Jul 8, 2014, 11:13 AM EDT
Matt Williams can rattle off the names of several former managers who helped him learn how best to deal with a clubhouse full of major leaguers and keep everybody on the same page: Roger Craig, Dusty Baker, Bob Brenly.
Ask Williams who most taught him how to prepare himself and his team for a ballgame, and there’s one immediate answer: Buck Showalter.
“I try to be as prepared as possible. For me, he was the most-prepared manager I ever played for,” Williams said. “This was back in a time when we didn’t necessarily have the matchup sheets that show what this particular guy is against that particular pitcher for his career, and this year and the last three years, too. But Buck always was prepared for any situation.”
Williams and Showalter crossed paths for three seasons in Arizona, with Showalter serving as the Diamondbacks’ first-ever manager from 1998-2000 and Williams as the expansion club’s veteran third baseman.
The player-manager relationship was mutually beneficial.
“Matt was a watcher,” Showalter said. “He could stump the managers as good as anybody [asking questions]. … Matt doesn’t play for you. You feel like: Golly, I got a chance to manage Matt. Or not manage. Just watch him.”
“That’s very nice of him to say,” Williams responded. “Like I said, I learned a lot from him. That’s extremely nice of him to say. We had a lot of guys over there who loved to play the game. It started with him and his philosophies and how he wanted it done.”
That included quite a bit of preparedness not only on the field but in the clubhouse as well. Hired by the Diamondbacks two years before they ever played their first game, Showalter was tasked with establishing a uniform organizational philosophy for everything from bunt plays to how everyone should wear their their socks (with the club’s “A” logo visible).
Williams doesn’t have that kind of overarching responsibility in Washington, but he has taken plenty of cues from Showalter when it comes to organization.
“I love structure,” he said. “I like the fact that we had the ‘A’ on the sock and we had to show the ‘A’. I like that. That’s just me. Everybody has their own thing. But I enjoyed the way he went about it, the way he ran the team and the organization from the beginning.”
On the field, Williams appreciated Showalter’s absolute commitment to whatever his plan was at a given moment in a ballgame. The most-extreme example: May 28, 1998, when Showalter decided to intentionally walk Barry Bonds with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth, with the Diamondbacks clinging to a 2-run lead.
“He took it upon himself as the manager to say: ‘I’m going to walk Bonds here, walk a run in and now be up by 1 run with the bases loaded, knowing that one swing of the bat could win the game for those guys,'” Williams said. “But that intestinal fortitude and that commitment to what he was trying to do showed us a lot as a team. That’s an example: ‘This is what we’re going to do. I’ve got confidence in you guys that you’re going to be able to get this guy out.'”
The Diamondbacks indeed got the next guy (Brent Mayne) out and won the game.
Though Williams and Showalter have reputations as serious men — perhaps even bordering on high-strung — each knows how loose the other can be behind the scenes.
“Matt’s got a great sense of humor,” Showalter said. “Very engaging. We’ve had some really funny times together. Sometimes you’ve gotta search for things to laugh about. Sometimes you’ve gotta laugh to keep from crying.”
So when the two men exchanged lineup cards and handshakes at the plate last night before their first-ever game managing against each other, they were able to smile. For a moment. Then it became all business again.
“I think he runs the game great,” Williams said. “Certainly taught me a lot inadvertently as a player. You never think about it when you’re playing, but now things come up during the game and you go: ‘I remember what Buck did there, or how he handled that situation.’ He’s a great teacher.”
“I’m excited for him,” Showalter said. “He’s done it the right way.”
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