Buck Showalter is a clinically diagnosed leader. He knows this because Jerry Colangelo, his former boss and owner of the Diamondbacks, once invited him to meet someone they both called "the brain doctor," whom the club uses to provide psychological profiles on its players and prospects. The doctor told Showalter upon examination, "You cannot not lead."
The doctor had provided the same profile of Colangelo who, after three seasons with Showalter as his manager, fired him following an 85-win season in 2000. For two years the man who cannot not lead did not lead; Showalter played a supporting role as a television analyst.
Then, in a catered ballroom on a mid-February night in Surprise, Ariz., four days before the first full spring training workout (two-a-days, no less) of 2003, Showalter was officially restored to his natural state. Dressed in a jacket and tie, he stood as the new manager of the Rangers in front of the team's players, coaches, trainers, doctors and front-office personnel. This, he decided, is where the changing of the team's culture would begin.
Texas has strung together three consecutive last-place seasons in which it finished a combined 94� games out of first place. Last year the Rangers lost more games out of their bullpen than any other team in major league history (38), lost nearly half a million paid fans, used more pitchers than any other team in franchise history (27), and their players spent more days on the disabled list than any other team in Rangers history (1,429).
Into this abyss stepped Showalter, just as he had in New York, where he took over the Yankees in 1992 after a 91-loss season, and in Arizona, where he guided an expansion team in '98. Showalter and several executives spoke to the ballroom crowd with largely perfunctory introductions and remarks. The manager told his players they must wear new team blazers whenever they traveled—and then he held up a garishly bright red sport coat with a Rangers logo and a Texas state flag on a patch sewn on the breast pocket and a Major League Baseball logo on the back of the collar. Showalter later kindly requested, "If you don't wear a uniform, please leave the room." Left with his coaches and players, he promptly ripped off his jacket and tie and launched an unvarnished speech about changing the attitude in Texas. Then he dimmed the lights and showed a highlight video of great moments in Rangers history, which included division titles in 1996, '98 and '99 as well as homages to Jeff Burroughs, Toby Harrah, Jim Sundberg and Jim Kern among other former Texas players. "It was amazing," shortstop Alex Rodriguez said during training camp. "It gave you goose bumps. And the music to it was tight... Jennifer Lopez, Ja Rule, stuff the guys listen to."
Showalter ran a meticulous camp. A clubhouse clock, for instance, counted down in hours, minutes and seconds the time remaining until the start of the next workout. Showalter ordered the construction of a small, fenced-in bunting field. He spent hours on bunt defense drills—as many as he did with the Diamondbacks, he said, even though AL teams attempt to sacrifice only about one third as often as NL teams do.
Though Showalter may be working on attitude and preparation, changes in personnel have not exactly been hair-raising. John Thomson (29-49 lifetime) joins Chan Ho Park and Ismael Valdes at the front of a shaky starting rotation. Those three were 26-35 last year. Doug Glanville, fresh off a .249 season in Philadelphia, seems an unlikely solution to the team's woes in centerfield and atop the lineup. The Rangers tried eight centerfielders last year (they hit .202 combined) and 10 leadoff hitters (.237 as a group). Despite the sock of Rodriguez, a healthy Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro and possibly a budding star in third baseman Mark Teixeira, Texas needs table-setters.
Eleven Rangers, including Gonzalez, Palmeiro and Carl Everett, are playing out the last year of their contracts. Showalter, who is signed for four years, and general manager John Hart like the motivational element associated with that status. They also like the payroll flexibility it offers down the road. After all, any leader knows that changing the attitude is only one step toward turning around a franchise. Changing the players comes next.