From one AL East manager to another
Buck Showalter was sending a message; for Terry Francona, it was about family
I was paying close attention to the conversation between Baltimore's Buck Showalter and Boston's Terry Francona, in part because I played for both managers. They had different styles of managing, but at both stops, I loved my time with them.
Francona is the ultimate players' manager. He takes the fall in the news conferences; he can tease you better than your teammates (ask Dustin Pedroia, aka the "Pirate Parrot," according to Tito). He has the ability to kick back with the players just as easily as he can with the coaches, the security guards, the fans. He has a positive vibe about him, and the only time he really jumps on his players is when they don't give a good effort.
Buck has a different flavor. He is the tactician; he studies every angle of every situation. He employs reconnaissance missions to find out a team's pickoff sign. He calls on old favors to get the scoop on a guy's elbow. He has formal meetings to go over an opponent, like he's trying to beat the Romans rather than the Mariners.
But Buck is a whole lotta fun, too. He has a "beautiful" mind, can hit you with one-liners, challenge you by asking why guys don't slide into first base to avoid the tag from a high throw and can remember any sequence of events from games past.
So it was interesting to see the recent back-and-forth between the two managers. Buck set out to fire up his organization, something I can appreciate, because for years, the Orioles have been the doormat of the American League East. Every conversation about which team will do what in previewing these seasons has talked only about the Red Sox, the Yankees and the Rays. "The Orioles are hoping to get to .500 this year." "The Orioles are rebuilding." "The Orioles have no chance." I know in my two years of predicting the AL East at ESPN, I never even considered Baltimore a serious threat.
A manager running on that kind of history has to shake it up, and Buck has had a history of doing that in his successful runs before. This effort has earned him a couple of manager of the year awards.
Before the Orioles have taken the field, Buck has been taking swings for his team at the mighty financial empires of Major League Baseball. Untouchables for the marketability of the game, history reversals in Boston, dynasty figures in New York. He clawed at Derek Jeter, he went after GMs and he pulled no punches in the Men's Journal article. But knowing Buck, he had a purpose and probably a smile on his face, too.
I did expect Francona to react the way he did because his team, his organization, is his family. When I went through hard times in Philadelphia after my father had suffered the first of many strokes, Tito explained this to the media to help buffer what they had to write about my poor performances. When I retired at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, I chose to celebrate at a Phillies game against the Boston Red Sox because of Tito, and true to form, he invited me into the Red Sox locker room before I threw out the first pitch. I ended up spending more time in his locker room than the Phillies'. Not to mention the Triple-A gig he dangled at me at the end of spring training or the fact that the entire Red Sox team gave me a standing ovation.
After I read the heat Buck was taking, I sent Buck a message, letting him know that if I were an Orioles player, I would have been fired up by his comments. Sure, as Buck stated, if he were on the receiving end, he would have been aggravated, too, but that was the point -- to aggravate. To attack the status quo. No one likes to be on the receiving end, but the only way the Orioles can possibly compete this year is to at least get out of their own way, and Buck knows this as well as anyone. Part of accomplishing this goal is to open the closet door and show his people that the scary monster inside is only your reflection in the mirror.
This might play into why Buck has had a lot of success in pulling teams from the ashes and setting teams up to go on runs. He knows how to get people out of their own way, address the fear and the doubt, even if it means firing shots at someone else. Make no mistake: He thought about what he wanted to convey after fully grasping that in his market, the big bad wolves are the Yankees and the Red Sox. And unless you build a brick house, you are in trouble.
In this instance, Francona's baseball family was on the receiving end of Buck's effort ,and true to form, Terry took exception. He generally doesn't get involved in these situations; he takes the high road and finds the silver lining and humor in the situation. He even said at one point in defense of Buck's shot at his GM, Theo Epstein, "Well, he must know what he is doing; he hired me." But as Francona looked deeper into the comment, he saw his family under assault, and he rose to the challenge and tapped the fact that Epstein was a key cog in reversing nearly a century of World Series futility. A triumph that took a lot of managing (and general managing) through the good and the bad. The organization is battle-tested and will fight if necessary.
I am sure that in the end, these two will be cordial and laugh about it one day. For now, it is all about the bell ringing for Opening Day. And as any fan wants to see, it is nice to know that the team that has been the doormat of the AL East is no longer going to take it lying down.
Doug Glanville, who earned a degree in systems engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, played nine major league seasons with the Cubs, Phillies and Rangers. He serves on the board of Athletes Against Drugs and the fundraising committee of Boundless Readers. His book, "The Game from Where I Stand," was released May 11, 2010. Click here to buy it on Amazon.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dougglanville
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