Santa Rosa native Brandon Hyde introduced as Orioles manager
BALTIMORE - As is the nature of baseball managerial unveilings, with the room ringed by team officials, the family sitting in the front row and the entire proceedings televised live, Brandon Hyde had several separate and distinct audiences Monday when the Baltimore Orioles introduced him as the 20th skipper in team history, at a midday news conference at Camden Yards.
And Hyde, the Santa Rosa native and Montgomery High School grad suddenly thrust into baseball’s national limelight, toggled between them with the sort of aplomb one might expect of a 45-year-old baseball lifer and former minor-league catcher who had spent the last four years on Joe Maddon’s coaching staff with the Chicago Cubs.
For the evening news cameras, he shed a few tears as he thanked his wife and kids. For the assembled reporters, he fired off snappy lines - “I’m going to be myself,” he answered to a question of what type of manager he will be - and touted his humble beginnings as an undrafted free agent whose playing career ended in independent ball.
“I was an average to below-average minor league player that had to work for everything he got,” Hyde said. “Started [in coaching] as a single-A hitting coach hoping to someday be a big league coach, with no expectations. I just wanted to work and get players better.”
For his new employers, including new Orioles General Manager Mike Elias, who sat to his left, Hyde stressed his communication skills and willingness to work hand-in-hand with the front office to advance a shared vision.
“The buzzword,” he said, “is collaboration.”
And to the Orioles’ exasperated yet fiercely loyal fans, who have endured all sorts of indignities of late, lowlighted by a franchise-record 115 losses in 2018, he tossed large chunks of red meat, with a series of nods to the franchise’s rich tradition - a big piece of which sat directly in front of him, in the form of Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson, now a special adviser and ambassador for the Orioles.
“Brooks Robinson is sitting here,” Hyde said, nodding at Robinson in the front row. “I’m in my new office, and there’s pictures of Earl Weaver and Cal Ripken Sr. [on the walls]. To be around history, and be involved in a city like Baltimore is a dream come true.”
But this wasn’t your average managerial unveiling - at least not for Baltimore. There was plentiful talk of advanced analytics, “R and D” (research and development) departments and the free flow of ideas - a radical departure from the Orioles’ ethos under general manager Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter, who both lost their jobs after this year’s 47-115 debacle, and whose regime was regarded as one of the least analytically inclined (and collaborative, for that matter) in the industry.
“We’re going to create a culture here of open thinking, free conversation, creative ideas,” Hyde said.
Elias didn’t know Hyde before launching the Orioles’ managerial search, but said the latter’s name was literally the first one he heard when he started polling old friends and colleagues across the game for potential candidates and the one he kept hearing as he made more and more calls. The Orioles interviewed a total of six candidates, including some (Manny Acta, Mike Redmond) with previous big league managerial experience, before settling upon Hyde last week during the annual winter meetings.
“He’s an up-and-coming star in our business,” Elias said of Hyde.
In the position Hyde played at Long Beach State and the low minors (catcher), in his front-office background (he was the Cubs’ director of player development before joining the big league coaching staff) and in his reputation as a communicator, Hyde, at least as presented Monday, resembles no one in baseball so much as A.J. Hinch.
And that is surely no accident, as Elias, who joined the Orioles last month as Duquette’s replacement, came over from the Houston Astros, where Hinch has been the manager since 2015, and where the collaboration - to use Hyde’s “buzzword” - between the highly progressive front office and the on-field coaching staff is considered an industry model and a key to that franchise’s recent success.
“He’s someone with a reputation and experience in connecting with players, communicating very openly with players [and] empathizing with players, which is very important in today’s game,” Elias, 35, said of Hyde. “But he also has the same view I do: that this is a partnership between the front office and coaching staff.” He would later say he views the manager’s chair as an “outpost of the front office.”
Hyde’s tenure with the Cubs, another highly progressive organization in its embrace of advanced analytics, presumably will have prepared him well for working under Elias and his lieutenants - one of whom, assistant GM for analytics Sig Mejdal, the former NASA engineer who built the Astros’ analytics department into arguably the best in the industry before joining Elias in Baltimore, worked alongside Elias in the managerial interview process.
“We’re both from progressive organizations, forward thinkers, so we kind of fit in that mold,” Hyde said of Elias and himself. “(With) the Cubs, we put a lot of stock in the R and D department (and where) the coaches have great relationships with the analytics guys.”
Notably, both Elias, with the Astros, and Hyde, with the Cubs, are well-versed in the tear-down-and-rebuild model the Orioles are now embracing. Both the Cubs and Astros, in the early part of this decade, stripped down and bottomed out with 100-loss seasons, then turned the high draft picks and financial savings, several years and many fortuitous developments later, into World Series championships.
Asked if he could put a timetable on the Orioles’ return to contention, Hyde proved himself too smart to fall into that trap, wisely declining to be specific.
“No, I think we’re going to do this one step at a time. We understand where we are,” he said, moving his gaze across the room and shifting his target audience in mid-sentence from the reporter who asked the question to the boss sitting to his left, “and we’re going to be process-based.”