Men's Journal: Is Buck Showalter Too Smart for Baseball?

The Buck Showalter quotes that have been floating around for about a week now are all from an article in the April issue of Men’s Journal. The entire article is now available online, and it would be well worth your time to go check it out.

Here are some highlights (to my mind, at least):

On Buck’s departures from his previous gigs in New York, Arizona, and Texas:

The stated reasons for his departures varied, but the whispers were the same at every stop: For all his savvy, he wore people ragged with a slakeless thirst for control. Players groused that he called each pitch and changed signals three times a game. Suits in the front office bitched that he tried to undermine them or invade their turf. Fairly or not, a reputation grew and attached itself to him: He’d fix your team but drive players and employees batshit.

On Buck’s greatest strength:

“One of Buck’s strengths, maybe his best one, really, is the ability to spot talent that people miss,” says Don Mattingly, the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who played for Showalter’s Yanks in the early ’90s. “He could tell, from an instructional camp in Florida, which guys had the traits and the demeanor.”

“I remember in 1990, he showed me the stat line of a kid who was a marginal prospect in low-A ball,” says New York Post columnist Joel Sherman, who’s covered the Yankees for 22 years. “He pointed to K’s and walks and said, ‘Forget the other numbers; that kid’s going to be a star.’ ” The kid, of course, was Mariano Rivera, whom Showalter twice kept out of trades.

On Buck’s motivational tactics:

Soon, he sat with each player privately and told them, in blunt terms, what he expected. To Brad Bergesen, a second-year starter with a habit of eyeing the dugout when things unraveled: “Trust your stuff, be the big dick in the shower — and if you look in the dugout once, you’re coming out.” Bergesen hadn’t won a start since May, but went 5–3 from then on, with an ERA under three. Something like that happened with the rest of the staff as well. Pre-Showalter, they went 32–73, with a five-plus ERA. Post: 34–23, 3.54.

On his weaknesses:

He’ll keep mental lists of opposing skippers who get their relievers up early and bait them with moves in the middle innings so he can “pound their tits” in the eighth. “No one in the game can steal signs like Buck or catch a guy tipping his pitches,” says Bob Klapisch, a columnist for The Record in Bergen County, New Jersey. “But the drawback is, he couldn’t back off, loading his players with information instead of letting them play on instinct.” Adds Gene Michael, the ex-GM of those Yankees teams: “I had to tell him sometimes to stop with all that. He’s great at strategy but takes it too far, and the guys tune him out after a while.”

Seriously, go read the whole thing.



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