"The other day," says first baseman Derrek Lee, a 14-year veteran, "I learned something about staying out of the double play in a first-and-third situation I never had heard before."
Showalter had schooled his players on this: runners at first and third, less than two outs and a ground ball that the second baseman fields near the baseline. Most runners on first are taught either to stop or head toward the infield grass, making it hard for the second baseman to tag them and still have time to throw to first for the double play. Showalter taught the Orioles to slide directly into the second baseman, essentially breaking up a double play in the baseline. "That's six to 10 outs a year we save if we do it right," Showalter said. Which is 0.2% of the more than 4,000 outs a team gets over a season.
Showalter began forming his managerial ethos as a kid watching Alabama coach Bear Bryant. At 4:30 on Saturday mornings he and his dad, Bill, would drive from the Florida panhandle to Tuscaloosa. Bill, a high school principal, would tell Buck to keep his eyes on the Bear, who rarely spoke to his Crimson Tide players along the sideline. "Son," his dad said, "when you see guys doing a lot of coaching during the game? They haven't done their homework." Showalter lives for the homework.
Says Jones, "The one word to describe this camp is efficient. Everything he does has a purpose. He's on top of everything. And the thing I really like is he likes to win. Too many people around here got used to losing. At the end of the game if we lost and they played good, they were O.K. with that. He won't be."
Since their last winning season, in 1997, the Orioles have lost more games than every AL team except the Royals and their average yearly attendance has dropped by two million fans. After owner Peter Angelos and president Andy MacPhail fired Dave Trembley last season, they decided to hire someone who had managed a playoff team. They picked Showalter over Bobby Valentine and Eric Wedge.
Showalter helped build the backbone of pennant winners in each of his three previous managerial jobs, with the Yankees (1992 to '95), Diamondbacks (1998 to 2000) and Rangers (2003 to '06). But he could never stick around long enough for the payoff. He has the most wins among active managers who haven't won a postseason series and ranks 20th alltime on that list.
Showalter walked away from the Yankees' job after a 1995 ALDS defeat rather than acquiesce to owner George Steinbrenner's mandate to fire members of his coaching staff. Arizona handed Showalter carte blanche to build the expansion team (everything down to the shade of purple in their uniforms) then grew uncomfortable with the arrangement as the club matured. His ouster was accompanied by leaks from the club that portrayed him as a control freak. "I lost my naiveté," he says. "It was the first time—and it was sad for me—I kind of went, Really? That's what was going on? I was just so trusting of everybody and everything. I wish I could get that back."
The end came in Texas when the team transitioned from general manager John Hart, a veteran who preferred to delegate, to John Daniels, a young executive who needed room to succeed or fail on his own. "The last job [with the Rangers] beat me up pretty good physically," Showalter says.
Away from the field, and in between thrice-monthly trips from Dallas to Bristol, Conn., to do studio work for ESPN, Showalter participated in a family life he never knew during baseball seasons. He grew roses and kept bird feeders stocked in his backyard. He convinced himself that if another managerial offer never came, he'd be "fine with that."
"I was in a great place in my life," he says. "I got to see my son's junior and senior years of high school baseball. I was the groundskeeper, basically. Had a blast. I got to [do] all the things I missed over the years. I wouldn't trade that for the world. I remember being in the backyard one day and saying, 'Man, look how red that cardinal is.' And my daughter said, 'Dad, it's always been that color.' The wind going through the leaves ... I remember sitting in the back on a swing and going, Geez, this is pretty cool—you know?"