Russell's other job responsibility has changed fairly dramatically in the past month.
During most of his tenure as the club's catching instructor, Russell has tutored two-time American League All-Star Matt Wieters. It's akin to being Adele's voice coach — the talent is off the charts. Russell only needed to make some tweaks while continually challenging his prized pupil.
"Matt was a great student. He had a good head start, he's got a great mind," said Russell, a 1982 first-round pick of the Philadelphia Phillies who caught for parts of 10 major league seasons. "He'll tell me things. I'll tell him things, things that I'll see, and he'll ask me certain questions. It's just a different level because he has elevated his game to that level."
With Wieters on the disabled list and his immediate playing future uncertain, Russell must now shape the tandem of Clevenger and rookie Caleb Joseph into viable starting catchers; both are basically still learning the nuances of the position.
"It's coaching. That's why you like to be here," Russell said. "It's always fun with [Wieters] because there's so much you can talk about with him, because he knows so much. So that was a different fun. Now this fun is watching these guys try to develop at the major league level."
Joseph said he was intimidated at first by Russell's demeanor and vast knowledge of the game — the guy, after all, once caught a no-hitter by Nolan Ryan.
In the past six months, though, Joseph has become much more comfortable with his coach.
"He is instilling in me confidence. It doesn't have to be with words," Joseph said. "When we have a good solid inning, he'll give me a fist bump. And the intensity of the fist bump speaks. It's not just a little eyewash fist bump. He puts some effort into it."
During the organization's annual spring training talent show in March, Joseph did imitations, mimicking the voices and mannerisms of front office and staff members. For Russell, Joseph walked on stage, put up a lineup, and marched away stiffly — to the laughter of his audience.
"I did his walk. I couldn't really say anything because he doesn't say much," Joseph said. "So that was the whole point of the imitation. I basically just walked out on stage, posted a lineup and walked back off. It's kind of speaking without words."
The chance to manage again
Although the Orioles understand Russell, there's a perception within baseball circles that, despite his baseball IQ, he is too reserved to be an effective big league manager. One official from a major league club said Russell lacks the fire and charisma needed in today's media-driven environment. Another questioned his communication skills.
Those assessments didn't sit well in the Orioles' clubhouse.
"I think he communicates great with his players. And that is your main priority as a manager is to be able to communicate with your players and get your knowledge through to them," Wieters said. "I know the right situation is going to come around where he can [manage again]. And I know he'll do it well.'"
Said Showalter: "Are you looking for substance or style? I think John's substance is his style. … I think he is very charismatic, but I look for different qualities that are attractive to me as opposed to someone who is doing handstands and saying, 'Look at me.' "
Russell has heard it all before. As the losses mounted in Pittsburgh, he was criticized for his stoic nature. While he was winning games in the minor leagues and named Baseball America's top managerial prospect in 2002, though, there were no concerns about his personality.
"If we had won 90 games … or whatever [in Pittsburgh], then I would have been a calming effect, I would have been what the players needed," Russell said. "I know I'm not a real talkative guy, but if people ask me questions, I have no problem talking to anybody. But to say, 'He is stoic or has no personality or no charisma,' what is that?
"If you win games, nobody really gives a crap what your personality is, as long as you're doing the right thing."
At age 53, Russell is in his 32nd year of professional baseball. He has pretty much done it all. And he'd like one more chance to manage, but he's not campaigning for it.
That, also, isn't Russell's style.
"Managing is a part of my life that I enjoyed, and it is a part of my life I'd like to do again. If I don't, being in baseball and being with Buck has been a great experience, and it is something I thoroughly enjoy," Russell said. "I'd like the opportunity again, sure. But if it doesn't happen, it doesn't."