One of the first things Buck Showalter did when he took over as manager of the Baltimore Orioles four years ago was to reach out to the past. At the time, the Orioles were putting the finishing touches on their 13th consecutive losing season, and plenty of people in baseball wondered if the franchise could ever again be what it once was.
Showalter wanted his players to understand that it hadn't always been this way. So he lined with the hallway leading to the home clubhouse at Camden Yards with photos of Frank Robinson and Cal Ripken, with Jim Palmer and Brooks Robinson. He wanted his guys to understand that the Orioles had a rich history of winning, that their community had once cared deeply and that they had a chance to rekindle that fire.
"We take a backseat to no one in terms of our history," he told them.
And as the Orioles celebrate their first division title since 1997 -- which they clinched with an 8-2 win against the Blue Jays -- it's clear the Showalter's tactics have worked.
To get his players to embrace the O's past, he brought back Earl Weaver, the Hall of Fame manager, for a couple of pre-game chats. He paid tribute to Cal Ripken, Eddie Murray and the others whenever he was given a stage.
Brooks Robinson comes around to say hello to the boys. Palmer is a constant in the clubhouse and the television booth. Rick Dempsey, Boog Powell and others are as revered in Baltimore now as they were in another era.
When statues of the six Orioles Hall of Famers were unveiled at Camden Yards in 2012, he urged his players to take a half-hour out of the day and go attend the ceremonies and hear the speeches, to see and to be seen.
In that way, he was creating a larger family, one that stretched from Boog Powell to Adam Jones, from Asylum on 33rd Street (Memorial Stadium) to Camden Yards.
The Orioles of another era were smart and efficient. They had scouts who unearthed talent here, there and everywhere. And they had instructors, most notably Cal Ripken Sr., who got hold of the kids early and drilled into them that there was The Oriole Way.
The Orioles couldn't do things the way the Yankees did them, but they did just fine with their smarts and their stability and their resolve. They were a team perfect for a city stuck there on I-95 between Washington and New York, the city that was proud of its small-town feel.
That intimacy extends from the fans to the players. There's an intimacy, a sense that these guys are our guys in some larger sense. As the late great Baltimore Associated Press reporter Gordon Beard once said, "In New York, they name candy bars for Reggie Jackson. In Baltimore, we name our kids for Brooks Robinson."
Back to Showalter. He connected past Orioles with current Orioles because he thought it might help. He's meticulous in that way, looking for every competitive advantage, leaving no stone unturned. And then Showalter did the things he'd always done. He spoke to his players about pride and work and performance. He told them he believed in them.
He also demanded that things be done a certain way. He showered them with information, with scouting reports and tendencies. He held meetings, too, dozens of them. Sometimes, he'd simply discuss baserunning, everything from its finer points to its importance.
Every single day around Showalter became a sort of graduate school of baseball's finer points. Pretty soon, his best players -- Adam Jones and Matt Wieters and others -- began to believe.
Before Adam Jones signed his contract extension in 2012, he wanted assurances from Showalter that he intended to stay. He seemed to understand that if Showalter hung around Baltiimore the Orioles would again be great.
Showalter would be the first to want you to know that he stepped into a situation with plenty of potential. Even though the Orioles had been losing, their top executive, Andy MacPhail, had methodically upgraded the talent.
In Jones, Wieters, Nick Markakis and others, Showalter had a nice nucleus. He found guys who were consummate professionals. He found that they were burning to win.
"They'd had their nose bloodied together," he said. "They were ready to fight."
Fast forward four years, and the Orioles just ran away with the AL East title. This will be their second postseason appearance in three years, and Showalter is pushing all the right buttons.
Their organizational depth has been tested, and the O's passed with flying colors. When Wieters underwent Tommy John surgery, Caleb Joseph was summoned from the minors and has filled in nicely.
Likewise, Kevin Gausman, a first-round pick out of LSU three years ago, has given the rotation a tremendous second-half boost. In Nelson Cruz, Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette made one of the smarter free-agent signings of the last offseason.
While these Orioles are a tribute to Showalter's genius and to those original core players, they're also arguably Duquette's finest hour.
Orioles owner Peter Angelos hired him after the 2011 season. He was not his first choice. He hadn't worked in baseball in 10 years.
What Angelos -- and others -- were reminded of is that no general manager in the game is more creative, more thorough and, yes, more quirky. He urges his personnel people to look everywhere for talent and to see players, not as complete players or star players, but simply as possessing a skill that could help the Orioles win.
There's a brilliance to the way Duquette does business. For instance, Miguel Gonzalez was pitching in the Mexican League when Duquette gave him a shot two years ago.
He was 27 years old and had washed out with the Angels and Red Sox. He'd also undergone Tommy John surgery. He was as unwanted as a player could be. Duquette was intriguied.
"Really, Miguel just hadn't quite had the opportunity," he said.
No kidding. Gonzalez has been a godsend for the Orioles. He pitched his first career complete game earlier this month, and in 65 starts in three seasons, he's 29-20 with a very respectable 3.47 ERA. He's also one of the lowest-paid starting pitchers in baseball at $529,000.
Duquette gave Gonzalez a chance because one of his scouts, a legendary baseball man named Fred Ferreira, believed in him. Duquette trusted Ferreira's opinion.
"It's about opportunity with scouts, too," Duquette said. "If you like to sign players and make a contribution to the team, this is a good place for you as a scout. If you just like to turn in reports and check off the boxes, this is not the place for you. We're looking for players." He has been reminded of these simple lessons many times. But it all began with Tim Wakefield.
Wakefield made his big league debut in 1992 and went 8-1 down the stretch to help the Pirates pass Duquette's Montreal Expos to win the National League East. Wakefield's career stalled, and the Bucs released him.
Duquette never forgot the name, and when Wakefield became a free agent, Duquette's new team, the Red Sox, signed him. Duquette then asked Hall of Fame knuckleballer Phil Niekro to offer some pointers.
"Phil helped him gain a better understanding of what he would have to do to be consistent with the knuckleball," Duquette said. "For example, being able to change speeds with it, having another pitch he could throw for a strike when he was behind in the count. Those are the skills that Tim worked on."
Wakefield won 186 games in 17 seasons with the Red Sox and was part of two championship clubs. When Duquette watched Gonzalez shut out the Reds this week, he surely may have thought back to Wakefield.
This story tells you almost everything you need to know about Duquette's philosophy. The AL East champs have a bunch of Duquette finds. Steve Pearce was a waiver claim. David Lough and Brad Brach came over trades almost no one thought much about at the time.
In three seasons, there have been others. Nate McLouth's career was jump-started in Baltimore in 2012 after he'd been released by the Pirates. In return, he helped the O's make the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. There was Lew Ford and Randy Wolf and others. The 2012 Orioles used 52 players in all, including 12 starting pitchers. Showalter buys in. On display in the Orioles spring clubhouse in a board in which every player's innings played and at-bats are posted.
"I'm sure a lot of guys are surprised by the playing time they get here," he said.
Word gets around that the Orioles are a good place for unheralded free agents because they'll get a real opportunity.
"You know the old expression about finding an orchid while searching for a rose? That's us," Showalter said. "It's helped us acquire players in the offseason. There's nothing like word of mouth with the players. The one thing we can compete with anybody on is opportunity."
At the core of this philosophy is a relentless sense of optimism. Rather than focus on what a player can't do -- and this is the mantra among many baseball people -- the Orioles see the glass as half-full.
"We don't really spend a lot of time on what players can't do," Duquette said. "We look for a significant strength or a significant skill. We tell our scouts that we want to know the players that they like. Then we'd like for them to tell us how they think they can help the team. Maybe the player had a skill, but didn't quite know how to get their game together. Sometimes, they get it together."
Some might say there's a magic to what these Orioles have done, but Duquette doesn't see it that way.
"It's really just having an open mind," Duquette said.
Maybe that's the new Oriole Way.
Richard Justice is a Sports on Earth contributor who joined MLB.com as an executive correspondent in 2011. He has covered Major League Baseball for more than three decades and offers his insight on MLB.com and MLB.com/live.