Buck Showalter, the Baltimore Orioles feisty manager, owes everything to the New York Yankees, and he owes them nothing at all. Had events evolved a little differently, Showalter, not Joe Girardi, could own the responsibility of filling out the Yankees’ lineup card for tonight’s game.
It was the Yankees who gave Showalter his opportunity to make the major leagues as a player. Showalter spent seven seasons as a player in the Yankees minor league system. There he batted .294 with 17 home runs and 336 runs batted in.
Perhaps his biggest roadblock to the majors as a player was Don Mattingly. As a first-baseman, there was no replacing “Donny Baseball” on the field-or in the hearts of Yankees’ fans. Not that anyone else could have accomplished that. Mattingly had a batting average of .307 for his career, with six all-star appearances and nine gold gloves. So Showalter’s playing career came to a screeching halt.
It was the Yankees, however, that provided him with his next opportunity, as his dream switched from player to manager. In 1985, Showalter took the helm of the Oneonta Yankees at the single- A level. Not one to hang his head, he led Oneonta to 114 wins in two seasons.
So the Yankees rewarded him with an opportunity to manage the Fort Lauderdale Yankees in the Florida State League in 1987, and then promoted him to double- A Albany in 1989. Major League front offices promptly took notice when Baseball America chose him as the Minor League Manager of the year.
But once again, it was the Yankees that opened the door. He joined the New York Yankees coaching staff in 1990. Two years later, he replaced Stump Merrill in the most glorious managerial position in baseball.
The Yankees posted a record of 313-268 in Showalter’s four years. They claimed the wild-card spot in 1995, but lost to the Seattle Mariners in five games. No playoff victory in 1995 meant no job in 1996. If the Yankees had shown the same quick hook to Girardi, he too would sit in another dugout tonight.
So, in terms of opportunities, Showalter owes the Yankees big time. In terms of accomplishments, he owes them nothing. To his credit, he has picked himself up and moved forward to make his own way. Had fate been different, that way could be to home plate with tonight’s Yankees’ lineup card.