Adam Morris, who runs Lone Star Ball, was kind enough to provide this look at Buck Showalter from the perspective of a fan who has seen Showalter's impact on his team. He has an interesting view on a number of things that have been discussed here, namely Showalter's tendency to rub players the wrong way and how he deals with veterans vs younger players.
Also to be considered based on what Adam presents is how Showalter will interact with both Andy MacPhail and Peter Angelos, and what kind of issues might arise as a result. Thanks to Adam for taking the time to give us his insider opinion.
Buck Showalter was the manager of the Texas Rangers for four seasons, from 2003 through 2006. When he was hired by General Manger John Hart to replace Jerry Narron, the move was generally heralded as a masterstroke by the D/FW media. After losing 91 games in his inaugural season and seeing the team’s best player dealt, Showalter was named Manager of the Year in 2004 when the Rangers surprised all of baseball by winning 89 games and staying in the race until late in the season. Despite low payrolls, Showalter had the Rangers around .500 the next two seasons. And yet, when he was fired after 2006, you could find almost no one, other than his old colleagues at ESPN, who was critical of the move.
Showalter’s pattern is pretty well established after three managerial stints. He’s smart, he goes by the book, he’s a very good in-game manager. He works hard, he knows the game, and he is the perfect person to come in and whip an organization in disarray into shape.
He’s also got a very short shelf-life. After one season playing for Showalter, Alex Rodriguez wanted out of Texas, and while ARod is generally painted as the bad guy for "forcing" a trade, as Showalter’s buddy Peter Gammons reported at the time, Showalter wanted Rodriguez out of Texas just as much, if not more, as Rodriguez wanted to be gone. Showalter works best with low-ego guys, either young players or veteran journeymen. His reputation is that he wants to be the star of the show…he considers himself the smartest guy in the room, and he’s not afraid to make sure everyone knows that.
One of the most memorable episodes in Showalter’s tenure with Texas was his showdown with Rangers' owner Tom Hicks in mid-2004. Hicks hired John Hart in 2002 with the understanding that he’d groom Grady Fuson, brought over from Oakland, to be Hart’s successor, taking over for Hart after the 2004 season. Fuson and Hart weren’t exactly best buddies, and by spring 2004, there were two camps forming, with Showalter and Hart aligned in one camp, and Fuson and his people in the other. The scuttlebutt was that Showalter was a big fan of Hart, because Showalter wanted to have a lot of control and say-so in what happened in the organization from top to bottom, while Hart was more interested in playing golf, and was happy to cede control to Showalter.
Hicks, who was supposedly tired of having a wildly unpopular GM who wasn’t interested in dealing with the media, agreed to a new deal with Fuson that was to be announced over the All Star Break, formalizing the succession plan that was to occur after 2004. Showalter and then-pitching coach Orel Hershiser then met with Hicks and, according to reports, informed him that if Fuson took over, the two of them would leave the organization with Hart and go to a new team. Hicks would be left with losing his manager, pitching coach, and general manager on the heels of the team’s most successful season in years.
Hicks panicked, agreed to keep Hart on, and Hart, naturally, fired Fuson. After a disappointing 2005 season, Hart stepped aside, with Jon Daniels taking over as general manager. This was widely viewed as Showalter’s doing, since Daniels, the youngest GM in baseball history, was viewed as being a Showalter puppet, who was installed simply to do Showalter’s bidding. Daniels, as it turned out, was his own man, and fired Showalter after the 2006 season, and has steered the Rangers on a path that has them heading to the playoffs for the first time in over a decade in 2010.
Part of the problem that seems to have led to Showalter having a short shelf-life with organizations is his tendency to rub his players the wrong way. He had, reportedly, pretty much lost the clubhouse with the Rangers at the end of the 2006 season, to the point where Tom Hicks said he thought the solution to the atmosphere problems in the clubhouse might be to bring in all new players. The word was that Rangers players never knew exactly where they stood with Showalter, and that he preferred it that way…he either wanted guys on edge, or just simply wasn’t comfortable communicating directly with the players. The word "passive-aggressive" comes up a lot in describing Showalter’s dealings with his players, and in talking to the media, you would get "Buck-speak," a bunch of empty words that ultimately would never answer questions or give reasons for what was going on.
Buck was also seen as a "grass is greener" type when it comes to personnel…the feeling was that Showalter was the type of manager who seemed to only be able to see the shortcomings of his players, and not the positives, while being way too enamored with players on other teams. The infamous trade of Chris Young and Adrian Gonzalez to San Diego for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka is the classic example…the most common take on that deal was that Buck had decided that Gonzalez wasn’t going to hit for enough power to be an everyday first baseman and that Young, despite having a stellar season in 2004, wasn’t going to be durable enough to be a quality starter. Eaton, on the other hand, was tantalizing, and the team needed a veteran arm in the pen. So he supposedly pushed for Young and Gonzalez to be dealt for Eaton, who was seen as the Rangers’ potential long-sought-after ace (despite a mixed track record, a history of injuries, and only a year of team control remaining). Eaton was awful, Young gave San Diego a couple of solid seasons before succumbing to injury, and Gonzalez has blossomed into one of the best first basemen in baseball.
Another classic example of the Showalter management style…in the 2005-06 offseason, the Rangers selected a tiny, 20 year old hard-throwing lefty named Fabio Castro in the Rule 5 draft. Daniels and the front office liked Castro, wanted to keep him in the system, and felt he could be stashed in the bullpen and contribute if used judiciously. Buck, reportedly, wasn’t a Castro fan, wasn’t interested in keeping him around, and decided to deal with the situation by simply not using Castro. The front office finally caved and dealt Castro to Philadelphia, giving Buck his victory on the issue.
Given where the Orioles are right now, Showalter is probably a good fit for the team. He’ll come in, bring energy, bring organization, implement change top to bottom. He’ll weigh in on minor leaguers and who the team should draft next July. Baltimore will probably see its fortunes turn around pretty quickly.
I just wouldn’t expect him to be there for the next decade, or anything like that. Likely, in three or four years, his act will have run thin, he’ll have alienated too many people, and someone else will be brought in to try to take what Showalter has built to the next level.