Ahead of the Baltimore Orioles’ seven-game series against the Kansas City Royals, the two American League pennant contenders have been praised more as a pair than individually.
And, really, it isn’t that hard to find similarities between the two stories. After all, both were really, really bad for really, really long.
One O’s fan even told the Baltimore Sun:
We’ve spent years commiserating over our teams’ mutual failures and sometimes tried to one up each other regarding whose team was worse.
But, lest we forget, both teams are unique in their own right. The way the Royals have been constructed, for instance, gives them a unique mix of personnel that you might say is perfectly suited for October baseball.
On the other hand, you could make the argument that what the Baltimore Orioles have accomplished over the past five years, and how it has culminated this season, is the sport’s best story in the past 10 years.
It’s a point that deserves further elaboration. So, here’s why the Orioles are likely the best baseball story you’ve seen in a decade.
Once manager of the New York Yankees, Showalter led the Bronx club to their first playoff appearance in 14 years, after winning the 1995 Wild Card race. And yet, the Yankees fired him. As manger of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Showalter achieved the best record in baseball during the ’99 season, only the team’s second year of existence. They, too, ended up firing him, after the 2000 season to be exact.
In both instances, those teams went on to win the World Series immediately after dropping Buck.
That, and his ultimately unsuccessful tenure at the helm of the Texas Rangers between ’03 and ’06, contributed to a reputation that, before he got to Baltimore, saw him characterized as a guy who could only get teams to a certain point before overstaying his welcome.
With O’s, however, Showalter’s story could not be any different. Players don’t want to leave because of Showalter, rather they stay for him — Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan tells the story of how Baltimore first baseman Steve Pearce denied a chance to sign for the Toronto Blue Jays, despite being designated for minor league assignment by the Orioles at the time, largely because of Buck.
Now signed until 2018, Showalter is on the verge of dismantling the other nasty part of his reputation, the one that suggests he cannot get to the finish line with an already finished product.
A decade before Duquette became the general manager of the Orioles, he held the same position with the Boston Red Sox. There he built and acquired the core of a team that eventually reversed the Curse of the Bambino during a dramatic World Series win in ’04.
Duquette, however, wasn’t around to enjoy it. He had been fired by then-new owner John Henry less than 24 hours after the billionaire had bought the club.
At the time, then Red Sox Vice President for Baseball Operations Mike Port told the New York Times of Duquette’s firing:
The general manager is the rock on which you build your church. We want to make sure we find the right rock.
Duquette, like everyone else in the country, was left to watch in awe as Johnny Damon, Derek Lowe, Jason Veritek and Manny Ramirez — guys Duquette himself had signed himself — helped lead the Red Sox to their first championship in over 80 years.
If that didn’t burn enough, the inverse of Port’s statement (i.e. that Duquette was the wrong “rock”) should.
Now with Baltimore, Duquette, like Showalter, has something to prove, too. So far he’s delivered. Duquette’s team hasn’t suffered a losing season since his arrival, but what he found on his way upon landing in Baltimore makes the Orioles’ story all the more interesting.
By the time Showalter and Duquette became a team ahead of Baltimore’s 2012 season, the pair was looking at overcoming four consecutive seasons of coming dead last in the stacked AL East.
If that fact alone doesn’t put into perspective the amount of ground that they had to make up, just consider the make of the Orioles division at the time.
There were the Yankees and Red Sox, two organizations which were far from infallible, but had the resources to reestablish their dominance after any down year. There were the Tampa Bay Rays, the club that had become the shoe-in favorite to take advantage of any slip up from the two aforementioned teams.
Then there were the Toronto Blue Jays, who were showing signs that they would be the next team in the AL East, after the Rays, to make the leap. Oh, and there were the Orioles, of course, who were reliably bad for over a decade.
Even if you consider the best beating-the-odds stories of the past 10 years (take your pick: the ’06 Cardinals, ’08 Rays, ’09-10 Twins, ’14 Royals) you couldn’t say any of them had to overcome four legitimately good teams in their own division, never mind league, to reach success. That fact alone makes Baltimore’s current fortunes that much more remarkable.
Today, the Orioles can’t exactly cry poor, but they aren’t loaded with cash (15th in payroll). They aren’t exactly a collection of journeymen, but they don’t really have what you’d call a transcendent star, despite Nelson Cruz being top five in both home runs and RBIs. And even with them headed into this year’s ALCS with a good pitching staff, some still accuse them of not having a true ace.
None of this, of course, really matters when the whole hallmark of the club has been the idea of playing like a team.
Injured catcher Matt Wieters told Yahoo!:
It can be hard to make major league baseball players all buy in and play a this-is-best-for-the-team kind of game. And he [Showalter] did it. He makes you absolutely feel like what’s best for this team is going to be what’s best for you individually.
Yup, the Orioles are a team, a stable one with two over-90-win seasons in three years while playing in baseball’s toughest division. They’re a team that just collected both their first division title and ALCS trip in 17 years.
They are the team who, despite what should be crucial injuries to Wieters and third baseman Manny Machado, still lead baseball with 211 home runs and are four games away from reaching the World Series.
And, considering how they got to this point, they are baseball’s best story of the past decade.
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