The inner harbor of Baltimore is a fine place to see the morning sun…although not a customary choice of tourists. The town itself is a curious mix of rowhouses and marble steps and painted window screens, good food, historic icons like the USS Constellation, the sister ship of the USS Constitution, and a breeding ground for acerbic wits and strutting sharp tongued baseball managers of a particular persuasion.
This correspondent sees a connecting thread between Baltimore iconoclast H.L. Mencken, gloomy poet Edgar Allan Poe (Born in Boston , you know) and Oriole baseball managers from John McGraw to Jack Dunn to Frank Robinson to Mike Hargrove to Earl Weaver and now to Bucky Showalter.
Juding baseball managers is a precarious business.
There have been dugout thinkers seemingly operating in a trance in communion with some far-off deities like hizzoner Jack Daniels, studious chaps obsessed by metrics and indecipherable diagrams, geniuses sustained by gobs of shredded tobacco stuffed between cheek and gum, gifted men amazingly adept at missing the point, skippers both diffuse and banal and then a line of icy fateful men who aspire to bold leadership and the firm belief that whatever happens on the baseball field, it wasn’t their fault.
Bucky Showalter, the current managing resident in Camden Yards, has guided his charges into last place in the American League East and his tenure so far has been marked chiefly by an unremitting distaste for the Boston Red Sox and their hefty payroll. He’s quite outspoken about it. Showalter said,”I’d like to see how smart Theo Epstein is with the Tampa Bay payroll.” Bucky apparently has found the Sox GM’s “205 million dollar payroll” a useful motivational tool. The O’s have punctured the Sox playoff balloon several times this season.
The more you see and hear Showalter in his Oriole silks you are reminded of that other fellow who occupied the manager’s chair–Earl Weaver. Both men quickly acquired the signal gene of Baltimore management: the Napoleonic complex. Outfielder John Lowenstein pointed out to this department that Weaver, short in stature, would routinely dash out to discuss strategy or change pitchers and without fail would choose to stand on the highest elevation of the pitcher’s mound, no doubt his variation of the Sermon on the Mount.
His best pitcher and his most consistent adversary was Jim Palmer. It was Palmer’s contention that Earl knew nothing of any great value about pitching and he was quick to advise the manager of that circumstance. Weaver disagreed. In fact he summed up his baseball philosophy, “solid pitching and a three run homer in the eighth.”
Earl was intense, boastful, proud, stubborn, foolish, smart and blessed with a sense of humor. His run-ins with umpires were legendary. He once advised Umpire Ed Hurley after a long running on-field verbal battle that Hurley was trying to match wits with a man destined for future induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. As it turned out, he was. Weaver was elected to Cooperstown in 1996.
As this 2011 baseball season stumbles to a close, the business of overrating baseball teams once again is proven alive and well. Certainly the Napoleonic complex in the Baltimore dugout has had a reasonable share in the accurate premise that the current Boston Red Sox are high up on this year’s list of disappointments.
Maybe this is a new version of “reverse the curse”. Way back, when the original Orioles needed money they sold Babe Ruth to the Red Sox.