With 'right ingredients,' Hyde turns O's from 100-loss to 100-win team

October 5th, 2023

BALTIMORE -- “Should I take the job?”

In need of guidance in mid-December 2018, Brandon Hyde sought advice. He was offered the position of Orioles manager, meaning he could get his first opportunity to lead a big league club. But Baltimore was in the infant stages of a rebuild that would likely require quite a bit of time and commitment.

There was no guarantee the Orioles were necessarily even on the right track to future success.

So Hyde, the Cubs’ bench coach at the time, turned to his manager/mentor Joe Maddon, who offered no hesitation in his response.

“Of course, you should take the job, and know that you’re going to get your ass kicked. It’s going to happen,” Maddon said, recently recalling the conversation. “But you must take the job, because it’s a perfect opportunity to impart your thumbprint on this whole organization. It’s wide open. ... Take everything you’ve learned and put it into play.”

Hyde accepted Baltimore’s offer, then went to work. Less than five years later, he’s the manager of the best team in the American League -- one that won 101 games in the 2023 regular season and will be ending a seven-year postseason drought when it hosts Texas in Game 1 of the AL Division Series at Camden Yards on Saturday afternoon.

It wasn’t easy to reach this point, though. Hyde’s Orioles took a lot of lumps along the way.

“It’s tough to get beat up,” Hyde said.

At this point, he knows that much better than nearly anyone else.

The background

Hyde is the definition of a baseball lifer. The 50-year-old from Santa Rosa, Calif., has held about every role in the sport.

College catcher (1997 at Long Beach State University). Minor League catcher (1997-2001). Minor League hitting coach (2003-04). Minor League manager (2005-09). Minor League field coordinator (2010 and ‘12). Director of player development (2012-13). Major League bench coach (2010-11, ‘14, ‘18). Major League first-base coach (2015-17).

“He’s done every single damn thing you can do in coaching and playing development,” said Mike Elias, who was hired as the Orioles' general manager in November 2018, a month before he brought on Hyde. “That helps you for a job that’s difficult.”

Few baseball jobs are as challenging as being an MLB manager, which is why there’s often so much turnover. Only 30 people can carry the title at a time, and many have proven to not be up to the task over the past 100-plus years.

Maddon, who worked with Hyde from 2015-18, knew his former “right-hand man” had what it would take to succeed.

“He definitely had the qualities, the knowledge of the game, work ethic, the ability to interact with a group and do it well, speak in front of the group well. He had this calm way about him,” Maddon said. “He’s got all the right ingredients.”

The beatings

It didn’t matter how good of a manager Hyde was from 2019-21, his first three years at the helm in Baltimore. His team didn’t have enough talent to be competitive. So the Orioles lost -- a lot.

They went 54-108 in 2019, before showing a bit of potential progress in ‘20, when they finished 25-35 in the pandemic-shortened season. Then, Baltimore went an AL-worst 52-110 in ‘21, when no team in the big leagues lost more games.

Few -- if any -- took it harder than Hyde.

“I just felt bad for the guys in the clubhouse and was pulling for them. It beats you up,” Hyde said. “All you’d read about or hear about was negative. It's hard to play on a nightly basis like that. It's hard to stay positive.”

The front office kept its faith, both in Hyde and the Orioles’ long-term future. Elias, who was loading up the farm system with talent due to annual success in the MLB Draft, helped Hyde remain optimistic by reminding him of the bigger picture.

Maddon again gave Hyde helpful words of reinforcement.

“Losing is not easy. And when you start losing, consistently and a lot, you start doubting your abilities or your platform,” Maddon said. “I just encouraged him to not do that, to just stay with it. ‘It’s going to come through, it’s going to work through.’”

And it did in 2022.

The breakthrough

On the morning of July 3, 2022, Baltimore owned a 35-44 record, enduring another challenging start. But there was a different feel from previous years. Catcher Adley Rutschman, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, debuted on May 21. More prospects were on the way, and players already at the big league level were continuing to improve.

The Orioles reeled off 10 straight wins from July 3-13, 2022, improving to 45-44 during a stretch that Hyde has often identified as a turning point in the rebuild.

Baltimore was proving it could compete. Players were buying in after several years of only hope with little tangible results. But they had known Hyde was the right leader the entire way.

“Him and Mike are a great team,” said outfielder Austin Hays, who has played for the O’s since 2017. “Hyder does an amazing job of putting everybody in a situation where he knows they’re going to succeed.”

Although the Orioles fell short of reaching the postseason -- at 83-79, they ended up three games back of the final AL Wild Card berth -- they had taken a significant step forward. Heading into 2023, they knew they had a legitimate chance to be a competitor.

For some franchises, this would be the point at which the front office brings in a different manager to get a fresh voice for a new era. That was never the intention in Baltimore, and Elias made that clear to Hyde from day one.

“Mike told me, ‘I’m not hiring you to replace you when we get more talented,’” Hyde said. “And he held true to that.”

The big time

With the most talented roster of his tenure at his disposal, Hyde has pushed all the right buttons in 2023. His management of the Orioles’ flexible position-player corps and deep bullpen was instrumental to the team securing its first postseason berth since ‘16 and capturing its first AL East title since ‘14.

Baltimore’s players want to win -- and they especially want to do so for Hyde, whose leadership style and laid-back communication skills have been well-received by clubhouse veterans and newcomers alike.

“He’s always asking me, ‘Hey, do you feel good today? If you need anything, be sure to let me know,’” rookie right-hander Yennier Cano said via team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “If I have a bad outing out there on the field, he’ll tell me, ‘Don’t worry about it. Just come back tomorrow, and tomorrow is a new day. You just had a bad game, and it happens.’”

“We’re all a big family, and he put that into place,” said left-hander DL Hall, also a rookie. “He made us feel like a family.”

Appropriately, Hyde looked like a proud father shortly after the Orioles clinched the AL East title on Sept. 28. He was visibly emotional while sharing hugs with bench coach Fredi González and field coordinator/catching instructor Tim Cossins -- a fellow Northern California native and Hyde’s best friend.

As players celebrated on the field at Camden Yards, Hyde’s eyes welled up. He went around hugging them, too, before getting a cooler dumped on him by right-hander Kyle Bradish.

“I was happy for a lot of people, and very relieved also. And proud of our club,” Hyde said. “A lot of emotions go through when the ball gets to first base for the last out. Just proud of really our players and coaches and everybody that’s been through these five years. ... It was a special moment.”

Hyde won a World Series with the Cubs in 2016, but capturing a championship this year would be much different. The Orioles are his team. After years of struggles -- and many down nights -- he could lead Baltimore to the top.

That would easily be an even more special moment.