Every morning when the man with the most secure managing job
since Connie Mack rises from bed, his first thought is not about
the paychecks guaranteed to bring him $7 million through 2002,
or the complimentary leased car, or deciding which country club
to join at the team's expense, or the invitations to play golf
in the Phoenix Open and the Greater Hartford Open pro-ams, or
the two-year, all-expenses-paid vacation from dugout decisions
and, worse, the second-guessing. No, when Buck Showalter's feet
hit the floor of his Scottsdale, Ariz., home, the manager of the
1998 expansion Arizona Diamondbacks thinks about this: What can
I do today to make this organization better? Another workday has
begun. The clock beside his bed reads 4:30 a.m.
Showalter does not need to think long for answers. Order shower
shoes for the players just drafted out of high school and
college. Teach those kids at the Diamondbacks' first minicamp
when to throw the baseball in a rundown. Decide whether the
uniform belts should be black, purple or turquoise and made of
leather or stretch nylon. Make contacts on scouting trips to
Mexico, Japan, Canada and Korea. Craft a players' code of
conduct and a Diamondbacks' how-to manual that is so specific
that it lists the third baseman's responsibility on a base hit
to centerfield (remain in the area of third base). Obsess about
everything in the not-yet-completed stadium, from the alignment
of lockers in the clubhouse to the location of complimentary
seats for the families of staff members and players. Keep
searching for the correct shade of purple for the uniforms. All
of those things--and more--have been on his to-do list.
The franchise is owned by Jerry Colangelo, the wizard who helped
bring the NBA (the Suns), the NHL (the Coyotes, formerly the
Winnipeg Jets, who are relocating beginning this fall) and Major
League Baseball to Phoenix. But if you could dust the team for
fingerprints, you would find that they would match those of
William Nathaniel Showalter III. When 60 Diamondback draftees
reported to minicamp in Peoria, Ariz., about 20 miles from
Phoenix, in early June, they signed Showalter's code of conduct
pledge, swearing off hightop spikes, earrings, goatees, long
hair, caps worn backward, designer sunglasses propped up on the
bill of the cap and uniform pants that cover the stirrups.
Though such rules might make it difficult these days to fill out
a 25-man roster, Showalter intends for the code to apply to the
club's major leaguers.
"If you put those things before team goals," he says, referring
to the stylish quirks, "then you're probably not worth having
Showalter was 28 years old when, after a seven-year minor league
career, he became a manager. That was in 1985 with the Class A
Oneonta (N.Y.) Yankees, and he would take his work home with
him, even after night games. His wife, Angela, would prepare a
fried-bologna sandwich with a pickle, which he would devour
while studying a videotape of the parent New York Yankees' game
that night. She was under orders never to reveal the score to
him. "That," he says, "was living."
He climbed through the organization with the persistence of a
Sherpa, working his way to the top spot on the big club by 1992.
He was the kind of manager who scouted umpires, and he would
sometimes tweak his rotation to get the best possible matchup of
his pitcher and the strike zone of the home plate ump. He knew
which two American League managers didn't change their catcher's
signs with runners on second base during a game. Showalter, of
course, would routinely change signs during the same inning. He
worked such long hours that during the '94 strike, when he went
home to Pensacola, Fla., he found himself inside a grocery store
for the first time in three years.
Maybe it has to be that way when George Steinbrenner is your
boss. In Arizona, though, it's not Steinbrenner who causes
Showalter to awake at such an early hour. It is not the prospect
of a baseball game that day, either. "It's his drive," Angela
says. "Even I had this false sense that maybe things would be
different. But it wasn't the Yankees that drove him. He's
exactly the same now. He doesn't know how to do it any other
way. People kept asking us, 'What are you going to do for two
years?' There's a lot to be done, starting from scratch. The
stress has lessened, but not the workload."
Competitive? Showalter can barely get through a dinner without
winning at something. Once he sat next to a writer at an
off-season banquet. The dinner choice was prime rib or chicken.
Showalter took the prime rib; the writer opted for the chicken.
When the meals were delivered, Showalter sized up both plates
and declared proudly, "You got out-ordered." How is that sort of
guy going to make it to 1998--when the Diamondbacks and the
Tampa Bay Devil Rays begin play--without a scoreboard?
"Oh, yes, there is a scoreboard," he says. "At the end of each
day I know when we've accomplished something or when we are just
spinning our wheels."
Says Colangelo, "He's even better than I thought. People
wondered about signing a manager two years before you start
playing. If the right guy becomes available, why let the
timetable interfere? I feel it's been money well spent."
Colangelo's original timetable after being awarded the franchise
in March 1995 was to have a manager in place before the
expansion draft in November 1997. Then late last season he began
reading that Showalter's job with the Yankees was in jeopardy.
That despite his .539 winning percentage (313-268), his 1994
Manager of the Year award and a 1995 season in which he took the
team to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years, ending the
franchise's longest postseason drought since it won its first
pennant in 1921.
The rumors multiplied when the Seattle Mariners came from two
games down to beat the Yankees in the best-of-five division
series. Steinbrenner decided he wanted to retain Showalter, who
was finishing out a three-year, $1 million contract, but only
after dictating the terms, which included firing some of
Showalter's coaches. It was a deal Showalter found unacceptable.
"How could I go back under that arrangement?" he says. "At the
first bump in the road people begin to wonder if you're going to
give them up next. How do you look at yourself in the mirror?"
Showalter was finished with the Yankees after spending 19
years--nearly half his life--in the organization. In private, he
broke down and cried.
He became a free agent at the stroke of midnight on Nov. 1. One
minute later Colangelo called. "I couldn't find anyone in
baseball who said anything derogatory about him," Colangelo
says. "His background and his age were very appealing."
A week later Showalter, who also interviewed for jobs with the
Detroit Tigers and the Oakland Athletics, headed to Arizona for
the first time in his life. Within a few days he signed a
seven-year deal with the Diamondbacks.
Showalter is an architect's nightmare. He has literally cut up
plans for the Diamondbacks' retractable-roof stadium and
rearranged pieces to his liking. In the clubhouse, for instance,
he noticed that the three specially designed catchers' lockers,
which are wider than normal to accommodate equipment, were
placed side by side. He asked that they be spread out in the
room so that a disgruntled second-or third-string backstop need
not dress next to the guy who's keeping him on the bench.
When he saw a conference room planned for the visitors'
clubhouse, he wanted it removed. Why aid the enemy? When he
asked for a full clubhouse in the yet-to-be-built Tucson
spring-training stadium that the Diamondbacks will share with
the Chicago White Sox, the planners told him it wasn't possible;
he would have to use the one at the practice field a half mile
away. "That," he told them, "is a deal breaker." He got the
Showalter spent his first five months with Arizona attending to
such details, as well as visiting the team's baseball academy in
the Dominican Republic, lunching with Phoenix business leaders,
giving speeches to corporate sponsors and generally acting more
like an ambassador than a manager.
"I can justify his contract as an actual start-up expense,"
Colangelo says, "because he gave the whole effort momentum.
Signing him told everyone we were for real. We began signing
tremendous corporate sponsorship agreements. We will debut in
1998 with the fourth-or fifth-highest revenues in baseball and
the largest season-ticket base--we think it will fall between
36,000 and 40,000. All 69 luxury suites have been sold."
Showalter spent most of spring training in his 11th-floor office
wearing business attire. One day, before Angela and their
children (Allie, 9, and Nathan, 4) moved to Scottsdale from
Pensacola, he phoned home with an admission that Angela had
never heard from him before: "I'm lonely." It wasn't just that
he had to summon Chris Guth, the Diamondbacks' equipment
manager, to do his laundry. "And it wasn't just us," Angela
says. "It was his coaches and players. He didn't have that
camaraderie. That's like family to him."
On May 23 he spent his 40th birthday alone in his office. "When
I called him," Angela says, "he sounded grumpy. I said, 'Cheer
up. If you turned 40 in New York, it would be all over the back
The order returned to his world on June 10 when mini-camp opened
with a 13-man staff that included his old friends and former
Yankees coaches Brian Butterfield, Mark Connor, Nardi Contreras
and Glen Sherlock. "This will be the most overcoached minicamp
in the history of baseball," he joked to the players before the
His team last year included Steve Howe, a seven-time drug
offender. This one included a 17-year-old, 143-pound shortstop
named Juan Bautista, who wept with joy when he was told he was
going to be able to leave the Dominican Republic to play
baseball in America. So frisky were these Diamondbacks prospects
that they were in the field 15 minutes before workouts began and
ran all the way to the clubhouse when they ended.
Showalter had to talk one overwhelmed pitcher out of quitting
after the first practice. During bunt drills Showalter corrected
players who shouted, "Ball! Ball!" as if there had been a
fumble. "It's, 'I got it!'" he said. He taught them the simplest
rules of rundown plays. "Make sure you leave enough time so that
the guy catching the ball can make the tag with two hands," he
instructed. "If he has to make a swipe tag, you're giving him
the ball too late. This is a two-handed game. Dos manos."
By the third day of camp Joshua McAffee, a high school catcher
drafted in the fourth round, told him, "I've learned more in the
past three days than I did in my whole life before this."
Six fans, at most, watched the workouts. The Diamondbacks share
the Peoria facility with the Mariners, and Showalter had the
Mariners' folding chairs removed from the Diamondbacks'
clubhouse and replaced with purple chairs trucked over from the
America West Arena in Phoenix. He hung Diamondbacks banners and
pulled down every Seattle logo except one, which was bolted to a
concrete wall. He pushed a soda machine in front of it.
Butterfield, who is listed as the team's defensive coordinator,
sidled up to Showalter during one workout and said, "Do you
believe this? There's no fear factor. Nobody looking over their
shoulder. It's pure baseball." It made Showalter smile.
The Fox TV people called him and offered a fat paycheck for
Showalter to provide commentary on the Yankees' game in New York
on June 16 against the Cleveland Indians. Showalter declined, in
part because his presence would create a media frenzy he thought
unfair to his replacement, Joe Torre. Also, he did not want to
lose three days of minicamp. "It's almost like time with your
family," he says. "You can never get those days back."
There is too much work for him to do now. He has the chance to
build his team the way he wants, which is why he departs from
tradition by drilling first-year players on team defense and by
forbidding the pitchers to throw splitters and sliders. Better,
he thinks, that they develop a changeup rather than those
pitches that can put a young arm at high risk of injury.
He'll see these players again with rookie league teams this
summer in Lethbridge, Alberta, and in Phoenix. He'll be in Japan
next month to develop contacts there. He'll scout big league
players this year and next, with an eye toward the '97 expansion
draft and potential free agents. The organizational manual, a
three-ring binder, is not nearly full. "We used rings that open
for a reason," he says.
Everywhere he turns, the only undefeated major league manager
sees another job that needs to be done, even as he relaxes in
his office after a workout in Peoria. As right as it feels to
wear a uniform again, Showalter could not help tugging on his
purple stirrup socks. "I don't know," he says, shaking his head.
"I still don't know if this is the right shade of purple."