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C. Fraser Smith: Lessons for us all from Orioles

ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” began with footage of a ski jumper sliding off the side of a ramp ignominiously if not injuriously.

The Baltimorean Jim McKay — the solid, personable Bob Costas of his time — would be ready to begin.

Once again, we were about to witness “the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat.”

I have wondered since Tuesday night if we in Baltimore have ever had the two moments — thrill and agony — so jarringly juxtaposed?

I refer to the sudden fall of Ray Rice and the seemingly inexorable rise of the Orioles. We are as distressed by the former as we are elated by the latter.

There’s a bit of whiplash in it. But also another example of how sports can ennoble or humiliate.

As the Rice matter continues to unfold, we are treated to Orioles magic turning into something like routine.

We know it all can turn to ashes. And that’s part of the thrill. We’re living on the edge. We are watching a team find a way to get the job done night after night. We are seeing the abstraction of team made real with drama and even elan.

It seems to me that focusing on the Orioles for this moment could be not only thrilling, but also valuable. There are transferable lessons about leadership in this story — as if all the PR and hype about character-building and life were real and true and applicable to much of what goes on in our community.

What the O’s have done seems largely if not entirely due to the kind of leadership we see from the team’s manager, Buck Showalter. The baseball operations executive Dan Duquette is obviously part of the transformative chemistry. The thrill of victory is not there without both of them.

We may be a bit leery of too close an examination of the actual ingredients. Leadership is, as we know, abstract and airy. You know it when you see it, though. Showalter has it.

As a fan (not a reporter covering the team), I suggest these factors.

Trust: Showalter knows and appreciates the talents of his players — and never fails to publicly acknowledge them. If there is more bracing commentary between player and manager, it comes in the manager’s room. No one seems to hold a grudge or sulk.

Attitude: Things have looked grim this year. We lose All-Stars, three of them. Surely, the end is near. But before full panic sets in, here comes another contributor.

Believing: Finding ways to win. The rules have allowed these two leaders to expand their roster by the hundreds. They’ve created what the late Orioles manager Earl Weaver called “deep depth.” Some of the call-ups have been so good you wonder why they didn’t arrive in the “bigs” sooner.

The baseball fanatic Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg says he has learned something this year — something he had missed or misunderstood over the 40 years of his association with the Orioles as a fan.

“This year, we’ve learned that it’s not just the 25 guys you bring north at the end of spring training, but how you tinker and upgrade at the roster by design or necessity when you have guys get hurt or get suspended it’s so crucial to the success of this team,” he said.

What the Orioles have understood might well be transferable. Businesses, nonprofits, churches, police departments, school systems — almost any organization could learn something from these guys.

So build trust in your organization by knowing what you’re doing. You have to work hard at your calling, your job, your livelihood. The people who work for you will work harder if they see you working hard, making smart decisions — and trusting them to do their work.

Appreciate them the way Buck appreciates. He’s demanding, but what he wants is effort and professionalism.

He’s getting it because he expects it — and respects it.

Think about it.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst at WYPR-FM. His column appears Fridays in the Daily Record. His email address is fsmith@wypr.org.