We’ve all heard the narrative: Dan Duquette constructed the core of the 2004 Red Sox. Before Boy Genius Theo Epstein climbed aboard, the departed GM had imported Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, Jason Varitek, Derek Lowe, Tim Wakefield and Johnny Damon via trade or free agency. All of these players and personalities played key roles on the comeback trail to the World Series championship.
Obviously, it takes more than a good team on paper to win The Big One, and there are a number of reasons the Red Sox didn’t go all the way during Duquette’s tenure, some related to the GM himself. But more than a decade after being chased from Boston by pitchfork-wielding media members and a new ownership group, Duquette’s current team, the Baltimore Orioles, sits atop the AL East. Things that make you go “Hmmm…”
Following his eight year tenure with the Red Sox, Duquette spent much of the next decade in baseball exile. This included time with the now-defunct Israel Baseball League, efforts with a Pittsfield Can-Am League franchise (also now defunct), opening up a sports academy (which was successful), and a notable part in a Western MA community theater production of Damn Yankees. Regrettably, “more days in first place” and “professional hitter” were not reported to be among his selected lines.
By the time the Orioles hired Duquette, he was seemingly way off the radar, his reputation as a highly-regarded executive bleached by the intense spotlight of Boston and the short memories of fans. And yet, in Duquette’s first season, the Orioles won. After 14 straight years out of the playoffs, they improved their record by 24 wins and made a surprise playoff run. Last year, a regression to the mean still netted 85 victories. And this year, they’re three games up on the second-place Yankees and Blue Jays, nine games ahead of the scuffling Red Sox. All of this despite Peter Angelos’ notorious reputation as a tightwad. All of this with Dan Duquette at the helm.
By comparison, Duquette’s successors in Boston (not including the one-year term of Mike Port), the younger, slicker Theo Epstein and Ben Cherington, now the respective GMs of the Cubs and Red Sox, preside over teams that are sitting in the basement.
Duquette hasn’t tried to rewrite the script in his tenure with the Orioles. He’s still the king of the scrap heap, and even All-Star Nelson Cruz, on a one-year deal for $8 million, qualifies as one of those signings in today’s game. Despite metrics suggesting the Orioles have been exceedingly lucky, Duquette has chased late-inning “luck” by employing talented relief pitchers with diverse skill sets. And he still has an unhealthy fascination with the Far East, but even that resulted in the signing of Wei-Yin Chen, who’s been consistently effective in his three years with the team.
For all of Duquette’s foibles, real or perceived, his teams in Boston won baseball games. His teams in Baltimore are doing the same. And while Epstein’s Cubs undergo a major roster renovation and Cherington contemplates the idea of buying or selling next week, the Orioles appear primed for a playoff run. The resurrection of Dan Duquette continues.