Three Christmases ago, Orioles fans weren’t really looking forward to the season. Dave Trembley had been re-hired for another year, and Buck Showalter was celebrating Christmas with his family in Dallas.
Three years later, it’s as if Showalter has been in Baltimore forever.
That’s what Orioles fans want.
After Trembley was fired two months into the 2010 season, the Orioles undertook a painstaking search for a new manager. Showalter, along with current Seattle manager Eric Wedge, were among those considered.
Showalter hadn’t managed in the major leagues for nearly four years. He’d spent the time with his family and commenting on ESPN. He’d also worked a bit with the Cleveland organization.
At 54, Showalter was eager to get back, but wanted to make sure the situation was right. He asked lots of questions of team president Andy MacPhail and owner Peter Angelos, wanted to make sure they would be as committed to the program as he was.
Finally satisfied, Showalter signed on. He made an immediate difference, with a winning record in the last two months of 2010. Hopes were higher.
The next year started off decently, but after the season’s middle two months, it looked as if Showalter’s team was headed for 100 or more losses.
The last six weeks went well, the last game particularly well, and it set the stage for the exciting 2012 season.
Showalter has been meeting with Angelos about an extension. He received a contract that ends in 2013 when he came along. Now, he wants to be here for the long-term.
Orioles fans couldn’t be more delighted.
He purchased a house in Baltimore County after the first season, and has spent more and more time there since, returning to Dallas just before Hurricane Sandy.
Showalter has grown to love the area, and his affection has been returned. He grew up in the Yankees organization, as a player, minor league manager, big league coach and major league manager for four seasons. That ended badly.
After the Yankees made the postseason for the first time in 14 years, Showalter was gone. He helped build the new Arizona franchise, getting it to the postseason in its second year, but he was gone after the third.
After he spent a year with ESPN, Texas came calling, and four years later, there was some improvement, but no postseason.
He’s now one of the most recognizable and admired people in Baltimore, let alone Baltimore sports.
This area has a rich, if limited sports history. The Orioles were the only major league franchise for a dozen years in the 80s’ and 90s’, and while their popularity waned along with their success, there was a latent love for the team.
That love was evident last September and October when skeptical fans finally jumped back. Showalter was the focal point for the fans. He reminded the older ones of Earl Weaver and the younger ones that the Orioles could win.
Showalter and Angelos have a few minor details to work on before the extension is agreed on. The two have established a solid relationship, and Showalter has publicly and privately lauded Angelos for his commitment to improving the franchise, and the money that he’s invested in it.
The Orioles’ 24-game turnaround seemed miraculous last year. Now, comes an even harder one. Can Showalter lead a team into the postseason for the second straight time? He’s never done that.
There’s something that’s working in his favor. Just like last year, the perception is that the Orioles have done little to improve the franchise.
Spring training begins seven weeks from today, and while nearly all the big ticket free agents are accounted for, there are still are a number of secondary and tertiary ones who the Orioles could sign. And it’s still possible for a trade to be made.
The off-season chatter has been about the Blue Jays, not the Orioles. Expectations may be lower than they should be. Showalter says he likes the team, likes the moves that Dan Duquette has made.
On Sunday, Showalter was at home, hoping to watch some football, but Duquette kept calling to exchange ideas to solicit input. There are still moves to be made, and the long-term extension for Showalter is the one that will makes Orioles fans happiest of all.