Monday, February 2, 2009

Number of Days Until Spring Training: Buck Showalter (#11)

Fittingly, Buck Showalter got overshadowed today.

If the Super Bowl wasn't yesterday, this piece would have been written last night, and Buck would have had the 6:00AM slot. His career as Yankee Manager was similarly overshadowed and under appreciated.

Buck was born to be a baseball man. He has a very baseballey-sounding name. When he was growing up in Century, Florida, Little League games were the most popular summertime activity. Every night there was a game, a couple hundred residents would gather under the lights to take in the action. Buck didn't have to travel very far to catch the games, because his backyard butted up against scoreboard of the field. His father was the Principal of the local high school and coach of the baseball team, in case you were wondering where Buck got his stern demeanor.

Unfortunately, Showalter wasn't born to be a baseball player. He spent seven years in the Yankee organization and had relatively good minor league numbers, but never played a game on the big stage because he was blocked by Don Mattingly. William Nathaniel "Buck" Showalter got his nickname for the state of undress he used to walk around the locker room in.

After his playing career, Buck went on to manage in the Yankees system, starting with Oneonta, moving to Fort Lauderdale, and ending up with the Albany Colonie Yankees in 1989, who went (97-46) and won him the Baseball America's Minor League Manager of the Year. He was promoted to the Yankees major league coaching staff in 1990 and replaced Stump Merrill as Manager in 1992.

After going (76-86) in '92, Showalter guided the Yankees to a second place finish in 1993 with 88 wins. When the strike stopped the 1994 season, their winning percentage was even better (.619) and they were on pace to win over 100 games. The Yanks made the playoffs in 1995 for the first time since 1981 by earning a Wild Card berth.

His personal clashes with George Steinbrenner ultimately led to him leaving the team before the 1996 season. After losing to the Mariners in the '95 ALDS Steinbrenner wanted Buck to fire two of his coaches, and when he refused, Buck got the axe himself. After having set the table for St. Joe and the late 90's dominance, he moved on to the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks. He led them to a 100 win season in 1999 and left after 2000, just before the D-Backs unseated the Yanks in the 2001 World Series.

I was at a game earlier this year and they had Buck pull the Metlife countdown lever. There was a smattering of applause, but not real love for him. I was pretty surprised. Yankee fans pride themselves on their appreciation for the team's history, and to some extent, the indifferent reception to Buck's appearance that night makes me question that.

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