Dan Duquette finds redemption with the Baltimore Orioles


The Baltimore Orioles will be gunning for their first American League pennant in 31 years as they host the Kansas City Royals in Game One of the ALCS Friday night.

And a socially awkward guy with an unfortunate haircut is running the show.

Obviously you know by now that I’m not speaking of O’s manager Buck Showalter. I’m talking about old friend Dan Duquette, the Dalton, MA native and Amherst College grad who served as GM of his hometown Boston Red Sox from 1994 to 2002, eventually chased out of town by a mob of sports radio gasbags and Steves-In-The-Car.

The same guy who inherited a moribund bunch from Lou Gorman in the mid-90’s and presided over three postseason appearances (1995, ’98, ’99). The same guy who was vilified for letting a .500 pitcher in Roger Clemens go pump steroids north of the border and a hefty Mo Vaughn fall into a dugout full of money, never to be the same.

You win some, you lose some. Duquette chose not to fight those free agent battles (perhaps an edict from the JRY Trust and John Harrington). Pedro Martinez was a great replacement for The Rocket. Jose Offerman for Vaughn? After the first year, not so much.

His penchant for scrap heap signings was exciting at first (“Bret Saberhagen! That’s a two-time Cy Young Award winner!), then began to wear thin, but it was those same scrap heap finds: Tim Wakefield, Troy O’Leary, Saberhagen and Brian Daubach, who propelled the Red Sox to a Division title and two Wild Card runs.

John, Larry and Hollywood Tom gave Duquette the ax prior to Spring Training 2002, bringing in Mike Port on an interim basis before handing the reins to wunderkind Theo Epstein.

And so Duquette embarked on a ten-year journey through the baseball wilderness. He started a sports academy. Brought an independent baseball team to Western MA. Did some community theater (fittingly, Damn Yankees). He struggled to get the Israel Baseball League off the ground. That venture ultimately closed its doors.

The Orioles, for their part, kept adding to their streak of 14 consecutive seasons under .500, including a period of six years (2006-11) when the team failed to eclipse 70 wins. Along with the Royals and Blue Jays, the Birds were the definition of second division. For the birds, indeed.

Duquette’s hiring as Orioles Executive Vice President in November 2011 raised eyebrows. Baltimore owner Peter Angelos is notoriously stingy and difficult to work with – a contributing factor within the losing culture – and it is thought that many qualified candidates looked the other way when the position became available.

But Duquette got right to work, as he always did and always does, making minor improvements, particularly to the bullpen. The Birds responded with the best record in the Majors in one-run games and scored the American League Wild Card in 2012.

No, the young stars of the team: Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and Manny Machado, are not Duquette guys. But his fingerprints are all over this edition.

While Machado and Weiters, plus slugger Chris Davis, found permanent seats on the pine due to injury and suspension, Duquette responded with the right pieces to get this team to the ALCS.

Look no further than Steve Pearce, a classic Duquette recruit, 31 years old, who accumulated a .293/.373/.556 line, 26 doubles and 21 homers in 338 at-bats after kicking around as a fringe Major Leaguer for seven years.

And while starter Ubaldo Jimenez crashed and burned in the first year of his four-year deal, Duquette scored big-time with Nelson Cruz (40 home runs, 108 RBI) on an $8 million, one-year pact.

Remember Duquette’s obsession with Korean pitchers? Wei-Yin Chen went 16-6 with a 3.54 ERA this season.

Duquette grabbed Andrew Miller from Ben Cherington’s cupboard of relievers at the deadline and Alejandro De Aza from the Pale Hose a month later. Both have been key contributors down the stretch and into the postseason.

And if you thought Delmon Young would be delivering clutch hits in the 2014 playoffs, please raise your hand. What, no hands?

Next month, Massachusetts voters will consider Question 2, a measure that would put five-cent deposits on those pesky water bottles everybody buys and wastes by the millions.

Dan Duquette, as he always has, with a bunch of nickel ballplayers, is set to cash in.