Sellinger School professor serves as O's advisor during first winning season in 14 years
Manny Machado wasn’t the only new Baltimore Oriole this year.
In December new Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette asked his friend Steve Walters, Ph.D., to serve as the team’s economic advisor.
And—after being released from his contract with the Chicago Cubs—the Loyola professor of economics agreed.
So is Walters responsible for the team’s first trip to the playoffs in 14 years?
“I joke about that,” he said. “Obviously in any kind of situation, there are thousands of people who deserve a lot of credit.”
Hats off to…
There are the members of the former Orioles administration who hired Buck Showalter as manager in 2010 and added key players to the team, of course. Some of the players have stepped up their play. And the team has also had its share of luck. “Injuries happened and some guys surprise you by being better than you expect,” Walters said. “We’ve been kind of lucky in that the Red Sox hired the wrong manager.”
Walters’ most significant role may have been in helping bring Duquette, the former general manager of the Montreal Expos and the Boston Red Sox, to Baltimore. Walters had worked with Duquette when he was working for the Red Sox.
Although Duquette had been Major League Baseball’s Executive of the Year twice, he hadn’t taken another position since leaving the Red Sox in 2002. He was perfectly content to live in New England, serve as a consultant, and oversee the sports academy he founded.
“I nudged him in the direction of applying,” Walters said. “The one thing I can take credit for is telling him, ‘You really need to go for this job. You are what the team needs.’”
Building a team
In his role as economic advisor, Walters has helped Duquette make decisions about which players to keep, trade, and acquire. While many analysts and sportswriters recommended trading key veterans in order to accumulate prospects for a future pennant run, Walters argued that there were players who were worth keeping.
“We inherited a lot of this talent, but we decided to keep it,” he said. “We’ve got a really good core of guys we knew were going to improve.”
Walters has served as a consultant to three Major League Baseball teams. When he heads to Camden Yards, he’s going to enjoy himself, but he’s also going to work.
“Dan will be in the general manager’s box and he’ll be chewing on problems. If we’re talking business, anything can be on the table,” Walters said. “He obsesses about the big league team, but also about the farm clubs, staffing payrolls, even ticket prices. Are we doing the right thing by our fans so we’re filling as many seats as we can?”
Duquette was determined to be aggressive and to help the team end the season with more wins than losses—which the Orioles will, in fact, do.
Working for the Orioles, where younger generations of Marylanders have never known a winning team, Walters recognizes the challenges in bringing those fans back to the game.
“That’s one of the difficulties we have here. We’ll draw two million people, but the last winning season we drew 3.7 million people,” he said. “People form their habits.”
A fresh slate
During one conference call Duquette and his advisors were discussing some of the many challenges the operation faced. And one advisor said they needed to stop thinking of everything they couldn’t do. “We’ve got to think of every little improvement we can make,” the advisor said.
That approach has led them through the season. And, with a history of losing seasons behind them, the Orioles operation has been open to ideas.
“That’s the silver lining here, if there is one in 14 losing seasons,” Walters said. “No one says, ‘That’s just not the way we do it here,’ so we’ve never had to be snarky and say, ‘Well, how’s that working out for you?’”
So what are they doing right? The recipe for success is simple, Walters said.
“You find talent, you make the talent you have better, and you win games.”
As the season winds down, the team—and its fans—are getting even hungrier for victory. But no matter how the season ends, Walters is looking forward to next year.
“The franchise,” he said, “is situated for a big step forward.”