First place or not, players rate Showalter as No. 1


Last year, Buck Showalter was the first New York Yankee to be honored as Manager of the Year by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

The Yankees were 70-43 and finished the strike-shortened season in first place in the American League East.

This year, the Yankees are 10 1/2 games back of the Boston Red Sox and one game back in the wild-card race.

Showalter's job may be in jeopardy. But he is still in first place with his players.

"He knows baseball," said first baseman Don Mattingly.

"He's a good man to play for," said outfielder Darryl Strawberry.

Showalter's current players like him. Emphasize current. A month ago, former Yankees outfielder Luis Polonia, who was released and hooked on with the Atlanta Braves, referred to his former manager in the New York Post as a puppet.

The Post depicted Yankees owner George Steinbrenner as the obvious puppeteer. Before deciding whether to retain Showalter, perhaps Steinbrenner should listen to his players.

The key word with Showalter is respect.

"He's well-respected by the rest of the team," catcher Mike Stanley said. "He comes to the ballpark very early and he stays very late. He always prepares as well as anybody could possibly prepare a team."

Respect isn't easy to come by in New York, but Showalter seemingly has earned it.

"I have a lot of respect for him as a manager," outfielder Paul O'Neill said.

"This isn't the easiest place in the world to manage," added O'Neill, referring to the Yankees' organization. "It's easier to come to the park and play because of the things he does on and off the field."

That might not be good enough for Steinbrenner, who never has been satisfied with his manager of the moment. In the 1980s, he hired and fired Dick Howser, Bob Lemon, Gene Michael (twice), Clyde King, Billy Martin (three times), Yogi Berra, Lou Piniella (twice) and Dallas Green. In the 1990s, it was Bucky Dent and Stump Merrill.

Showalter's three seasons -- he has managed the Yankees since 1992 -- seem like a lifetime.

The Yankees players find comfort in continuity.

"When you change managers and change players, it takes a while to get adjusted," O'Neill said.

Mattingly, the team captain and a Yankees regular since midway through the 1983 season, has seen all the managers and the changes. Even Mattingly, who no longer hits for power, has acknowledged he may not be a Yankee next season.

But the guy they call "Donnie Baseball" continues to stand behind his manager as a symbol of stability.

"He's pretty consistent with his approach to the game," Mattingly said. "Our games are played the same way.

"He's a good judge of talent as far as who can play and what their strengths are. Everybody pretty much plays here."

Showalter exudes a quiet intensity in the dugout and the clubhouse.

After Friday's 8-1 loss, Showalter snapped when it was suggested that the defeat -- in light of the Yankees' recent 14-5 record -- was no big deal.

"It's not que sera," Showalter said. "With 14 games to go, they're all important."

It's a managerial style that even the team's most laid-back players, like midseason acquisition Strawberry, can appreciate. Strawberry has not been a major distraction. Playing for Showalter, Strawberry said, has been a joy.

"It's been fun. It's been really easy," Strawberry said. "He just kind of makes it easy for everybody.

"The decisions he makes are what's best for the ballclub. I enjoy it. That's what makes a ballclub win."

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