Showalter tries new approach with downtrodden O’s

Corey Patterson had just been doubled off first base on a short
fly to center. When he reached the top step of the Baltimore
Orioles dugout, manager Buck Showalter was waiting for him.

Given Showalter’s reputation, a scowl and a scolding were surely
upcoming.

Instead, Showalter asked Patterson to detail his thought process
on the hit-and-run play. The manager nodded, then suggested that
next time Patterson should keep running to third instead of
hesitating at second.

Showalter left it at that.

The man currently managing the Orioles is clearly not as tightly
wound as the one who sternly guided the New York Yankees and
Arizona Diamondbacks in the 1990s. Although his track record made
an immediate impression on the lowly Orioles when he walked into
the clubhouse on Aug. 3, the 54-year-old Showalter has saved his
outbursts for umpires.

”The day is gone when the manager says, ‘This is what you’re
going to do.’ We play 200 games counting spring training. There’s a
relationship there that has to be,” Showalter said. ”It’s very
liberating when you have a pure heart about things. I’m just trying
to present an atmosphere, a culture where guys can be as good as
they can be.”

The Orioles have been very bad for a long time. Although they’re
12-8 under Showalter, their 32-73 record before his arrival doomed
Baltimore to its 13th consecutive losing season.

The resurgence under Showalter can be attributed in part to the
894-840 ledger he compiled with the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Texas
Rangers.

”The thing that sticks out is his reputation,” third baseman
Ty Wigginton said. ”You look at win-loss record, and everyone in
here knows he’s been manager of the year. That kind of stuff.
Obviously that’s going to grab your attention.”

Much more so than Baltimore’s other two managers this season.
Dave Trembley never played or managed in the majors before his
stint with the Orioles, and Juan Samuel’s first experience came
when he stepped in for the fired Trembley on an interim basis.

”I think the difference is, ever since I was here there were
rumblings about Dave Trembley. You could say we blocked them out
but they were out there,” Wigginton said. ”And then Juan had the
interim tag. Now we’ve got Buck, and he’s the guy.”

President of baseball operations Andy MacPhail hired Showalter
in August to give the newcomer time to assess his players and
coaching staff before heading into next year. To aid the process, a
wall in Showalter’s office lists most of the players in Baltimore’s
minor league system.

But he’s not a general manager, and he’s not going to wait until
2011 to put his stamp on an organization that has become accustomed
to losing.

”The last thing I want is the players to think is that I’m some
kind of traveling instructor or something,” Showalter said. ”Once
the game starts, my priority is to manage that game and trying to
put them in position to be successful.”

Success has been elusive for the Orioles. This season, they
opened by losing 16 of 18 and carried the worst record in the major
leagues until this month.

”I realize how tough a challenge this year has been for a lot
of them – emotionally and mentally,” Showalter said.

During a recent game, Showalter walked over to starter Brad
Bergesen and shared some knowledge about pitching. The funny thing
is, Bergesen wasn’t even in the game.

”He’s the first manager that’s really come up to me during the
game and pointed out situations when I’m not pitching,” Bergesen
said. ”He just told me what he thinks and explained different
things. It’s very small things, but he’s trying to get us to learn
the game and open our eyes to make us better ballplayers.”

Which is precisely what Showalter had in mind when he pulled
aside Patterson after that double play.

”You present an atmosphere not of confrontation, but, ‘OK, talk
to me. What are you thinking there?”’ Showalter said. ”Instead of
going, ‘You got to do this, you’ve got to that.”’

Patterson isn’t surprised.

”We all heard things about him being a taskmaster or what not.
Me, I don’t believe what I hear. I’ve got to see it and witness
it,” Patterson said. ”Since he’s been here, I haven’t seen him
get in a guy’s face and chew him out. Not to say he won’t. A player
might deserve it. He’s not here to be nice and baby us.”

Showalter chuckles when asked if his style has changed from
drill sergeant to nurturer.

”You’ve got to be yourself,” he said. ”I’m not as complicated
as everyone makes me out to be. I have a belly laugh out here every
single day. It’s a great gig. I love baseball players. I don’t take
myself near as seriously as everyone thinks I do.”