New Orioles manager Buck Showalter earned some good-guy points out of the gate by selecting uniform number 26 to honor the late Johnny Oates. It was a simple gesture, though not as simple as it may seem.
Orioles owner Peter Angelos once called Oates, whom he fired following the strike-shortened 1994 season, "an insecure man." Oates, meanwhile, reportedly griped privately about Angelos and took to calling the owner the guy "who'd never hit a ball going more than 50 mph."
Apparently Showalter was more concerned with paying tribute to a friend and mentor than he was about offending the new boss. As Ken Rosenthal writes in a well-reported story based on his time on the O's beat, Oates kept Showalter the player on his Triple-A Columbus squad in 1983 in order to help him earn a $1,000 bonus. Showalter had played for Oates the year before at Double-A Nashville.
Oates' decision to help Showalter was consistent with a compassion that, according to a 1991 New York Times article, almost led him to quit managing.
Showalter's familiarity with Oates' compassion extended beyond that one moment in Columbus. Here's another excerpt from the '91 Times article:"Players would come to me crying," the 45-year-old Oates said Friday, the day after he was named to succeed Frank Robinson as manager of the Baltimore Orioles. "I couldn't handle situations like that. I took it personally. I knew that if I was sitting on the other side of the table, it would hurt me just like it hurt them. My wife always knew when it was cut day because I didn't go to bed."
Showalter, who also played for Oates at Class AA Nashville in 1982, recalled a long, tiring bus ride from Orlando, Fla., to Charlotte, N.C. The bus arrived in town in the early-morning hours, but the team was not permitted to check into its hotel until noon to save money.
"Johnny walked across the street to another hotel," Showalter said, "plunked down his own credit card and got everybody rooms."In 2003, Showalter, whose managerial style has at times been compared to that of Oates, called his former manager "the best I ever played for."
It was the way he cared for his players, Showalter said, that impressed him the most.
"He was very sensitive to people's feelings, almost too much sometimes," he said. "He never seemed to let the coldness of the game affect him. But there was a fine line between being a good guy and someone you didn't cross. Johnny could be tough when he had to be, but at the same time it wasn't a barracks-type atmosphere."
He went on to explain to Hank Kurz Jr. of the Associated Press that his was not an offhand remark: "When you've played for so many guys and been exposed to so many people, you try to be careful with that, but Johnny, I tell you what, he's a good, solid man."
Like Showalter now does, Oates inherited a losing Orioles ball club in 1991. Oates took over for Frank Robinson after 37 games. The Orioles were in last place with a 13-24 record; they finished the season in sixth place at 67-95. Oates subsequently led Baltimore to three straight winning seasons. He was 291-270 (.519) during his time as the O's skipper.
Here are a couple of additional connections shared by Buck Showalter and Johnny Oates:
-Back in 1995 Buck Showalter was mentioned as a potential candidate for the Orioles' managerial spot after Johnny Oates was fired.
[Buck Showalter]'s three-year contract for about $900,000 runs through the end of the 1995 season. Asked yesterday whether the Yankees might grant the Orioles permission to speak to Showalter, general partner Joe Molloy said, "We probably wouldn't talk about it. Buck's been a Yankee a long time. Before the season was shortened, he was having quite a successful year. He's done an excellent job, and I'm unaware of a potential request by the Baltimore Orioles."-The Sporting News named Johnny Oates its Manager of the Year in 1993 following an 85-77 season for the Orioles. Buck Showalter, managing the Yankees, finished a close second for the award. Showalter's Yankees finished three games ahead of Oates' Orioles in the standings. The Yankees and Orioles placed second and third, respectively, in the seven-team A.L. East.
-Jerry Narron replaced Johnny Oates as manager for the Texas Rangers when Oates resigned his post during the 2001 season. Showalter replaced Narron two seasons later.