Update: Within an hour of posting this, I got an email from an old friend who used to be a national baseball writer for a major metropolitan newspaper. He reports that when Buck Showalter was the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, he pulled the same stunt on him as I outlined here. So we have a recidivist Manager-Who-Throws-His-Players-Under-The-Bus.
From Yankee Stadium: On Sunday, August 22nd, 1993, the New York Yankees were tied for first place in the American League East with the Toronto Blue Jays. As I watched in horrified astonishment from the press box, they were 4-hit by Chris Haney, a soon-to-be journeyman pitcher who would end an eminently frustrating career with an ERA of 5.07. The Yanks, now in second place and flying out to Chicago hours later that afternoon for a critical series, were in big trouble and had a lot to worry about. Or so I would’ve thought as I ventured into the clubhouse to commiserate with my friend Danny Tartabull.
There to my shock I found the usual crowd of reporters but – 10 or 15 minutes after the game had ended – not a single player. Worse yet, though nothing was said, several of the reporters seemed to be staring at me. That’s when Yankee factotum Arthur Richman took me aside: “The manager would like to see you.” I asked Arthur if I had been sent to the Yankees’ farm club in Columbus. “Matter of fact, you have,” he deadpanned. Inside there was second-year boss Buck Showalter, affable and cordial and welcoming. After a few pleasantries he began his soliloquy: “I asked you in here, because when I saw you on the field before the game I was frankly worried for your safety. Some of them truly do not like your style on SportsCenter and I thought someone was going to take a swing at you. These guys claim to ignore the media but every day our newspaper recycling bin is full. Actually, the players refused to come into the clubhouse until you leave. Me, I don’t care, I have a tough skin, you’re a bright fella and you know your baseball and you make me laugh. But I thought Boggs or especially O’Neill might take a swing at you.” Having startled me with this announcement, Showalter asked a question. “Far be it for me to tell you how to do your job, but how much of that job is dependent on access to the players?” I told him that conveniently the answer was none. He was silent for awhile. I told him it was all academic because I would be leaving SportsCenter soon to join our new ESPN2 product. Showalter smiled. “Well, we have a flight to catch but it’s been a pleasure. Sorry I had to be the bearer of such bad tidings about how the players feel about you but I really thought you needed to know.” I left the Stadium quickly, wondering not just about the oversensitivity of the Yankees, but more importantly why they would be worried more about me than about getting shut out by Chris Flipping Haney.
I’m not going to say the story haunted me, but I renumbered it. So at the ESPY Awards of, I guess, 1997, I was more than a little worried as I saw a door open and several Yankees step out. As I tried to look shorter, the outfielder extended a had: “Keith! Paul O’Neill. Big fan!” I rushed through my thanks to tell him the Showalter story. “What? That was you? Nobody was avoiding you. Buck ordered us into the trainers’ room. 25 guys in there like sar-blanking-dines! All he told us was there was a reporter he hated and he wanted to air out and we needed to stay put till he let us back in the clubhouse.” Several beverages and second-hand Showalter stories later O’Neill brought it back up again. “You ever heard of me hitting some BODY? All I do is hit water coolers. That Buck!”
There were two former Yankee managers at the Stadium today, Showalter and Yogi Berra. It’s nice to see Yogi in such good health again.