Buck's the System

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

But then, when the press asked him what his plan was, he shot back, "I've got a one-year contract, I'm on a one-year plan, and we'll take it from there."

Angela Showalter remembers the day her husband spoke at the press conference announcing his appointment as Yankees manager. When she saw the lights and the cameras and the tape recorders, she wondered what she was getting into. She was pregnant with their son, Nathan; their daughter, Allie, was 4 years old. Angela wondered if Allie would stay quiet through the press conference and said to her, "Now you know how Mickey Mouse feels at Disneyland."

When it came time for Showalter to speak, he stood up and was so eloquent that Angela found herself thinking, "Where did this come from?"

Showalter took the Yankees to fourth place in 1992, and parlayed the one-year gig into a four-year stand, the longest Steinbrenner had tolerated any manager up to that time.

In 1994, the Yankees were in first place when the players went on strike, killing hopes of a World Series that year. Then, in 1995, the Yanks finished second, losing a heartbreak playoff series in Seattle. Afterward, Showalter quit.

It had been a stressful run. In 1992, for example, Showalter had tangled with Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent after he and two other Yankees executives testified as character witnesses for Steve Howe, a pitcher appealing his expulsion from baseball after multiple drug convictions. Vincent was enraged that Showalter and the others would contradict his own rigid opinions on the matter, and he told Showalter that he was through in baseball. It turned out to be a bluff.

Most of Showalter's stress came from standing up to the Yankees owner.

"Showalter was a very clear buffer between his players and George Steinbrenner," says Filip Bondy, a sportswriter with the New York Daily News.

Steinbrenner wanted to micromanage to the extent that he wanted to hire and fire the coaches who worked under Showalter, many of whom he'd brought up from the minor leagues -- most of whom he eventually brought to Phoenix.

"Somewhere along the line, George realized that the guy was standing up to him in subtle ways, or maybe not-so-subtle ways behind closed doors," says George Vecsey, a sports columnist for the New York Times.

Showalter won't say. Others hint at it: Ed Napoleon, whom Showalter had hired as first-base coach, recalls a spring-training game when Steinbrenner slipped into the dugout. Showalter had a strict rule that no one sit on the bench in street clothes, and he told Napoleon to go down and tell Steinbrenner to leave. Napoleon walked slowly down the bench, choosing his words, and was surprised at how readily Steinbrenner left.

Brian Butterfield remembers another Steinbrenner skirmish over player Randy Velarde, whom Steinbrenner told the press would not play in a game against Boston. Butterfield asked Showalter what he was going to do, and Showalter said, "I'm going to play Velarde at shortstop and I'm going to bat him first."

Butterfield tells the rest of the story:

"So the second at-bat for Velarde, he hit a three-run homer into the screen at Fenway. I'm coaching first base, and I look into the dugout and I don't see [Buck] because he's not at his normal seat. Then I look into the runway [the tunnel leading from the dugout to the clubhouse] and he's in the runway. He's got his hat on backwards and he's doing a little breakdance; he's doing the butter churn. I was the only one who could see him and I just started laughing hysterically."

Showalter's response: a grin and, "He's got a big mouth."

When the Yankees lost their final series against the Seattle Mariners at the end of the 1995 season, some New York sportswriters interpreted Showalter's ashen face after the game as meaning he knew he'd been fired because of the loss.

Vecsey of the Times, for instance.

"He just looked like he knew it was over," Vecsey says, "and I couldn't believe it was that simple."

Showalter denies that he was fired.

"Contrary to what anyone believes, I left New York, and it was my choice," he says. "I had a contract offered me to return there, and I couldn't do it under the circumstances."

Namely, he'd have to give up his coaches.

According to a Yankees spokesman, the official word is that Showalter's contract expired; whether he was offered a new one was a question that only Steinbrenner could answer -- and Steinbrenner would not speak to reporters.

When word got out that Showalter was looking for a new job, Jerry Colangelo reconsidered his timetable in putting together his Diamondbacks organization.

He'd expected to hire a manager two years later, right before the expansion draft. When he talked to baseball sages about managers, the names that always came up as class acts were Jim Leyland, now in Colorado, St. Louis' Tony LaRussa, and Buck Showalter. Colangelo is not one to miss an opportunity, so he rearranged his plans.

"As soon as [Showalter] became available, I called him at midnight and we had our first discussion," Colangelo says.

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