It seems like Buck Showalter is always on the hot seat.
He may be in the final year of his contract as the Baltimore Orioles’ manager, but the job stability talk hasn’t fazed Showalter, who has maintained that everything comes down to accountability.
“This is an accountable world we live in,” he told Jayson Stark in the latest episode of Stadium’s Baseball Stories. “If you are functioning because of your contract or a commitment to you, your commitment should always be steadfast.
“It is an honor to have those commitments whether it is two days or two years. Take it and run with the opportunity. Don’t be shy. Let it rip.”
Showalter certainly ran with it in the 2016 American League Wild Card Game.
With the score tied 2-2 in the 11th inning against the Toronto Blue Jays, Showalter elected to go with Ubaldo Jimenez as a reliever instead of closer Zach Britton, who had tallied 47 saves and a 0.54 ERA in the regular season. Two singles and a monster walk-off home run by Edwin Encarnacion later, the Orioles’ season was over.
“No one has been pitching better for us than Ubaldo,” Showalter said at the time.
“I was frustrated to sit and have to watch that and not participate,” Britton said after the game, adding it was Showalter’s call and that he would have been ready.
Showalter still stands behind his decision, saying it was not “philosophical” in terms of not throwing his closer in a non-save situation on the road.
In a mental sport rife with second-guessing, standing by his decisions and sticking to his guns is something Showalter preaches to his team.
“I tell our guys all the time, ‘You want to throw that 3-2 change up? You want to steal third base with two outs? You want to try to bunt for a hit with a man on third and two outs with the game on the line? Go for it,” Showalter told Stark. “The only problem I am going to have is if you don’t go for it. This is not for the timid or the weak of knees.”
Showalter’s hardened persona was honed through his many years in the game and the battles he’s fought throughout. A career Minor Leaguer in his playing days, Showalter took over the New York Yankees in 1992, winning his first Manager of the Year award for the Yankees’ strike-shortened 1994 campaign. He led the team to the top of the 1995 AL Wild Card as New York made the playoffs for the first time since 1981. After losing in the Division Series that year, Showalter resigned after refusing owner George Steinbrenner’s order to fire hitting coach Rick Down. The Yankees would go on to win the World Series in four of the next five years.
From there, he became the inaugural manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ expansion team. He managed the team for three years before being fired in 2000, again seeing the team he formerly managed win the World Series a year after being ousted.
A nondescript run with the Texas Rangers from 2003 to 2006 saw Showalter win his second Manager of the Year Award in 2004, turning a 71-91 team into an 89-73 team en route to a third-place finish in the crowded AL West.
Which brings us to his current stint in Baltimore. Showalter joined the Orioles in 2010, using his characteristic turnaround tactics to lead the Orioles to the playoffs in 2012. An AL East Championship and a playoff bid in 2014 with another Manager of the Year Award soon followed, as did the aforementioned Wild Card Game in 2016.
But Baltimore is currently mired in last place in the AL East a little over a month into the 2018 season.
The team decided to make a push from the playoffs this year, keeping around soon-to-be-free agents Manny Machado, Adam Jones and relievers Brad Brach and Britton. And despite all of that hope, Fangraphs currently has the Orioles with a 0.0 percent chance to make the playoffs.
Will Manny Machado be aggressively shopped and traded before the trade deadline? Will Adam Jones’ fate be the same? And if those changes are coming, will Baltimore’s ownership allow Showalter to stick around to orchestrate a rebuild?
The odds don’t seem to be in his favor.
Early in the season, Bovada had Showalter as the odds-on favorite to be the first manager fired this season.
Bovada odds on first MLB manager to be fired this year. Who ya got?
Buck Showalter 3/2
Bob Melvin 3/1
Bryan Price 3/1
Mike Matheny 7/1
Don Mattingly 9/1
Gabe Kapler 10/1
Mike Scioscia 10/1
— Jay Morrison (@JayMorrisonCMG) April 5, 2018
And so far in 2018, the team on the field has done him no favors. Baltimore is in the bottom five in baseball in team strikeouts, batting average, on-base percentage, on-base plus slugging and runs. Orioles pitchers have given up the most hits and most runs in the American League while the fielders behind them have committed the fifth-most errors in the AL.
A manager with over 1,500 wins to his name, that elusive World Series title is all that Showalter is missing in a potential Hall of Fame career. And at 61, shepherding a team towards the bottom of the American League, will he get that opportunity with the Orioles?
When probed by Stark on Baseball Stories about just having one year left on his contract, Showalter turned the question around.
“Do you have more than one year?” Showalter asked. “My point is, I am sitting there in my first meeting and I said, ‘Jonesy, do you know where you will be next year? Huh? Or our hitting coach or pitching coach?’
“Do you think the guy working nine to five knows what tomorrow or next year is going to bring? Why should we be any different?”
It seems that not even Showalter himself has the answer.