Bucky to Buck--That Could Be Yankee Managing Progression

NEWSDAY

At minor-league camps, they love to talk about potential. So here, where New York Yankee prospects train, they like to discuss 19-year-old Andy Fox's bat speed, 24-year-old pitcher Wade Taylor's fastball and 25-year-old Steve Adkins' knuckle curve.

With another young prospect, Buck Showalter, the keys words are knack, intuition and smarts. Showalter is a prospect, all right, but not as a player. His ballplaying career flamed out six years ago when he was a singles hitter stuck in the organization behind Don Mattingly.

Showalter's potential is in managing, a discovery made in 1985 when the Yankees offered him the job at Oneonta, N.Y. Being a sharp fellow, he took it. Still just 32, Showalter will one day manage in the majors; of that everyone here seems sure. He is talked about with such regard that it is hard to believe he has never managed above Double-A.

Perhaps Clete Boyer, the Yankees' minor-league coach, forgot that when he said, "I wouldn't say Showalter is better than (Oakland Athletics manager) Tony LaRussa. But I'd say he and LaRussa are the two best managers around."

That may be a reach, since 1989 was Showalter's first year managing above Class A. Consider, though, that Showalter's teams have finished first in four of five years and won three titles.

Consider, too, that Showalter is now the Eye-in-the-Sky, a coach whose role is to position players, and that Yankees coaches often are not all that far from the manager's chair, theoretically speaking.

"He's just got a great knack for the game," Boyer said. "He's like Billy (Martin). He doesn't make mistakes, and (he) keeps other guys off balance."

Told of Boyer's LaRussa comparison, Yankee vice president George Bradley was himself knocked off balance. Bradley said, "That's tough to say, since he has never been in the big leagues. Certainly he has the type of potential."

It showed last year, when Showalter managed Albany to a 92-48 mark, winning the Eastern League and manager of the year honors. Bradley said, "He can be very tough, yet he has the respect of his players. I look for teachers, and he's a technician of the game, so he fits that mold perfectly."

Asked about managing potential, Showalter played it cool. He said the reason his record is 360-207 is the players. He said he just had to stay in the background.

That will be his approach this year, though a poor start for Bucky Dent is almost certain to bring Showalter's name to the forefront. He might be the most likely manager in waiting, if there is such a thing. But Showalter said, "All I'm worried about is doing the best job for Bucky. Looking at it any other way would not be fair."

There have been major-league managers younger than Showalter, but not all that many. At 36, the Phillies' Nick Leyva currently is the youngest. Roger Peckinpaugh was 23 when he managed the finish of the 1914 season for the Yankees, and Lou Boudreau was 24 when he started managing the Indians in 1942. More recently, Dave Bristol was 33 when he managed the Reds in 1966.

"It's like a ballplayer," Bradley said. "Let's wait until he's ready."

For now, Showalter will settle for watching the Yankees as the "Eye," an assignment that raised a few eyebrows. Showalter spent last year in the Eastern League and not the American League, so positioning players might pose a challenge.

"They never explained it to me other than I needed experience; after 14 years in the minors, you don't question the whys," Showalter said.

No, the Eye-in-the-Sky is already sky high. Showalter said, "I'm like a rookie going to the big leagues."

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