The Baltimore Orioles announced that Buck Showalter will take over as manager of the worst team in Major League Baseball. At 32-70, the Orioles sit 21 games back of 4th place Toronto in the American League East. Earlier this week, the Blue Jays beat Baltimore for the 12th straight time.
I had a quick peek at Baseball Reference to reconfirm to myself that the Baltimore Orioles were once a good team. The Orioles have played postseason baseball only twice since their World Series win in 1983; a couple of quick exits in 1996 and 1997. For any Orioles fan aged 30 or younger, they have never seen a team put forward that has been worth cheering for.
Go back far enough and the Orioles were in fact a force in baseball. From 1966 through 1983, the team won three World Series titles and made the playoffs an additional six times including three World Series losses. The Orioles had three managers over those eighteen years, including one of the all time greats in Earl Weaver. Weaver took over the team in 1969 before turning over the reins to Joe Altobelli just before the 1983 season.
The fact that the Orioles’ period of consistent contention coincides with a consistent manager in charge of the team is not a surprise. This is true of most good teams, be it Sparky Anderson’s Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers, Tony LaRussa’s Oakland A’s and St. Louis Cardinals, or Joe Torre’s New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers. While winning generally will keep a manager employed, good managers find ways to field winning teams. In contrast, most teams in Major League Baseball change managers every few years in hopes that their situations will somehow improve. Not surprisingly, it is difficult for a middle manager to compensate for the inadequacies of a poor front office.
Since Weaver left the team after the 1982 season, the Orioles have had twelve managers leading up to the Buck Showalter hiring. Twelve managers in eighteen seasons after a period of three managers the previous eighteen years! No one should be surprised at where the Orioles sit today; in a category of laughing stocks with the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates, both great teams once upon a time.
Davey Johnson was the one bright spot amongst the group of twelve, bringing with him a track record of success from his days with the New York Mets and Cincinnati Reds. He led the Orioles to the playoffs in both his seasons before resigning on the same day he was names AL Manager of the Year.
Beyond Johnson, it has been a mixed bag of first time managers and lovable retreads. After three straight first time hires over the past seven years, Orioles management has decided that Buck Showalter is the right man to turn things around. Showalter comes to the Orioles with eleven years of managing experience with the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Rangers. Outside of a really good 1999 Arizona Diamondback team, he hasn’t been part of much of anything resembling a winner.
I am writing all of this because I feel sorry for Baltimore Orioles fans. Every fan needs to feel like there is hope for the future. Without hope it is nearly impossible to turn on the television to watch the team, never mind drive down to the stadium to watch the team live. The Orioles today are without hope, just as they were without hope yesterday. I sincerely hope that there are brighter days ahead for the Baltimore Orioles.