There is a whole generation of Baltimoreans who have grown up without knowing that, somewhere deep in its DNA, this is a baseball town. The Ravens, yes; the Colts, certainly — they occupy a big chunk of the municipal imagination. But for so long, there were Brooks, Frank, Eddie, Palmer, Cal and Earl, with Wild Bill in the stands on 33rd Street. The Oriole Way was the Baltimore Way: Show up, do your job. Not flashy, just good, year in and year out.
For 14 miserable, losing years, we locked that away. We stuffed our pride and watched as our new stadium, the crown jewel of Major League Baseball, became a low-rent annex of Boston and the Bronx. How bad was it? On Saturday, Aug. 5, 2010, 17,362 people showed up to watch the Orioles play the Chicago White Sox. Two days later, 17,851 went to M&T Bank Stadium to watch the Ravens run pre-season passing and tackling drills.
That was just about the time Buck Showalter came to town. He took over an Orioles team that had the worst record in baseball, 32-73, and turned it into the second-best down the stretch, at 34-23. The next year was a letdown, but 2012 was a miracle. The Orioles won in April, and May, and June, and July. By August, the city could hold its cynicism no more. Baltimore believed, and a team of unproven prospects, cast-off veterans and journeymen repaid that faith, chasing down and nearly catching the Yankees, and making the post-season for the first time since 1997.
Buck Showalter, the taciturn, passionate, obsessive, big-hearted, dogged and wise manager of the Baltimore Orioles is The Sun's 2012 Marylander of the Year.
When The Sun's editorial board sat down to decide who most deserved recognition for his or her contributions to this state in 2012, the decision was not an easy one. The year produced many worthy candidates whose accomplishments will long echo in Maryland history. And Mr. Showalter's business is, of course, a boy's game played by millionaires. But it is also one of the rare things that can bind every part of this community together, a tradition that knits one generation to the next. Many Marylanders achieved remarkable things in 2012, but none brought more unexpected joy to this town than Buck Showalter.
Certainly, many share a role in the Orioles' success. Executive Vice President Dan Duquette and his front office predecessor, Andy MacPhail, put together the roster, and the players themselves are the ones who made the big pitches and clutch hits. Long maligned Orioles owner Peter Angelos stands behind it all.
But there was something inexplicable about what happened at Camden Yards, something that could not have been predicted. The Orioles weren't a dominant team — for much of the year, they were actually outscored by their opponents. For much of the year, the wise heads of baseball dismissed their success as a lucky fluke. But they weren't particularly lucky, either. Too many key players fell to injury at one point or another in the season to say that.
Two statistics stand out: The 2012 Orioles won 16 extra-inning games in a row, and they had the best record in one-run games in the history of Major League Baseball. That's not simple luck. That's a team that believes in itself and knows it can win. The Orioles were tired of getting kicked around, and they simply refused to give up. That attitude came from one place — Buck Showalter.
After a seven-year career as a minor league ballplayer, Mr. Showalter focused his energies on becoming a manager. He made meticulous study of every facet of the game, and he won a reputation as a keen judge of hidden talent and an expert on-field tactician. By age 36, he was the manager of the New York Yankees, a storied franchise that had fallen on hard times.
He turned the team around, becoming American League manager of the year in 1994 and bringing the Yankees to their first playoffs in 14 years in 1995. But his team lost that year to Seattle, and he was fired.
It was the start of a pattern. During the next decade, he would lead the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Texas Rangers to unexpected success in his second full year as a manager, and both times he was fired shortly thereafter.
The rap on Buck Showalter was that he was smart and talented and knew how to make a team win — but he'd drive you crazy in the process. He was obsessive, inflexible and impolitic, and eventually he would alienate the players or the front office or both. He watched more than 30 major league managing jobs come and go before, in 2010, the Orioles called.
Much of what has been written about Mr. Showalter's success this year casts it as a story of redemption and revenge on the teams that fired him and passed him up. But he has not been one to talk about that, or really about himself at all. But the way Mr. Showalter led this team that makes it seem that whatever chip should be on his shoulder has been carefully packed away.