Buck Showalter may feel a little lonely next season. With Jim Leyland retired, and Dusty Baker for now without a job, he’s one of the last of a breed—the name brand manager.
I could say “star” manager, but he’d bristle at that. Showalter is one of the most recognizable and accomplished managers in baseball, and there aren’t many left.
Over the weekend, the Detroit Tigers hired Brad Ausmus, a longtime major league catcher who’d never managed on any level before. He’s not alone. St. Louis’ Mike Matheny and the Chicago White Sox’s Robin Ventura are other recent hires without Showalter and Leyland’s traditional background.
Showalter was a minor league player who barely touched Triple-A, and in the mid-1980s supplemented his $14,000 a year minor league managing salary by refereeing high school and college basketball games.
He worked his way up through the Yankees’ system and was rewarded with their managing job at 35. He learned about the big leagues by watching.
Ryne Sandberg, another new hire, was a Hall of Fame player who managed for several years in the minors, but he seems the exception.
There are other managers who never played in the majors, Tampa Bay’s Joe Maddon, Atlanta’s Fredi Gonzalez and Bryan Price, just hired by Cincinnati.
In the past several years, Leyland, Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, Lou Piniella and Cito Gaston all retired with 12 World Series titles.
Showalter now has two of his former players as contemporaries, the Dodgers’ Don Mattingly and the Nationals’ new manager, Matt Williams.
At Friday’s press conference, Williams called Showalter the most prepared manager he’d ever played for, saying he reviewed the game for three hours after it and often slept at the ballpark. Williams, who was a star player, says he’s not likely to do the same.
Showalter may keep slightly shorter hours, but still obsesses over minute details. Leyland was entertaining as was Baker. Baseball is poorer without them.