Buck's the System

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

Showalter had already interviewed in Detroit, and he stopped in Phoenix on his way back from another interview in Oakland.

"I sat down with Jerry, and the next thing I knew, we were moving salt and pepper shakers around at 4 o'clock in the morning in some little Italian restaurant, talking about philosophy and cut-offs and relays."

Colangelo offered the job, and after a few days' reflection, Showalter accepted, before they ever talked about money. The money came to $1 million a year for seven years.

The game face is steely, the man is not.
Paolo Vescia
The game face is steely, the man is not.

More than once over the course of interviews for this story, Showalter says that the best reward he could get would be for Colangelo to tell him that spending that money to bring him to Phoenix was the right thing to do.

His friend and mentor, Billy Martin, told Showalter, "Once you're gone, the fans will mourn you for about 20 minutes."

Indeed, his successor, Joe Torre, has taken the Yanks to the World Series twice, making Showalter's departure that much less sorrowful.

"I find him dull," Filip Bondy of the Daily News says of Showalter. "He was always a bit too straight for New York in many ways, in that tuck-your-shirt-into-your-pants and keep-your-hat-on-straight kind of nonsense. It struck me as not playing to the right crowd here. But he had the ultimate foil, the guy who could make anybody look like a hero. That's Steinbrenner."

Showalter smirks at the suggestion that he was too boring for New York, but he acknowledges the difference in pace.

"You never had to worry about players getting too comfortable there," he says. "Who cares what you did yesterday; let's go, pal!"

His eyes widen at the thought of being in New York. He liked the excitement.

His wife describes it differently.

"In New York, you always had to look over your shoulder," she says.

When Showalter was with the Yankees, he and his wife still considered Florida to be their residence, and they returned there in the off-season. But now they call Phoenix home, and the house they keep in Florida is for vacations. The kids are older and in school and harder to uproot twice a year; the packing had become more and more overwhelming.

Though Showalter keeps his usual tight lip, his life in the Phoenix clubhouse is easier, too.

Glen Sherlock, who coaches here and coached the Yankees, says, "When I was in New York, Mr. Steinbrenner didn't speak to me. When you would see him, he would be speaking to Buck. He didn't spend much time talking to coaches or to players. But here, Mr. Colangelo knows your name and he knows exactly what you do. It's completely different here."

True to form, however, Showalter won't bad-mouth his former employer.

"George Steinbrenner gave me the chance to support my family for 18 years," he says. "Hell, he even let me manage the Yankees!"

Showalter's Phoenix days start in midmorning and end well after midnight. He pores over stats and scouting reports, thinking over the "what-ifs," finding out anything he can about his own players and the players they face -- who hits off of whom and who doesn't -- and then passing the information on to the players.

"He'll say, "The first baseman doesn't play the bunt well, so let's bunt to him in a first-and-third situation where normally you'd bunt to the third baseman,'" says infielder Andy Fox.

"Let's say you have a power hitter with a big swing and this guy throws a lot of high fastballs," adds third baseman Matt Williams. "He would probably pick someone else to hit against this guy because he might not be able to catch up with that high fastball."

Showalter has told more than one reporter that he uses the stats only to "confirm hunches." But, Williams says, "He can look at a pitcher and see whether you're going to be able to handle that guy or not, given your swing or your approach and all the pitches he throws. So it's not all by the book.

"He's prepared from the first pitch to the last pitch and from the first game of the season to the last."

The workday continues after the game ends. Showalter sits down and watches the game on video, looking to see if those calls were as bad as they seemed, who's got a bum arm and may not be able to make the throw from second to home plate, if the cut-off man was in the right place, if the outfielders were backing up the bases. He likes to watch the players' reactions off-ball, when they're spectators not taking part in the play, noting who's leaning out of the dugout to see if the ball is fair or foul.

"The things that keep you up at night are: Do the guys care? Are they prepared?" he says.

More than once, Showalter told New Times that the most comfortable time of the day is when the first pitch is thrown and he and all the players are in their element. From that point on, his decisions are mostly split-second -- and all of them will be second-guessed by the fans and the press-box pundits.

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