Some guys are just born into their profession; this fellow appears to be a natural. Smart, tenacious, seasoned, but still humble, “Buck” Showalter is one of the reasons I love baseball so much. He’s a fine man who has spent his life showing up early and staying late, and playing, learning, and teaching this great game in between. He continues to earn the respect of the players, owners, and fans, while managing from the dugouts of some of the greatest cathedrals built in professional sports. Along the way this two-time Manager of the Year has won over a 1,000 games, influenced, and made better some of the best-of-the-best this game has to offer. One of Buck’s favorite things to say is “Trust Me,” and there is no doubt there are a lot of people who do. The names of superstars like Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams, Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriquez, “Pudge” Rodriquez, Juan Gonzalez, Adam Jones, and Matt Weiters are just a few of the players who have all benefited under Buck’s tutelage. Guys like Buck Showalter make me proud to be a baseball fan.
Baltimore Orioles’ Manager, Buck Showalter took time out of his busy schedule to spend 25 minutes on the air with his long-time friend and my radio partner, Dennis Quinn, and myself. Our show, known as the Q & A Session, is aired on ESPN 1440 KEYS in Corpus Christi, Texas. Through Dennis’s friendship, I have had a chance to meet Buck and interview him several times, during the “off season,” which Buck thinks is the worst word in the English language. “It’s a very busy time if you want to have success during the season, that’s for sure,” remarked Buck. After our greetings, Dennis, and I did what we do best, we pay tribute to our fallen sports heroes and help educate our listeners.
When Dennis asked about former Baltimore Hall-of-Fame Manager Earl Weaver, who had just past away, Buck responded, “He’s special to all of us in this organization. We’ve had him in camp the last two years and the more you’re around him; the more you realize why he had so much success. I remember his love for the Baltimore Orioles and the satisfaction of our improvement last year. It took me four or five years before I could call him Earl; he’s always been Mr. Weaver to me. He was a good man and we’re going to miss him. We will pay homage to him this summer in a lot of ways. So, I’m looking forward to that,” said Showalter. “I think what a lot of people are going to miss is the way Earl went about being successful. Earl would say. ‘We missed the cut-off man, botched some run-down plays. We did some things that weren’t perfect but, we didn’t repeat them,’” said Buck. “We had Earl at Spring Training the last couple of seasons. After he had a couple of cups of coffee in him, it was beautiful,” continued Buck. “He was engaged, taking questions; the guys were a little nervous. They had so much respect for him. As I’m riding around in a golf cart with him, taking in different drills, Earl would say, ‘Everybody tries to reinvent the wheel. It’s all about being brilliant at the basics’ and trust me, it didn’t hurt having Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, and Pat Dobson and some of those guys, but they caught the baseball. If the ball stays in the ballpark in the American League East, you had better get a glove on it; you’re not going to get many chances,” said Showalter.
I mentioned that my two sons and I had traveled to Baltimore two of the last three years to see the Orioles and Yankees play and witnessed the Brooks Robinson statue. I asked him about the centerfield section now known as The Garden of the Greats and if they were saving a spot for Buck Showalter. “No, trust me, the timing was great with the club being improved and it was about paying homage to our six Hall-of-Famer’s. Earl and in no special order, Cal Ripken Jr., Eddie Murray, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer, about one per month. It was special,” said Buck. “We got lucky with the weather and these guys talked and came into our clubhouse and it was a great celebration of our history. Our ownership paid for all that and those statues will be a lasting tribute to our great Hall-of-Famers.”
Dennis pointed out that Earl Weaver had been run 91 or 92 times by the umpires during his career and asked Buck how many times he had been tossed. “Oh, I don’t know,” said Buck. “I don’t keep up with that. I do know the fines are a lot different now than they were then, and that it is part of my job description.” When Dennis asked Showalter if he might turn his hat around to get closer to “Blue” as a tribute to Earl, during his next disagreement with an umpire, Buck’s response was, “That would almost be disrespectful to Earl, to place myself in his category.” Buck continued, “I would never do anything to embarrass them (umpires). They are professional and trying hard. Their experiences allow them to make educated guesses because the ball moves too fast. The only thing that gets under my skin is when they don’t show up for work or when they become vindictive or lazy.” Buck continued, “I think everybody is hoping for more replay including the guys on the field. I’m sure the guys on the field (umpires) will take as much replay as they will put in there.”
When I asked Buck for his favorite Weaver story, Buck continued, “I’ve heard most of the stories, especially from guys like Jim Palmer, Rick Dempsey, and “Boog.” I just remember him in Spring Training, giving the guys the business. ‘Why did you swing at that? What were you thinking?’ It was obvious he watched our games. One of our Minor League coaches asked what he thought was a stupid question and, after Earl’s answer, he didn’t ask anymore. Earl was so quick to share information with me when he really didn’t have to. It was almost like fatherly advice,” said Showalter.
It is no secret that the American League East Division got better this off-season, especially, in Toronto. When I suggested that 85-90 wins might be enough to win the division, Buck countered, “We had the number 90 on the board last year. Listen,” said Buck, “the game has changed a lot. We now hit the ball where the grass doesn’t grow. Strikeouts have gone up. One year I had close to 700 plate appearances or 650, and only struck out twenty-something times. Nowadays, they strike out 20 times in a week. If you follow the money trail, you know where it goes,” said Buck. “I was very fortunate to play; we are all the best at some level, and then we are weeded out. Trust me, when I saw Don Mattingly, I knew I wasn’t going to be the first baseman for the New York Yankees.”
I asked Buck about a You-Tube video I had seen where he played a prank on one of his relief pitchers by the name of Darren O’Day. I thought I was seeing Earl Weaver reincarnated. “If I had to do over again, I wouldn’t do it,” he said. “I hate embarrassing a player. I got roped into it by the bullpen guys. They kept saying, ‘Just say a few words.’ Then afterwards, for the first time all year, Darren struggled in the next couple of outings. I thought I had something to do with it. Darren marches to the beat of a different drummer. His wife works for FOX NEWS as a reporter. Darren is going to medical school in the off-season. They are a quality family. I haven’t watched it, but I understand it was pretty funny and a lot of people saw it,” said Buck.
Dennis insisted that Buck had done the best managing job last year he had seen since Dick Williams of the 1967 Red Sox, who took that team from worst to first. “How do you grade yourself?” asked Dennis. “Dennis, I don’t get involved with that,” said Buck. “We are at the mercy of the players and really to the mothers and fathers of the world. By the time I get them at my level, they have pretty much formulated the way they are going to go about life and about competition. So, shame on you if you don’t do your homework and don’t know what you’re getting. We’ve got some really good people that are easy to trust. I probably had as much fun this season as I have had at any time. It was a club that after awhile I knew I could trust, and late in Spring Training I knew I had something special going on with the players and what they had bought into. It will be a challenge this year to hold onto that,” said Showalter.
“As far as grades and all that stuff, it’s about the players. We are just passing ships in the night,” said Buck. “There are a lot of people that can do this job as well, if not better than me, and I’m just honored I have been able to do it this long. Baltimore is my last stop, my last rodeo. They know it and I know it and when they get tired of me, trust me, they will not have to talk much. I’ll just say thanks, tip my hat, shake their hands, and head on out the door,” exclaimed Buck. Neither Dennis nor I believed that.
Dennis stated, “I called you “Nat” back when we were young men in NW Florida, do you remember that far back? “Not as sharply as I used to,” laughed Buck. “My wife asked me, ‘How come you can remember a pitch sequence from 1975 and names, but you can’t remember where your keys are?’ Well, I got you!” said Buck. “She’s waiting on me right now. My daughter is getting married this week. We are putting wedding plans together; I’ll trade with you.”
“How do you answer the question of the enormous power of Mantle when today’s players can’t hit it that far?” asked Dennis. “Well, I was fortunate, the last couple of years with the Yankees, I got to know Mickey a little bit. He always wanted to dress in the manager’s office during Old Timers Day, because nobody would leave him alone. He was good people to be around. He didn’t take himself too seriously. He was a victim of his own talents. Everybody wanted a piece of Mickey and he was so humble and down to earth. The bat speed he generated; he was such a naturally strong guy. Even late in his life you could see the meat hooks for hands, the huge forearms. I don’t know if you will see another guy like him come along that can do that. It’s just so unfortunate he got hurt with his knees and there weren’t the surgeries available to take care of those things,” said Showalter.
I found it interesting that Stan Musial attended Mantle’s funeral. I told Buck that I felt that if Mantle had taken care of himself like Musial we could be talking about Mantle, Ruth, and Musial as the best three baseball players of all time. Buck answered, “There are no more secrets; our locker room has turned into an interview room. Mickey survived a lot longer probably than he would have in today’s game,” Buck commented. “Mickey had a pure heart and he wasn’t mean. He was my hero growing up,” said Buck. “Mine too!” I answered. Buck continued, “I was fortunate to meet those guys just by being around the Yankees’ Old Timers Games. I was so humbled. Trust me; we could have a pretty good Old Timer’s Game in Baltimore, too.”
As the interview wound down, Buck mentioned he would not be attending the Super Bowl but stated he was a big Ravens fan. I congratulated him on 93 wins for the season, his contract extension, and the over two million fans that tripped the turnstiles at Camden Yards this past season. “That’s why they love you in Baltimore,” I said. “Well, I don’t know if we can get back to 3 million, but we did have close to 20,000 at Fan Fest,” stated Buck.
It’s quite refreshing to find small-town values still exist. Buck remains unspoiled by the distractions of big league baseball. So, it’s safe to say that Dennis and I will be pulling for the Orioles this year in the highly contested AL East. “Good pitching carries over,” said Buck; “Trust me.”
Andy Purvis is a local Corpus Christi, Texas, author. His books In the Company of Greatness and Remembered Greatness can be found on the shelves at Barnes and Noble and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksmillion, Google Books, etc. They are also available in e-reader format. Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com or [email protected].