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Buck Showalter shares memories of '92 Orioles skipper Johnny Oates as mentor, colleague

Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter chats with Andy Oates, son of late former manager Johnny Oates, who was named an Orioles Hall of Famer on Saturday, Aug. 7, 2010.
Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter chats with Andy Oates, son of late former manager Johnny Oates, who was named an Orioles Hall of Famer on Saturday, Aug. 7, 2010. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun Staff)

Orioles manager Buck Showalter speaks reverently about playing for Johnny Oates, who was his manager in the New York Yankees minor league system in parts of 1982 and 1983.

A decade later, they managed against each other. Showalter was a rookie major league manager with the Yankees and Oates skippered the 1992 Orioles team that christened Camden Yards.

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And as the Orioles celebrated the 25th anniversary of Camden Yards on Saturday, welcoming back 20 players and coaches from the 1992 team, the memory of Oates — who died in 2004 of brain cancer — was in the forefront.

Showalter reminisced about an Orioles-Yankees Sunday night game in June 1992 when Oates accused Yankees pitcher Tim Leary of doctoring the baseball with sandpaper. The Orioles filed a protest over the game.

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"John was very competitive," Showalter said. "We had a night here where he thought our starting pitcher was doing something illegal to the ball and [seeing] the confrontation we had, you'd never think that we had any feelings for each other, and didn't at that [specific] time."

Showalter then stopped his train of thought, asking out loud if the statute of limitations had passed.

"That pitcher had a trouble getting people out for a while and had really gotten on a roll the last game or so," Showalter said.

"Johnny was so competitive," Showalter continued. "He internalized so many things. I think we all get better with all of that. … What I remember most is that his funeral was a celebration of John's life and the people that came; I remember saying to myself, 'I hope that when my time comes, I hope it's like that.' … I think his kids got to see how many people John impacted in his life."

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Orioles great Mike Mussina doesn't regret his decision to leave for the Yankees, and expressed love for his time with both teams.

Showalter often talks of the lessons he learned from Oates, who managed him in 1982 at Double-A Nashville and in 1983 at Triple-A Columbus. The Nashville team won a Southern League championship. Showalter has spoken several times about how Oates kept him on the Triple-A rosters for an extra day so he could receive a $500 incentive bonus that Showalter said he used to by a microwave.

"That was big back then," Showalter said. "It was an honor. I can't tell you how much looking back on it meant playing for a guy like him; so ethical, moral, competitive but always wanted to do the right thing. And he'd be the first to tell you, he stepped on his tail a little bit along life's journey like we all do, but John was good people. He didn't have to go back and apologize to too many people."

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