You will never hear the Baltimore Orioles skipper Buck Showalter talk about himself or any of his personal accomplishments.
It’s just not his style.
He’s more about team goals and his player’s accomplishments. He always has been.
But on this day, it’s time to shine the spotlight on the man who has turned Charm City into a baseball town once again.
With Tuesday night’s Orioles 91st win over the Blue Jays, Showalter has passed his mentor, someone he looked up to as a manager and a friend, Billy Martin, for wins as a MLB manager with 1,254.
And oh by the way, his club clinched the AL East title with the win for the first time since 1997.
“The only jersey hanging at our Dallas home is the one Billy wore in the big leagues that has a black armband to honor Elston Howard the year that he passed away,” Buck’s son Nate Showalter told me. “Billy took my dad under his wing early in his career and he meant a lot to him.”
William Nathaniel “Buck” Showalter was born May 23, 1956 in DeFuniak Springs, Florida. His father, William, was a high school teacher that turned down playing professional football in the NFL for the Pittsburgh Steelers to become a high school coach instead.
Buck played baseball for Mississippi State University where he played under the name “Nat Showalter”. He was selected as an 1977 All-American outfielder and set the Bulldogs record for batting average in a single season that year hitting an absurd .459. He was selected by the New York Yankees in the fifth round of the draft, and spent seven seasons in the Yankees minor league system where he had a career average of .294 with 17 home runs and 336 RBI. Showalter never made the show with the Yankees, in part because he played first base, the same position as Don Mattingly.
In 1985, Showalter was hired as manager of the Single-A minor league Oneonta Yankees of the New York Penn League and lead them to 114 victories in just two seasons. By 1989, he was with the Double-A Albany Colonie Yankees of the Eastern League, where he was named Minor League Manager of the Year by Baseball America.
Because of all this early success, the Yankees big club promoted him to their coaching staff, that promotion eventually led to him being hired to replace Stump Merrill as the Yankees skipper before the 1992 season. That team finished 76-86, in fourth place in the AL East.
But that was only the beginning for Showalter.
During his four years as the Yankees manager, he posted an impressive 313-268 record and was named the AL Manager of the Year by the Associated Press in the strike-shortened 1994 season, The following year, the Yankees won the AL Wild Card, participating in the playoffs for the first time since 1981, but lost to the Seattle Mariners in five games.
Showalter was not re-hired after that season in part because of the playoff loss, but mostly because he stood up for his players during the strike. The Yankees went on to win the World Series the following year and they would win four of the next five. Showalter couldn’t watch the Yankees win those World Series saying at the time, “I feel badly for the fans in New York for what they lost during the 1994 strike.” It was his amazing wife, Angela Showalter, who provided Buck with game recap’s from the other room in only a way a supportive, loving partner can.
After successful managerial runs in both Arizona (where he built the Diamondbacks from the ground up and went 250-236 during his three-year run) and Texas (he was named AL Manager of the Year in 2004), Showalter was hired as a senior advisor to baseball operations for the Cleveland Indians in December of 2006 and then returned to ESPN to serve as an analyst.
But it was July 29, 2010 that everything changed for a baseball organization and its long-suffering fan base.
That was the day Showalter was appointed to succeed then interim manager of the Baltimore Orioles, Juan Samuel.
He chose to wear the number 26 in tribute to long time Orioles manager, Johnny Oates (who was also fired after the 1994 strike-shorten season by Orioles owner Peter Angelos). Oates passed away on Christmas Eve of 2004 from a brain tumor that he was diagnosed with in 2001.
Since that hire, the Orioles have won 322 games under Showalter (at print time) and have gone to the playoffs in 2012 and now have won the AL East title in 2014. Additionally, the club has had winning seasons in all but one of his first five years as the Orioles skipper. He was also named AL Manager of the Year in 2012 by the Sporting News and should be a leading candidate for the honor this year.
And now he has passed a man who was his mentor and close confidant in MLB wins.
Billy Martin meant more to Showalter than he’ll ever lead on.
Martin’s first stint as a MLB manager was for the Minnesota Twins in 1969 where he led the club to a division title. He was fired the following season after a fight with a couple of his players outside a bar in Detroit. He spent the 1970 season out of baseball.
He then had stints as manager for the Tigers and Rangers, but where he is best known and where he and Buck crossed paths was with the Yankees. His public disagreements with management and players, notably Reggie Jackson, are legendary tales. He was also the manager of the Yankees during the “pine tar incident” in 1983. At the time of his death, Martin was preparing to manage the Yankees for the sixth time in the 1990 season, to the point of even assembling a coaching staff.
On August 10, 1986, the Yankees retired Martin’s uniform number, 1, and dedicated a plaque in his honor for Monument Park at Yankee Stadium. Martin, never one to mince words, told the crowd, “I may not have been the greatest Yankee to put on the uniform, but I am the proudest.”
Martin passed away on Christmas of 1989 at the young age of 61. He was killed in a low speed, single vehicle collision during an ice storm at the end of the driveway to his farm in Binghamton, New York.
Although Showalter and Martin weren’t exactly the same off the diamond, they both posses the passion for the game of baseball and more importantly the desire to help their players get the most out their talents. Showalter has changed the culture in the Orioles clubhouse as well as the way things are done in the Warehouse, which wasn’t exactly an easy task based on their track record since the Angelos bought the team in 1993.
Showalter’s attention to detail is something this organization has been in need of for years. Plus, his relationship with the Angelos family is probably better than any manager they have hired.
But most importantly is how Showalter has brought the experiences of his 20-plus years of baseball service to a young, hungry team learning how to win. It’s his even-keel approach that helps keep the club’s expectations in check.
Sometimes learning how to accept losses is almost more important than leaning to win in this great game of baseball.
I would personally like to congratulate Buck Showalter on this personal achievement. God knows he won’t be the one puffing his chest out. But hopefully during his down time in the offseason (is there any for this baseball lifer?) he can reflect on what a great accomplishment this really is.
I know one person who will be smiling, Billy Martin.