Buck: No. 1 and No. 1,000 in the Bronx
Yankees fans of a certain age may remember where they were on the afternoon of April 7, 1992. I know it was 20 years ago, but think about it. I recall where I was that day, at Yankee Stadium for Opening Day the season after the Yankees lost 91 games and replaced their manager, Stump Merrill, with the previous year’s third base coach, a former minor-league designated hitter and manager by the name of William Nathaniel Showalter, known by family and friends as Nat and within baseball as Buck.
Not much was expected of the Yankees that season, and indeed they finished a mediocre 76-86. But they beat the Red Sox and Roger Clemens that day, 4-3, before a crowd of 56,572 with the final out recorded by Steve Farr on a foul pop by Jody Reed. It was Showalter’s first victory as a major-league manager and the beginning of a startling six-game winning streak. Not too many managers are 6-0 before they lose a game.
I was reminded of just how long ago that was Tuesday night when the same Buck Showalter was back in the Bronx at the helm of the Orioles and earned his 1,000th big-league victory, this time at the expense of the Yankees, 7-1. Particularly satisfying for Buck was that his pitcher, hard-luck Brian Matusz, ended a 12-game losing streak with his first winning decision in 11 months.
“I’m kind of embarrassed,” Buck said afterwards. “It’s all about the players. But I’d be lying to say that it wasn’t emotional. Not a day goes by in this game that doesn’t tug at your emotions.”
Showalter enjoyed winning seasons with the Yankees in 1993, ’94 and ’95, earning American League Manager of the Year honors in the middle season that might have landed them in the World Series had the event not been canceled by commissioner Bud Selig because of a strike. The Yankees did make the playoffs in 1995 but lost to the Mariners in a tightly-played Division Series, the first of its kind in the new alignment.
After turning down a two-year contract extension, Showalter left the Yankees and was succeeded by Joe Torre, who took the Yankees to 10 division crowns, six pennants and four World Series titles in 12 years. Showalter moved on to Arizona as the expansion Diamondbacks first manager and then to Texas where he earned a second AL Manager of the Year Award in 2004. In between job, he manned the desk on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight programs.
Showalter may have missed out on the Yankees’ glory years, but this was a glorious night for him and his team, which is 15-9 and challenging for the top spot in the AL East.
“The significance is more about this being a game we wanted to win and get close to doing something this year that will be great for our fans in Baltimore, a great baseball town,” he said. “I am appreciative that Mr. [George] Steinbrenner gave me my first opportunity to manage in the big leagues. I’ll never forget that.”
Beyond a titanic home run by Curtis Granderson, it was not much of a night for the Yankees, who got another lackluster start from Phil Hughes, who pitched into the sixth but gave up four runs, so his ERA came down only slightly, from 7.88 to 7.48, with his record falling to 1-4.