The Tenth Inning – Week 8 ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>
By Mike Ivcic
I made a brief mention of this in the Orioles section of last Fridayâs power rankings, but itâs worth examining the impact of Buck Showalter a bit more in depth, and thus this weekâs column topic was a rather easy choice. Fans in Baltimore and across the country have taken notice of the Oâs success this season, and unlike in years past this team may have some staying power.
Showalter’s first stop as a manager was under the late George Steinbrenner in the Bronx. If there was ever a baptism-by-fire, this was it. Working for a man who once hired and fired the same manager seven times (Billy Martin) probably wasn’t easy for a guy getting first shot at the top job in the big leagues. Still, it was under Steinbrenner’s watch â and, of course, Gene Michaels â that the Yankees emerged from their “lost decade” of the 80’s with a 76-86 record in Buck’s first year and began to turn the corner during the 1993 season, finishing 88-74 for what would have been a wild card-worthy record in the final season before the addition of the LDS. In a side of the story that never gets told, the Yankees were leading the entire American League in 1994 with a 70-43 record, and may have been able to get to their first World Series since 1981 had the season played to its regular conclusion. Instead, the strike came and the 1994 Series was never played, leaving Yankee fans â and, for that matter, Expos fans â to wonder just what might have been, and change the course of baseball history forever.
The following year, Showalter did indeed guide his team to the playoffs for the first time in 14 seasons. That season the matchups were preset, so the Yankees â as the wild card team â played host for the first two games to the AL West champion, then traveled to their ballpark for games 3-5. Once again, the quirky system may have gotten then best of the Yankees, who otherwise would have played Cleveland in the current format adopted in 1998. Instead, the Bronx Bombers got Seattle, and after winning the first two games at home, New York flew to the great northwest and promptly lost three straight, capped off by Ken Griffey Jr.’s dramatic slide home ahead of the throw from Paul O’Neill in right field to win the series in game 5. That was also the final game Showalter managed for the Yankees, who fired him after the loss and handed the reins to Joe Torre, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Undeterred, Showalter did two years of television before re-entering the managerial ranks in 1998 with the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks. Just as he did in New York, Buck oversaw the influx of good, young talent in the desert while simultaneously getting the most out of veterans like Jay Bell and Steve Finley. After going 65-97 the first year, Showalter administered one of the biggest turnarounds in league history, winning 100 games and the NL West crown in the Diamondbacks second season of existence â though the arrival of Randy Johnson certainly didn’t hurt. Arizona won more games than everyone except the Braves, but fell short in a four-game NLDS to the New York Mets, capped off by Finley just missing a Todd Pratt homerun in straightaway centerfield at Shea Stadium in game four. Again, another dramatic postseason play for which Showalter wound up as the losing manager. The Diamondbacks missed the playoffs in 2000 despite an 85-77 record, and Showalter was gone after just three seasons in favor of Bob Brenley. Just as Torre did with the Yankees in ’96, Brenley promptly won a championship in his first year after Buck, capturing the ’01 title in the dramatic seven-game, post-9/11 series with the Yankees.
After another two years away from the dugout, Showalter was named manager of the Texas Rangers prior to the start of the 2003 season. Despite a lineup packed with monster bats like Alex Rodriguez, Michael Young, Mark Teixeira, and Rafael Palmeiro, the Rangers limped to a 71-91 record, mostly because they relied on Ryan Drese, Ismael Valdez, Todd Van Poppel, and Tony Mounce for a large number of innings on the mound. After A-Rod was sent packing to New York in the offseason in exchange for Alfonso Soriano, Texas experienced their first winning season of the decade in 2004, controlling the AL West for a large part of the season before faltering at the end and finishing 89-73. Buck and the Rangers hovered around .500 for the next two years, going 79-83 in 2005 and 80-82 in 2006 before Ron Washington took over prior to the 2007 season. While Washington was unable to duplicate the feat of Torre and Brenley, he has now led Texas to their first ever playoff series victory and back-to-back AL pennants, once again getting over a hump that Showalter never could.
And that brings us to the Orioles, a team that hired Showalter in mid-2009 to be their third manager of the season. He finished with a 34-23 record in the final 57 games of that season before going 69-93 this year. But, as history has shown, the second full season under Buck tends to produce some rather nice results â a division title and 100 wins in Arizona, 89 wins and the first season above .500 in six years for Texas â so perhaps the trend is simply due to continue in Baltimore. Whatever the case, Showalter has proven that he’s capable of turning around a franchise and putting his teams in position to reach the postseason and become legitimate championship contenders.
Just don’t expect him to be around when they get there.
(table courtesy baseball-reference.com)
Three series to watch this weekâ¦
If the season ended today, the playoff teams would beâ¦
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