With the advent of the internet, we’re, in theory, no longer bound to listen to only local radio as most stations stream their programming online. So being interested in some local perspective on the NBA playoffs, I tuned into WEEI-Boston’s midday “Mut and Merloni” show last week. At that moment, they were talking about the American League East and specifically about the Toronto Blue Jays.
While they did agree that on paper they were a good team, they also said they felt that the culture hadn’t changed there as of yet.
So moving on to a clubhouse where the culture apparently has changed, when did that actually occur in Baltimore? Was there one specific event or moment when it changed? I suppose that the personification of that “moment” was probably Robert Andino’s walk-off RBI single to beat Boston in September 2011. However was that “the moment,” or was that merely the first indication that the culture had changed?
Starting from the top, there was one thing about Buck Showalter’s introduction to Baltimore that always struck me. I’m not sure if it was in the actual introductory presser or in an interview, but Showalter said something to the effect that he had been studying the Orioles’ system with the players they had and the direction in which they were headed for about two weeks. I suppose that in an informal manner, he had already been offered the job, and he was just doing his due diligence on the organization. But the fact is that he knew a heck of a lot about the Orioles before he was even introduced as manager.
Why does this matter, and how does that indicate a change in culture? It was the first message to people within the organization from top to bottom that Showalter paid close attention to detail. Anyone that studies an organization in that much depth and has that wide a knowledge of its aspects is well-prepared. The final road series of the year in 2010 was in Tampa, and I recall Showalter making a quick trip to Sarasota in between games to check on the progress of the renovations at Ed Smith Stadium. That itself should have told players the attention that Showalter paid to practicing and proper training in games. Again, close attention to detail.
These are small things, but I think they’re worth mentioning. Players also began to be held more accountable for what they were doing on the field during the 2011 season. Pitchers that weren’t hacking it at the big league level found themselves back and forth from Norfolk. Guys that couldn’t get on base were sitting on the bench at the start of games. It’s one thing to walk the walk and say players will need to perform in order to continue to be in the lineup, but it’s quite another to mean it and to put it into practice.
This isn’t meant to come off as another Showalter love fest. Everyone that follows this team knows what Showalter’s done for the franchise and the city. He’s a big part of it, but perhaps the original component of changing the culture were the trades over the 2007-08 offseason. The Orioles traded for Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, Luke Scott, George Sherrill, and others. Many of those players are currently making huge contributions to the Orioles, or have in the past. (It’s also worth mentioning that some of those players were flipped for other guys, such as Steve Johnson, who are making contributions.)
In truth, I’m not sure the actual “moment” that the culture changed is something that’s tangible. All of the things I listed above were minor aspects of changing the culture. It was really something that happened because the players willed it to happen. Perhaps that comes across as overly simplistic, but it’s probably true. Showalter doesn’t take any at-bats or play in the field during games. If Showalter, Andy MacPhail, Dan Duquette, or anyone else changed the culture, that only happened because the players bought into what they were being told. It was the players who decided that they weren’t simply here to collect a paycheck and move on. It’s the players who go out and play in the games, win or lose.
One way or the other, the culture is different in Baltimore. I think that’s what the Orioles are doing right as opposed to Toronto. You can have all the great players in the world, but if the culture isn’t conducive to winning, you won’t go anywhere.
Domenic Vadala blogs about the Orioles at Birds Watcher, and his opinions appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.