ARLINGTON (AP) – Buck Showalter helped give the Texas Rangers a glimpse of what they hoped to become when they stayed in playoff contention until an 11-inning loss during the final week of the 2004 season.
The Rangers finally made it to the World Series after he was gone, the same way the New York Yankees and then-expansion Arizona Diamondbacks had done after Showalter managed them.
Now in the year after the Rangers won their first American League championship, for the first time since Showalter was fired by Texas after the 2006 season, he is again managing games at Rangers Ballpark. His Baltimore Orioles began their only Lone Star State visit this year with a 13-4 loss Monday night in the opener of a three-game series.
“I’m happy for them. Believe me, life’s too short,” said Showalter, who wasn’t around for any of those pennant-winning seasons. “Things happen for a reason. Joe Torre was the perfect guy to take (the Yankees) to the next level. Ron Washington was the perfect fit for (the Rangers). You bring what you bring. … I was just a piece of the process with the scouts and player development and all the things that go into it.”
Texas was stuck in a cycle of $100 million payrolls with last-place finishes when Showalter took over before the 2003 season. There had been proven superstars like Alex Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez and Ivan Rodriguez in the lineup but no real sense of direction only a few years after the Rangers won three AL West titles over four seasons (1996-99) without winning a postseason series.
“Buck did a lot to bring credibility back to the franchise. It had been a bad few years, quite candidly,” general manager Jon Daniels said Sunday. “The term at the time was kind of changing the culture, maybe got overused a little, but there was really something to that, and just kind of changing the eye level, so to speak, from the kind of expensive veterans to more homegrown young players.”
Showalter’s first year was the rookie season for Mark Teixeira, the first of five consecutive 200-hit seasons for Michael Young and the last in Texas for A-Rod, who was the reigning AL MVP when traded the following spring to the Yankees only three years into his then-record $252 million, 10-year contract.
The Rangers went 71-91 that season and finished in last place again. But after slashing payroll — among several moves being the trade of A-Rod and letting go of two-time AL MVP Gonzalez and 500-homer hitter Rafael Palmeiro — Texas won 89 games and finished only three games out of first place in that memorable turnaround.
“I look back at ’04, it always brings a smile to my face,” Young said. “That was probably the first year where I saw what this team and what this city should have. That was a fun year. At the time, that was the most fun I’d had in the big leagues.”
That finally was trumped last season, when the Rangers won the AL West and got to the World Series after winning the AL championship series in six games over the Yankees, the team that knocked them out of the playoffs each time in the 1990s.
New York and Arizona both won the World Series the very next season after Showalter’s departure. It took the Rangers a little bit longer to get there — though they lost in five games to San Francisco last fall — after Showalter was fired in 2006 after consecutive losing seasons.
“You’ve got to be on both sides of the mountain to understand how you get there. And how you don’t get there,” Showalter said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be around people who get it and kind of get me.”
The only current Rangers who played for Showalter were Young, second baseman Ian Kinsler, All-Star pitcher C.J. Wilson, slugging outfielder Nelson Cruz and pitcher Scott Feldman.
“I definitely remember the presence that he had, and how prepared he was. He always had a reason why he was doing something,” said Kinsler, whose rookie season was Showalter’s last in Texas. “He gave me my chance in the big leagues and I’ll always remember him for that.”
Daniels, who in 2005 became the youngest GM in major league history after being promoted from a Rangers assistant, hired Washington and kept making moves that would build a championship roster.
One of the most significant deals was trading Teixeira before he became a free agent, a 2007 deadline deal that got shortstop Elvis Andrus, closer Neftali Feliz and left-hander Matt Harrison from Atlanta.
Before becoming a seven-time All-Star, and the Rangers’ career leader in hits and games played, Young was an up-and-coming player who was a constant in Showalter’s lineup.
“As a young player, what you’re looking for is to play and be productive, and Buck rolled us out,” said Young, whose 159 games in 2005 were the fewest he played for Showalter. “I told him from the very beginning I didn’t like off days, and as a young player, I was thankful that he respected that.”
Showalter, who still has a home in the Dallas area where both of his children attend college, returned to the dugout last August after being hired by the Orioles with a pledge to restore the luster of the once-proud franchise that has fallen on hard times. The process isn’t really any different than it was in Texas, or anywhere else.
“Just trying to be a voice of reality. The best thing an organization can do is evaluate themselves honestly, knowing where your strengths and weaknesses are. Instead of coveting other players, you’re better off spending time evaluating your people,” Showalter said.
“Whatever my epitaph is one day, I’m OK with it. I’m real comfortable in my skin, with the way I treat people and the honest answers I give them,” he said. “There’s not a day goes by I don’t realize how unbelievably fortunate I am to be doing what I’m doing.”
AP freelancer Amy Jinkner-Lloyd in Atlanta contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)