Maybe everyone out there has heard this one and I’m simply late to the party by repeating it … but … what’s the difference between the Yankee’s payroll and the Orioles’ payroll? The answer: The Yankees are one Buck short!
Speaking of being late, I’m probably the last Orioles writer to do a column on Buck Showalter, but come along with me for a few paragraphs and consider if this is not just a bit of a different angle.
I have had to think a lot about leadership in my life. I’ve been the pastor of a fairly large church for the past 18 years, I coach a big team in a public high school, I’ve been the chairman of a political party, and with just about everything I’ve ever done, I’ve had to be a leader of the gang. I can tell you this: it is difficult to lead successfully.
I can also tell you that Buck Showalter is one of the best leaders I’ve ever seen. Though this will not be an exhaustive list, let me delineate just a few great leadership principles that I see in the Birds’ manager.
1. Vision Casting – Showalter has his eye on the prize, and it is not simply a .500 season. At both of the two FanFests that Showalter has attended, he has spoken of the reality of competing successfully. He said, “I’ve worked on the guys to tell them to stop giving the opposition so much credit.” This was in reference to teams like the Yankees and Red Sox and their star-studded line-ups. Buck was emphasizing that even though young, the Orioles players are “one of those guys” – meaning they are professionals too. Success is an expectation.
2. Strategic Thinking – Anyone can be an idealistic dreamer, but executing a plan is another matter. Showalter has a plan, and that plan has a lot of details about it! The plan has intermediate goals (about which he talks seldom) and long-term aspirations – hence his intimate knowledge of the entire organization. Apparently Buck’s detail-driven persona wore thin in New York, Arizona, and Texas … I’m willing to risk the details and ride this horse to the end.
3. The Immediacy of Today – Showalter often uses the phrase (when something goes wrong) that “nobody else is going to feel sorry for you.” A frustration of leadership is the necessity of depending upon other people to come through as expected – especially after a substantial investment (of whatever) is made in them. This year has featured a long list of disappointments – most often of the injury sort – that could lead easily to frustration and discouragement. Buck moves on quickly from tragic events that occur that cannot be fixed today, tomorrow, or anytime soon. He moves quickly to available or attainable solutions – not allowing wallowing. This has been evidenced by the quoted observations of new players joining the Orioles in recent weeks – that the team has a short memory and bounces off a setback with a plan to win the next game.
4. Leading from the Front – Buck handles the media about as well as anyone in such a position. He gives thoughtful answers that speak to whatever issues arise, all without saying too much or saying something inappropriate. He is clearly in charge; he knows it; he accepts it; he does what needs to be done. Compare this to some situations around the league … Boston, for example!
5. Parakletos Principle – Yes, I just went geek on you with a Classical Greek term – a word that speaks of an advocate, of someone who comes alongside to help. I’ll spare you the theological implications and applications but simply say that Buck knows his players and has a personal care for them as human beings. He makes himself aware of what is going on in various players’ lives – I heard him talk about how he spends some of his pre-game on-field time just asking questions of guys as to how they are doing … of what is happening outside the game. When players are released, you can tell he cares about what might next happen in their careers. There can be no doubt but that this is “a player’s manager.”
6. Knowledge and Wisdom – What’s the difference? Knowledge is the possession of information and wisdom is the ability to apply it well. Showalter possesses both. There is no shortage of smart people in all walks of life and sports that know a great deal, but don’t know how to use what they know to garner success. Buck’s ability – that uncanny knack of knowing just the player for just the situation – has been an amazing skill on display throughout this incredibly unusual season.
Though the Orioles have certain statistics of which to be mighty proud, the bottom line fact is that they have no business being 83-64 (as I write this paragraph). They are still at a total run deficit (-14) as compared to opponents. Though it is up to the players to win and lose games, the players only get on the field and into position to do such by the decisions of the manager.
In summary, there is no way that the guy does not deserve anything but all the accolades that are sure to come his way based upon all that has transpired this season. He may not be in a class all his own, but he is in one where it does not take long to call the roll.