With the MLB season entering the final weeks of the regular season, former Yankees manager Buck Showalter takes a swing at some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby. Q: How would you compare Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez as prospects? A: Derek had the ability to always dial up what the situation called for. If …
With the MLB season entering the final weeks of the regular season, former Yankees manager Buck Showalter takes a swing at some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.
Q: How would you compare Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez as prospects?
A: Derek had the ability to always dial up what the situation called for. If he sacrificed some contact, he would probably have hit more home runs than he finished with, but he wouldn’t have been Derek. He stayed on top of his body, he never let it get away from him. That’s hard to do. I had Alex in Texas … this guy was a man playing with children at that point. Everybody talked about that contract in Texas at the time, but if you look at it statistically, he lived up to the contract.
Q: Your reaction when A-Rod moved from shortstop to third with the Yankees.
A: For Derek Jeter? Yeah. He wouldn’t have been for any Tom, Dick or Harry, I can tell you that. Alex loved to win. He hates being part of mediocrity. He’s a fan of the game, he absorbs a lot of things that go on peripherally. And that’s why he’s such a survivor. He humbled himself going into New York — whatever the team needs, I don’t need to play shortstop with Derek Jeter here. Can you imagine if that was an issue?. I’m sure they had that conversation long before the trade was made.
You should have seen what else we could have got in that trade.
Q: Such as?
A: Robinson Cano. He was on the list of guys we could pick from. The Yankees did a great job of camouflaging that one.
Q: How so?
A: We had a group of about five players to pick from. And we could turn somebody around for [Jose] Reyes, we could have ended up with Reyes and Cano in that deal.
Q: You preferred [Alfonso] Soriano over Cano?
A: No, no, no. We had Soriano, there was a player [Joaquin Arias] to be named later. … When you have these players, and you’re going around watching ’em, and you know that one of ’em, they kinda keep you from seeing him much, and they might not have a jersey number on him, or a name on the back. It kinda tips you off who they’re trying to keep you from taking.
Q: When you had Don Mattingly, did you think one day he might be a manager?
A: You don’t go into it looking at it like that, but it doesn’t surprise you at all. Donnie — very cerebral, he had great people skills. It was like E.F. Hutton. Donnie’s got such a pure heart that players see that quickly. There’s no self-promotion, no look-at-me. I still talk to him and it’s the same Donnie I knew back in Nashville. I was with him at a basketball game, one of his sons was playing in college. It was like we were back eating at the all-you-can-eat buffet on the road.
He could have kept playing with his back probably, but without going into a lot reasons, his boys needed him at home, and that’s what he did. That conversation on the plane coming back from Seattle when he told us early that he wasn’t coming back — we were able to go get Tino Martinez before the whole world knew that Mattingly wasn’t gonna play.
Q: What was that plane ride back like after the Seattle (Game 5 ALDS) loss?
A: I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. That was a long ride. I wouldn’t wish anybody to land in the daylight and take that bus ride to Yankee Stadium and remembering how you left Yankee Stadium with [Jim] Leyritz’s home run, and then coming back to it.
Q: What enabled you to stay as focused as you were working for George Steinbrenner in the New York market?
A: I was with the Yankees for 19 years, and I’ve seen a lot of things kinda come and go. I knew the job description going in. And No. 1, the Yankee fans didn’t want to hear you complain about anything as far as Mr. Steinbrenner or whatever. He was gonna be involved, and he wanted to win as much as I did. And I learned along the way that if you didn’t stand up for what you thought was right, you weren’t gonna be around very long. And if you were wrong, you’d go down the Dixie Highway. We bumped heads along the way, but I was lucky to have [GM] Stick [Michael], who was a great buffer and gave me great confidence. About five days into camp, he had been around every drill, ’cause he thought I was probably a little young. He walked in my office one morning and said: “Hey, you can do this. You got it.” Turned around and walked out. His way of telling me, “Might not have been my first choice, but this will work.” You had to be ready for everything, and there were some things you couldn’t win, regardless of how right you might be. Knowing what to fight and what not to fight. Stick would say, “That’s wrong, but we’re not gonna fight that. It won’t keep us from winning.”
Q: What stands out to you about the day you were hired as Yankees manager?
A: My wife and I were in some clandestine hotel downtown — I don’t know if it was supposed to be a surprise or whatever. I remember coming into town under some fictitious name. I remember my wife [chuckle] looking at me going, “What are we getting into here?”
Q: What was the fictitious name?
A: I don’t even remember. I should know that.
Q: What do you remember about the press conference?
A: We were driving back after it was all over, I said, “How’d that go, what’d you think?” She said, “Geez, where’d that come from?” I said, “That’s what a one-year contract’ll do for you. You get overly cautious or you go, ‘Hell, I’m going for it.’ I took the path of, ‘Hell, I’m going for it.’ The challenge was gonna be to let those young players go through the growing pains without Mr. Steinbrenner getting completely frustrated and want to get rid of ’em. Mr. Steinbrenner got suspended, which really helped us stay with Bernie Williams, the Jeters, and the Posadas and the Pettittes and the Riveras … it gave us a chance to let those guys develop and grow up, so to speak.
Q: As a manager, what one thing wouldn’t you tolerate?
A: I think somebody that doesn’t care what their teammates think. You’re gonna have some issues. And that’s the same thing as saying you don’t care what the fans think. There’s gotta be a sincerity in their efforts.
Q: Was there a manager you enjoyed matching wits with?
A: I’m not saying whether it was a [Jim] Leyland or a Sparky [Anderson] or a [Tony] La Russa. It wasn’t that it was easy or you enjoyed it, it’s just you knew they saw the game and you had to counteract what they saw. They saw the game within the game, but you knowing that they saw it, you were able to counteract that.
If I was gonna walk in the ballpark and watch one thing for one day to tell me about a manager, I’d watch the bullpen. No drama, there’s a certain efficiency to it, the guys are ready when they’re supposed to be but they’re not throwing for 20 minutes before [if] they don’t come into a game. Steve Howe gave me a great lesson years ago. I hated getting a guy up and not get him in the game. So I go back to the hotel that night, I was getting ready to go to bed, it’s about one o’clock in the morning, I hear this noise. I looked at the rooming list and it’s Steve Howe’s room. So the next day I’m walking by and I go, “Steve, how are you sleeping? You all right?” He goes, “Well you asked, here’s the deal — you can’t get me up and not get me in the game.”
Q: The young Mariano Rivera.
A: His velocity had jumped up. The hitters were telling you that this guy had a chance to be special. And he didn’t have a cutter then. He had that come-again action on his fastball, that late life in the zone. You never felt like he was throwing the ball to the mitt, you felt like he was throwing it through the mitt. Initially you thought because of the lack of a breaking ball that he’d probably end up in the bullpen, and that was gonna be OK. He had a great delivery, that’s what people miss about him. He had real elbow issues, I remember for like a year, he was playing catch on the back fields of spring training with Whitey Ford and Ron Guidry. I remember they would come in and almost ice their hand because they could never catch the ball in the webbing of the glove with this guy, they said as much as they tried, the ball always had late life and they could never catch it where it didn’t hurt. I had him in the Instructional League, and he was our best center fielder.
Q: The young Bernie Williams.
A: Back then, you wouldn’t think Bernie would have had the personality to play in New York. His mom and dad did a great job with him. Bernie knew right from wrong. Bernie didn’t want to switch-hit, but he fought his way through it.
Q: Paul O’Neill was the opposite personality.
A: Paul was such a driven guy. He chased perfection every day. It was very important to get Paul off to a good start, he didn’t hit left-hand pitching when we first got him, so we platooned him early on. Boy, he was mad at me about that! I tried to tell him that, “It’s very important just after the [Roberto Kelly] trade that you get off to a good start here in New York.”
Q: The day you resigned because you refused to sacrifice most of your coaching staff.
A: To this day when I see a manager give up a coach that he knows is good just to save his butt, I never have understood that, because you lose such trust and credibility in the locker room with the players. So that, to me, from my dad — he said at some point you’re gonna have to plant your feet and make a stand, you’ll know when it is. It was really painful.
Q: The Boss would ask you back not long after.
A: I shook hands with [Diamondbacks owner] Jerry Colangelo on a deal when I was out there, so when I did that, the way I was brought up, it was over. It worked out well for everybody. Everybody got to see how good a manager Joe [Torre] was. Joe played a good hand well, and that’s really hard to do.
Q: Jacob deGrom and Gerrit Cole.
A: The hardest thing to do in sports for a team is to win when you’re expected to win, that’s why guys like [Bill] Parcells and [Bill] Belichick and [Nick] Saban I admire so much because the ability to maintain a level of excellence when it’s expected. … Cole and deGrom don’t give themself a day off, they welcome the expectations. Every game’s like their first game in Little League, that youthful exuberance that they compete with every time they’re out there.
Q: Can the Yankees win a World Series without Aaron Judge?
A: Yes. If you say the sky is falling because one guy’s out, then you haven’t built a very good mentality in your clubhouse.
Q: What would you tell Yankees fans who are pulling their hair out right now?
A: It’s an unconventional season, so unconventional things are happening. I’ll say this — I think the last two weeks of the season bodes well for them because they should be at full strength.
Q: When I think of a Buck Showalter player, DJ LeMahieu comes to mind.
A: He brings that professional at-bat, that, “OK, what’s the team need me to do? They need me to shoot a ball the other way, they need me to hit a home run.” Aaron [Judge] can do that too, this is no knock on him, it’s just I watched this guy the first year they got him … the versatility he gives Aaron [Boone] about “Where do you need me to play today, first base, second base, third base? What do you need me to do?” He doesn’t waste at-bats. And he’s never comfortable with his success. As a manager when you say, “OK, here’s a guy that I can trust, let me put this over in the trust bucket.” Watch what I do, not what I say. They don’t have to worry about what they’re saying, they just show you. He’s got a real sincere game. There isn’t a phase of the game that he’s not good at.
Q: His approach is similar to Mattingly’s right?
A: Yeah, there’s no ego in his at-bats. If the fence is 279 feet, I can hit a ball 371. They don’t give you two runs for hitting a ball 500 feet.
Q: Gary Sanchez.
A: Pitchers have to know that even if you’re struggling offensively, the most important thing that day are those 120 fingers you put down.
Q: Your Orioles controversy in the 2016 AL wild-card game when you didn’t call on Zack Britton and lost in the bottom of the 11th in Toronto.
A: You just have to wear some things, and I can sit here and tell you 10 things you may not know about that situation, but nobody wants to hear it. I’m at peace with that.
Q: Pete Alonso.
A: I love his body language, I love the want-to. Regardless of what he’s doing statistically, you can tell that he’s grinding.
Q: The Rays, and the rivalry now with the Yankees.
A: They know who they are. They know who they’re not. When’s the last time they had to trade or move a pitcher that came back to haunt ’em? There’s a great moral in The Little Engine That Could, We-Against-the-World mentality. And certain players know they’re gonna get a chance to thrive in that environment. People know their pitching’s good and people know they have a good farm system, and they move players at the right time.
Q: Would you consider the Marlins Cinderellas for a World Series?
A: To me, with Donnie and Derek and the way they were doing things, it wasn’t a matter if, it was a matter when. They know the formula, and you gotta have the guts and the fortitude to stay with the formula. The tough thing’s gonna be can you sustain it?
Q: The biggest lesson you learned from Billy Martin.
A: He gave me a lot of confidence at a young age. Everybody thought he was some guy with a hot temper, which he could be, and some cartoon character. When he got going at those 10:30 in the morning [spring training] sessions, he was something to watch. I remember him saying, “Don’t let statistics form your gut, make sure a statistic confirms your gut.” … What your eyes are telling you.
Q: John Harbaugh.
A: He’s consistent, he’s sincere. John asked me one time, “Hey. would you speak to the team?” When we get through it, I go, “John, who are you all playing this week anyway?” He says, “Oh the Patriots.” “Oh, thank you, John. Could I have had some team that was 0-12 or something?” … What drives players crazy is the unknown. John never lets the players have some unknown about how he’s gonna react to what situation, he doesn’t panic, and they know that he’s gonna be there for them behind the scenes. He knows a winning player. Ozzie [Newsome] and him were such a great team.
Q: Bill Belichick.
A: Same thing. There’s certain absolutes that they don’t stray from. But they listen. They empower the players to be themselves. If you have a strong base and a strong nucleus, you can take the guy who might be on the fence. They create such a strong peer pressure.
Q: Bill Parcells.
A: There was nothing phony about him at all. Through the years, he’ll stick his head in the office and I always loved talking with him. I was fascinated by his positive and negative kicking yards, and Belichick was the same way. … You see people that are successful for so long, there’s a reason why. … What was fair for Harry Carson may not have been fair for Lawrence Taylor. Bill knew what was fair for each guy.
Q: Two dinner guests.
A: My dad and mom.
Q: Favorite movie.
Q: Favorite actor.
A: Robert Duvall.
Q: Favorite meal.
A: You can’t mess up hamburger.
Q: I assume you want to manage again.
A: It doesn’t keep me up, if it happens, fine, if not, I respect it and I understand. Regardless what happens, I’m at peace with it. It’s an honor to be involved in the game period.