When Brandon Hyde was hired as Orioles manager in December 2018, he knew as well as everyone else that the coming years would reflect a sort of “rebuild” for the organization. After being the winningest team in the American League from 2012-2016, the team was coming off their worst season ever and needed direction.
But things have changed for the 47-year-old manager and the ballclub during the last 12 months. More notably, things have changed for the entire world. The COVID-19 pandemic made 2020 perhaps the most difficult season in baseball history. An organization whose priority was development lost an entire minor-league season and a franchise that was already expected to be frugal further lost revenue.
That wasn’t all that changed in 2020. Somewhat surprisingly, the team showed signs of progress. Prospects arrived at the major-league level and found success, albeit in a small sample size. There was reason for optimism. Not only were the Orioles not the historically terrible team some projected them to be, they didn’t even finish at the bottom of their own division.
Now the skipper enters his third season at the helm. He has experienced personal changes too, including a permanent move for his family to the Sarasota, Fla., area after their time in Chicago. How have all of these changes impacted him as a leader? Have any of them altered his vision of the franchise’s course?
Hyde sat down with PressBox’s Stan “The Fan” Charles and Glenn Clark for a lengthy Zoom interview in January. The conversation covered the impact of the pandemic, how his future might align with the organization’s plan and more.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
PressBox: How quickly did you realize last March that the pandemic was really going to alter the season?
Brandon Hyde: I think the same day that Rudy Gobert [tested positive]. We’re sitting around in a restaurant one night and saw the news about Rudy Gobert and the NBA canceling some games. Actually, that same day I had a close friend get the virus also. Tom Hanks [announced he tested positive] right around that time. Those couple of days you started to realize that this is extremely serious. The NBA starts to cancel, then you know it’s impacting a lot of the sports industry and it could definitely impact ours. I think everybody started to keep a closer watch once Gobert and the Jazz got their game canceled.
PB: How difficult was 2020 once it got underway, including dealing with the protocols each day?
BH: I give a lot of credit to our medical team and the medical team around the league — what they put together, the hours that they worked can’t be stated [enough]. I can’t talk enough about [Orioles head athletic trainer] Brian Ebel and his staff and what they did and our doctors in Baltimore. They really kept us safe, so it’s hard to complain about getting tested every other day and having to wear a mask and social distancing. It was just different. You’re so routine-based. I’ve been in professional baseball since ’97. I’ve been in the big leagues for the majority of the time since 2010. You kind of know your routine, what your normal day is like during the season. And for that to be interrupted was just a lot different and more challenging, but it wasn’t that we were heroes in any way. We were just really trying to keep everybody safe to have a really good baseball season. Our team, I feel like, committed really early to do that. I think that started at the top with our senior leadership group and with our medical people.
PB: Your club bought into the protocols very early. Are there larger lessons that you can infer from how well your team did in terms of respect for one another and their manager given that they really adhered to the protocols? Is there something there that’s a little deeper?
BH: Not just the pandemic, but the social issues that we were discussing as a team during that time also — we had a lot of great conversations as a club, as a group with just us, with guys from all different backgrounds, with guys who vary in age from our older coaches down to guys in their early 20s, listening to experiences. We had players that peacefully protested. We listened to their experiences. We had COVID going on. Guys had family members that had COVID. So I think there were just so many things going on at one time that it really created a great dialogue within our group. We have a lot of high-character guys that really wanted to finish this season and do anything that they [could] to make the season happen because we knew that there were going to be bumps in the road. You didn’t know what was going to happen in front of us. You wanted the season to continue and we wanted to have a World Series and all that stuff, but you were going in kind of blind [about] what this was going to look like. With all the social issues as well as the virus, I think it created a lot of dialogue within our team, and I think that that made our team closer together.
PB: Did you change at all as a manager or as a leader because of the totality of all those things you were just talking about?
BH: We’re all going through this for the first time. The year before, I went through managing a team for the first time and having a team that was really inexperienced and playing in the American League East against really good clubs and taking our lumps. You know that going in, but you’re going through that for the first time. My second year, going through a different set of challenges for the first time, I think that you do learn about yourself. I just want to be good at what I do, so I want to learn from experiences. And I know I’m going to make mistakes. You just want to get better from mistakes that you made. You want to listen. I probably talked to more managers and coaches last summer than ever before during a season just because I wanted to hear what things they were doing. I just wanted to constantly learn — and also this offseason, too. Stayed in touch with a lot of managers, guys I’m close with and other coaches — just trying to always continue to get better. So I think that that’s what I took from last year. I was proud of how we handled it as an organization. I was proud of the things that our players said during the season as well as after the season where they felt like we handled it. It was a day-to-day learning experience.
PB: When you took the job, did you have a sense of a time frame — a sense of, “In my mind, I think it will take this long for all of this to come to fruition and for it to be what we all want it to be?” Does anything about the last 12 months, whether it’s how well you guys played or losing a minor-league season, change the initial time frame that you had in mind?
BH: I think we did a nice job on the development side with the restrictions that we had. That hurt, to not have a minor-league season and to not have guys get at-bats and to not have guys get innings on the mound — a year of development lost around the league. But I think we did as good of a job as we possibly could to try to continue the development of our minor-league players, which is very, very important when we’re in the situation that we’re in. When you ask me if there was a time frame when I took the job, I know that it takes a while. It takes time, and it takes drafts, and it takes international signings, and it takes trades for younger players who then have to get there. I’m fully aware of that. I got spoiled in Chicago because it happened way faster than everybody thought. But the first three years were extremely lean — ’12, ’13 and ’14 were extremely tough.
I ran our minor-league system in ’12 and ’13, but in ’14 I got to the major-league staff and you started to see glimpses in our third year. So you started to see some young guys starting to get there and see how talented they are. It might take these guys a little while, but Javy Baez is very, very talented. Jorge Soler is very talented. Kyle Hendricks is coming up and getting people out. And that was in our third year. The Kris Bryant draft and Kyle Schwarber draft [were in 2013 and 2014, respectively]. It took those drafts to then get some players in our system to then in our fourth year in ’15, that’s when it happened way quicker than anybody thought because of the Jon Lester signing, the Dexter Fowler trade. [Anthony] Rizzo became a superstar, really. We had great veteran guys that helped our younger guys out, and that was in our fourth year. And then the fifth year is when we won the World Series. Most of the trades that Theo [Epstein] made during that time really hit. We also had really good veterans to trade, too. So we had [Ryan] Dempster and [Matt] Garza and these guys that he turned around to get nice returns. For me, that was fast and that was four years.
I don’t want to put a timeline on it. We’re going into Year Three, and I think that you started to see some of our younger players come into their own last year. You started to see Ryan Mountcastle, [Anthony] Santander. You started seeing these guys that, “Hey, these guys can play in the American League East. Hey, they might be a middle-of-the-order bat on a good club.” Those are the things that I take away from that. “Tanner Scott, he might be a left-handed lights-out dude out of the bullpen.” Those are the positive things I take from last year.
PB: What does the Rick Renteria saga say to a manager who comes into a rebuild? He has twice been let go at the tail end of a rebuild. We know he’s a solid baseball man, but the guy who suffers the most losses often isn’t around when things turn. Teams want to hand it off to a veteran manager who’s already proven himself. Is there a cautionary tale there in Renteria getting let go by the White Sox just as they look like they’re getting ready to really be something?
BH: I think I’m realistic in that there’s movement in coaching staffs and managers get let go and that’s part of the game. I think sometimes guys don’t get the opportunity to see it all the way through. There’s times where they do. Joe [Maddon] did in Tampa. They were patient with Joe. I feel like our front office — the guys I work with — are very process-based and very patient in how we’re going about this. I know what their expectations are with me. And that’s all I can control — do the best job that I can. I cannot worry about when they feel like we’re postseason-ready that they’re going to go find somebody else. I just can’t worry about that is the bottom line. I’ve just got to do the best job I can, try to get better every single day. I feel terrible for Rick, but this is the nature of the business we’re in. I want to be here when we’re holding the trophy up. I want to be here when we’re spraying champagne in the clubhouse — without masks on, hopefully. I’m driven to do that, and I think that our guys are going to give me an opportunity.
PB: How did what you experienced with the Cubs in 2012, 2013 and 2014 ensure that your eyes were wide open as to what you were getting into with Mike Elias here in Baltimore?
BH: I think going from where we were in ’12 to winning the World Series in ’16, that feeling is what you do this job for — to have a whole organization come together from where we were to then, “Look at what we did now” — and that’s why it’s so hard to do it again, I think, because it takes so much out of you. But that feeling of accomplishment is like no other. Before I took this job, I did talk to a lot of people about what it’s going to be like from a manager’s standpoint. I did talk to Joe because Joe took over Tampa in 2006. It’s just so gratifying when it happens at the end. That’s what I’m chasing right now is that feeling.
PB: What similarities do you see between Mike Elias and Theo Epstein?
BH: Very intelligent, very calculated, thorough in their thoughts, don’t rush to decisions. Mike asks me questions. Theo asks a ton of questions. Theo wants surveys. Theo wants to know what people think. I think Mike’s in that mold also. That’s what people don’t understand about Theo is that he’s the smartest guy in the room but he’s asking questions the entire time. Whether he’s testing you or whether he wants to know, you’re not really sure all the time, but he wants people’s thoughts. They are similar in that way. They are open to thoughts and are very, very intelligent. Every decision they make is very, very [thought-out]. They put a lot of time into it, and they’re very calculated.
PB: Early in the offseason, there was a report that you had sold your house in Illinois. I wasn’t aware that you had had sod from Wrigley Field installed in the backyard and some Cubs-themed stuff. I know it’s probably a family situation and what’s best, but was there anything symbolic for you in moving on from that house given how much the Cubs experience clearly meant to you and now being entrenched as an Oriole and what you’re doing now?
BH: Very much. I had seven great years in Chicago. We lived there for six. My younger kids now are 10 and 12. We had a great time. But really, for me and our family, I felt like it was time to move on. It was time to start a new chapter. When I took this job that was, “We’re going to turn the page on a great chapter in our lives and take on this opportunity head on and move and start another great chapter.” Sometimes kids don’t understand that exactly. But listen, I’ve been really fortunate. I was with the Marlins for nine [years] and the Cubs for seven. That’s pretty rare these days to be able to be in one spot for that long. I’m very, very grateful and I feel fortunate for the opportunities that I had. Hopefully I can be in Baltimore that long also.
PB: Has it been frustrating, particularly with the way last year went, to not be able to get more entrenched here, to create those relationships? Is there a way you can prioritize that during the course of the next year to try to entrench yourself more in this community?
BH: I’ve thought a lot about that. It was very, very challenging. That was one of the more challenging things last year was to be in the city and not want to be seen publicly — not go out to eat, not go play golf, not to do community things. That was very, very hard. So you were sitting in your room. The biggest grind of last year was that you didn’t have any off-the-field releases. I woke up in the morning, I stayed in my room and then I went to the ballpark. And then after the game, I went back home. I didn’t have any off-the-field [experiences]. I didn’t get to see the city. I didn’t get to go out to any of the great restaurants at the Inner Harbor. I didn’t get to play any of the great golf courses in the area. Without the public interaction, that was [difficult]. I’m looking forward to when that happens again.
PB: Dealing with Chris Davis and everything — the good, the bad, all of it — what have you learned from all that? How have you changed?
BH: I feel like one of my strengths is that even though I was always a player development guy, I always had great relationships with the veteran players. From my times in Miami and Chicago, I think that [if] you ask veteran players, I think they really respected how I treated them and the respect that I gave them because I know how hard it is to be a veteran major-league player, an everyday player in this game. But you don’t know how you’ll handle things until you manage and then you talk about it with the media on a daily basis. From the first day, I wanted to create a really good relationship with Chris. I wanted him to trust me. I wanted him to be able to talk to me. We got to that point pretty early in 2019, and that’s why that incident in the dugout was so unfortunate because that wasn’t even close to what our relationship was.
When we talked the next day, that’s why we were so disappointed because it was two passionate people that disagreed about something in the dugout. And unfortunately that got caught on camera. But it was because we cared about each other is the reason we were saying the words that we did. Dealing with veteran players well is part of being a really, really good manager, in my opinion. CD is a veteran player. He’s definitely had his struggles. I want to be there for him. He knows that I support him, and I will continue to support him. And so I think he appreciates that. But I’m also very honest with him, and he’s very honest with me. So behind closed doors in my office, we have extremely honest conversations. It’s not always what I say to the media, but there are behind-closed-doors conversations between us that I think are very helpful for him.
PB: You referenced what happened in the dugout. Are behind-closed-doors conversations ever like that? Are they passionate, or are they more in-depth and introspective?
BH: That was more of a heat-of-the-battle type of moment. My office conversations are just man to man, just good dialogue. We have respect for each other. We’ve built the type of relationship where we can have that honesty. In my opinion, a good coach’s job is to have that type of relationship with a player where you can kick a guy in the butt. You can love him. You can do all the things you want to do for the player because you’ve built that relationship and that trust. We got to that point pretty early.
PB: When you look at the totality of Chris Davis’ career and the struggles since the contract, what do you think happened to him? And did the advent of more and more shifting complicate his ability to get out of what he was in?
BH: I think that that’s affected a lot of people the last couple years. I haven’t looked at his numbers and how many ground balls in the four hole, but I do know that there are numerous veteran players that it definitely affected mentally and took a lot of hits away. The 0-for-4 instead of 1-for-4 with a single to right is an enormous deal when you go home. I wasn’t here so I don’t want to speculate, honestly, but what happened between ’14, ’15, ’16, I don’t know that. But what I see in him, he’s trying to get his confidence back a lot of times. Sometimes it’s just, “Be more aggressive.” That’s what I told him last spring. When I saw him in a lot of ’19, it was just passive-type swings where he’s thinking through the at-bat, and I just wanted him to let the dog out and just see the ball and hit the ball as hard as he can. Be a threat at the plate, and we talked a lot about that — stop being so internal [and] start getting external. I just see him go in waves of that, and that’s what I’ve seen for two years.
You saw in spring training last year a ton of confidence, walks, swinging the bat with some authority. You saw it in some at-bats last year and then you would see him sometimes go back into being a little passive, maybe caught in between a lot of times. [I] just want to see him get back to being aggressive and make aggressive mistakes. I always tell him, “Make an aggressive mistake.”
PB: In your conversations with Trey Mancini, have you struggled to simply talk baseball? Have you ever found it difficult to talk about baseball because of the concern you have for him as a human?
BH: Definitely. I started talking about baseball [in January]. I think that’s what Trey wants to talk about, too. I want to talk with Trey about whatever he wants to talk about. I want to be a listener for him, and I want to be there for him in any way that I can possibly be. What he’s gone through is amazing. How he’s handled everything, he is a top-notch, top-character guy. He’s tough. There’s no doubt about it. He’s tough mentally. We all knew that before, but then you really know it now, how tough this kid is and how he’s handled the situation he’s in. I felt like he was stronger than I was when I was talking to him. I just want him to be comfortable. I just always wanted him to know that he was a part of the team and that we were still always thinking about him during last summer. Now he looks great, he feels great. I just want to be there for him. Whether he wants to talk about baseball or something else, I’m good with either.
PB: Have you developed a relationship with Adley Rutschman at this point? Knowing how significant he is to the organization, have you gone out of your way to get to know him better, or do you wait until he’s here for that?
BH: A little bit — interacted with him in spring training. He was at our spring training 2.0 and 1.0, so I got to know him a little bit. But I really wanted to kind of leave him alone, to be honest with you. I wanted him to kind of feel his way. [It was] his first full year of professional baseball. I wanted him to soak up major-league camp, soak up spring training 2.0, try to get him as many at-bats as I possibly could. I wanted him to be around [catching instructor] Tim Cossins every single day. That was really important. I think when the time’s right, I’m going to dive in with him a little bit more, but really [that was] his first full year coming out of college and I just wanted to let him get his feet on the ground, but I’m looking forward to getting to know him more this spring.
PB: Is there anything in particular you’re going to want to know about him or see from him before you’re comfortable with him being at the big-league level?
BH: There are so many things that go into calling up a prospect. That’s really a front-office decision. When it’s a prospect like Adley, that’s going to be when Mike and the group feel like Adley’s ready. I went and watched him in instructional league when our season was over. I watched him for four days. He’s very, very physically mature. People talk about how smart he is. Pitchers would talk about it in our secondary site, about how much they love throwing to him. That’s all I need to know — a guy that’s going to be there for the pitcher and super prepared and then have the physical tools that he has. This guy’s going to be a really good player. But I didn’t want to put too much pressure on him. I just wanted to leave him alone [last] year a little bit and let him play, as he gets closer start to build a little bit more rapport. I think it was important to let him breathe and not feel like the major-league manager’s calling me into his office.
PB: What do the two coaches you’ve added — pitching coach Chris Holt and third base coach Tony Mansolino — bring to the table? And what makes assistant pitching coach Darren Holmes more than just a bullpen coach?
BH: A lot of people who have been with Darren recommended him to me when we had a bullpen coach job opening last year. I did my homework on him, and when we interviewed him he blew me away with pitching knowledge, passion, egoless, just wants to get guys better. I was so impressed with him last year. I think he had a major impact on our bullpen and a major impact on our young bullpen guys — Dillon Tate, Tanner Scott — as well as helping mechanically and doing some things with our starters. I think that Holmesy has huge value on our staff and was a big part of a lot of our pitching guys’ success from last year.
We added Holty and Tony Mansolino. Both guys have an incredible amount of energy [and] passion. They’re player development-driven, so they just want to get guys better. But I’ve gotten to work with Holty quite a bit the last couple of years and have been incredibly impressed with not only his knowledge of mechanics [and] analytics but also this guy really understands pitching. This guy understands pitch usage, and I know that he’s made a huge impact on our organizational pitching from the time that he’s been here. I’m really excited about him spending more time with our pitchers in the big leagues on a day-to-day basis.
Mansolino was highly recommended to us from quite a few people. He blew us away in our interview with his intelligence, his background. His dad has been a major-league coach for a long time. He grew up in the clubhouse. He’s kind of a clubhouse rat. He loves the game. He’s managed the game at the Triple-A level. He’s been an infield rover in a really, really good organization. I talked to a lot of the Cleveland people about him. He’s a smart guy. He got thrown right into the third base coaching box last year in a pennant race and did it extremely well and into the postseason. For a guy who was an infield rover at their secondary site to now all the sudden you’re coaching third for a good club, it’s not easy to do and he did it well. I think what he brings to the table is an energetic infield guy that really knows infield play. I’m excited about giving a young coach some major-league experience.
PB: What did it mean to have Brooks Robinson at your introductory press conference?
BH: I was blown away that he was there, for him to take the time out. I met him just prior to the press conference. I was already nervous enough for that day, and then 20 minutes before the press conference getting introduced to Brooks Robinson, that was a thrill just because I am a baseball nut and I do love baseball history. I’ve read most books about baseball and the past, so I know the Brooks story. I know about the ’83 World Series with [Cal] Ripken and Eddie [Murray] and those guys. I just love baseball history, so to meet Brooks Robinson, to know what he means to this city, it was amazing for me to meet him that day. For him to be there, that says a lot. It said a lot to me about the kind of person he is.
PB: I’ve heard that you’ve made some contact with John Harbaugh. How did that come about and what has that relationship been like for you since you came to Baltimore?
BH: He invited me to go watch their practice in 2019 in the summer. Ever since then, we’ve traded texts back and forth. I went to a Ravens game — it was a Sunday night game against the Patriots [in 2019] where I got to go on the field pregame and sat in a suite during the game. My son was a ball boy before the game. We’ve been keeping in touch. We talked before our season last year during this spring training 2.0. I was kind of letting him know what we were going through with the virus and the social issues and all the things that were happening during that time. We [had] been trading texts throughout this [past] football season. I’m pulling for him big time. He’s a super classy guy.
Photo Credits: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles; Kenya Allen/PressBox; Courtesy of the Chicago Cubs