02/14/11 10:00 AM EST
Showalter brings dad's lessons to O's dugout
By Brittany Ghiroli / MLB.com
-- Omar N. Bradley
It was the weight of the book, the "tomb-like" appearance that had kept Buck Showalter from reading Bradley's memoirs in the first place. He had meant to, back when his father, World War II veteran William Nathaniel Showalter II, had originally given a copy to each of his four children. While Buck wasn't certain what his three sisters had done with the gift, his version of "A Soldier's Story" had long been collecting dust.
Bill Showalter, as he liked to be called, had already passed away when Buck opened the book one offseason afternoon to find his father unmistakably carved into the pages. There were notes in the creases and anecdotes scribbled under the pages of places Bill had been as a soldier. It may have been Bradley's memoir, but it was also the late Bill Showalter's subtle way of sharing his experiences in war, something he almost never talked about.
With a daughter already overseas -- studying at Oxford University -- Buck booked a flight. It was then that he sat down on the beachhead in Normandy, France, kicking himself for not reading the book when his father was alive. He thought about what events had molded Bill into the no-nonsense, loyal principal and family man he loved. He began to understand the making of a man that wouldn't accept excuses and spearheaded integration in his small town of Century, Fla.
On the Bay of the Seine, on the south side of the English Channel between the Cotentin Peninsula and the port of Le Havre, Buck Showalter stood on the invasion's landing beaches and looked up at the hills in amazement, wondering how the battered troops got up such a steep piece of land. Even now, on a snowy afternoon in Baltimore, Showalter is still in disbelief.
"Other stuff doesn't do it justice," he said of witnessing the Bay's shoreline firsthand. "It's straight uphill."
But if there's one thing Bill Showalter etched into his son at an early age it's to never shy away from the climb.
The 17th full-time manager in Orioles history, Buck Showalter is facing the biggest uphill battle in his career. It's a reclamation project extended family members and close friends advised him against, a post that became official with Aug. 2's press conference in Baltimore.
"You can't win there," they told Showalter of a downtrodden franchise in the middle of its 13th consecutive losing season. "It's impossible."
But nothing was impossible in the Showalter household, no matter how unpopular the decision was.
When the teachers in Century walked out on strike, wanting the community to improve the school, Bill Showalter went right along with them. As principal, he was supposed to support the system, but no one was going influence his feeling of what was wrong and what was right. Young Buck, who went by Nat, remembers that terse 6 o'clock family supper and the outrage directed at his father, who was told by his superiors he would never find another job.
"It was tough time in the Showalter household, that's for sure," Showalter said of the threatening phone calls and uproar that came from his dad's next arduous task: taking over a school that needed to be desegregated.
Bill's new job ended Nat's days of perfecting his golf game. Refusing to have his son taught by the school's replacement teachers, Bill used to drop the younger Showalter off at a nearby course on his way to morning meetings.
"It was how I learned to play golf," said Showalter, who spent his eighth-grade year as one of the first white students at his father's new school.
One of Bill's first moves was to hire a preacher, an African-American named Mr. Carter, as guidance counselor. The year was 1968.
"He was so far ahead of his time on racial issues," Showalter said of his father, who passed away just weeks after his son was named the New York Yankees' manager in the fall of 1991. "He wasn't real popular there; basically [we were] in the South. But he fought the fight to stay."
Showalter pauses for a moment and pulls at the neck of his collared shirt. The dressy attire doesn't suit a 54-year-old man who has spent his lifetime in baseball dugouts, rebuilding franchises like the Yankees and Rangers. He's been on the ground floor of constructing an expansion Arizona team, and now he's tasked with restoring hope to an Orioles club that hasn't had a winning season since 1997.
"You know, as you go forward you realize how many things you reach back for," Showalter said.
"[My father] wasn't really into going along with the wave, or the public sentiment, so to speak. If you did it, you better bring it. If you started something, you finished it. That was just the mentality, it was what you did."
So it should come as no surprise that managing in baseball's toughest division doesn't intimidate Showalter. He doesn't underestimate the challenge before him, but he isn't fazed by it, either.
The Orioles -- a 34-23 team under Showalter -- have improved markedly this winter, adding corner infielders Derrek Lee and Mark Reynolds, DH Vladimir Guerrero, shortstop JJ Hardy and pitchers Kevin Gregg and Justin Duchscherer.
When asked by a throng of reporters at last month's FanFest if 2011 will finally be the year the Orioles post a .500 season, Showalter didn't want to set any limitations.
"We just want to do things right," he said. "Play the game with effort, and see where it takes us."
There are things he will not take, or even tolerate, between the lines, namely lack of effort and flashiness that comes from selfish players.
Showalter still vividly remembers scoring his first touchdown in high school, namely because his father was waiting for him on the front porch that night to tell his son exactly what he thought of his excessive celebrations.
"I'll never forget he said, 'Act like you've scored a touchdown before in your life and by the grace of God you might score another one, and it's not that big of a happening,'' Showalter recalled.
The next time he got to the end zone, Showalter gingerly handed the ball back to the referee. Bill watched from his traditional spot: alone in a darkened room in the school library, with a bird's-eye view of the field. He never spoke another word of the incident, but his son got the message.
"To this day when I see all those guys doing gyrations in the end zone, I can't imagine what he would have thought," said Showalter.
"Things change, but you try to hold on to what matters."
And for Bill Showalter, that was three things: loyalty, passion and your uncompromising beliefs, a trio of traits his son brings to the Orioles dugout with a fiery intensity that had long been missing in Baltimore baseball.
"He never said, 'I'm going to do this and it's going to lead to this,'" Showalter said of his father's accomplishments. "He started out as a coach and just worked his way up. He said, 'I'm going to do this job as good as I can do it and see where it leads and see if the work is warranted at a higher level.' And I think that's [the mindset] I took to managing.
"You get to see a lot of different situations when you are out there by yourself," Showalter said of his early days in dugouts around the New York Penn League and roving infields in instructional camp.
"It's really all about what you do when nobody's looking. You got a lot of opportunities to do the right thing when nobody's looking down below."
And with Showalter at the helm, the much-improved Orioles have reason to believe that the view from the top might not be that far away.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.