Atlanta ended a four-year playoff drought under Brian Snitker, the former Mississippi Braves manager, and ex-Jackson Mets skipper Clint Hurdle kept Pittsburgh in contention well into September. That’s the good. For the other five Mississippi-connected managers in the big leagues, 2018 was mostly bad – if not downright ugly. Toronto, two years removed from a playoff berth, collapsed, and it has already been announced that former JaxMets catcher John Gibbons won’t be back as skipper in 2019. Ole Miss alum Mickey Callaway’s first year as New York Mets manager was undermined in large part by injuries. Long out of contention, the team is 75-84. Ex-JaxMets infielder Ron Gardenhire, a veteran manager but new to Detroit, kept an undermanned club afloat for a while, but the Tigers (64-95) ultimately sank. Then there’s Ned Yost. Yost’s Kansas City club is a ghastly 57-102 in the former JaxMets catcher’s ninth season at the helm. Yost is the franchise’s all-time winningest manager and won the World Series just three years ago. He survived a terrible fall from a tree stand last November, and he apparently will survive the team’s plummet in the standings this season. No team has fallen harder than Buck Showalter’s Baltimore Orioles, and the former Mississippi State star won’t be back in 2019, according to several credible reports. The second all-time winningest manager in Baltimore history, Showalter watched the Orioles tumble – and tumble and tumble — to 46-112. This is his ninth season with the O’s, the fourth team he has managed. His contract expires next month. He said in a session with the media on Thursday that he hasn’t been told anything about his future, isn’t thinking about it right now and is simply grateful to the organization for the opportunity he’s been given.
At the outset of the 2018 season, a sports betting agency made Baltimore’s Buck Showalter the odds-on favorite to be the first manager fired. That dubious honor went instead to Cincinnati’s Bryan Price. Showalter, the former Mississippi State star in his 20th year as a big league manager, hangs on despite what has been a truly awful first three months on the heels of a bad 2017. The team Showalter brings to Atlanta for an interleague series starting tonight is 21-52, worst record in MLB. That’s a .288 winning percentage. Showalter’s previous worst finish was a .401 in 1998 with Arizona, which was playing its inaugural season. And these Orioles figure to get worse: Stars Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Zach Britton, pending free agents, are expected to be traded. Showalter, 62, is also in the final year of his contract, as is Dan Duquette, the O’s VP for baseball operations. As bad as things are in Birdland, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of hue and cry about firing Showalter. Perhaps ownership is just going to let him go out with a whimper, a relatively dignified end. The Orioles are the fourth team Showalter has managed, and he was fired from the previous three jobs though he had good years at each one. This is his ninth season with Baltimore, far and away his longest stint. He has won over 1,500 games – 643 with the O’s — and three manager of the year awards. Despite a lack of postseason success, he should get Hall of Fame consideration someday. It would be sad to see his career end with such a dismal season, but it may be headed that way. P.S. At the start of the season, few would have bet Atlanta would be in first place in the National League East in late June. Yet Brian Snitker, the former Mississippi Braves skipper and another of the seven Mississippi-connected managers in MLB, has steered this young club to a 43-30 mark. They’ve shown no signs of slowing down. M-Braves alum Sean Newcomb, an emerging ace, starts tonight. He is 8-2 with a 2.70 ERA; O’s starter Alex Cobb, one of team’s biggest disappointments, is 2-9, 7.14.
It’s not the ballot people are talking about today, but, hey: Mississippi State alum Buck Showalter is a candidate for Manager of the Year in the American League. He is a finalist, along with Terry Francona and Jeff Banister, for the award given by the baseball writers. The winner will be announced next Tuesday. Showalter, who has won the award three times (including 2014), steered Baltimore to a wild card berth out of the hyper-competitive AL East, exceeding the expectations of virtually every preseason prediction. Showalter has been with Baltimore for seven seasons, longer than he stayed at any of his previous three managerial stops. With 547 wins, he trails only the legendary Earl Weaver on the Orioles’ list of winningest managers. Showalter hasn’t had a lot of playoff success, but in the current state of MLB, just getting in is a big deal. P.S. Former Southwest Mississippi Community College star Kade Scivicque is batting .346 (9-for-26) with three RBIs in the Arizona Fall League. Scivicque, acquired by Atlanta from Detroit late last season, finished 2016 with the Mississippi Braves and could be back with the Double-A club next spring. The 6-foot, 225-pound catcher batted .282 with six homers in high-A for the Tigers. … David Goforth, the Ole Miss alum from Meridian, is pitching for Lara in the Venezuelan Winter League. Goforth, who has made 30 MLB appearances with Milwaukee the past two years, had a 4.91 ERA in Triple-A in 2016.
You can argue that the win-or-go-home wild card game isn’t fair – but it sure is fun to watch. Former Mississippi State star Buck Showalter, still seeking his first World Series appearance in his 18th season as an MLB manager, takes his Baltimore Orioles into Toronto’s rowdy Rogers Centre tonight with this one shot at moving on in the postseason. The Blue Jays, managed by former Jackson Mets star John Gibbons, were widely regarded as a favorite in the American League East heading into the season. Showalter’s O’s weren’t supposed to be here. Sports Illustrated in its preseason preview ranked Baltimore 14th in the 15-team league. But a power-hitting lineup and a great bullpen carried the club to an 89-73 record and into the playoffs for the third time in Showalter’s seven years at the Orioles helm. Showalter has won 52 percent of his games – over 1,400 all told — and three manager of the year awards. He’s a Hall of Fame candidate. But his resume is missing a ring. He’ll try to take a step in that direction tonight in an elimination game. Note, too, that there is a history of testiness in this rivalry. As a fan, what more can you ask for?
Among the words of wisdom attributed to Buck Showalter is this tidy catchphrase: “You have to be brilliant at the basics.” As it applies to baseball, that’s an absolute. And most of Showalter’s teams have been brilliant at the basics, including his 2014 Baltimore club, which won the American League East in a runaway and earned the former Mississippi State star his third manager of the year award. Showalter never played in the major leagues, but he was a better player than some might realize. At State in 1977, he set a single-season batting average record when he hit .459. The New York Yankees thought enough of Showalter’s skills to draft him in the fifth round. He hit .294 as a minor leaguer, but the Yankees had other plans for him. He became a minor league manager in their system in 1985 and by 1990 was on the big-league coaching staff. He took the reins as manager in 1992. Over 16 seasons, his MLB managerial record is 1,259-1,161, a solid .520 winning percentage, and he has now won three manager of the year awards (in 10-year increments, oddly enough). He hasn’t had much postseason success: 9-13 overall in four appearances. Showalter, 58, might need a World Series crown to garner Hall of Fame consideration, and the Orioles might have the talent to deliver one in the next couple of years. If that does happen, brilliance at the basics will be the underlying reason.
In 1994, Buck Showalter won the American League manager of the year award with the New York Yankees. In 2004, the former Mississippi State standout won the award again with the Texas Rangers. So now it’s 2014, and at the All-Star break, Showalter has his Baltimore Orioles in first place in the AL East, defying preseason predictions that had the O’s finishing closer to the bottom in a strong division. Could another manager of the year award be in the offing? The Orioles have a nice array of hitters — Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Nick Markakis, Manny Machado, et al. — but could use some pitching help, especially if they hope to make any noise in October. What Showalter surely would like more than a managerial award is to make the postseason — and then make a playoff run. Despite a .517 winning percentage over 16 seasons as an MLB skipper, Showalter, 58, has made just three playoff appearances (1995 Yankees, ’99 Arizona Diamondbacks and ’12 Orioles) and never seen his club get past the division series. That’s a trend he’d like to buck. His best team might have been the ’94 Yankees, who were 70-43 when the season was halted by the players’ strike. The core of that team won the World Series in 1996, but Showalter had moved on by that time, fired after the ’95 season. He was also canned in Texas in 2005, one year after winning the managerial award there. Showalter is in his fifth season in Baltimore, which is longer than he stayed at any of his previous three stops. Maybe this is his team and this is his time. P.S. Zack Cozart isn’t hitting much for Cincinnati. The Ole Miss product is batting .233 with two homers, 22 RBIs and 30 runs in 90 games. But the reason the playoff-hungry Reds keep him in the lineup can be seen in another set of numbers. Cozart, in his third season as Cincy’s shortstop, has a .982 fielding percentage (seven errors in 393 chances) and leads all National League shortstops with a 2.2 Defensive Wins Above Replacement rating. Former Mississippi Braves star Andrelton Simmons, by comparison, has a 1.4 DWAR for Atlanta.