By all reports of those close to the Baltimore Orioles team and aware of the comings and goings of the clubhouse, it sounds like a happy bunch of campers. This matches my own (admittedly distant) observation of the guys and their comfortable bantering with each other at FanFest. It can’t be all perfect happiness every day, but I sure have not sensed much of anything in the way of interpersonal controversies or annoyances. This is likely a tribute to Buck’s skills in leadership.
Compare this to the scene in Boston these days – according to a variety of reports. Everyone heard the stories at the end of 2011 when the Boston Globe reported that Francona was essentially tuned out by the team. Stories involved Beckett, Lester and John Lackey drinking beer, eating chicken, and playing video games during games they weren’t pitching.
Now in 2012, it’s a new year, right? But, a week ago, Bobby Valentine said of Youkilis, “I don’t think he is as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason.” Pedroia reacted by saying, “I don’t know what Bobby’s trying to do, but that’s not the way we do things here. Maybe that stuff works in Japan.”
Back when Valentine was hired, Boston writers were predicting a tenure filled with “bursts of drama” and “post-game interviews that will make for must-see TV.”
Over the winter, Boston Globe writer Chad Finn said, “He (Valentine) will have a love/hate relationship with Kevin Youkilis. The new manager will find that there’s a lot to like about Youk – he plays hard, he’s versatile, and he’s productive. But like Valentine, his outspokenness (and natural sarcasm) can cause conflict, and when they disagree about something, we’ll know it.”
Yep … Chad Finn called that one! And our network’s writer at BoSox Injection – Derek Stykalo – has written, “…what Bobby has done is throw a huge stink bomb into the Sox clubhouse and may have lost the respect and trust of every player in there.”
Contrast all of this with what we saw of Buck Showalter on Sunday. Being completely tuned in with his players, he knew Nick Markakis – typically a personality flat line – was on the verge of explosion with the strike zone expansion he has seen all year. Frankly, I’ll take Nick’s eye for the strike zone over any umpire! But what has been happening to him all season is simply egregious!
After yet another horrible call, Showalter came charging out of the dugout … certain of an ejection – which happened before he even got to home plate. The manager needs to occasionally get himself thrown out of a game … all for the good the team. Showalter’s timing was excellent.
And what was the response of Markakis? Along with coming through on two occasions to drive in all three of the Orioles runs in the victory, here is what he said: “Buck’s here to protect us. That’s his job, it’s what he does. And you have to go out there and keep battling. And when you get put in a situation like [the eighth and 10th innings] it makes you want to do a little more.”
The team knows their manager has their back. That is worth a lot. Showalter is a leader, and like good leaders, he knows his followers. He knows about their lives and what is going on.
Once in a while you hear about teams with disastrous clubhouses winning “in spite of the atmosphere” … but not often.
Look back this afternoon for Domenic Vadala’s game preview.