|Buck Showalter, up close, at spring training in Fort Myers on Friday.|
Despite that one paragraph disclaimer, I must say I admire longtime baseball manager Buck Showalter, now of the Baltimore Orioles. Buck’s first Major League managerial job was with the New York Yankees in the early/mid-1990s. After more than a decade of overspending ineptness, Buck was a welcome change for us Yankee fans. Oh sure, he was serious. Oh sure, he could be boring. And Buck, what’s the deal with wearing the long-sleeve warmup jacket, even on the hottest midsummer days?
I grew to like Buck Showalter, like any fan, because of his managerial style led to a different and better way of play for the Yankees. They cared more, they tried harder, and yeah, they won more games and emerged from it in the postseason in 1995 for the first time in 14 years. Buck left the Yankees after that season, mostly due to the late impulsive owner George Steinbrenner, who thought it would be neat to fire some of Buck’s coaches because they lost that epic playoff series to Seattle. My wife and I were bummed out and pissed off at The Boss for letting it happen, for letting Buck get away on the verge of some great things. And then The Boss hired Joe Torre, a career loser as a manager! What was he thinking? Well. We know how the next 12 years turned out now, don’t we?
As we Yankee fans basked in the glory of the Core Four, the Torre Era, the Championships, the yearly trip to the playoffs, the calm leadership of Saint Joe. Despite all that, I will admit to never forgetting about Buck. I followed his career, with the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Texas Rangers, in and out of TV assignments and eventually back to the American League East now with the Orioles. I loved listening to him talk baseball; I loved watching him manage baseball. He has a reputation as an obsessive micromanager who sweats every detail on his ball club. You know what? It seems to work.
So anyway, on Friday afternoon, it was with a fan’s enthusiasm that I witnessed Buck Showalter up close and personal as he exited the Jet Blue Park field after an exhibition game with the Red Sox. My nephew Riley was able to secure a Buck autograph for me (“Mr. Showalter, Mr. Showalter, over here, Mr. Showalter”). Here’s a short list of reasons why I like Buck, traits that I think he exemplifies:
--He’s prepared. I’ve always heard about how Buck arrives at the ballpark around lunchtime for a night game, how he sometimes would sleep in his office, how he would obsess over the slightest details of making out a lineup card. He was mocked in some circles for this, but I always thought it was cool. The guy was obsessed about preparing his team? The guy is dedicated to his job and works really hard at it? That’s a bad thing? Not in my book.
--He’s serious. That sort of preparation shows great effort on his part to be the best manager he can be. As a coach, the two qualities I strive for every day, and that I expect in return every day from our athletes, are preparation and effort. I gotta believe Buck is right in line with that. My guess is the players that who love playing for him see that, respond to that and work hard for them. Again. I’m not naïve. These guys are getting paid millions of dollars to play baseball. But Buck’s seriousness of effort does not go unnoticed and he is recognized as a top manager as a result of this.
--He’s loyal. It’s one of the main reasons he walked away from the only job he ever wanted in baseball, as manager of the Yankees. The Boss threatened to mess with his staff. He wouldn’t tolerate that. He is the same way with the players on his team. Loyal, sometimes to a fault. He has been accused at times of “playing dirty” in order to protect his players. Old-school baseball. Gotta love that.
--He’s honest. Because of his pinpoint attention to detail, he never blinks at a question from the news media. Baseball managers are in the business of making decisions and value judgments each and every day. Those decisions are scrutinized every day. One thing you know with Buck, whether the decision was agreeable or not, he checked out every angle before reaching his conclusion.
--He’s not flashy. Modern-era sports – at all levels -- is all about drawing attention to yourself. Even the coaches and managers can become celebrities; most don’t shy away from that. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t get the sense that Buck seeks such attention. If that is the case, I like and respect that.
--He’s consistent. I get the sense that Buck Showalter has a sense of beliefs, values them with his convictions, and never wavers from his process despite the never-ending gimmicks that have come about with the advanced metrics in baseball. Here’s the thing, though: Buck’s not close-mindedly old school. I’m certain that he utilizes as much of the “new statistics” as possible as a way to prepare himself to lead his team.
Speaking of the new baseball metrics, there are ways that they can gauge the impact a manager has on his team’s performances. Ultimately, it is a player’s game. The most successful managers generally have pretty strong rosters. But as a longtime coach, there is much that I can take from and admire with Buck Showalter’s approach. The autographed baseball I have from him will now sit proudly in my home office.