Orioles & Buck Showalter: The Components of Success


May 14, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter (26) prior to a game against the Detroit Tigers at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

It is difficult, if not almost foolish, to write yet another article on Buck Showalter – Manager of the Baltimore Orioles and BBWAA’s Manager of the Year. What can be said that has not been said a thousand times?

Showalter is an interesting study relative to the principles of leadership. And this is something I have to think about every day in my life. This writing gig is so much fun for me personally, as it is about the only thing in my life in recent decades where I am not looked to as THE LEADER.

Leadership is difficult. That is why so few people do it, and why so few people who do it, do it well.

But here are some of the components I see in Buck Showalter that, when put all together, account for his character as a great leader, both on the field and in life.

Personal Care for the People He is Leading – I have a new friend who is a former Major League Baseball player. I will not name him or the team he played for or the manager under whom he had to function. But it was nothing like the Baltimore Orioles and Buck Showalter. My friend honestly does not like to talk that much about his experiences. It was a lot of screaming and yelling and threatening … a totally hostile work environment and not really a pleasant part of his life.

There is no doubt that Buck cares for his players personally. He wanders the field before games with his fungo bat in hand, talking to players and catching up on their families and lives, while also always teaching about baseball. The players know that their manager cares about them; it makes for a healthy environment where everyone wants to succeed.

Professional Respect for the Personnel and the Organization – Certainly there are times when Showalter has to be frustrated with the performance (or underperformance) of some of his players. The space under the Orioles’ bus is basically empty. To get thrown there by Buck Showalter means you did something especially egregious.

So often during postgame news conferences there are times when questions would lead to an easy opportunity for Buck to drop the blame for a loss at someone’s feet (and maybe they deserve it), but he won’t do it. He’ll talk about other parts of the game, how you have to “tip your hat” sometimes to the other team, or he’ll say “what we ask XXXXX to do is really difficult to accomplish every time out.”

And the same courtesy is extended to Dan Duquette, Peter Angelos, or anyone else connected with the team.

Leading by Example with Thorough Preparation – Over and over it is heard from players who have been in varied organizations about the extensive preparation Buck Showalter puts into every game and every detail surrounding the team. One of the players this year said something to the effect of “It seems like Buck always knows what is going to happen before it does.”

Showalter has extensively researched every pitcher and hitter on the opposing team, looking at matchups and putting together the best possible scenarios for success.

Ability to Maximize Strengths and Minimize Weaknesses – There is no team that has 25 players on the roster who are at the top of their respective positions in the league. Every team has weaknesses and strengths. There is no such thing as an eighth-inning guy who will face whomever is coming up, simply because it is inning number eight. If his strengths would be better deployed on a given night in the seventh inning, that is when he will pitch.

Casting of the Vision for the End Product – With Buck Showalter, one always has a sense that he knows where he is going, and he knows how to get there. An old adage about leadership is this: “If you call yourself a leader, but you turn around and there ain’t nobody following you, then you just be takin’ a walk.”  Buck has followers.

One often hears Buck say of someone, “He knows where the finish line is.” The goal is to win more games than anyone else at the end of 162 played, and then take your best shot at the crap-shoot tournament called the League Playoffs and World Series.”

Along the way there will be ups and downs, which is especially the nature of the game of baseball – in that a person who fails only 70% of the time is among the best hitters in the game! There is a lot of failure, and the end goal needs to be kept in view.

Maintaining a Balanced View of a Global Perspective – It is important to win, and that is why the games are played. But at the end of the day, they are games. Buck Showalter so often comments on the larger things that gives him pleasure – like seeing a player who has worked so hard to come back from some life obstacle “get a return on his investment of hard work.”

Buck is often just short of openly emotional at times about the personal achievements of players in terms of what it means for the well-being of their lives and families. He understands that everyone has another life beyond the ballpark. There are bigger things in life than baseball (hope my wife reads this article, as she’ll never believe I just wrote that sentence!).

Having the Skin of an Elephant – I know how difficult this characteristic is. Any leader does. When things don’t go well, the surrounding world pretty quickly goes into a “what have you done for me lately?” sort of mode. Buck hears the criticisms and has lived through a lot of skepticism of fans and writers that were the fruits of years of frustrations planted by others before him. But he (and Dan Duquette in partnership with him) have endured through the critical times with eyes ahead and on the horizon where were placed the dreams and goals of the organizational vision.

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  • Loyalty – This is on the first handful of human virtues in my book. If he is anything at all, Buck is loyal … often to a fault. He is more likely to give too many chances than to yank a person quickly for a failure. This is helpful because it creates a culture where players don’t feel like they are always walking a fine line of being one pitch away from Norfolk or the waiver wire.

    All totaled, these eight traits are the marks of an outstanding leader, and that is what Buck Showalter is. He brought to Baltimore a systemic shift from all that had preceded him for many years. The Orioles are fortunate to have him, and hopefully when Buck wins this award again in another decade, it will be with the Baltimore Orioles.