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March 15, 2011

John Hart talks Orioles, Showalter, MacPhail

The MLB Network’s “30 Clubs in 30 Days” will feature the Orioles in an hourlong segment that will first run Wednesday night at 8 and again Thursday at 10 a.m. and noon.

The piece features Paul Severino as host, Lisa Kerney as reporter and Dan Plesac and John Hart as analysts.

Thanks to MLB Network, I had a chance to talk with Hart on Tuesday to get his thoughts about the Orioles and manager Buck Showalter, whom Hart, a former big league general manager, hired in Texas before the 2003 season.

Because he was his boss for several years, few people know Showalter like Hart does. Hart was contacted by Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail last summer when he was considering hiring Showalter. And Hart gave Showalter a ringing endorsement.

Hart, 62, also has been speculated as a possibility to replace MacPhail if this is the club president’s last season running the team. Hart has deep Orioles roots. In the 1980s, he was a minor league manager and then major league coach (1988) in the Orioles' organization. He’s never hidden his love for the Orioles, the club that gave him his start.

Right now, though, he is working for MLB Network and remains a special adviser to the Rangers.

We covered a variety of subjects. Here’s a chunk of the interview:

Hart on Showalter: “My experience with Buck was just spectacular. Obviously, he is very smart, a tireless worker. He is always prepared. He does care about his players. There were just no kinks in the armor. … I have known him for a long time, working with him day to day for four years, and I see nothing but positives with Buck.”

On the Orioles’ decision to hire Showalter: “Managers can only do so much. I just really think he was the right guy at the right time for the organization. He has enough experience and enough passion to really get the Orioles back to what they used to stand for. … There is a long road to get back to where it was, and if it is going to get done, this is the guy that can do it.”

On what the Orioles must do to compete in the AL East: “It’s a matter of building a superior development program. I think Tampa Bay holds the secret over there as to what certain markets need to do. The Orioles are not nearly as economically challenged as Tampa. … The key for me is building the steady flow of talent. They need to draft well. They need to be a big player internationally. They have to have top-shelf scouts, a frontline development program … They have got to out-scout and out-coach and out-teach and not be afraid to jump in and take the best player available and compete with other teams when the dollars aren’t that big. … At some point, to sustain success, you have to retain your star players once you get them and … when the right free agent presents itself, if it all works out, you have to do it.”

On Orioles catcher Matt Wieters: “I think let’s slow down the Hall of Fame train, slow down the train to Cooperstown. That’s not easy for anybody, but I think Wieters is a cornerstone player. I like the power he has, but he is not a 40-homer guy. But he still has a chance to be a premium offensive catcher.”

On the Orioles' young core: “I think there is a nice core, I really do. There’s some pieces in play; you just need more, you need to keep them coming.”

On his current employment: “It’s a great situation. I am still connected to the Rangers, I am able to be a part of the club, and I will always be affiliated with them one way or another. MLB Network has been great for me. ... It keeps me right on top of my game. It keeps me as connected -- or even more so than I was as a GM -- to all 30 teams.”

On whether he’d be a GM again: “That’s a hard one to answer. It has to be the right situation. … I was able to step away on my own terms at the right time for me. I have had other opportunities, but they were not the right fit for me. … It would have to be what I would consider the right fit, the right opportunity, the right situation. I never rule anything out, but it is not like I am out looking for a job.”

On his thoughts when his name was connected to the Orioles this winter: “I took that all with a grain of salt. Quite frankly, I was excited with Buck [taking the managerial job] and I have a great relationship with Andy. I have known him for the better part of 25 years. I have great respect for him, and he’s done some good things this winter and he’ll be there as long as Andy so chooses. For me, it’s been kind of, 'take things tongue and cheek.' A lot more goes into [becoming a GM] than ‘John and Buck are close, and John has ties with the Orioles.’ There’s a lot more to it. So you have to take it with a grain of salt. I really don’t pay much attention to it at all.”

On the Orioles in general: “I think the ship has been righted, and it makes me feel good. It’s been sad for me to see [the continual losing] going on. I loved them in the '60s and the '70s when ‘The Orioles Way’ had teeth. I had the great fortune to spend time with Earl [Weaver] and Cal [Ripken Sr.] and [George] Bamberger. A lot of pride was taken in what those Orioles stood for.”

On the 2011 Orioles’ chances: “Here’s what I do see: I see them being relevant. People going in to play the Orioles … will have their hands full. They will not win every game, they will be outmanned at times, but they will never be out-prepared. … For me, I think they are a .500 club and they could be better if that pitching is as good as you hope.”

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Posted by Dan Connolly at 11:52 PM | | Comments (6)


I have to agree. .500 is realistic. But Andy needs to stay on top of things this year. No more Bulle Rocke trips for Andy!

This is the first hint I've seen that MacPhail might be leaving. Is there such talk? He hasn't been a perfect GM but he has been the best we've had since Pat Gillick, and I'd hate to see him go without a good replacement.

Also, can we please get rid of that non-hitting birther, so I can use my own First Amendment rights to heckle him every at-bat?

I wouldn't say there is talk MacPhail is leaving. In fact, owner Peter Angelos said this spring that Andy is going nowhere if it is up to Angelos. But since MacPhail's contract expires at season's end, there has been some speculation about what happens if Andy leaves (on his own or doesn't have his contract renewed). And since Hart's name has been bandied about, I figured it was worth asking

I figure Buck wants to go upstairs and Willie is the manager-in-waiting. All once MacPhail goes to be commissioner.

"In fact, owner Peter Angelos said this spring that Andy is going nowhere if it is up to Angelos."

I have to agree with you Section 34. Andy keeps a healthy bottom line for Ole Pete and he is very good at working over the media. He is going to be here for a long long long long time. :=(

"Andy keeps a healthy bottom line for Ole Pete and he is very good at working over the media."

Yes, Jeff and Dan, Brummie is ripping you guys for not being harder on Andy. Aren't you glad he showed up here? What an immense pleasure.

I really do think that, if they remain healthy, the Orioles could win as many as 85 - 88 games this year. Their pitching will continue to emerge and they are going to hit/score more runs with their new line-up. With all the one year contracts, I am sure that AM is thinking that if things don't work out, he can always trade some bats for prospects. If all goes as planned, the Orioles could wind up third behind Boston and Toronto, and ahead of New York and Tampa.

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About the bloggers
A Baltimore native, Dan Connolly has been covering sports for 14 years, and baseball and the Orioles for 10 seasons, including the past six with The Sun. His first year covering baseball on a daily basis was Cal Ripken Jr.'s final season as a player. It's believed that is just a coincidence.

Steve Gould is an assistant sports editor for The Sun, overseeing Orioles coverage. The Columbia native joined The Sun as a sports copy editor in 2006 after graduating from the University of Maryland.

Peter Schmuck has been covering baseball for a lot longer than Steve Gould has been on this earth. He is now a general sports columnist, but has been a beat writer covering three major league teams (the Dodgers, Angels and Orioles) and also spent a decade as the Sun's national baseball writer. If you want more of his insight on the Orioles and other sports issues, check out his personal blog -- The Schmuck Stops Here.

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