Arizona Diamondbacks' baseball manager Buck Showalter was hired two years ago, long before the expansion Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays will first take the field in 1998.
That's a lot of lead time, but Showalter, who managed the New York Yankees before Joe Torre, works marathon hours even now getting the Phoenix-based organization and its already-active farm teams ready.
Showalter, speaking via telephone phone, talks of having "so little downtime, so many irons in the fire, and so many things that have to get done."
And what's been on his personal laundry list?
"Everything from player development to scouting to the expansion draft, the stadium, our Tucson operation in spring training, our [baseball] academy in the Dominican Republic, and our relationships with Japan, Australia, Korea, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela."
Although Tampa Bay has yet to name a field boss, Arizona pounced on the opportunity to hire Showalter.
"When the best manager in baseball is available, you go get him, no matter what the timetable," says Jerry Colangelo, the Diamondbacks' managing general partner. Colangelo contacted Showalter a minute after he became available and signed him to a $7 million deal that runs through the year 2002. A former college All-American at Mississippi State, Showalter spent 19 years in the Yankees system as a player, coach, and manager.
He logged most of his experience in the minors, twice leading the Southern League in hits and later earning 1989 Minor League Manager of the Year honors guiding the Yankees' AA team in Albany, N.Y.
From there he was called up by the parent club to replace Stump Merrill, becoming the youngest manager in the majors and longest-serving Yankee manager (with four years on the job) since Ralph Houk put in eight years, beginning in 1966.
Showalter had the Yankees on a 100-win pace during the strike-shortened 1994 season, when he was the American League's Manager of the Year. In 1995, the club made the playoffs for the first time in 14 years, losing a dramatic wild-card series to Seattle.
Showalter was offered a new contract, but turned it down when called on to fire some members of his coaching staff. Taking the team that Showalter had primed, Joe Torre guided the Yankees to their first World Series title in nearly 20 years. "Joe Torre was a very big part of what happened there and I tip my hat to him," Showalter says.
Showalter is currently focusing on the Nov. 17 expansion draft, which will be used to stock Arizona and Tampa Bay with seasoned major-leaguers. He doesn't hold out high expectations.
"If you think you're going to put a championship club together through the expansion draft, you're kidding yourself," Showalter says. "The consistency and long-term depth come from your farm system and scouting."
The club has gone heavily for promising young pitchers, selecting more than 17 high school hurlers in last year's draft of amateur players.
One thing Showalter insists on is that his players be good representatives of the Diamondbacks and baseball.
"We want them to realize that there's a lot more to being a major-league player than whether you can hit or throw a ball," he says of a code of conduct incorporated into the team's players manual. "There are certain things that we have spelled out that we expect our players to live by. It's nothing militaristic or dictatorial, he says. "Guys will play hard and represent the organization in a fashion that all our fans can be proud of. Those are absolutes and nonnegotiable."
ORANGE-DOMED STADIUM IS JUICY SPOT FOR ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
ST. PETERSBURG, FLA.
What did baseball's Tampa Bay Devil Rays, an expansion team awaiting its first major-league turns at bat, have in common this past spring with Babe Ruth's old Bronx Bombers? The answer: a training complex in the middle of St. Petersburg, Fla.
Babe Ruth once decided he wouldn't shag balls at the edge of the property, where alligators sunbathed. The Devil Rays' recruits exhibited no such qualms.
Their uppermost concern wasn't indigenous wildlife but earning a spot with the fledgling organization, which will join the Arizona Diamondbacks as the 29th and 30th major-league teams next year. Florida's west coast has long hosted professional teams during spring training. Not until 1994, however, did baseball designate Tampa-St. Pete as a future playing site, thus ending nearly 20 years of the city's attempt to land a new or existing team.
St. Petersburg's domed stadium, built to lure major-league baseball, has been used for virtually everything else, including home games of the National Hockey League's Tampa Bay Lightning.
"Basically we just needed an owner like Vince Naimoli to step up," says Rich Vaughn, Tampa Bay's vice president of public relations.
Tampa Bay's bid received an additional boost from Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, a Tampa resident. "He is so influential and visible down here," says Vaughn, "that he was a very strong voice in getting the team when it finally happened."
Although both the Devil Rays and Diamondbacks have been building farm systems, they won't begin to fill in their major-league rosters until next November's expansion draft.
Responsibility for player evaluations falls to Chuck LaMar and Bill Livesey. LaMar was Atlanta's assistant general manager for six years, and Livesey logged 18 years with the Yankees.
St. Pete's slant-topped Tropicana Dome, so designed to reduce air conditioning demand, came with few extras when built. Now that there's a baseball tenant, $62 million is being spent on renovations. "We're essentially building a building around the building," says Vaughn of the major remodeling.
To create more of a Florida feel, glass and stucco are replacing much of the drab exterior concrete. The roof will glow orange at night, a nice tie-in for Tropicana, the local orange juice giant that purchased naming rights for 30 years. The Devil Rays wanted to grow grass inside, but found they couldn't do so.