"The stretch we had in September, that wasn't just coincidence. Buck had a huge part in that. And then in spring training you see the guys who are in here in the locker room, and you kinda say, 'Oh, we've got a good team.' Ever since then, it's been a different team."
Even the newer players — like Nate McLouth, who was signed to a minor league contract in June after being released by the Pirates and has become the everyday leadoff hitter and left fielder — noticed quickly that Showalter's managerial style is based on trust.
"He lets you do your thing and he trusts you to be a pro," McLouth said. "I think people appreciate being treated like they know what they're doing, not that you've got someone breathing down your neck. I definitely appreciate it as a player.
"I think that lets you play in a way where you're not afraid to make a mistake," McLouth added. "It's comforting. He keeps on an even keel regardless of the way the game's going, I think it rubs off on us. To have the same demeanor in tonight's game that I'm sure he had in the middle of May is important."
A baseball man to the core
In his previous stops, success didn't equal longevity for Showalter, as his hands-on approach made higher-ups weary and led to his departure.
Showalter acknowledges he's changed since his early days managing in New York. He's learned an honest lesson in humility throughout his managerial career — "The old expression 'Don't be so humble. You're not that good' really resonated with me," Showalter said — but some of those who have known him the longest hold Showalter in the highest regard as a dedicated baseball man who cares about his players and truly knows how to make them winners.
Orioles roving infielder instructor Bobby Dickerson played for Showalter for three seasons with the Fort Lauderdale Yankees in the Florida State League and for years has been one of Showalter's most dedicated loyalists.
"I met him 10 days into my pro baseball career," Dickerson said. "I was a utility infielder, and I felt like I was the four-hole hitter. I felt like I was the Most Valuable Player by the way he treated me in the dugout and off the field. I was just a 23rd-round utility player, and I just felt like the team couldn't function without me. That's just how I felt. I had 40 at-bats my first year, but I would run through a wall for the man."
As a player, Dickerson saw early on that Showalter was a stickler for detail, that he wanted to set an example of dedication to the game and wanted everyone around him to share that work ethic.
This season, when an early afternoon game followed a night game, Showalter stayed at the ballpark and slept on an air mattress in his office. He half-jokes that a double-wide trailer parked in Lot A at Camden Yards would be a better place to live than his home in Baltimore County. Showalter spent the only true off day of the season — the day after the All-Star Game in mid-July — driving to one of the team's lower-level minor league affiliates, the Delmarva Shorebirds, to watch reserve outfielder Endy Chavez play a rehab assignment game.
"It makes some people uncomfortable, because he's at work every day," Dickerson said. "Not a lot of people can bring it every single day. It makes people who aren't bringing it every day uncomfortable around him. You're either in or you're out. You've got to be prepared. He's going to ask your questions and put you on the spot. He's definitely looking at everything we're doing as an organization."
Showalter does his research. He knows players' statistical splits going back to college. He pores over media guides to find any personal connection to his players.
And in many ways, Baltimore was the perfect fit. He received several offers during a managing hiatus when he worked for ESPN as an analyst, but none felt right until former team president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail talked Showalter into taking over a floundering Orioles club in July 2010. The team had been outscored by 190 runs when he was hired but finished the season by winning 34 of its final 57 games.
"You look at what they've done the last couple of years since he's come aboard," Maddon said. "You can see his ability to flip their culture over there. They had to get rid of some people. They had to bring in a different style of play. They never assume anything other than the fact that they have to play to the next out. There are no assumptions going on there."
'A reason for everything he does'
With the Orioles, Showalter was given a clean palette — much as he was with the expansion Diamondbacks in 1996 — to put his imprint on the franchise. And one of his main goals was eliminating excuses. Some of it involved a physical makeover, such as the renovation of the team's spring training complex in Sarasota. Some was remaking a roster full of players who had an intangible sixth tool, hardworking players who would buy into a team mentality.
"It wasn't by accident," Showalter said. "People kind of shake their heads about us statistically and how's this happened. But people who evaluate that sixth tool know what's going on. Put that on a pie chart. I look at the wOBA [an advanced metric that stands for weighted on-base average]. I look at the WAR [wins above replacement]. There's all those tools, too. It started with ponying up for the spring training complex. That woke people up to say, 'Hey, there's something going on here.' There were no more lowly Orioles. It's all part of it, a part of our presentation."
Part of that presentation is playing fearlessly in the moment. Showalter doesn't want his players to doubt themselves or one another. He says it often: "They're no robots. I want them to be themselves."
So if a player thinks swinging on a 3-0 count can lead to a hit, or that he can steal a base, Showalter's message is clear: "Let 'er rip."