You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.
ON THIS DATE IN 1956, Buck Showalter was born.
The Baseball Tonight crew, in the studio early on a Sunday morning, did a demonstration on how to break up the double play. Buck Showalter, the runner, dressed in a three-piece suit, told the camera guy, “Be ready for this. I’m only going to do this once.” Harold Reynolds, the second baseman, also dressed in a suit, wasn’t ready. Showalter did a real take-out slide, knocked Harold to the ground. Harold and host Karl Ravech howled with laughter.
That’s Buck Showalter: If we’re going to do it, no matter what it is, we’re going to do it right. He was a good player and an exceptional manager. He is the most prepared, analytical and observant person I’ve ever met. My favorite nights at ESPN over the past 23 years have been sitting next to Buck, watching 15 games at a time, and him beginning a sentence with, “Have you ever noticed?” or “Why is it?” or “Did you see that?” And I could never see it.
I asked Orioles first baseman Chris Davis if Buck asked similar questions on the bench during games. Davis smiled and said, “All the time. Finally, I had to tell him, ‘Buck, I didn’t see. No one can see it. Only you can see these things.”’
One night sitting with Showalter, he saw a shot from the dugout. Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa twirled his index finger for a split second to catcher Yadier Molina. “Watch,” Showalter said, “here comes the inside move.” Then pitcher Adam Wainwright did the inside move.
One night, Buck asked me, “Have you ever seen a great player who had a lot of freckles?” I had never thought about that, so I instinctively said Rusty Staub, and Buck said, “I said a great player, not a good player.” Another night on BBTN, Buck did a demonstration on what scouts look for in a player, from the top of the head to the tips of their toes.
“You don’t want a 10-to-2 guy, ” he said, referring to a player whose feet point outward, like the hands on a clock at 10 minutes until 2. “You want a guy whose feet point in. Those are the runners.”
Moving upward on the body, Showalter said, “Scouts are looking for high-butt guys. Low-butt guys usually don’t run well.” He said, “Be careful drafting an 18-year-old with a full beard. It means he is fully developed and might not grow anymore. When we drafted Derek Jeter, he didn’t even have to shave. I thought, ‘We’ve got something here.”’
Showalter said to use caution drafting a player with bright blue eyes “because those guys can’t see as well during day games.” A few years later, Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton was struggling terribly in day games. He was asked why. He said, “Well, I’ve got really bright blue eyes. I can’t see as well when the sun is shining bright.”
Few people tell a better story than Showalter. I once asked him about managing pitcher Vicente Padilla. “We [the Diamondbacks] signed him during a trip to Nicaragua, he came to the signing on a burro,” Showalter said. “We signed him, but he said he needed another $2,000 because he had to give his burro away when he signed. So we gave him another $2,000 so his burro had a good home.”
Other baseball notes for May 23
In 2002, the Dodgers’ Shawn Green went 6-for-6 with four home runs and set the major league record for total bases (19) in one game. Green is now the founder of an app called Greenfly. That day, it would have been Green Big Fly.
In 1999, Brady Anderson became the first player ever to be hit by a pitch twice in the first inning of a game. Seven players have been hit by a pitch twice in an inning, but only Anderson was hit twice in the first inning. Mark Lemke holds the record for most career plate appearances (3,664) without being hit by a pitch.
In 1924, Clyde King was born. He was a major league pitcher, a major league manager and one of the nicest, funniest men you will ever meet. He confirmed the story to me that as a star high school basketball player in North Carolina in the early 1940s, he once purposely wore his sneakers on the wrong feet to confuse his defender, who was guarding him by watching his feet. “The guy didn’t know what direction I was going,” King said.