Yankee fans and players were ecstatic when third-base coach Buck Showalter, a lifetime Yankee who had spent sixteen years in the team’s organization, was promoted to replace Stump Merrill as manager for the 1992 season. While Yankee boss George Steinbrenner spent the year finishing up a two-year suspension, the youngest manager in the majors quickly established himself as a tenacious, respected skipper.
A staunch traditionalist, Showalter was always willing to speak his mind. During the 1995 season, he openly criticized Ken Griffey, Jr. and Barry Bonds for sloppy dressing, which he considered insulting to baseball’s history. In his first year with the expansion, Arizona Diamondbacks Showalter outlined his managerial philosophy in a 300-page tome distributed to players which included bans on earrings, beards, goatees, and laziness.
Showalter had spent seven years laboring as a Yankee farmhand, compiling a lifetime .294 batting average in the minors after leading the Southern League in hits in 1980 and 1982. He knew the game and rarely struck out. But the path to the majors was blocked by Don Mattingly, and Showalter decided to move to the dugout in 1983 as a third base coach for Single-A Fort Lauderdale.
A favorite of Billy Martin, Showalter became a manager the following year, beginning a torrid tear through the Yankees’ minor leagues. In his first tour of duty with Single-A Oneonta, Showalter led the team to a New York-Penn League record 55 wins in 1985, topped by 59 wins in 1986. Showalter’s Single-A Fort Lauderdale club led the league with an 85-53 record in 1987 and in 1989, Showalter was named Baseball America’s Minor League Manager of the Year after his Double-A Albany team went 97-46.
Promoted by the Yankees to a major league coaching position in 1990, Showalter made the most of his opportunity when he replaced Merrill in 1992. Despite Steinbrenner’s overbearing scrutiny, Showalter lasted longer on the job than anyone since Ralph Houk, who had managed the team for seven years from 1967-1973 — ironically, the same year George Steinbrenner arrived as a limited partner in the group that bought the team from CBS.
During his three years with the Yankees, Showalter turned a fourth-place team into a second-place finisher in 1993 and had his 1994 club on a pace to win 100 games before the season was shortened by a players’ strike. Even though the team made the playoffs as a wild card in 1995, Showalter was forced out by Steinbrenner in favor of Joe Torre after the Yankees fell to the Seattle Mariners by one run in the last game of an exciting first-round series. The final straw came when Showalter refused to fire two of his coaches at Steinbrenner’s behest.
Showalter had failed to bring his team and old Double-A teammate Don Mattingly to the World Series. But his success with the Yankees didn’t go unnoticed by the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks, who in 1996 hired Showalter as manager two years before the team was scheduled to begin play.
The old animosity between Steinbrenner and Showalter was rekindled before the team’s 1998 inaugural season when Steinbrenner suggested that the Diamondbacks might be tampering with Yankee free-agent-to-be Bernie Williams. Showalter had already signed one former Yankee, scrappy infielder Andy Stankiewicz, during the offseason, and it was rumored that the unhappy Williams might follow Showalter out of the Bronx when his contract expired after the 1998 season.
Arizona finished dead last in the NL West, but owner Jerry Colangelo’s impatience resulted in a multimillion-dollar offseason free-agent binge that added pitchers Randy Johnson, Todd Stottlemyre and Armando Reynoso as well as centerfielder Steve Finley to Showalter’s roster. Armed with an infusion of talent, Arizona won 100 games and the NL West in only their second season but fell to the New York Mets in the Division Series.
Showalter is not without his idiosyncrasies. No matter what the weather conditions are, he almost always wears his jacket in the dugout. “I didn’t get a jersey initially when I first got the Yankees [managerial job],” Showalter explained to the Arizona Republic in 1999. “I guess they didn’t expect me to be there very long, so I wore a jacket. It’s a little reminder of how quickly it can all go away. But it’s a lot more comfortable, for one thing.” The steel-eyed workaholic is also a devoted fan of the Andy Griffith Show and has virtually every episode on video.