Peter Schmuck: No matter his title, Showalter will be calling shots for Orioles

October 08, 2011|Peter Schmuck

For a guy who apparently is not going to move into the general manager's office this fall, Buck Showalter already is acting a lot like a general manager.

He spent part of the past week viewing prospects at the instructional league in Florida, sat down for a dinner conversation to gauge the future of injured second baseman Brian Roberts and has become the main sounding board for owner Peter Angelos. A sources has confirmed to The Baltimore Sun he is not going to take the position, but it's fair to assume that he'll have a big say in who does.

That's fine, of course. Showalter is going to be the main man in the front office no matter what the signs say on the doors, but it remains to be seen whether things will actually be different with him trying to call all the shots.

The situation has a familiar ring to it. The only time the Orioles have had real success during the Angelos ownership was when the club hired strong-willed manager Davey Johnson and Johnson helped convince future Hall of Famer Pat Gillick to sign on as general manager in 1995. The manager/GM hierarchy is usually determined in the opposite order, but the two led the Orioles to back-to-back American League Championship Series in 1996 and 1997.

Angelos also created an unorthodox front office chemistry when he hired the late Mike Flanagan and Jim Beattie to be — essentially — co-general managers in 2002 but returned to a more traditional organizational model when he brought in Andy MacPhail to be president of baseball operations in 2007.

So, now that MacPhail has decided to move on and it appears Showalter will remain in the dugout as a manager with a difference, why should anyone believe that another hybrid front office power structure can get the Orioles to the next level?

It's a very fair question, and the answer probably depends on whether you believe Angelos has evolved as an owner over the past few years and whether Showalter is as strong-willed as Johnson was back in the day.

I'm pretty sure you can answer in the affirmative on both counts. Angelos did give MacPhail wide-ranging authority (though obviously not an unlimited budget) to rebuild the organization, and there is little question that he has at least as much confidence in Showalter's baseball judgment. Now, we just have to wait and see who shows up at the Warehouse to do the dirty work.

There are all sorts of possibilities, but since both Angelos and Showalter are old-school personalities, it's fair to assume they won't be writing the script for the "Moneyball" sequel. If Showalter does not change his mind and unexpectedly jump upstairs, the next GM — or president of baseball operations — will likely be someone with whom he shares some history and someone who will fit into the Angelos comfort zone.

In other words, it will likely be an established fellow with some front office political skills and player-development experience rather than some twentysomething Ivy Leaguer carrying a spreadsheet and a cup of Starbucks into every meeting.

Really, we should probably be more interested in what happens below the GM level, since the problems that have beset this team for the past 14 years are rooted in the organization's inability to develop players as well as their well-heeled American League East counterparts who generally draft 20 places behind them every year. MacPhail made some progress in that area but not nearly enough.

If the Orioles arrive in Sarasota, Fla., next spring without any change in the way they do business below the surface, it's hard to imagine that much is going to change over the long term, but you have to think that Showalter is on top of that.

He has been accused throughout his career of being a micromanager who pokes his nose into everybody else's office in a relentless pursuit of the right way run a team.

We can only hope he hasn't mellowed.

When MacPhail arrived here 2007, he stressed the importance of having "one voice" in the front office. It appears that Showalter is now going to be that voice, regardless of his title or the location of his desk.

We can only hope that everyone — including Angelos — will be listening.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and wbal.com.

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