Buck's the System

Busk Showalter, the Diamondbacks' workaholic manager, proves that there is crying in baseball.

Showalter speaks in such a low voice that only the closest reporters can catch everything he says, and so they huddle as close as they can. Instead of the usual ath-a-lete clichés, he tosses out quick quips with the delivery of a standup comic.

The player who did well: "That's what he comes to work for."

When the team wins a game in spring training: "It's not a prerequisite in the preseason, but it's always encouraging."

Showalter and his son Nathan at batting practice before a game.
Paolo Vescia
Showalter and his son Nathan at batting practice before a game.
On the dugout railing during a game.
Paolo Vescia
On the dugout railing during a game.

On June 9, when the Diamondbacks were to face the Chicago Cubs, he opened his pregame patter by asking, "Is it true that Sammy Sosa has a whistle in his glove? What's he do? Blow it to keep people away? That's a scoop!"

The reporters assured him that Sosa did not have a whistle in his glove, but it still took them a good five minutes before anyone dared ask questions about the game the night before, when, once again, the bullpen had allowed a lead to slip away.

"You like to be the guinea pig?" he snapped at the daring reporter, a pretend edge to his voice. Then, as if he were another reporter egging someone on: "You ask him, he won't get mad at you."

Unfortunately, the game that evening was almost a replay of the night before. The Diamondbacks were leading 7-0 going into the seventh inning. Then Sammy Sosa (with no whistle in sight) knocked the next pitch into BOB's picnic area, and by the end of the inning, the Cubs had scored six runs.

It was during that game that Korean reliever Byung-Hyun Kim was ejected after a bandage slipped off his shoulder and out of his shirt. The umpire ruled that the balm on the bandage was an illegal substance, which brought Showalter onto the field for several heart-to-heart talks with the ump.

Curiously, not even the players know what Showalter says in those conversations, but as Andy Fox says, "You never seem to see him upset, but you know he's saying something quick-witted."

The Diamondbacks eked out a win. After the game, in the clubhouse, when asked about the ejection, Showalter produced the disputed bandage from his back pocket as if performing a magic trick, held it to his nose and said, "Smells like Ben Gay to me."

A month later, he stood silently in a corner of the clubhouse, watching the players' jock-u-larity.

TVs all around the room were tuned to Oprah, and her guest that afternoon was Ricky Martin. As he began his pathetic wriggling to "Livin' la Vida Loca," the players started jiving each other about who had Martin's CD in their cars.

Luis Gonzalez pointed at the screen, and, to no one in particular, exclaimed, "That guy could go out on the street and get laid anytime he wants."

A peculiar thing to say, because, one supposes, Gonzalez could, too, though apparently he doesn't realize it.

Showalter excused himself, saying, "I've got a meeting to go to."

A half-hour later, he wandered into the dugout as batting practice started, his eyes red from crying. The Diamondbacks' media staff handed out press releases announcing that Vladimir NuŮez and a minor leaguer had been traded to the Florida Marlins for a much-needed reliever, Matt Mantei. Showalter had just come from delivering the news himself.

Later he told New Times, "I wish I was a lot colder to it, but then again, I don't. I think that's part of what lets players know I'm sincere. I think a lot of people have this feeling that I'm an unemotional, robotic guy. I'll tell you, if anything, I wish I didn't take things so internally, so emotionally. I get choked up probably once a day."

But for that night's game, he was as straight-faced as ever.

A week later, Showalter was relaxed and full of stories as he sat in the dugout during the All-Star break, watching three different injured pitchers throw a simulated game to determine if they had healed well enough to play. Julio Paula, a batting-practice pitcher, stood in the batter's box to make the simulation more realistic, swinging futilely as fastballs whistled past.

Showalter was in a talkative mood, and he told the story of how he had hired Paula while on a scouting tour of the Dominican Republic. Paula was throwing batting practice for a Dominican team before a game, and he had told the other pitchers that if anyone came to the mound while he was on it, there would be trouble. After watching him throw for about an hour, Showalter asked if Paula was going to take a break.

"He thinks he's auditioning for you," his companion answered.

"Tell him he's got a job, and get him off the mound before he kills himself," Showalter said.

As he told the story, workmen were tearing up the sod in the outfield, preparing to lay a new, more heat-resistant grass species in its place. Front-end loaders skirted the infield. Showalter waxed philosophic.

"Sometimes at night after everyone's gone, I like to come out here and walk all around the outfield," he says. "It puts things in perspective."

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