CLEVELAND -- Buck Showalter's voice was filled with confusion and doubt yesterday regarding questions about his future as manager of the New York Yankees. He did not know what to expect from a telephone call he was supposed to make to George Steinbrenner to discuss whether he will remain in New York.
Showalter's contract expires in a week, and Steinbrenner's two-year proposal for about $850,000 is being discussed. Showalter would rather have a three-year deal. Discussions are also being complicated by an addendum that would let Steinbrenner dismiss Showalter's closest coaching confidants.
"I have not turned it down," Showalter said, when asked about the two-year offer. "I'm taking more time to consider it. It may end up going that way today. Who knows what's going to happen?"
In a separate telephone conversation from Florida, Steinbrenner, who is more accustomed to these rituals than Showalter, sounded relaxed and confident as he praised Bob Watson, his new general manager, while wondering who will be his field manager in 1996. He did not dismiss the possibility of boosting his offer to Showalter to three years, which would match the three-year contract extension Showalter received during his rookie season in 1992.
"That remains to be seen if I'll do that," Steinbrenner said. "He was going to think about things and get back to me. I'm waiting for him to call."
But the owner did not seem as flexible regarding the four coaches who are supposedly on his hit list: Rick Down, Brian Butterfield, Tony Cloninger and Glenn Sherlock. The third-base coach, Willie Randolph, and the pitching coach, Nardi Contreras, are expected to be kept.
"I'm not going to get into that," Steinbrenner snapped, when asked whether Showalter could save his coaches.
Is the manager concerned about his coaches' futures?
"Of course I am," said Showalter, who declined to elaborate.
One person familiar with the contract negotiations said that for Steinbrenner to sway Showalter to stay, he needs to increase his offer to three years or rehire some of the coaches.
"What's sitting on the table right now is not acceptable," the person said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "If that's the best George has to offer, it's not acceptable to Buck."
With managerial openings in Oakland and Detroit and with Randy Smith, who will become the Tigers general manager, privately saying that he would hire Showalter, perhaps Showalter, 39, wants to delay signing with the Yankees until his contract runs out next Tuesday.
"It's fluctuated so much," Showalter said. "I'd like to get it over with and get on with my off-season. Either way. I just want to know something. I don't want my family or anyone to have to go through this much longer."
Even though Steinbrenner has satisfied one of Showalter's demands by hiring a general manager to replace Gene Michael, the move has not yet caused Showalter to sprint for a pen to sign his contract. While stopping short of criticizing Showalter, Steinbrenner appeared miffed that Watson's appointment had not convinced the manager to return.
"I don't know what that has done for him," Steinbrenner said. "That was one of his main concerns, whether we were going to hire a general manager. You can look at that any way you want, whether he even had a right to ask for that. We'll see what happens."
Watson, who said he does not know Showalter personally, met with Steinbrenner in Tampa, Fla., yesterday and discussed the manager's situation briefly, but declined to talk about their conversation.
Showalter, who developed a solid relationship with Michael, refused to say whether Watson's hiring would influence his decision. But he had kind words for the former Astros general manager.
"He's a quality baseball man," Showalter said. "He'll do a good job."
Last night: Late game
Series: Braves lead 2-0
Game 4: Tonight, 8:20, Jacobs Field, Cleveland, chs. 2, 7
Starters: Braves' Steve Avery (8-13, 4.55) vs. Indians' Ken Hill (12-8, 4.42)
Note: Pitchers' records include postseason