Buck's the System

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

Buck Showalter sat alone on the dugout bench at the Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, legs crossed, one palm atop a baseball bat he leaned on as if it were a cane.

He watched the Texas Rangers take batting practice and thought "how lonely this job is sometimes," or so he said. And whether he was being facetious is hard to say, because Buck is a hard read.

There are times in the long baseball season when a manager gets reflective, and this was one of them. The Diamondbacks were in first place earlier this week; in Texas, they were two and a half games out of first place. Not too shabby for an expansion team in its second season, but still not good enough for the coaches or players, who by definition want to win it all. And certainly not good enough for the fans.

The game face is steely, the man is not.
Paolo Vescia
The game face is steely, the man is not.
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.
Showalter does his daily standup for the press.
Paolo Vescia
Showalter does his daily standup for the press.
Midseason, a manager gets reflective.
Paolo Vescia
Midseason, a manager gets reflective.

The game the night before had been another of those late-inning losses, a big lead blown by a relief pitcher, a scenario that has become a recurring curse. At 2:30 in the morning, an after-the-fact baseball expert had somehow gotten Showalter's cell-phone number and left a message so venomous that Showalter wouldn't repeat it. He denied it bothered him, but it was clearly on his mind.

The fans only see Showalter's game face, tightlipped and serious; his jacket is always buttoned to the top, even on the hottest days, and they assume that he, too, is buttoned-up and humorless.

In fact, Showalter is immensely likable, with a quick, dry wit, and a straight-faced delivery. He's a Southern gentleman, discreet and polite, but full of stories and fond of philosophical discussion. He chokes up regularly. He's more thin-skinned than he lets on. He reads what the newspapers write about him.

The deadpan is a deliberate attempt not to get caught up in the emotion of any particular moment, high or low, because there's usually another game tomorrow that he's got to prepare for. And even if the day-after-day wears him down as the season drags on, he thinks that a football-like schedule would drive him crazy, because he wouldn't want to have to wait a whole week to redeem himself after a loss, or prove a win was no fluke.

Showalter, 43, is a player's manager. He's protective of his team, trying to clear all obstacles for them. As he says, "The only thing that is going to challenge them is, 'Am I as good as the guys on the other team?'"

Showalter's workaholic schedule is legendary. He gets to the ballpark every morning by 10 and leaves after midnight.

"He's here when I get here and he's still here after I leave," says utility infielder Andy Fox.

He's got a Murphy bed in his office just off the clubhouse in Bank One Ballpark, and he sleeps there after a late night leading into a day game.

He makes sure that all his mail is answered. He feels guilty on road-trip flights because he's not working. He can't stay on the treadmill to exercise because he remembers things he hasn't finished yet. When he opens his eyes in the morning, he can't roll over and go back to sleep, because he immediately starts thinking of game match-ups and what needs to be done next.

Even while sitting and talking in the Texas dugout, he had one eye on the Rangers players, figuring out how he'd play against them.

"He swings better right," he says of one switch hitter, almost talking to himself. "Ahhh, they'll only use him in a pinch."

Then he points to a spry older man out on the field in a Rangers uniform.

"See that guy over there?" he says. "He was my first manager. He's the guy who gave me my nickname."

"I guess I did," says Ed Napoleon, now first-base coach for the Rangers.

Showalter came into the world as William Nathaniel Showalter III, Nat to his family. But according to baseball lore, Napoleon saw Showalter sitting in the locker room late after a game with just a towel around him and said, "Hey, don't you have any street clothes? Every time I see you you're either in uniform or buck naked."

Showalter's teammates overheard the remark and started calling him Buck.

"He said, 'You look more like a Buck than a Nathaniel,'" Showalter insists, and Buck didn't fight the nickname because "he was my manager."

Napoleon doesn't really remember the exchange.

But more than 20 years later, Buck Showalter still seems to exist only in a baseball park. He does have street clothes, for sure, but they really don't look right on him.


A reporter trying to get a handle on Buck Showalter might as well be a wildlife biologist studying some elusive creature in its natural habitat. Each sighting is just another snapshot of the creature's life as it comes to the watering hole, with little chance of figuring out what makes the animal do the things it does.

Every day before the game, the media gather in the dugout during batting practice, waiting for Showalter's daily pronouncements. Showalter usually talks to the electronic media first, knowing that they like to freeload off the print journalists' questions and air the answers on TV or radio before the newspaper writer can get them into print.

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."

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 Nuñez 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."

Then, while on the subject of perspective, he told how once, while driving from Yankee Stadium to his home in New Jersey, he'd pulled over to watch a Little League game.

He'd stopped for "the purity of the game," but instead found the reality -- and fled.

"I'm watching some of the parents and some of the coaches, and I just wanted to scream, "Let 'em play the game. They're kids. Why're you making it difficult for them?' The coach was screaming at the players, the parents screaming at the coaches, both of them screaming at the umpire.

"What kind of suggestion does that give a young kid? If my son doesn't want to pick up a ball of any type, believe me, it won't bother me one bit."

In fact, his son has already picked up the ball. The Diamondbacks allow players' sons ample access to the clubhouse and the field during batting practice, and there are usually a handful of little boys in authentic uniforms running around the warning track. On more than one occasion, Showalter stopped his conversation in midsentence to watch his son, Nathan, 8, play catch with one of the players or coaches. Nathan had taunted his older sister, Allie, 12, and she leaned on her father to institute daughters' days, when players can bring the girls, too.

Perspective comes from growing up in a small town.


That small town was Century, Florida, a Mayberrylike burg on the panhandle, just over the state line from Alabama. Showalter once let on to the press that he was fond of The Andy Griffith Show, and they repeated it until he was practically the president of the Andy Griffith fan club.

Still, Showalter admits that Mayberry reminds him of his hometown, that the show fits his criteria as something he can let his kids watch, and that Andy Griffith reminds him of his dad.

William Showalter Jr. was the high school principal and, according to one legend, he caught young Nat's first home run while sitting in a lounge chair in his backyard, which backed up to the Little League ballpark.

It was the first night Showalter's dad let him use a "big" 28-inch bat. Showalter senior would often find an excuse to be in the backyard when Showalter III had baseball practice, pretending to be raking leaves, when he was really watching. When Nat popped the ball out of the field, he scrambled off the lounge chair to catch it, and then refused to give it back to the umpire, instead sending one of Showalter's sisters into the house to get another ball so that they could continue the game.

Later, when Showalter was in college, his father would leave school, jump into his '59 Ford truck and drive two and a half hours to Chipola Junior College to watch Showalter play. He'd never tell him he was coming.

"I never even knew he was there," Showalter recalls. "He'd be out behind a tree in right center. After the game, one of the basketball players said, "Yeah, I sat in your dad's truck today and watched the game.'"

If those tales sound like Andy Griffith episodes, they're not the only Showalter stories that do.

In 1977, while he was playing at Mississippi State (he graduated with a B.S. in education), he was drafted by the New York Yankees and sent off to Fort Lauderdale to play first base.

Before he reported to the team, he threw a curve to the scout who signed him.

"If I were your son, what would you tell me to do?" he asked. "To take this offer or not take this offer?"

"There was a long silence," he recalls now, "and he says, 'I'll get back to you.'"

But he did take the offer, and drove all night to meet the team in Fort Lauderdale. Ed Napoleon, the manager, told him they'd be traveling to Miami that day to play the Padres' farm team. He suggested that Showalter ride the bus with them, dress out and sit in the dugout to get to know some of the guys.

While the team was taking batting practice, Showalter thought he'd read the batting roster to familiarize himself with the players' names.

"I go down the line, I get to the third hitter and it's Showalter," he remembers.

Even before he reached the minor leagues, Showalter had earned a reputation as the toughest guy on the field. Brian Butterfield, who has coached for Showalter since the minor leagues, remembers playing against him in the Cape Cod League, a summer league for college players. Butterfield played second base; his shortstop was afraid of Showalter when he was the runner on first, and would plead with Butterfield to "get me the ball quick," if Showalter was moving in his direction and the play was at second.

"He was real hard-nosed, very aggressive," Butterfield says. "You could tell while he was playing that he was going to be a manager. He was always talking situations. He would be the first one to the park and the last one to leave. As a player, he was by far the best student on the field."

Ed Napoleon recalls his hustle, his willingness to run out every hopeless pop fly, his determination.

"If there was a runner on and two outs, he's the guy I wanted at the plate," Napoleon says. "He was going to get a hit."

His growing knowledge of the game did not go unnoticed. Butterfield recalls playing double-A ball with Showalter.

"Our manager felt sick one day coming to the park. He looked like he was going to pass out," Butterfield says. "It was about 110 degrees in Columbus, Georgia. He went right to Buck and said, 'Buck, why don't you handle it today? I'm going to kind of curl up in the corner.'"

In the off-season, Showalter took temporary jobs, hanging beer signs, clearing fields with a bulldozer, even whitewashing the fence at the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport.

He met his wife, Angela, while he was playing triple-A ball in Nashville. Her friend's father was a team owner and had given her a summer job selling programs. The friend's mother had picked Showalter out as her favorite and introduced them.

Angela was skeptical.

"These guys are here today and gone tomorrow," she recalls. "I had to eat my words."

They married in 1983.

"You never know what you'll find in the minors," she quips.

In the end, as much as he compensated with hustle and study, Showalter wasn't big enough or good enough to make it to the major leagues as a first baseman.

Napoleon concurs that Showalter was a step slow, with a below-average arm, his hitting consistent but lacking power.

"I never had a problem dealing with reality," Showalter says.

As the 1984 season opened, the Yankees gave him some options: He could play triple-A another year, become a free agent, or coach for the Yankees in the minor leagues. He was newly married, wondering about security, and he decided to coach. It went well enough that a year later, he was offered a three-year contract as a minor-league manager.

His first stop, Oneonta, New York, was a shot to the head -- literally.

The team had drafted a new pitcher, and Showalter wanted to see his stuff, close up, from the batter's box. He stood by the plate, without a batting helmet, and the first pitch struck him full in the side of the head.

"I never saw it," he says. "The next thing I know, I'm laying on my back, there's blood coming out of my ears, and [one of the coaches] is leaning over me and talking to me. I can see his lips moving, but I can't hear him."

The nearest hospital was in Cooperstown, New York, where the Baseball Hall of Fame is located.

"I remember riding over in the ambulance and thinking, "This is a hell of a way to get to Cooperstown,'" he says.

He was treated and released, and when he got back to the clubhouse, he found the pitcher in the locker room, pointed a wobbly finger at him and said, "I took your best shot, and I'm still standing."

Buck Showalter's managing skills had already been noticed by the New York press before he reached the majors. His 1989 team in Albany, New York, had finished first in its league.

Billy Martin, the Yankees manager, had noticed, too.

Martin would invite his minor league managers to spring training. Once during a game against the White Sox in Sarasota, Florida, Martin turned to the bench when a new pitcher came to the mound, and asked, "Does anybody know this guy?"

Showalter had managed him the year before in Albany, but he wasn't sure if he should speak up, because he didn't want to seem a showoff. At the same time, he didn't want Martin to find out later that he knew the player and hadn't said anything. So he piped up:

"Billy, I had him last year. He's got a mental block about throwing the ball to first base. He can't throw to first base on the pick-off."

There were two outs, and Martin started using maximum body English from the dugout, trying to get his runner on first to take a bigger lead.

Sure enough, the pitcher tried to pick him off, but threw the ball over the first baseman's head and into the dugout. The runner stole second and eventually scored.

After the game, Martin threw his car keys to Showalter and said, "You're coming with me tonight, kid."

"I was the chauffeur that night," he remembers. "It was a long night."

Sportswriters in New York referred to Showalter as Martin's bodyguard and keeper, the coach responsible for keeping Martin out of trouble when he went out on the town.

Showalter denies being anything more than a close friend to Martin, and a devout student, but he did move up to the Yankees' coaching staff before Martin's death in 1989. He was there until late 1991, when the Yankees' front office -- George Steinbrenner had been suspended -- tapped him as manager. He was 35 years old.

In a New Yorky show of little confidence, the Yankees offered him a one-year contract.

"I would have given me a one-year contract, too," he says now.

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.

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.

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.


Case in point: July 16, Arlington, Texas, another back-and-forth game with the Texas Rangers, an early lead lost, a load of questionable calls, and a lot of hard feelings.

In the top of the ninth inning, with the score tied at 9-9, Luis Gonzalez lost his temper after the umpire called a strike Gonzalez didn't think had actually crossed the plate. Like a jackrabbit leading a coyote away from its warren, Showalter was suddenly between his player and the ump, pumping his jaws, walking deliberately away from Gonzalez and taking the ump with him.

In the bottom of the inning, Showalter was faced with a dilemma: Texas slugger Rafael Palmeiro came to the plate with two men in scoring position. Showalter decided to walk Palmeiro, load the bases, and take his chances with the next batter.

He lost the gamble and the game when the pitcher walked that batter. It was an ignominious loss, the kind that looks stupid in hindsight. Angry fans would be calling the talk-radio shows to offer their opinions. There would be hell to pay on the highlights that evening.

After the game, when the press was allowed into the clubhouse, Showalter waited, stony-faced, his eyebrows still arched so high they threatened to knock his hat off his head.

The newsmen looked at the floor until one asked the perfunctory question about the walk.

"Palmeiro, that's what it is," Showalter said crisply but politely. "Any time you can take the bat out of the hands of a great hitter ..."

His voice trailed off. No one seemed to have anything to ask.

"What else?" Showalter barked.

It was midnight before he sat down in the visiting manager's office to watch the game on film. He was still awake in his hotel room at 4 o'clock, when the morning newspaper slipped under his door, and he read it before he allowed himself to fall asleep.

He'd be up early to prepare for the next game.

Contact Michael Kiefer at his online address: mkiefer@newtimes.com

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