine bowed out early and Eric Wedge didn't have enough star power for owner Peter Angelos, did not want to jump right into this mess, which makes it fair to wonder whether there has been some kind of gentlemen's agreement in place for the past few weeks.
That makes perfect sense. The last thing the Orioles need going into the 2011 season is for fans to have any cause to doubt Showalter's credentials -- not that there would be any reason to do that.
Trouble is, the level of public angst about this organization is so high that fans are understandably willing to view anything bad that happens as a new symbol of all that has been wrong over the past 121/2 losing seasons. So, whether it's fair or not, if Showalter takes over Tuesday and goes 15-42 for the final 57 games of the regular season -- which is very possible -- a segment of the Orioles' fan base is going to be convinced that the front office blew the managerial search.
I'm pretty sure MacPhail realizes that, but there obviously is pressure from within the organization and without to get this runaway train moving in a different direction. The hiring of a respected manager will, at the very least, create that appearance.
In that respect, the timing makes perfect sense. The Orioles just completed a series that pretty much summed up the whole season, and the Ravens just opened training camp in Westminster to great anticipation and fanfare.
The Orioles can say they don't care about the shift in media coverage that takes place every year about this time, but they have to notice that the Ravens -- who might well be on their way to the Super Bowl -- have already pushed them to the bottom of the sports page and to the back of the local sports reports on radio and TV.
Showalter will put them back on the front burner for a few days, and he'll bring a level of respectability to the manager's office that could not be attached to the four rookie managers who preceded him.
Whether that will eventually lead to a new era of competitive Orioles baseball is another story.
We can only hope.
Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) on Fridays and Saturdays at noon and with Brett Hollander on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6. Also, check out his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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