Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Interview with "High Heat" author Tim Wendel - Part Two

Part two of my interview with High Heat author Tim Wendel from earlier this summer includes topics such as Orioles minor league legend Steve Dalkowski, Earl Weaver, Bull Durham, and Strasburg mania.

There are so many interviews and conversations that informed your research for the book. How difficult was it to get access to so many different people who could help you in your thinking?

It was a little difficult at times. I was one of the founders of Baseball Weekly so sometimes that gave me some cache. It’s gotten a little more difficult because some ballparks are giving credentials, and justifiably so, much more to the beat credentialed guys as opposed to guys doing books and so that gets a little problematic. Once people kind of realized what the conversation was about doors opened up a little bit more than you would think.

Bob Feller’s a great example. Bob certainly gives interviews, you’re not quite sure how the interview’s going to go. Once Bob Feller, who tends to feel the level of pitching overall was maybe greater in his era and even into the ‘60s than maybe it is now even though I think you can start making an argument it’s coming back in a big way, but once he heard something like Tim Lincecum doesn’t ice his arm Feller perked up and went, “Oh, that’s interesting” because he didn’t ice his arm either. In fact one of Feller’s great lines was “Ice, that’s for drinks.” And once he found out that Lincecum kind of felt the same way and followed in his own sort of more modern approach, kind of the same techniques, suddenly Feller said, “That Lincecum guy, give me his number.” In an odd way, in the course of writing High Heat, you’re able to bring some of these almost odd fellows together. Now say Tim Lincecum and Bob Feller I guess are friends in part because they heard that neither one of them iced their arms.

And I think some people when it came to this wanted to set the record straight a little bit. I spent almost three days down in Texas with Nolan Ryan. Certainly Nolan Ryan’s in any conversation about guys that throw hard, but once he heard that I wanted to talk about those early days with the Mets and how he struggled and how frustrated he was - I didn’t realize how much he really struggled, I mean how close he came to quitting. It’s mind boggling. He said “Yeah, come on down, let’s talk.”

Ryan told me at one point, “I knew I had this gift.” He pretty much said in the next sentence, “I didn’t ask for it, and I didn’t deserve it,” and so therefore in an odd way it carries a lot more pressure. You see it everywhere today. Some kid starts throwing hard when he’s 12, 13, 14. Somehow we think it’s easy, we think everything’s laid out for him. If anything I think if you ask many of the guys in High Heat, “Hey, this gift of a fastball, it’s almost kind of like a Midas touch isn’t it?” I think they’d probably say yes. And I think if you asked them, certainly a guy like Dalkowski or somebody, “Hey what if we could just wave a magic wand and take that back, would you agree to it?” I think a great many of them would say yeah in a heartbeat.

Speaking of Dalkowski, what does it say about how good his stuff must have been if he made this list even though he never caught on in the majors?

He almost became the number one guy and actually Earl Weaver’s the one who kind of talked me down off that a little bit, which I found amazing because Earl Weaver did as much as anybody to get Steve Dalkowski in the major leagues or to get him as close as he did, but then Earl said, “No, I can’t make him number one because he never made the majors.”

You know, I think part of it is just the mythic element. You’ve seen Bull Durham, the Nuke LaLoosh character being in a sense the myth of what Dalkowski was. That was certainly helped by the fact Ron Shelton, who went on to be a Hollywood writer and director, was in the Orioles organization about four or five years behind Dalkowski. He never played on the same team as Steve, but he knew all the stories and such. The stories of his fastball are just epic, and I think that’s part of what the appeal is too; here you have a very almost very docile guy who wears spectacles at least part of his career. He doesn’t look like an athlete at all. And yet boy did he have a gift. I think in an odd way that really appeals to people. He didn’t look like a Ryan or even a Feller. He looked like some guy you’d walk by on the street, and yet you put him on a mound, granted he couldn’t throw a first strike half the time, but as near as we can tell he threw potentially 104 to maybe 107 miles per hour.

Hitting a fastball is all about timing, and it seems like with the publication of this book the timing is almost perfect in part because of all the Strasburg mania and attention. How much does that help to have the book come out in a summer where there’s so much attention to Strasburg and so much attention to pitching really?

It’s something you hope and wish for. I’ve had other books that haven’t done nearly as well as this. I’ve got a friend in publishing who talks about a book being like you carve this statue and it’s as good as you can do and you go down to the water and you throw it in and you hope it floats. I think that sums up publishing today.

Strasburg’s a huge part of it. In a way it’s kind of like Halley’s Comet coming around. Each generation seems to get caught up in another great fireballer. Certainly predecessors, you look at Feller’s generation, you go back to Walter Johnson, certainly Ryan, Koufax, JR Richard, that whole crowd. I think it’s somewhat because, you know I can take somebody who doesn’t know a great deal about baseball who certainly doesn’t know a sacrifice bunt from a hit-and-run to whatever, but I can take them to the ballpark and somebody’s throwing like a 100 miles per hour and that gets their attention. It’s something that just kind of translates very well. It’s something that all of us just kind of stand in awe of whether you’ve seen a thousand baseball games or this is your first game, it just translates.

What’s going on too is I think pitching is making a comeback. I’m currently looking at a project that may involves 1968, the year of the pitcher, and I think the pitching today is kind of getting back to that. It’s not only Strasburg right now; we’ve got some other pretty incredible fastball pitchers, too: Jimenez out with Colorado; I mentioned Lincecum; Broxton, the closer with L.A.; even this kid Chapman, the Cuban defector who I’ve been following a little bit from afar, he’s in the Reds organization, it looks like now they may make him into a closer. It’s really intriguing how we kind of went through real down time with pitching and certainly guys that could really bring it, and now we seem to be suddenly back in a golden era again certainly led by Strasburg.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Interview with "High Heat" author Tim Wendel - Part One

Earlier this summer I wrote about the book "High Heat: The Secret History of the Fastball and the Improbable Search for the Fastest Pitcher of All Time." Author Tim Wendel was generous enough to do a phone interview with me about his book, but I've been very slow about getting that interview posted. I'll do so over the course of the next three days.

Part one of our interview examines Wendel's motivation for writing the book, the role of stats in telling the story, and how throwing 100 miles per hour is a gift plain and simple. Also,Wendel tells the story of how Tim Lincecum wasn't allowed in the visitor's clubhouse in Washington because the security guard thought he was just another punk kid rather than a Cy Young winner.

This is your eighth book, and I see you've done some other baseball books. Why write this book?

This one came out in a roundabout way out of the ones that had preceded it. Actually I was in Cuba on one of my trips down there - I've made three trips down to Cuba and some of the other books I've done, Castro’s Curveball, Far From Home, are somewhat based in that part of the world. A bunch of us are behind home plate one night in Havana, both Anglos and Cubans, and all of the sudden this topic of who's the hardest thrower ever came up and it became pretty impassioned, as do many things in Cuba, and that got me to thinking later, well if this cuts across language, culture, etc. there must be something there. And that got it kind of kicking around in my head.

The book almost defies the statistical measures that are so popular today. Why write this book in such a stats conscious era?

Maybe to go against the grain a little bit. You know I belong to SABR. I like stats I guess as much as most folks. But as I got deeper into writing High Heat I found I wasn't going to find any holy grail of testing. Ironically, almost all the epic fireballers - Walter Johnson, Bob Feller, Ryan, Koufax - in their own way were very curious about how hard they threw and where they stacked up against the all-time greats, and so they allowed themselves to be tested in some very unconventional ways.

We're so driven in this era that somehow we’re going to find some stat or somehow we're going to be able to analyze something with numbers. And what I realized once I got pretty deep into High Heat was no, that wasn't going to be the way necessarily out of this. It was going to be more of the stories and more of almost every one of these guys ended up at the crossroads pretty early on. Were they going to make it or not? They knew they’d been given this gift of being able to throw really, really hard and were they going to be able to find their way out and do as well as everyone expected they would? Probably half the guys in High Heat did, and these are the guys you hear about that have become legends – Ryan, Feller, etc. Probably the other half didn’t, and that’s why you don’t hear that much about Amos Rusie or Steve Dalkowski and guys like that who flamed out.

Once I hit that point I realized that all of us, in an odd way, you know, we’re not going to be able to throw 100 miles per hour – I know I sure can’t because I was tested and didn’t come close – but I’d like to believe all of us have some gift and so therefore maybe part of living a life is are you going to be able to bring that gift to fruition? Are you going to bring it to the forefront? In a way that’s what all these guys grappled with.

[A discussion of how you have to be born with the gift to throw that hard leads to this comment …]

One of the things that really appealed to me in doing this book was you can line up all the great fireballers, fastball pitchers, going over a century, like a police line-up, and there’s little or no correlation in height, size, weight. Maybe there’s some kind of way you can figure out fast-twitch muscles or something like that. Billy Wagner, for example, who’s shorter than me, is in this equation alongside somebody like Strasburg, alongside somebody like the Big Train Walter Johnson, and that’s really kind of cool, because I think a lot of sports we’ve kind of micromanaged this alchemy right out of it. If you want to play basketball then okay it makes sense you’ve got to be tall. If you want to play football, okay, if you really wanna go a long way you’ve got to be big and fast.

One of the great times I had doing High Heat was in Washington at the Nationals ballpark with Tim Lincecum, and we’re looking to enter the visitor’s clubhouse. The guy guarding the door wouldn’t let Lincecum in, in part because Lincecum kind of like this short, skinny, punk skateboard kid. And me and another guy are like, “No, he’s actually won a Cy Young.” And because Lincecum didn’t have his ID there was a bit of a hubbub for a few minutes until they let him in. I thought that was pretty interesting, somebody like Tim Lincecum could be part of this whole equation, too.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Eutaw Street Chronicles: Bobby Bonilla - Sept. 8, 1996

As the 1996 season entered September the Orioles were threatening to become only the eighth major league team to win a division or league title after trailing by 12 games or more. The team was powering its way into the playoffs.

Three eighth-inning long balls on Sept. 8, including Bobby Bonilla's 405-foot Eutaw Street homer, led the Orioles to a 6-2 win against the hapless Detroit Tigers, who would lose 109 games in 1996. Bonilla's effort was the final of seven Eutaw Street homers in 1996, second only to the eight that were later hit in 2008.

The victory pulled the Orioles within three games of the American League East-leading New York Yankees for the first time since June 24. The homers, meanwhile, pulled the Orioles within nine of the 1961 Yankees for most by a team in one season.

Bonilla, whom the Orioles had considered trading in July, stepped to the plate against reliever Jose Lima with the Orioles leading 3-2 following a Rafael Palmeiro two-run home run. Bonilla took Lima's first offering deep, marking the fifth time that season in which the O's duo struck in back-to-back fashion. Overall, it was the Orioles' 14th set of back-to-back blasts.

After strikeouts of Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray, Lima allowed a single to Pete Incaviglia followed by a Chris Hoiles homer to round out the scoring. Orioles reliever Alan Mills got the win in relief of Rocky Coppinger, who allowed two runs on three hits in seven innings of work.

Bonilla had previously placed two balls onto Eutaw Street during the 1993 All-Star Home Run Derby. He also predicted correctly that Ken Griffey Jr. would be the first player to hit the Warehouse.  

Baltimore Sun columnist Ken Rosenthal fittingly dubbed the '96 Orioles the Eutaw Street Bullies. And bullies they were.

The Orioles finished the season with a record 257 home runs. One year later the Mariners topped that mark with 264 home runs of their own.

Seven Orioles (Alomar, Anderson, Bonilla, Hoiles, Palmeiro, Ripken, Surhoff) ended the year with 20 or more homers tying a major league record

And on Sept. 7 Brady Anderson joined Bonilla and Palmeiro as the first Orioles trio to record 100 RBI in the same season since Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, and Brooks Robinson did so in 1966. Cal Ripken later became the fourth '96 teammate with 100 RBI.

Unfortunately, the Orioles' postseason fortunes did not match those of the '66 Orioles. The '96 team finished four games back of the Yankees in the division and later lost the ALCS to New York four games to one. Both Bonilla, who signed with the Florida Marlins in the off-season, and Eddie Murray, who signed with the Angels, homered in their final Orioles at-bats during the Game 5 loss.


Baltimore Orioles

Friday, August 20, 2010

Bunt Singles

My "Flashback Friday" post this week focused on two-out, walk-off bunt singles in honor of Adam Jones' effort on Monday night. Here are a few tidbits related to bunt singles that I came across while working on the article.

-A 2007 Baseball Prospectus article examines bunt hit percentage (BUH%) to determine which players have been the best at bunting for singles. Brett Butler's 1992 season (40 hits, .597)  ranks first followed by Kenny Lofton's 1992 season (31 hits, .463). I'll always remember Lofton as a thorn in the Orioles side. The guy could do so much offensively and defensively to affect a game.

-Big League Stew points out that Erick Aybar of the Angels is the top guy in MLB for bunt singles in 2010. He has 12 so far this season, six shy of his career-high 18 bunt singles in 2009.

-Adam Jones and Cesar Izturis are tied for the Orioles lead in bunt singles this season with six a piece. Corey Patterson (3) and Miguel Tejada (1) are the only other Orioles players to bunt for a hit in 2010. Brian Roberts and Cesar Izturis tied for the O's team lead in 2009; each player had three bunts for hits.


Baltimore Orioles

Flashback Friday: Melvin Mora's two-out, walk-off bunt single

Adam Jones' two-out bunt single against the Mariners in the bottom of the 11th inning on Monday night had MASN broadcaster Jim Hunter - and likely many fans watching at home - enthusing about the play. Hunter stated mutliple times that Jones may start a trend of walk-off bunts. Actually, Jones was only continuing a trend.

Earlier this season Howie Kendrick's ninth inning, two-out bunt single earned the Angels a 4-3 victory over the Indians and none-too-appreciative pitcher Chris Perez who said: "It was a bad baseball play that happened to work out ... I don't want to say it was bush league, but you never see that ... a stupid play that just happened to work."

Kendrick got the green light from Angels bench coach Ron Roenicke, younger brother of former Oriole Gary Roenicke, who was filling in for Mike Scioscia. You can see Kendrick's bunt single to second base here.

Meanwhile, the most recent two-out, walk-off bunt in extra innings came from Melvin Mora. Mora's bases-loaded bunt single in the bottom of the 10th inning on Sept. 28, 2007, gave the Orioles a 10-9 victory over the Yankees.

You can see Mora's effort (featuring post-game fireworks!) here.

Monday night's game-ending rally started with a lead-off double by Nick Markakis. Back in 2007, Tike Redman - yes, Tike Redman - hit a one-out double and moved to third on a passed ball. Intentional walks to Markakis and Miguel Tejada put Kevin Millar in a position to "Cowboy Up" for the O's. Instead, he struck out looking and left Mora to be the hero.

Mora bunted toward Wilson Betemit at third, reached base without a throw, and continued running down the first-base line. Dan Connolly noted in his game story that Mora "nearly ran to Eutaw Street in celebration."

"In my career, what I've had success on is bunting for base hits," Mora said afterward. "When I saw the third baseman way back, I just made my mind up before everything was going to happen. We just want one. We didn't need a grand slam."

The Orioles' collective 10-run, 20-hit effort against the Yankees left fans with plenty of reason to celebrate despite the Birds' 69-91 record at the time.

-The O's throttled former teammate Mike Mussina for 11 hits and six runs in five innings. (I admittedly continued to appreciate Mussina even after he went to New York. See the 2006 Roar from 34 post "Moose Was a Great Bird.")

-Oriole Magic was in full effect even before Mora's hit, and it just so happened against one of the greatest closers in baseball history. Mariano Rivera suffered a blown save after the Birds scored three runs on three hits against him in the ninth inning. The Orioles caused Rivera's only two blown saves after April 20th during the 2007 season.

-With the win the Orioles denied the Yankees their 10th consecutive A.L. East title. The division title instead went to the Red Sox, who watched the game from their clubhouse at Fenway following a 5-2 victory over the Twins. Prior to Mora's walk-off Red Sox infielder Alex Cora called out "He's going to bunt."

Mora's 2007 effort wouldn't have been possible were it not for the clutch hitting of former Red Sox player Jay Payton, whose bases-loaded triple against Rivera tied the game an inning earlier. According to the Boston Herald, many Red Sox players were as surprised as Orioles fans, yelling "Holy S----."


Baltimore Orioles

A version of this story appeared on Camden Chat on Thursday.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Red Sox, the Yankees, and their high school equivalents

The Sports Pickle has provided a list of "8 Teams and Their High School Classmate Equivalents" that includes two of the Orioles' A.L. East rivals: the Red Sox and the Yankees.

Of the Red Sox: "This is the girl who was unattractive and kind of a loser at the start of high school. But then she got hot all of a sudden and became unbearable to put up with."

Of the Yankees: "She had it all. She was hot, a top student and a great athlete. But it was only because her dad got her a boob job and paid for all kinds of top tutors and personal coaches."

And for those of you who are fans of other Maryland teams (and of gender equity in insults), here's the description of Duke: "The rich, smug, phony who almost no one liked. But for some reason all the teachers and parents bought his act and he was able to just coast through school."


Baltimore Orioles

Construction in Sarasota

Here are some photos, courtesy of Norm Schimmel, of the construction work being done at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota.


Baltimore Orioles

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Can Showalter match Baltimore's best?

An august performance

With their next win the Orioles will have matched or exceeded their August win total from six of the last ten seasons.  The O's are currently 10-5 in August.

Want to aim even higher? The Birds haven't had a non-losing August since 1998, when they finished 14-14. The team hasn't had a winning record in the eighth month of the calendar year since 1997, when they finished 18-10.

In truth, the O's record down the stretch has little bearing on what the 2011 season and beyond will bring. After all, the 1999 Orioles were 20-8 in the month of September. But darn if it isn't fun. And it's a considerable change from seasons past.

Granted, as I've explained before,  the "August Swoon" is a myth. [In short, the Orioles have often had a worse record in July than in August. However, the August losses have been more dramatic (think 30-3) and therefore memorable.] With that said, it's nice to be watching quality baseball this late in the season for a change.

Showalter looking to match best 15-game start in team history

What a difference a game can make.

If the Orioles win tonight Buck Showalter will match Davey Johnson and Earl Weaver for the best record after 15 games in team history.

If the Orioles lose Showalter will match the starts of Mike Hargrove, Lum Harris, Lee Mazzilli, and Ray Miller.

Managerial records after 15 games

Davey Johnson 11-4

Earl Weaver 11-4

Buck Showalter 10-4

Mike Hargrove 10-5

Lum Harris 10-5

Lee Mazilli 10-5

Ray Miller 10-5

Joe Altobelli 9-6

Sam Perlozzo 9-6

Hank Bauer 8-7

Billy Hitchcock 8-7

Dave Trembley 8-7

Cal Ripken 8-7

Phil Regan 6-9

Johnny Oates 7-8

Jimmy Dykes 5-10

Paul Richards 4-11

Juan Samuel 4-11

Frank Robinson 0-15

World beaters

The Birds are 6-6 against the Red Sox this season with six games remaining between the two teams. Should the Orioles win four or more of those games they will win the season series against Boston for the first time since 2004. Of course, Boston went on to win the World Series that year.

Go figure.


Baltimore Orioles

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The story behind the Eutaw Street baseballs & other Orioles tidbits

Here's a rundown of some O's-related items, including the story behind the bronze baseballs on Eutaw Street.

(Shameless plug: Check out past entries in The Eutaw Street Chronicles. More to come soon.)

-Brandow Morrow pitched 8 2/3 innings of no-hit baseball against the Rays this weekend before surrendering a single to Evan Longoria. August 10th happens to be the anniversary of two Orioles one-hitters.

Mike Cuellar gave up a leadoff single to Minnesota's Cesar Tovar in a 2-0, one-hit win on Aug. 10, 1969. Meanwhile, Jim Palmer tossed his fourth career one-hitter on Aug. 10, 1976. Same opponent (the Minnesota Twins), same final score (2-0).

-Speaking of the Rays, the team's vice president of communications, Rick Vaughn, is the brains behind the bronze baseballs on Eutaw Street at Camden Yards. He wanted to do a similar thing with the catwalk at Tropicana Field.
At Vaughn's suggestion, the Orioles mark each home run ball that lands on Eutaw Street, which runs behind right field at Camden Yards, with a bronze plaque resembling a baseball sunk in the ground and bearing the name of the batter, the date and the distance from home plate.

"That way you could stand there and say, 'Wow, this is where that home run landed,'" Vaughn said.

Vaughn actually got that idea from all the games he attended at RFK Stadium while growing up in nearby Virginia. The seats in RFK's upper deck were green. The Senators would paint one white to mark where one of Frank Howard's monster blasts landed.

-And speaking of historical marks on Aug. 10, this is the anniversary of Boog Powell becoming the first Orioles player to hit three home runs in a game. He did so on Aug. 10, 1963, against the Washington Senators. The Orioles lost 6-5 despite Powell's heroics.

-Don Baylor and Bobby Grich were inducted into the International League Hall of Fame on Monday.

Both players suited up for the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, an organization with deep Orioles ties. They were managed by "Mr. Rochester," Joe Altobelli, who will be honored later this week with a statue outside of Frontier Field.

Baylor and Grich were 21-year-old rookies on the 1970 World Series team; they played a combined 38 games for the Birds that season. Grich is a member of the Oriole Hall of Fame.

Baylor once shared the club record by going 5-for-5 in a game. It happened on Aug. 4, 1975, in a 12-8 win against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Grich went 3-for-4 batting behind Baylor that day. Both players homered and had three RBI a piece.

Cal Ripken Jr. broke Baylor's mark on June 13, 1999, when he went 6-for-6 in a 22-1 thrashing of the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field.

Grich still holds the team record for walks in a game. He had five against the White Sox on Aug. 9, 1975, which left him with this interesting line: 0-for-0 with three runs scored.


Baltimore Orioles

Friday, August 06, 2010

Flashback Friday: Johnny Oates' contributions to the 1989 Why Not? Orioles

There are some fun historical facts related to Johnny Oates' career as a player.

He started his major league career in 1970 with a four-game hitting streak in five games for the Orioles.

He was Hank Aaron's teammate when Aaron broke Babe Ruth's career home run record.

He helped Jim Palmer to a 10-0 record in 1972 when he caught for him, leading Palmer to remark: "He was the perfect catcher for me. He was smart, always full of questions. He knew what he could do and what he couldn't. He worked so hard all the time. You have a lot of respect for somebody like that.''

Oates listed his priorities as a player as follows: "My number one goal was to catch a win. Second, I hoped for a shutout. Third, I wanted a complete game for the starter. Fourth, well, if I got a hit, that was fine."

His hitting struggles were no secret. Broadcaster Harry Carey once remarked, 'Johnny Oates just hit his annual home run.' "

Oates played two seasons in Baltimore (1970 and 1972) and 11 seasons in the majors, but he won't be remembered for his contributions to baseball as a player. The Oriole Advocates, who will honor Oates as a member of the team's Hall of Fame this weekend, correctly state, "It is for his work as a manager ... that Oates is best remembered by Baltimore fans."

Oates was Sporting News Manager of the Year with the Orioles in 1993. He replaced Frank Robinson during the 1991 season - inherting a team that had yet to win more than two consecutive games - and became Baltimore's fifth manager in seven seasons. Nevertheless, he turned two consecutive losing seasons into three consecutive winning seasons before being dismissed following the strike-shortened 1994 campaign.

After leaving Baltimore Oates led the Texas Rangers to their first post-season appearance in 1996. He shared American League Manager of the Year honors that season with Joe Torre of the New York Yankees. He added American League Division titles with Texas in '98 and '99.

He is a member of the Rangers Hall of Fame - and come this weekend - the Orioles Hall of Fame. The Rangers retired his number; the Orioles obviously have not.

All things considered, it's easy to overlook Oates's time in Baltimore, in part because he never led the team to the post-season. In many fans' minds his time as skipper likely just fills the space between memories of the beloved "Why Not?" campaign in 1989 and the team's first Wild Card appearance in 1996.

However, Oates deserves to be recognized, though he rarely is, for his role in "Why Not?" And not just because he was a coach for the team.

In 1988 Oates managed the Rochester Red Wings, the Orioles' Triple-A affiliate at the time. He earned International League Manager of the Year honors while coaching League MVP Craig Worthington and Rookie of the Year Steve Finley, both of whom contributed to the "Why Not?" effort.

Oates stood by Finley in 1988 when the outfielder got off to a slow start in Rochester and became a candidate for demotion. Here was Oates' scouting report: "I think he's ready to hit in the major leagues. He has a God-given gift of speed and intelligence. He's going to bunt, and as he gets bigger, he's going to get his 10 to 15 homers. He's going to be outstanding defensively."

Finley played 19 seasons in the majors, won five Gold Gloves, and was a two-time All Star.

Oates insisted at the winter meetings prior to the 1989 season that players like Finley, Worthington, and Bob Milacki were ready to help the parent club immediately. All three did just that, led by Milacki whose win total (14) and ERA (3.74) were both second-best on the club.

And then there's Jeff Ballard.

Ballard acknowledged that he struggled with the mental aspects of pitching, particularly as he bounced back and forth between Triple-A Rochester and Baltimore during the 1987 season. Promoted to the bigs after a fast start Ballard split time with the two teams, finishing with a 13-4 record at Triple-A and a 2-8 record in Baltimore. He then moped in the minors in 1988 after failing to make the team out of spring training. That is, until Oates pulled him from a game and told him "I don't like your attitude."

"I snapped out of it after that," Ballard said. "I realized the way I was acting wasn't helping anyone. I pitched two real good games and was called up May 19."
Ballard led the Orioles with 18 wins and a 3.43 ERA in 1989.

Ultimately, Oates understood that it was about the players and not about him. He summed up that sentiment when he was inducted into the Rangers' first Hall of Fame class alongside Nolan Ryan, Jim Sundberg and Charlie Hough.

"There's one big difference between [the other inductees] and myself," Oates said. "They're here because of what they did. I'm here because of what others did for me.''


[This post also appeared on Camden Chat on Thursday.]

Baltimore Orioles

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Background on the Buck Showalter - Johnny Oates relationship

New Orioles manager Buck Showalter earned some good-guy points out of the gate by selecting uniform number 26 to honor the late Johnny Oates. It was a simple gesture, though not as simple as it may seem.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos once called Oates, whom he fired following the strike-shortened 1994 season, "an insecure man." Oates, meanwhile, reportedly griped privately about Angelos and took to calling the owner the guy "who'd never hit a ball going more than 50 mph."

Apparently Showalter was more concerned with paying tribute to a friend and mentor than he was about offending the new boss. As Ken Rosenthal writes in a well-reported story based on his time on the O's beat, Oates kept Showalter the player on his Triple-A Columbus squad in 1983 in order to help him earn a $1,000 bonus. Showalter had played for Oates the year before at Double-A Nashville. 

Oates' decision to help Showalter was consistent with a compassion that, according to a 1991 New York Times article, almost led him to quit managing.
"Players would come to me crying," the 45-year-old Oates said Friday, the day after he was named to succeed Frank Robinson as manager of the Baltimore Orioles. "I couldn't handle situations like that. I took it personally. I knew that if I was sitting on the other side of the table, it would hurt me just like it hurt them. My wife always knew when it was cut day because I didn't go to bed."
Showalter's familiarity with Oates' compassion extended beyond that one moment in Columbus. Here's another excerpt from the '91 Times article:
Showalter, who also played for Oates at Class AA Nashville in 1982, recalled a long, tiring bus ride from Orlando, Fla., to Charlotte, N.C. The bus arrived in town in the early-morning hours, but the team was not permitted to check into its hotel until noon to save money.
"Johnny walked across the street to another hotel," Showalter said, "plunked down his own credit card and got everybody rooms."

It was the way he cared for his players, Showalter said, that impressed him the most.

"He was very sensitive to people's feelings, almost too much sometimes," he said. "He never seemed to let the coldness of the game affect him. But there was a fine line between being a good guy and someone you didn't cross. Johnny could be tough when he had to be, but at the same time it wasn't a barracks-type atmosphere."
In 2003, Showalter, whose managerial style has at times been compared to that of Oates, called his former manager "the best I ever played for."

He went on to explain to Hank Kurz Jr. of the Associated Press that his was not an offhand remark: "When you've played for so many guys and been exposed to so many people, you try to be careful with that, but Johnny, I tell you what, he's a good, solid man."

Like Showalter now does, Oates inherited a losing Orioles ball club in 1991. Oates took over for Frank Robinson after 37 games. The Orioles were in last place with a 13-24 record; they finished the season in sixth place at 67-95. Oates subsequently led Baltimore to three straight winning seasons. He was 291-270 (.519) during his time as the O's skipper.

Here are a couple of additional connections shared by Buck Showalter and Johnny Oates:

-Back in 1995 Buck Showalter was mentioned as a potential candidate for the Orioles' managerial spot after Johnny Oates was fired.
[Buck Showalter]'s three-year contract for about $900,000 runs through the end of the 1995 season. Asked yesterday whether the Yankees might grant the Orioles permission to speak to Showalter, general partner Joe Molloy said, "We probably wouldn't talk about it. Buck's been a Yankee a long time. Before the season was shortened, he was having quite a successful year. He's done an excellent job, and I'm unaware of a potential request by the Baltimore Orioles."
-The Sporting News named Johnny Oates its Manager of the Year in 1993 following an 85-77 season for the Orioles. Buck Showalter, managing the Yankees, finished a close second for the award. Showalter's Yankees finished three games ahead of Oates' Orioles in the standings. The Yankees and Orioles placed second and third, respectively, in the seven-team A.L. East.

-Jerry Narron replaced Johnny Oates as manager for the Texas Rangers when Oates resigned his post during the 2001 season. Showalter replaced Narron two seasons later.


Baltimore Orioles