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Salutes to My Sportsmen of the Year: Buck Showalter and Bruce Bochy

Pitchers and catchers are only 45 days away (or less) from reporting to spring training, but on the last day of 2012 I still feel like looking back at the 2012 major league season. Though neither BRUCE BOCHY nor BUCK SHOWALTER even won the manager of the year award in their respective leagues, I consider them my Sportsmen of the Year.

The state of Maryland agrees because at the end of December the Baltimore Sun named Showalter its Maryland Man of the Year. It was a deserving accolade even though Showalter was nipped for the American League Manager of the Year award by the Oakland A's skipper Bob Melvin. In its way Melvin's A's were just as surprising as the Orioles' flip-flopping their 2011 record of 69-93 to 93-69 in 2012. After all, Melvin's squad did win the AL West division over the defending AL champion Texas Rangers before falling to the eventual pennant winner Detroit in a tough five-game series.

Yet what Showalter did for the fan base of the long-suffering Baltimore area fans makes his award so appropriate. Just about every strategy and action Showalter has taken since he took the Orioles' helm in August 2010 has turned out right.

**First he chose the number #26 in honor of the late Orioles manager Johnny Oates who went on to later success managing the Texas Rangers (though Oates was destined to fall short in front of the late 1990s Yankee dynasty).

**Showalter then took under his wing the Orioles' young core - center fielder ADAM JONES, right fielder NICK MARKAKIS and catcher MATT WIETERS. He told them that as long as they played hard and smart, he had their back. Though the team disappointed in 2011, Buck's first full year of managing in Baltimore, this solid core and some surprising pitchers and role players were ready to emerge in 2012.

Who knows whether the Orioles can repeat their wonderful year in 2013? We all know they need a consistent big bat to take the pressure off the pitchers who came through better than anyone could have imagined in 2012. So far no arms have been traded to obtain that elusive bat but there is plenty of time to go before the Opening Day bell in late March. And
"you never can have too much pitching," saith the late PAUL RICHARDS the baseball sage who built the modern Orioles after 1954.

Toronto and Boston have virtually new teams in 2013 and the Blue Jays especially seem loaded with the fire sale of ex-Miami Marlins now dotting their roster, esp. potential staff leaders MARK BUEHRLE and JOSH JOHNSON and flashy shortstop JOSE REYES to combine with the former Oriole/Pirate JOSE BAUTISTA who has emerged as a bona fide slugger since arriving in Toronto.

Yet let's not just yet give the pennant to the Blue Jays. And take this time to salute again Maryland's man of the Year Buck Showalter who brought pride and solid baseball back to Baltimore. He is still chasing that elusive pennant and World Series title and I for one am rooting for him to win it all at last.

Meanwhile in the National League former Oriole second baseman and manager DAVEY JOHNSON won the Manager of the Year award for leading the Washington Nationals to the best record in baseball with 98 wins. The Giants' skipper Bruce Bochy was an afterthought in the voting that incidentally is held after the end of the regular season and before the playoffs start.

Yet Bochy deserves accolades even if he doesn't seek them. All he has done in the last three years is win two World Series, the first two ever for the city of San Francisco. And who knows if he might have made it three in a row if his star catcher BUSTER POSEY hadn't been lost for most of 2011 after a horrendous collision with a base runner sliding into home plate?

Like so many great managers Bochy was a catcher in his playing days. He was a 10-year career backup who learned a lot about managing men from his days in the dugout. Let's not forget he played for the San Diego Padres in the 1984 World Series and led them as manager into the 1998 Fall Classic even though they were swept by the Yankees.

He is the only World Series-winning manager to be born in a foreign country - in France to an Army officer who was stationed there. There is no doubt that his military background and long dues-paying career as a backup have been put to good use.

So let us hail my Sportsmen of the Baseball Year even if they lost out as managers of the year. That's all for 2012. See you early next year and remember always: Take it easy but take it.
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