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Showalter honors his friend and mentor
Buck Showalter will not wear his familiar No. 11 with the Orioles. That number belongs to the man he is replacing as manager, Juan Samuel.
Besides, Showalter has a better idea.
He will wear No. 26.
The number of the late Johnny Oates, Showalter’s friend, mentor and former Orioles manager.
The O's invited Johnny Oates to throw out the first in 2002, the year after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Greg Fiume
Showalter, 54, says he raised the subject Saturday in a telephone conversation with Oates’ widow, Gloria.
He asked Gloria to discuss the idea with her children — Lori, 39; Andy, 34; and Jenny, 31 — and get back to him.
“I said, ‘Listen, Gloria, either you and the family are going to think it’s a great idea or nobody is going to wear the number while I’m there,” Showalter says.
Showalter says Gloria called him back in 15 minutes. She had spoken to her children.
“Each one of them had the same reaction,” Gloria says. “They were screaming, ‘Yes! Yes!’”
Rest assured, Showalter will tell a Johnny Oates story or two when he is introduced at a news conference Monday as the Orioles’ new manager.
Showalter was a member of the first team that Oates managed, at Double A with the Yankees in 1982. He also played for Oates with the Yankees’ Triple A club in 1983.
“Johnny meant so much to me and impacted my life so much,” Showalter says. “He was a special man, as ethical and moral a guy as I’ve ever been around.”
Oates managed the Orioles from 1991 to ’94 and the Rangers from 1995 to 2001, leading Texas to its only three postseason appearances.
In fall 2001, just months after resigning from the Rangers, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and given only about a year to live.
He survived for over three years.
In 2003, Oates became part of the Rangers’ first Hall of Fame class. By then, Showalter was the Rangers’ manager. The team retired Oates’ No. 26, and Showalter dedicated a plaque outside the manager’s office to his former manager and friend.
Oates died on Dec. 24, 2004. At his funeral, Showalter told a story about how Oates helped him avoid a demotion — and earn a $1,000 bonus — during their minor-league days.
The year was 1983. Showalter’s contract stated that he would receive the extra $1,000 if he spent 30 days at Triple-A.
“John called me on the 29th day,” Showalter recalls. “He said, ‘They want you to go down to Nashville in Double-A and help 'em get in playoffs.”
“I kind of went 'Gol-ly.' He said, ‘What’s wrong?’ I said, ‘Nothing.’ He kept trying to pull it out of me. He said, ‘This is not like you. What’s wrong?’ Finally I said, ‘John, I’m one day away from $1,000.’ That’s a lot of money now. It was a whole lot of money then.
“He said, ‘Really?’ Then he said, ‘Why don’t you go out in the locker room for a while? I’ve got a couple of things I’ve got to do. And we’ll finish this conversation.’
“About 10 minutes later, he calls me back in and says, ‘All right, you’re going to stay for another day.’ I don’t know how it happened. I just knew the end game. And every time he would see me, he’d go, ‘Where’s my $500?’”
Another of Showalter’s favorite stories about Oates stemmed from an incident that took place at Camden Yards in June 1992.
Showalter was in his first year as Yankees manager. Oates was running the Orioles.
“It was the first time Johnny and I had an altercation,” Showalter says.
“(Yankees pitcher) Tim Leary had some sandpaper on him. I’m looking over there (in the other dugout), and John is collecting baseballs. He had caught his share of guys doing that. He would look for it. I told the pitching coach to tell Leary to get rid of whatever he’s got because Johnny is going to check him at some point here.
“Sure enough, he said, ‘I’m not doing anything. What do you mean?’ He’s got it in his glove hand, in his palm. And here comes John. I’ve got to get between John, the umpires and Leary, and try to get Leary to get it off his hand.
“John is pushing. He’s trying to get through me. I knew: If you were wearing a different uniform, John didn’t care what kind of relationship he had with you. If you didn’t have an Oriole uniform on, you were the enemy. Simple as that.”
Oates was the first manager fired by Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who took over the team in 1993. Showalter will be Angelos’ 10th manager in 17 years.
Surely, Showalter is aware of the pressure Angelos applied on Oates when Oates was the Orioles’ manager.
“Not completely,” Showalter says. “I remember some of it. I haven’t really dwelled on it. In today’s world, I’m sure I could look it up and figure out exactly what was going on. But I’ll turn the page on that.
“(Oates) was not the first guy (to be fired). I won’t be the last guy. If somebody owns a team, they have a right to have expectations and opinions.”
Showalter takes over a franchise headed for its 13th straight losing season. But the thought crosses his mind: He also is taking over the franchise that gave Oates his first chance as both a player and manager.
“It’s kind of like the circle of life,” Showalter says. “I don’t want to get too dramatic. But things happen for a reason.
“I’ve got a phone number for Earl Weaver. At some point in the next day or two, I’m going to call him. The way they did things with Weaver and all that was very precious to John. He carried that with a lot of pride.”
Funny how it all comes back around.
On Saturday, Oates will be inducted posthumously into the Orioles’ Hall of Fame. Gloria and other family members will make the drive to Baltimore from their homes in Virginia.
“There is a good chance a couple of my grandsons will be wearing ‘Oates 26’ jerseys,” Gloria says, chuckling. “My daughter-in-law mentioned that about a month ago. I thought it be might be kind of weird.
“But now, with Buck wearing it, this is so perfect. It’s such a thoughtful, precious thing for Buck to do.
“We are thrilled. Thrilled as a family.”
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