Orioles reborn under Duquette, Showalter
Duo rewarded for bringing baseball tradition and fans back to Baltimore
It's not just that Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter changed expectations for almost every single person who cares about the Baltimore Orioles. It's not just that they helped a new generation of Birds believe in themselves and learn how to win. It's not even that they did an amazing job of finding productive players in all sorts of nooks and crannies.
All those things were part of the magical story of baseball in Charm City in 2012. But the real story, the really fun part of the deal, is the impact their work had on a city. To put it in the simplest terms, they brought the fans back. They made them care again. They reminded a lot of people that Baltimore is one of this country's great baseball cities. As Showalter put it, "When you're talking history and tradition, Baltimore takes a backseat to no one."
To see Camden Yards packed again. To hear people from Ocean City to Aberdeen talking baseball again. To again have one of those sweltering Maryland summers when every single game is important, and when it's done, to have 24 hours to chew on it and debate it and start counting down the hours until the next one.
Those are the things Duquette, the executive vice president of baseball operations, and Showalter, the manager, delivered in 2012. In a summer when the Orioles honored their best -- Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer and Earl Weaver -- with statues and ceremonies filled with emotion and celebration, the O's were reborn on the field.
Showalter changed everything the moment he walked in the door with 57 games remaining in the 2010 season. He hadn't managed a game in four years, and at 54, probably wondered if his time had passed. Showalter had a reputation for being a brilliant tactician and motivator, but he had some baggage, too.
They said he didn't just manage a team. They said he tried to take over an organization and that he micromanaged things managers shouldn't concern themselves with. Also, his style wore players down. Too many rules. Too many head games.
Whether those things were ever true can be debated long into the night. Some of them surely were. All that's for certain is Showalter began working his magic in Baltimore right from his first day. He let his players know that the things that had been acceptable yesterday would no longer be tolerated today.
Showalter made it clear that if they played the game right -- that is, if they made the basic plays and executed pitches and worked together -- good things would happen. He had to send some guys packing.
He also found a great core, a core of players hungry to win and to follow him. Adam Jones would not sign his contract extension without assurances that Showalter was in it for the long haul. Matt Wieters and Nick Markakis and Jim Johnson were all terrific, as both players and leaders.
Showalter told them what Camden Yards had once been and how great it could be again. He told them they had to give the fans a reason to come back, and once they did, Oriole Magic would return. Showalter lined the hallway outside the clubhouse with photos of Frank and Brooks and Cal and Eddie. He brought The Earl of Baltimore back to give a pep talk.
And then last winter, Duquette arrived. He'd been out of the game a decade, and like Showalter, a lot of people thought he'd never get another chance like the one Orioles owner Peter Angelos gave him.
Duquette set about to fix the pitching staff. He signed free agent Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez. Duquette traded for Jason Hammel. During the season, he went out and got Randy Wolf and Joe Saunders.
They mixed with the young arms already in the system to hold the Birds together. Showalter used 12 starting pitchers in all, and just when it seemed things were coming undone, Duquette would find someone else.
Baltimore signed outfielder Nate McLouth after he'd been released by the Pirates and got seven home runs out of him. Duquette squeezed some more baseball out of Jim Thome. He rushed 20-year-old Manny Machado to the big leagues and found out he was more than capable of holding his own.
Showalter brilliantly worked the various pieces into his lineup, and the Orioles won 93 games and made their first postseason appearance in 15 years. They beat the Rangers in the American League Wild Card game and took the Yankees to five games before losing a thrilling Division Series.
The O's have had a quiet winter, with a lot of their 2013 hopes based on young pitchers like Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz taking another step forward in their careers.
With the Blue Jays, Rays and Red Sox having been busy this offseason, the Orioles' challenge in the AL East is greater than ever. But they've got some room to grow, too. They've also got the right people in place. That's why the O's announced on Wednesday that Duquette and Showalter would have their contracts extended through the 2018 season.
Those new deals were a reward for a job well done, and for all the work yet to be done. In just one season together, they got off to an amazing start. Here's to another ride with as many thrills as the last one.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.