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Learning to laugh with and at Buck Showalter, Boston’s biggest troll

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I finally respect the hustle of the Sox’ biggest critic.

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles
Grizzly man.
Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

There is a quintessential Baltimore iconoclasm that I respect the hell out of, even when I don’t like it, though I usually do. Be it the work of David Simon, Ozzie Newsome or Tom Scocca, the composite male avatar of Baltimore I’ve created is dizzyingly competent at their job, unable to be pushed around and, most importantly, driven and deliberately defined by what they are not.

In Simon’s case, it’s antipathy toward Washington, however you want to define it: The swamp down the road itself, or the federal government within For Ravens General Manager Newsome, it’s antipathy toward the traditional AFC powerhouses of Pittsburgh and New England. For Scocca, a writer at no-longer-Gawker, it is and always has been The New York Times. In all cases, these magnetic poles attract and repel them in equal measure, and it works.

Buck Showalter fits as easily into this group as Manny Machado settles in at third base in his ballpark. He’s perfect for Baltimore, having been tossed around the league and the broadcast booth only to find his own level near the Inner Harbor, and he exists opposed to us.

After years of getting annoyed, I have finally come to respect the dude’s hustle. He never lets up and is consistent, transparent and sometimes even funny. If anyone can help us laugh at ourselves, it’s him.

It started in 2011, when, in the wake of the Carl Crawford signing, he took square aim at the idea that Theo Epstein was a baseball genius:

I’d like to see how smart Theo Epstein is with the Tampa Bay (Rays) payroll. You got Carl Crawford ’cause you paid more than anyone else, and that’s what makes you smarter? That’s why I like whipping their butt. It’s great, knowing those guys with the $205 million payroll are saying, ‘How the hell are they beating us?’

Epstein, who was recently named the best leader in the world by Fortune magazine (he’s not), is pretty good at putting together baseball teams, but Showalter was dead right about the Crawford deal, albeit maybe not for the right reasons. Still, he’s got a nice little bait-and-switch going here. He’s saying every win over the Red Sox is basically an act of God or something, and every loss isn’t really his fault, but he’s not saying it. He’s merely planting the idea in your head — or, if it’s already there, watering it.

He was back at it again this week, complaining that his team got the flu while pretending to complain that the Red Sox talked too much about getting the flu:

I don’t know where we are with the flu today. Everybody in the league has had that issue. I’ve had it and it’s a different strain, I’ll tell you. It lingers for a long time. Some of them seem to be a little more noteworthy, it seems like, but our guys have fought their way through it. I know we’ve got a lot of guys that aren’t 100 percent with it, but so do a lot of clubs. So nobody really wants to hear somebody else complain about it. Our guys have done a good job not broadcasting it to the world.

When asked about it yesterday as a basic collective WTF?, he turned the whole thing back on the media, per Evan Drellich, as if they were responsible for what he said:

QUESTION: Buck, with the flu, with the Red Sox . . .

SHOWALTER: The Red Sox are the only ones that have it. I didn’t know that. Nobody else has it.

QUESTION: I don’t know about that.

SHOWALTER: Everybody in the whole league’s got it. Seems to get broadcast more here. What else?

QUESTION: Well, do you think that’s because they’re seeking pity, what do you think . . .

SHOWALTER: Seeking pity, no. Everybody has challenges, like they do. No they don’t, heavens no. They’re deep. They’ve had some issues like all clubs do. Some issues of life, bereavement, whether it be paternity, whether it be sickness, whether it be injury, those are the things that people grind through. They do a great job with it.

QUESTION: You think there’d be a reasonable way for them to not talk about it as much as they did when a guy doesn’t show up?

SHOWALTER: I’d talk about it too when a guy doesn’t show up at the park, wouldn’t you? No, I’d do it the same way. Later . . . QUESTION: Buck, are you trying to needle the Red Sox?

SHOWALTER: Am I trying to needle the Red Sox? No. That’s ridiculous, but appreciate you trying to go down that road, that’s typical. QUESTION: Well, your commentary yesterday would suggest that.

SHOWALTER: No, I don’t think it would. That’s how you read it. Wasn’t meant that way. What else?

Our president would be proud of these tactics, Showalter likewise is who he is, and he’s never going to stop.

It makes sense that the Red Sox would irk him. He’s a former Yankees manager, and while I don’t know if that would naturally create enmity, a previous run of in-division games can’t help. I’d guess that he’s mostly cantankerous about the persistent, previously overwhelming Red Sox support in Camden Yards for Orioles home games, at least somewhat recently. Which, again, makes sense.

Add this up, and he’s an easy target for Red Sox fans because he wants to be. He is making himself a target and daring you to shoot. If we do it to our heroes, why not do it to our enemies, right? Wrong. I’m finally charmed, because I know that if he did this to another team, I’d love it, and I’d know it’s an act. While it seems personal, it might just be a fiction in totality, and he’s definitely leaving the possibility out there on purpose. He’s working the refs, in this case the Major League Baseball media universe, reminding them simply that the Red Sox are extensively covered and they are not.

He’s not wrong! The Sox and Orioles do exist in largely different universes. They are, however, part of the same old boys network that has hired and fired Showalter several times over, given him television jobs in between and broadly revered him, even through the extremely recent bad times. I strongly believe that his failure in the epic, historic “Zack Britton Game” — and Sam Miller’s successful, epic column afterward — has stained him with a solution that finally somehow allows me to look through the guise in totality, and see the performance for what it is.

What do I see now? I see that’s he was made for his job, and his job for him, and this performance is part of the job as he sees it. If he exists solely to remind the Red Sox and their fans — i.e. us — that we are spoiled, I can not merely respect it but learn to enjoy it, and that is both because I am spoiled, and because the alternative to his act might be worse. Twice, Showalter has been fired as a manager only to see his former team win the World Series the following year. If he’s the only thing holding them back from winning far more than the war of words... that’s something I can laugh at, I think.