Showalter takes first steps toward improving Orioles

Manager's debut doesn't feature earth-shaking changes, but it ends the right way

August 03, 2010|Peter Schmuck

Buck Showalter jogged out to home plate for the exchange of lineup cards before his Orioles managerial debut Tuesday night and struck a pose that made him look eerily like legendary Orioles manager Earl Weaver.

It was not intentional -- though Showalter has a reputation for calculating his every move. It was just the tilt of his cap and the fact that he is not a tall man -- and maybe a little wishful thinking on the part of anyone who made the connection.

Showalter is not a Weaver clone. He tends to stay inside himself more than the erstwhile Earl of Baltimore, but Orioles fans can only hope that there is something in his managerial playbook that will someday summon other comparisons to the great Orioles teams of old.

On his first day in an Orioles uniform, however, it was as if he arrived on little cat feet. He met behind closed doors with his inherited coaching staff, then conducted a very brief team meeting in the Orioles clubhouse. There were no verbal fireworks. No grand pronouncements. No my-way-or-the-highway ultimatums.

"It's the third time they've been through this," Showalter said. "I'm a little sensitive to that."

Still, prominent among the topics was accountability, a subject that has been paid a great deal of lip service already this season.

"That's one of the things he addressed," right fielder Nick Markakis said. "It's something that might have been lacking around here at times."

By most accounts, it will not be lacking anymore. Showalter might be sensitive to the plight of this beleaguered team, but his reputation says he'll have no time for anybody feeling sorry for himself or allowing a little thing like the worst record in baseball to be an excuse to live or play outside the team concept.

"I haven't seen Buck in a while," Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, "but I'll tell you what: He'll be prepared, and that team will play hard."

Showalter's reputation isn't a trade secret, which might be the reason he saw no point in laying down a lot of ground rules in his afternoon clubhouse meeting. He has 31/2 years to show everybody who's boss, a fact Markakis seemed to find comforting.

"It's nice to know we have a guy that's going to be here a while," Markakis said. "There's an understanding that we as players have to go out and play. And play hard."

Of course, Showalter couldn't say anything to this team or the local media that hasn't been said by every other guy who has tried to pull the Orioles out of this 13-year crater. Everybody uses the same buzz words -- accountability almost always at the top of the list -- so the trick is to find a way to make them sink in.

"It's about actions, whether it's from them or from me," Showalter said. "I have respect for what they do and what they've been trying to do, but obviously it hasn't worked out well."

If the fans were hoping for some sign that there would be swift action to change the competitive climate, however, it was not in evidence in his debut. The starting lineup was pretty much the same one that Juan Samuel had been trotting out there since Brian Roberts and Felix Pie got back -- minus Miguel Tejada -- and very close to the one Dave Trembley wished he could trot out there during the ugly, injury-marred early months of the season.

Showalter has indicated he'll spend the next two months in a state of perpetual evaluation and said Tuesday that he is not inclined to rush to any conclusions.

"There has been a lot of flux going on here," he said. "Let's get on about the business of playing the games. I want to eliminate all the challenges except the game itself."

On Tuesday night, the Orioles looked for five innings like the same moribund team that sent Trembley and Samuel home for the rest of the summer, but they rallied for four runs in an exciting sixth to put Showalter on the fast track to his first Orioles victory, 6-3.

There's a long way to go, but even the longest journey begins with a single step.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Fridays and Saturdays and with Brett Hollander at 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Also, check out his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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