The Buck starts here

Our view: A new manager takes over the woebegone Orioles amid high hopes for the kind of turnaround he has successfully engineered elsewhere

August 02, 2010

Fan is short for "fanatic," something to keep in mind as a surge of optimism sweeps the town because Buck Showalter is taking over the job of managing our woeful Baltimore Orioles.

From the deflating home opening loss to Toronto right up to this past weekend's dismal showing against the lowly Kansas City Royals, this has been a season of discontent for Oriole fans. This year, the team has the worst record in baseball.

Yet, as Mr. Showalter takes the helm, hope appears on the horizon. The clubs he has managed in New York, Texas and Arizona had winning records. Moreover, he has a reputation as a repairman, a manager who takes over losing teams and fixes them. This team, like some of Baltimore's abandoned houses, needs a lot of work — a major renovation rather than a little house cleaning — to put it in winning form.

Mr. Showalter seems up to the task; at his introductory press conference Monday, he sounded full of promise. He repeatedly talked about "accountability" — his belief that players should be sound in the game's fundamentals — and "flexibility" — the freedom, thanks to relatively few burdensome contracts, that the club has to make personnel changes in the off-season.

He did not guarantee a quick turnaround. Developing a winning team "is a grind," he said, and "not for the weak of heart." We know.

We also agree with Mr. Showalter that baseball is a mentally and emotionally challenging game, especially for young players. The Orioles are a club with many fledgling players, and a strength of Mr. Showalter in his career has been his ability to instill confidence in youthful athletes.

Of all the accolades coming from those Mr. Showalter has coached, the one that caught our attention was from New York Yankee first baseman Mark Teixeira. In his early days in the majors, Mr. Teixeira, a graduate of Baltimore's Mount St. Joseph High School, played for Mr. Showalter on the Texas Rangers. "Buck understands how tough it is to play in the big leagues," Mr. Teixeira told The Baltimore Sun. "He understands what young guys go through, the ups and downs, the struggles, the mental grind." Having a manager who holds his players to high standards and yet can keep them feeling positive about themselves when they fail would be ideal. Mr. Showalter sounds like that kind of guy.

A manager can help a team win, but he can't do it alone. Baseball's successful franchises are ones where the team's brass is in sync with its manager. Such winning organizations have a good eye for spotting talent and a cogent plan for developing it. That, in recent years, has not been the case with the Orioles. It is now, says Andy MacPhail, the Orioles president of baseball operations, who also spoke at the Camden Yards press conference. We shall see.

Baltimore baseball fans are loyal, almost absurdly so. They are extremely proud of past baseball glories — of Brooks, Boog and Cal — in part because they have had have so little to be feel good about lately. The new Oriole manager seems to understand that. He compares Baltimore's fondness for baseball and its traditions to those found in St. Louis, arguably America's top baseball-loving town.

He perceives, correctly, that even during this sorry season, fans are willing to embrace the Orioles. But he rightly adds that "we gotta give them something to embrace."

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