Every morning when the man with the most secure managing job since Connie Mack rises from bed, his first thought is not about the paychecks guaranteed to bring him $7 million through 2002, or the complimentary leased car, or deciding which country club to join at the team's expense, or the invitations to play golf in the Phoenix Open and the Greater Hartford Open pro-ams, or the two-year, all-expenses-paid vacation from dugout decisions and, worse, the second-guessing. No, when Buck Showalter's feet hit the floor of his Scottsdale, Ariz., home, the manager of the 1998 expansion Arizona Diamondbacks thinks about this: What can I do today to make this organization better? Another workday has begun. The clock beside his bed reads 4:30 a.m.
Showalter does not need to think long for answers. Order shower shoes for the players just drafted out of high school and college. Teach those kids at the Diamondbacks' first minicamp when to throw the baseball in a rundown. Decide whether the uniform belts should be black, purple or turquoise and made of leather or stretch nylon. Make contacts on scouting trips to Mexico, Japan, Canada and Korea. Craft a players' code of conduct and a Diamondbacks' how-to manual that is so specific that it lists the third baseman's responsibility on a base hit to centerfield (remain in the area of third base). Obsess about everything in the not-yet-completed stadium, from the alignment of lockers in the clubhouse to the location of complimentary seats for the families of staff members and players. Keep searching for the correct shade of purple for the uniforms. All of those things—and more—have been on his to-do list.
The franchise is owned by Jerry Colangelo, the wizard who helped bring the NBA (the Suns), the NHL (the Coyotes, formerly the Winnipeg Jets, who are relocating beginning this fall) and Major League Baseball to Phoenix. Bui if you could dust the team for fingerprints, you would find that they would match those of William Nathaniel Showalter III. When 60 Diamondback draftees reported to minicamp in Peoria, Ariz., about 20 miles from Phoenix, in early June, they signed Showalter's code of conduct pledge, swearing off hightop spikes, earrings, goatees, long hair, caps worn backward, designer sunglasses propped up on the bill of the cap and uniform pants that cover the stirrups. Though such rules might make it difficult these days to fill out a 25-man roster, Showalter intends for the code to apply to the club's major leaguers.
"If you put those things before team goals," he says, referring to the stylish quirks, "then you're probably not worth having around anyway."
Showalter was 28 years old when, after a seven-year minor league career, he became a manager. That was in 1985 with the Class A Oneonta (N.Y.) Yankees, and he would take his work home with him, even after night games. His wife, Angela, would prepare a fried-bologna sandwich with a pickle, which he would devour while studying a videotape of the parent New York Yankees' game that night. She was under orders never to reveal the score to him. "That," he says, "was living."
He climbed through the organization with the persistence of a Sherpa, working his way to the top spot on the big club by 1992. He was the kind of manager who scouted umpires, and he would sometimes tweak his rotation to get the best possible matchup of his pitcher and the strike zone of the home plate ump. He knew which two American League managers didn't change their catcher's signs with runners on second base during a game. Showalter, of course, would routinely change signs during the same inning. He worked such long hours that during the '94 strike, when he went home to Pensacola, Fla., he found himself inside a grocery store for the first time in three years.
Maybe it has to be that way when George Steinbrenner is your boss. In Arizona, though, it's not Steinbrenner who causes Showalter to awake at such an early hour. It is not the prospect of a baseball game that day, either. "It's his drive," Angela says. "Even I had this false sense that maybe things would be different. But it wasn't the Yankees that drove him. He's exactly the same now. He doesn't know how to do it any other way. People kept asking us, 'What are you going to do for two years?' There's a lot to be done, starting from scratch. The stress has lessened, but not the workload."
Competitive? Showalter can barely get through a dinner without winning at something. Once he sat next to a writer at an off-season banquet. The dinner choice was prime rib or chicken. Showalter took the prime rib; the writer opted for the chicken. When the meals were delivered, Showalter sized up both plates and declared proudly, "You got out-ordered." How is that sort of guy going to make it to 1998—when the Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays begin play—without a scoreboard?
"Oh, yes, there is a scoreboard," he says. "At the end of each day I know when we've accomplished something or when we are just spinning our wheels."
Says Colangelo, "He's even better than I thought. People wondered about signing a manager two years before you start playing. If the right guy becomes available, why let the timetable interfere? I feel it's been money well spent."