I was 9 in 1997, when the Orioles won 98 games and the American League East title. Davey Johnson’s club fell in the AL Championship Series to the Indians and then the Birds had losing seasons for the next 14 years. Between that time I graduated high school and college at Towson University, got married to a lovely bride who endured by baseball obsession, and began my career. All the while I kept rooting for the Birds. It wasn’t until 2012 that things finally started looking up for my favorite baseball team. It was Buck Showalter’s second full season in Baltimore.
We saw the club turn things around when Showalter took over at the end of the 2010 season. The Orioles won 34 of their remaining 57 games that year and Showalter became the first manager in major league history to take over a club in August and lead them to more victories for the remainder of the season than they had prior to his hiring. It was remarkable. This excitement continued in 2011 when the Orioles were part of a thrilling game 162 in which they defeated the Red Sox and ultimately spoiled the playoff dreams of a club that seemed destined for the World Series at the beginning of the season.
The 2012 season was even sweeter. Not only did the Orioles snap their nearly decade-and-a-half drought of losing seasons, but they made the postseason. Entering the year, I would have given anything to see Buck’s birds win 82 games. A winning season was something I hadn’t seen since I was a child. The playoffs? Well, that seemed like a far off dream. But the Orioles did it that year. They won 93 games and clinched the second wild card. Then they went in to Texas and beat the Rangers in the wild card game and took the AL East champion Yankees to five games in the AL Division Series. By the way, Nate McLouth totally hit the foul pole.
Nationally, the 2012 Orioles were called a fluke. Critics cited their 29-9 record in one-run games and their 16-2 mark in extra innings as unsustainable stats. “They got lucky,” some pundits said. Call it whatever you want, 2012 was a season I’ll never forget and I doubt the Orioles would have ever gotten there without Showalter leading them. The club wasn’t able to repeat this success in 2013, but still managed to win 85 games and justified to me that they were the real deal the year prior.
They backed it up in 2014, when they won 96 games and stood atop the AL East for the first time in 17 seasons. The Birds were an absolute powerhouse, crushing their opponents with the homer and outscoring them by 112 runs. No more conversations about one-run victories or run differentials, this club was clearly the best team in baseball’s toughest division. They earned that banner and deserved another trip to the postseason. After sweeping the Tigers and their three aces, the Birds fell in the ALCS to the eventual World Series champion Royals.
Showalter’s club went .500 in 2015, grabbed a wild card with 89 wins in 2016, but fell to the Blue Jays. Last season, they had their first losing season since 2011 and have gone back to being baseball’s worst club in 2018. This era of Orioles baseball has come to a close. The guys responsible for the Birds’ run of success have been traded away or have passed their prime and now the club looks far ahead to the future as a full teardown and rebuild is underway.
Part of that rebuild may be a new skipper in the dugout. Showalter’s contract expires at the end of the 2018 season. It’s very likely he will not return next year. Showalter won his third Manager of the Year honor for his efforts in 2014 and has managed the Orioles to 668 victories, the second-most in club history behind only Hall of Famer Earl Weaver.
If this is it for Showalter, I want to say a heartfelt thank you. There aren’t enough words in my weekly guest blog to express how much the last nine years have meant to this Orioles fan - and, I am sure, to countless others. Watching these clubs has truly been an honor and I’m so glad that Buck was the guy making the calls and leading my favorite team. If this is the end of this era, I can’t say thank him enough.
Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. Follow him on Twitter: @zach_wilt. His views 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.