What a difference a year makes. This time last year, the Orioles were 1-5. The hope and enthusiasm that came with Opening Day quickly faded into misery and despair. The Orioles were once again bringing up the rear in the American League East. Despite new acquisitions and a relatively impressive roster, thirteen years of losing was not going to change.
Fast forward to Tuesday, August 3, 2010. The team limped along with a 32-73 record. Dave Trembley was long gone as Orioles’ Manager and Interim Manager Juan Samuel was being sent back to coaching third base. The small crowds that still turned out to Camden Yards were either the last of the diehard fans or the out-of-towners that called the ballpark “Fenway South” or “the House that Jeter Built.” But something was different this warm August night…there was a new face in the dugout…and a new sense that maybe…just maybe…things were going to change. The boss had finally arrived.
Yes, we love Buck. We love the billboards along I-395; we love his TV ads explaining how he handles a young pitcher; we love the way he leans on the dugout fence watching the game with those piercing eyes; and we especially love the way he reminds us of Earl Weaver. Yes, we love that. We even love the gigantic banner hanging from the side of the Warehouse asking us, “Are You Ready?” We’re buying Buck t-shirts and even wearing foam antlers to the games. But why?
The answer is simple. Baltimore loves the guy that delivers what he promises, doesn’t make excuses, and goes out and does his job. We love the guy with confidence. That’s why we loved Johnny Unitas, Earl Weaver and Davey Johnson. Why we’re so fond of John Harbaugh and why we’re crazy for Ray Lewis. Baltimore loves a hard worker with a little swagger.
But this fascination with Buck is even a little more. In his book, The Colts’ Baltimore, Michael Olesker reminds us of a time when Baltimore was in the shadow of the major cities along the East Coast. “A municipal inferiority complex” he called it…”New York nightlife meant Rogers and Hammerstein on Broadway, and Baltimore’s meant strippers on the Block.” There was New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington…and this little blue-collar Baltimore. We were, “just a town on the way to another town.” The Colts’ triumph over the New York Giants in the 1958 NFL Championship game changed that. It was the story of David over Goliath. It was the story of hardworking men that got the job done. Unitas and the Colts gave us a reason to be proud and they gave us a little swagger…at least for a time.
The past fourteen years have not been easy for Orioles’ fans. In that time New York, Boston and Philadelphia have all won Championships…seven in fact. Buck hasn’t given us a Championship. He hasn’t even given us a winning season. But Buck has given Baltimore a reason to hold our heads up. He is one of us…just as much as if he’d grown up on the streets of Highlandtown, Glen Burnie, or south Baltimore. He’s proof that the right manager can make a difference…that the Orioles can compete in the A.L. East. He’s given us a reason to be proud and a reason to return to the Yard. Let’s hope this love affair continues!
Shawn Herne is the Chief Curator for the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation, Inc