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Williams, Showalter share managerial bond

Jul 8, 2014, 11:13 AM EST

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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.”

  1. rmoore446 - Jul 8, 2014 at 11:25 AM

    Very nice article. Gradually I am getting more of a sense of Matt Williams the person and there is a lot to like.

  2. adcwonk - Jul 8, 2014 at 11:27 AM

    Indeed, it does take “intestinal fortitude” (is that a fancy way of saying “guts” ;-) ) to walk someone, even Bonds, with the bases loaded in the 9th. That musta been an awfully exciting game!

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jul 8, 2014 at 12:10 PM

      F.P. was apparently on the Giants at that point; he mentioned last night in the telecast when they told that story that the next guy, Brent Mayne, “hit a screaming liner right at the right fielder” to end the game.

  3. Joe Seamhead - Jul 8, 2014 at 11:36 AM

    I’ve always liked Buck. That said, I hope the Nats kick his team’s grits for the rest of this series.

  4. tcostant - Jul 8, 2014 at 11:38 AM

    Off topic, I saw this about Nats Park on si.com:

    http://www.si.com/mlb/2014/07/04/ballpark-quirks-nationals-park-washington-nationals-washington-dc

    Interestingly (al least to me), is I’d rather the park face the river. I’ve sat all over the ballpark and have never seen Capitol or Washington Monument from my seats. I’d rather see the river then the parking decks I do see. Interesting stuff on the odd right-angled jog in the right-centerfield fence.

    It worth the short read.

    • 6ID20 - Jul 8, 2014 at 12:19 PM

      There will eventually be development on the Florida Rock site that would block the river view if the park faced that way. Just as the development north of the ballpark is blocking the Capitol view that people have always complained that the garages block. The garages are still ugly though.

    • nattyboh1 - Jul 8, 2014 at 12:21 PM

      We would have needed to turn the park a good bit to get that orientation. Probably on the extreme end of this: http://www.flipflopflyin.com/flipflopflyball/info-orientation.html , maybe some sun issues. But I guess they do it in Detroit, Texas, and Milwaukee.

  5. tcostant - Jul 8, 2014 at 11:43 AM

    More si stuff:

    http://www.si.com/mlb/2014/07/08/nationals-may-need-find-new-shortstop

    Yuck, sign Desi instead.

    • Doc - Jul 8, 2014 at 12:04 PM

      Desi has always been my favorite player.

      But you have to keep the line moving. If the Nats aren’t looking for a younger SS, they’re not doing their job.

    • rayvil01 - Jul 8, 2014 at 12:06 PM

      Mixed feelings about Desi. Excellent fielder once you get past May. But the windmill swings and resulting strike outs drive me nuts. He came to bat in the ninth with a runner on second for the win. A single would win. He about swung the out of his shoes. Struck out. Aarrrrrgh. I thought I heard them say he leads the Majors in strikeouts. Not sure I want 6 or 7 more years of that.

      • adcwonk - Jul 8, 2014 at 1:14 PM

        He came to bat in the ninth with a runner on second for the win. A single would win. He about swung the out of his shoes. Struck out.

        Yeah — that drove me nuts, too.

        But we also need to put it in the following context: all three outs that inning (LaRoche, Harper, Ramos) were swinging strike threes.

      • scnatsfan - Jul 8, 2014 at 1:50 PM

        Both he and Ramos are just as responsible for the loss as Stammen

    • Hiram Hover - Jul 8, 2014 at 12:17 PM

      I find the timing of the report a little curious, but otherwise my reaction is “meh”–nothing we didn’t already know, and nothing that needs to get resolved anytime soon.

      • NatsLady - Jul 8, 2014 at 12:21 PM

        We have no idea what Rizzo is going to do until we see how the A’s end up this year.

      • coop202 - Jul 8, 2014 at 12:46 PM

        I hear the cubs might have a few guys..

      • David Proctor - Jul 8, 2014 at 12:49 PM

        It’s just a contingency. The team wouldn’t be doing their job if they weren’t doing it. They offered Desi nearly $100M and he turned it down (curious if that offer is still on the table after this season). They can’t just sit on their hands and hopes they stick around nor can they write him a blank check. So acquiring a legitimate replacement makes sense. And if Desmond does stay, you can either move the replacement to 2B or trade him again.

      • Hiram Hover - Jul 8, 2014 at 1:06 PM

        Right–planning ahead is part of the job. But why a story about it now, and planted by whom?

        Is it coming the from the Nats themselves, as a means to pressure Desi? Is it coming from another team trying to pump up interest in one of their players?

      • David Proctor - Jul 8, 2014 at 1:08 PM

        Well we’re approaching the trade deadline and deals are being made. So if we’re trying to make a deal for a SS, it makes sense it would come out now. But few of Rizzo’s moves come out beforehand which raises some eyebrows.

      • DaveB - Jul 8, 2014 at 2:22 PM

        In addition to the coming trade deadline, the All-Star break might be a good time to try to lock in an extension for Desi (they get harder and harder to close as free agency gets closer). Desi isn’t having a great year, so perhaps it’s easier for him to commit to numbers that Rizzo could live with.

        Wouldn’t surprise me if Rizzo floated this rumor both to help with those negotiations, but also to cover any rumors that might leak about any possible discussions to trade Espi for a utility infielder upgrade that could backup shortstop as well.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 8, 2014 at 1:07 PM

      Can’t take all that as factual to connect the dots. My own intel has the Nats looking for a backup middle infielder as I said several ago I thought the Nats would trade for a middle infielder but not as Desi’s replacement, although that could be further down the river as they say, but this is first and foremost as Espi’s replacement as they are turning the page on him.

      They don’t trust Zach Walters as a “fielder” and they have nobody else close in the system. Keep in mind there will be the gaping hole at 2nd or 3rd when RZim moves to 1st in 2015 so this is the prudent thing. Get a SS who can play 2nd or 3rd like many teams have done and whatever is open, Rendon fills in. If Desi doesn’t sign an extension, which I think he will, the Nats have a possible replacement.

      • coop202 - Jul 8, 2014 at 1:20 PM

        I think we might have a AAA pitcher the cubs might like along with a power bat there. In sticking to this story-line.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 8, 2014 at 1:24 PM

        Starlin Castro has some issues. Doesn’t always hustle and possibly not a stellar clubhouse guy

      • coop202 - Jul 8, 2014 at 1:31 PM

        Meant their backlog of AAA arms as a backup option. Imagine the cubs made their move looking for a team like the nats who’s is pitching rich and bat light

      • coop202 - Jul 8, 2014 at 1:31 PM

        Meant their backlog of AAA midd infielders as a backup option. Imagine the cubs made their move looking for a team like the nats who’s is pitching rich and bat light

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 8, 2014 at 1:34 PM

        We will see how it shakes out.

    • Section 222 - Jul 8, 2014 at 4:32 PM

      “Desi turned down a big contract, might have to be replaced after 2015.” Is there anything in this article that couldn’t have been written two or three months ago? So why is Rosenthal reporting this now — oh, because the Cubs have a surplus of shortstops. What a brilliant connection to make!

  6. Eugene in Oregon - Jul 8, 2014 at 2:06 PM

    If some SABRmetricians did a study of MLBTR (which I love, by the way), I assume that only about 5% of the potential trades mentioned would ever take place. If that many.

    • tcostant - Jul 8, 2014 at 2:27 PM

      Maybe 1%…

      • Eugene in Oregon - Jul 8, 2014 at 2:44 PM

        Fair enough.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jul 8, 2014 at 2:47 PM

        Hence, MLB Trade Rumors, and their tag line: “If it’s whispered, we hear it.”

      • Eugene in Oregon - Jul 8, 2014 at 3:01 PM

        I thought that was NSA’s tag line? (And they knew I thought that even before I thought it.)

    • natsfan1a - Jul 8, 2014 at 2:59 PM

      Eh, y’all can have your MLB Trade Rumors. I’ll take Web Commenter Postulation, Innuendo, and Speculation over that any day of the week. And twice on Sunday. So there.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jul 8, 2014 at 3:06 PM

        Maybe we could start a new blog: MLB Trade Insinuendos.

  7. natsfan1a - Jul 8, 2014 at 3:17 PM

    I like it.

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