“I’m not going to have the players see me supportive one day, not supportive the next. It’s a process. You can’t cheat the process. Right now, the process looks slow.”
Buck Showalter, August 2011
I don't have a prediction for the winner of the Orioles versus Royals ALCS. To do so would be out of character for me. Predictions are just guesses and anyone can take a guess and have a shot at being right. The fact is, I just don't know and if I had a crystal ball, I would certainly being using it for something more important than baseball. I want the Orioles to win more than anything but to throw out a wild guess would ultimately be meaningless. There are plenty of places where you can go read predictions until you are blue in the face.
What I can talk about is process, the day-to-day strategy and grind of turning around a franchise that was never truly hopeless but was also at a complete standstill. The Orioles process from 2007 to now is a lengthy journey, filled with low low’s but also a lot of high high’s, even in cases where a casual fan or spectator might not understand the high.
If you have watched the process which took the Orioles from perennial losers for 14 straight seasons to the 2014 AL East Champions (with a World Series berth just four wins away), you have witnessed one of the best sports stories in Baltimore history and maybe even all of baseball. It's not a story with heroes or amazing drama or everything else that makes for successful books, TV shows, or movies. It’s not the 2004 Red Sox down 3 games to 0 and coming all the way back to beat their arch nemesis New York Yankees en route to their first World Series in 100 years. This is about something much simpler. It's a story about process.
A process, with strategy, implemented, and followed, doesn't usually generate success immediately, especially in sports and especially in baseball. This held true for the Orioles from 2007-2011.
In 2007 when former General Manager Andy MacPhail took over, the first order of business wasn't to immediately improve the farm system or make a big splash in the fee agent market. No, the first order of business was to buy new video cameras because technology had lapped the Orioles not so state-of-the-art video equipment. How's that for your first week on the job?
The process saw highly touted Orioles pitching prospects Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Zach Britton, and Jake Arrietta all struggle significantly in their first stint(s) with the big league team. The big hope that loomed with highly rated prospects fizzled almost as quickly.
The process saw Dave Trembley removed as manager mid season in 2010, a lot of his own doing but also because the pieces to make the process successful just weren't in place yet.
The process saw Buck Showalter hired as manager in July 2010, a person so adept at the small and big picture that I couldn't picture anyone else in baseball coming close to doing the job he has so far in Baltimore.
The process saw trades, big and small at their respective times, stabilize and build the current incarnation of the Orioles.
- Adam Jones and Chris Tillman (and three other, including 2008-2009 closer George Sherill) for Erik Bedard from Seattle
- David Hernandez to Arizona for Mark Reynolds
- Two lower rated pitching prospects in Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson (both out of baseball) for shortstop JJ Hardy, who will be the teams SS through at least 2018.
- Relief Pitcher Koji Uehara to Texas for unspectacular Starting Pitcher Tommy Hunter and at the time, 4A player Chris Davis
The process saw September 28, 2011 be the first playoff game the Orioles would play in 13 years. Sure, it was completely unofficial, but beating the Red Sox in an amazing 9th inning comeback to ensure that they wouldn't advance to the playoffs was simply gratifying. The Red Sox and their legion of fans had wreaked havoc against the team, Camden Yards, and the fans for years. Cathartic doesn't even begin to explain it. It wasn’t officially a playoff game, but you can’t convince me that the 2011 Orioles didn’t play those final seven games against the Red Sox like a playoff series.
The process brought in shunned former Montrael Expos and Boston Red Sox General Manager Dan Duquette to Baltimore for interviews for the team’s GM position that was left vacant by Andy McPhail. After being turned down by other highly touted candidates, Duquette, out of Major League baseball for almost ten years, accepted the job and has been exceptional at finding good free agent deals, making average to excellent trades, and surveying the waiver wire day after day to try to secure as much depth as possible for the big league club.
These are just some of the moments over this seven year process that bring us to where we are today. There isn't a single one that can clearly answer why the Orioles begin play in the ALCS tonight against Kansas City. That would be too easy. Processes are never easy to complete, nonetheless dissect. We all like a good story where you can get clear, concise, and impactful answers. This Orioles journey has had a little bit of everything. It just doesn’t have any simple answers.
Beginning tonight, we can finally key in on one simple premisea that has been the direct result from this long, winding process: 8 more wins are all that stands between the Orioles, Baltimore, and their fans celebrating a World Series victory.
“We all want to deliver for the fans, more than anything. It’s what keeps me up at night. They’ve been with us through thick and thin. There’s not a more loyal, supportive fan base in Baltimore, and at some point we will repay their trust.”
Buck Showalter, August 2011